Coronavirus Kills Its 1st Democracy

Want to take your mind off the coronavirus, shortages of food and cleaning supplies, being imprisoned in your home and isolated from your friends & family?  Well, I’ve got just the thing for you … here’s something even bigger to worry about …

On Monday, Hungary’s parliament passed a controversial bill that gave Orbán sweeping emergency powers for an indefinite period of time. Parliament is closed, future elections were called off, existing laws can be suspended and the prime minister is now entitled to rule by decree. Opposition lawmakers had tried to set a time limit on the legislation but failed. Orbán’s commanding two-thirds parliamentary majority made his new powers a fait accompli. – Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post

Granted, Hungary isn’t the U.S. and Viktor Orbán isn’t Donald Trump.  Orbán had already corroded the state’s checks and balances, cowed the judiciary, encroached on civil society and the free press … much as Donald Trump has done to the United States.

Orbán has his supporters, too. He has been lionized as a nationalist hero for the West’s anti-immigrant populists and welcomed to the White House by Trump.orban-trump-2It should be noted that congressional democrats initially included election reforms such as vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting in the $2.2 trillion ‘stimulus bill’ … measures that were struck down by their republican colleagues.  Now, make sure you’re sitting down when you read what Trump had to say about those stricken measures that would have ensured we could all vote in the November 3rd election …

“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again. They had things in there about election days and what you do and all sorts of clawbacks. They had things that were just totally crazy and had nothing to do with workers that lost their jobs and companies that we have to save.”

And now, my friends, I suggest you start to do some serious worrying about the November elections, for it becomes obvious that Trump and the republicans have little or no concern for our right to elect new leadership in November, and that they see voter suppression as their only path to power.  I’ve been concerned all along that Trump would find some way to cancel or postpone indefinitely our elections, and nothing I’m seeing is alleviating those concerns.  I believe that Mr. Trump is seeing the coronavirus pandemic as a very fortuitous event for him and his cronies.

In 1980, Paul Weyrich, an influential conservative activist, said …

“I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Chilling.

We are running out of time to put in place policies and processes that would enable every eligible voter to cast a ballot, even in the event that the coronavirus remains a threat into November.  The republicans are playing a game … a game with our lives, with our freedoms, with our rights to participate in our government.

Look again at what the Hungarian Parliament has handed to Viktor Orbán.  The only thing stopping our own Congress from doing the same is the democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

orban-parliament

It must also be noted that the emergency law also stipulates five-year prison sentences for Hungarians found to be spreading “false” information.  Think on that one a minute.  Who determines what is “false” information?  Think how many times Trump has declared stories published by The Washington Post or the New York Times to be “fake news”.  Or what about us bloggers?  In such circumstances, historically information is considered ‘false’ if it contradicts what the dictator says.  Facts and reality become secondary and eventually are suppressed.

orban-trumpThere are checks and balances to keep what has happened in Hungary from happening in the U.S.  But, many of those have been destroyed in the last three years.  The Supreme Court tends to rule in favour of Trump, even when that ruling is in blatant disregard of the U.S. Constitution.  The Attorney General has decreed that Trump is ‘above the law’ and can operate in whatever manner he sees fit.  And the U.S. Senate basically affirmed Barr’s opinion when they refused to do their job and convict Trump of what were obvious abuses of power and obstruction of justice.

The U.S. Constitution, or any set of laws for that matter, is only as good as the people who enforce it.  This is why the most important thing this year in the U.S. is that we have fair and honest elections on November 3rd as scheduled, no matter what.

The 1st Amendment vs Donnie Trump

Imagine, if you will, President Barack Obama, ready to give a press conference, telling his aides that only people who agree with him completely are to be allowed in.  Or, better yet … imagine George W. Bush giving a televised address to the nation after 9/11, but insisting that media companies black out his address to all democratic households.  Fantasy, right?  Silly at best.  And yet, that is exactly what Trump has tried to do.  His preferred venue for communicating his … er, um … thoughts … is Twitter.  I honestly think he must spend 4-5 hours per day tweeting from his throne (bet there’s no shortage of toilet paper there!) 

In 2017, within months of taking the Oath of Office (remember that oath, Donnie?) Trump began blocking Twitter users who dared to disagree with him.  Seven of those users felt that if that is the only means by which he is going to communicate, then We the People must be able to question and yes, even disagree with or criticize him.  And so, those seven convinced the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University to file a lawsuit on their behalf.  Well, the wheels of justice turn pretty darn slowly sometimes, and the case was first heard by Judge Naomi Buchwald in May 2018.  Her 75-page ruling, in a nutshell, said that,  “No government official — including the President — is above the law.”  Hmmmm … perhaps Attorney General William Barr could learn something from her.

Well, Trump and his cadre of lawyers, naturally, appealed the case and in July 2019, a New York-based appeals court upheld Judge Buchwald’s ruling, saying that public officials who take to social media for official government business are prohibited from excluding people “from an otherwise open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”

Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote for a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit …

“In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”

Justice Department lawyers defending Trump said in court that @realDonaldTrump is a personal account on a privately owned digital platform and that Trump may block followers he “does not wish to hear.”  Sounds rather like censorship to me.

And … sigh … of course the lawyers picked up their briefcases and headed back to court to file yet another appeal.  Yesterday, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit denied the Trump administration’s request to revisit the July 2019 ruling.  Of the nine judges who considered the Trump administration’s request, only two said they would have revisited the earlier decision.  The two are both Trump appointees, Judge Michael H. Park and Judge Richard J. Sullivan.  Judge Park wrote in his dissenting opinion …

“The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not include a right to post on other people’s personal social media accounts, even if those other people happen to be public officials.”

Sea ditz.

The last sentence of the article I read … “The Justice Department is reviewing the ruling, a spokeswoman said.”  Translate that as … Trump’s legal eagles will file yet another appeal to a higher court — United States Supreme Court.  Remember something, folks … you and I are paying for all the time these lawyers are wasting, we are paying the judges salary and all their clerks who must review and type their 75-page rulings, we are paying for both legal teams … we are paying through the nose for Trump to have his hand slapped time and time and time again.  And, what happens when the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court?  Well, let’s see … there are the two Justices he leads around using the rings in their noses – that would be Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.  Then there is  Chief Justice John Roberts who, ever since a few private tête-à-têtes in the Oval Office, has been just as much a Trump boot-licker as Kellyanne Conway.  So, I give you three guesses.

Now, Filosofa, though no legal scholar, is going to weigh in on this one just for a minute.  In the first ruling on this case, Judge Buchwald said that no one, not even the president, is above the law.  And yet, Attorney General William Barr has said that as long as Trump’s fat arse is sitting in the Oval Office, he is above the law.  My best guess is that this will be the argument the high-paid DOJ lawyers will use at the Supreme Court level, and because Bill Barr said it’s so, then … gasp … of course it must be so.

But back to the starting point.  Trump’s attorneys argue that @realDonaldTrump is a private account.  However, I would argue that by default it has become a government account, since Trump conducts nearly all communication with his portion of the public, his 62 million Twitter followers, via Twitter using that account.  The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives We the People the absolute right to speak out against our government officials.  If I attend a speech in another venue, I certainly can express my own opinion, so … why not on Twitter.

If the case goes to the Supreme Court and if the Court rules in Trump’s favour, We the People must engage in a very forceful protest.  Coronavirus be damned … this is the future of all Americans that is at stake here, for centuries to come.  We simply cannot let him continue chipping away at our Constitutional rights, my friends … it’s really all that remains between us and a full-blown dictatorship.

Sneaky

This, my friends, is how democracies die …

“The Justice Department has quietly [emphasis added] asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the United States.

Documents reviewed by POLITICO detail the department’s requests to lawmakers on a host of topics, including the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted.

[…]

The move has tapped into a broader fear among civil liberties advocates and Donald Trump’s critics — that the president will use a moment of crisis to push for controversial policy changes. Already, he has cited the pandemic as a reason for heightening border restrictions and restricting asylum claims. He has also pushed for further tax cuts as the economy withers, arguing that it would soften the financial blow to Americans. And even without policy changes, Trump has vast emergency powers that he could legally deploy right now to try and slow the coronavirus outbreak.

The DOJ requests — which are unlikely to make it through a Democratic-led House — span several stages of the legal process, from initial arrest to how cases are processed and investigated.”

You can read the rest of the article here, but let’s talk a bit about what this could mean.

This could mean, if somehow either Congress passed it, or failing that, Trump took his ‘executive power’ to an unprecedented level, that you might be arrested for any or no reason.  Say your state is under a mandated “lock down” (something that is outside of the law to begin with), and you are out for a walk in your neighborhood.  A police car is patrolling the area, sees you, stops and the officer arrests you simply for being outside.  He couldn’t do that under normal circumstances, and if he did, you would be able to appear before a magistrate, explain the situation, and almost certainly be released immediately.  But, if this suspension of constitutional rights were to fly, you could be arrested, tossed in jail, and not go before a judge “until this crisis is over” … possibly months or even as long as a year.

That scenario is frightening enough, but let’s project a bit.  If allowed to suspend constitutional rights, what other areas of our civil liberties might be affected?  The one that worries me the most is the 1st Amendment, our rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  Already, our right to peaceful protest has been suspended by default with the ruling that no more than ten people are allowed to gather in one place.  What next?  Could it become unlawful to … say, speak against our government, to call Trump out on his lies and ignorance?

I don’t know where this will go, and I hope that the Democratic-majority House of Representatives will put a stop to such nonsense, but I do not have a crumb of trust in our government at this time – not Donald Trump, not William Barr and his Department of ‘Justice’, not the Republican-led Senate under Mitch McConnell.  I don’t trust our law enforcement agencies, nor our Departments of Labour, Education, Health and Human Services … none of them.  They are led by people who do not care about the people of this nation but will do almost anything to enhance their own profits and power.  Just something to think about.  Let’s keep our eye on the ball and hope our free press does the same.


And just one little snippet that I found humorous in a macabre sort of way …

“In Rhode Island, among businesses cited for ignoring social-distance warnings was Wonderland, a strip club, where customers were still receiving lap dances last weekend.”

Gotta get your priorities straight, y’know!

Something To Think About

I have spent the last three years warning that Donald Trump was a wanna-be king, that he would turn the presidency into a dictatorship, given half a chance.  It seems that now, three years into his reign, others are seeing it, too.  Max Boot’s column in The Washington Post last Saturday sums it up well.

This is how democracy dies — in full view of a public that couldn’t care less

By Max Boot, Columnist

Feb. 15, 2020 at 7:00 a.m. EST

Max-Boot

The French philosopher Montesquieu wrote in 1748: “The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.” We are seeing his warning vindicated. President Trump is increasingly acting as a tyrannical (and erratic) prince. And yet much of the public is so inured to his misconduct that his latest assaults on the rule of law are met with a collective shrug. Public passivity is Trump’s secret weapon as he pursues his authoritarian agenda. “I have the right to do whatever I want,” he says, and the lack of pushback seems to confirm it.

So much bad has happened since Trump was unjustly acquitted by the Senate of two articles of impeachment on Feb. 5 that it’s hard to keep it all straight.

Trump fired Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for complying with a congressional subpoena and providing truthful testimony about Trump’s attempts to extort Ukraine into aiding him politically. Also ousted was Vindman’s brother, who did not testify. This sends a mob-like message: If you turn stool pigeon, your family gets it, too.

Trump’s ongoing quest for retribution has also claimed Jessie K. Liu, who was abruptly removed as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and replaced by a close aide to Attorney General William P. Barr after prosecuting Trump loyalists, including Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. Now Liu’s nomination to a senior Treasury Department position has been withdrawn. Next on the chopping block may be Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon official who tried to tell the Office of Management and Budget that Trump had no right to withhold aid to Ukraine. The New York Post reported that her nomination to be Pentagon comptroller will be withdrawn. (McCusker denies the report.)

While punishing those who dared to tell the truth, Trump is protecting those who assist his coverup. He inveighed against the request of federal prosecutors, following normal sentencing guidelines, to give Stone a seven- to nine-year prison sentence for witness tampering and lying to Congress. Trump also attacked the judge overseeing Stone’s case and the forewoman of the jury that convicted him. The Justice Department then asked for a reduced sentence. Four prosecutors resigned from the case in protest, and one quit the Justice Department.

Even Barr was driven to denounce Trump’s public interference in the legal system, saying that the president’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors and the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.” In response, Trump asserted that he has the “legal right” to determine who gets prosecuted — technically true but hardly in keeping with American tradition.

Barr’s protests ring hollow given how eager he has been to subvert his own department on Trump’s behalf — for example, by mischaracterizing the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Barr has appointed one prosecutor to review Flynn’s conviction and another to investigate the FBI and CIA personnel who uncovered the Russian plot to elect Trump in 2016. The New York Times reports that the latter prosecutor, John H. Durham, has raised alarm in the intelligence community by appearing to pursue a theory, popular among right-wing conspiracy mongers, “that the C.I.A., under its former director John O. Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result.”

Anxiety about attempts to politicize justice will only grow because of a Post report that Trump was furious that the Justice Department did not file charges against former FBI director James B. Comey and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe — even though there is no evidence that either of these men broke any laws. After learning that his enemies were not being indicted, The Post reports, “Trump has become more insistent that Durham finish his work soon,” because he “wants to be able to use whatever Durham finds as a cudgel in his reelection campaign.”

As Justice Department veteran David Laufman writes, “We are now truly at a break-glass-in-case-of-fire moment for the Justice Dept.” But does anyone give a damn? Democratic lawmakers are, to be sure, perturbed, but it’s easy (if unfair) to write off their outrage as mere partisanship. Republican members of Congress, as usual, either have nothing to say or offer ineffectual expressions of “concern.”

And the public? I don’t see massive marches in the streets. I don’t see people flooding their members of Congress with calls and emails. I don’t see the outrage that is warranted — and necessary. I see passivity, resignation and acquiescence from a distracted electorate that has come to accept Trump’s aberrant behavior as the norm.

A recent Gallup poll found that Trump’s approval rating among Republicans — the supposed law-and-order party — is at a record-high 94 percent. His support in the country as a whole is only 43.4 percent in the FiveThirtyEight average, but he is still well positioned to win reelection, because most people seem to care a lot more about the strength of the stock market than about the strength of our democracy. This is how democracies die — not in darkness but in full view of a public that couldn’t care less.

*Note to readers:  Since this article was published three days ago, Trumps approval rating according to the FiveThirtyEight average has risen from 43.4% to 43.9%.

Is it time for The Office of Public Prosecutions?

The nation … at least those of us who aren’t drinking Trump’s toxic concoction, is aghast at the breech of protocol in the Department of Justice regarding the Roger Stone case. Our friend Jeff has done some research into the way some other nations have gone about ensuring that the Department of Justice is not influenced by the government, but rather remains independent in order to maintain the rule of law. I hope you’ll take a minute to read Jeff’s piece, for this is something that will affect us all for years, perhaps decades to come. Thanks Jeff!

On The Fence Voters

In the age of Trumpism, it’s time to look how other countries ensure an independent Justice Department

During the Trump era, it’s rare that I agree with anything Alan Dershowitz says. The 81-year-old ‘TV’ lawyer has gone off the deep end it seems, especially when you consider his ridiculous performance during the recent impeachment trial.

But once in a while, he gets it right. A few nights ago on CNN, he was debating his former pupil, Jeffrey Toobin, concerning the recent intervention of Bill Barr into Roger Stone’s sentencing recommendation from federal prosecutors. Dershowitz, of course, first sided with Trump on the issue, saying that he did have the ‘legal’ right to intervene in that particular case. There was nothing in the law that says he couldn’t do it.

But then he also explained that it wasn’t right for him to do so. Because of the long understood norms and…

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The Week’s Best Cartoons ⚡ 2/15

The past two weeks have certainly provided plenty of material for the political cartoonists, haven’t they? Our friend TokyoSand always seems to find the best of the bunch, and this week is no exception. These cartoons pretty well sum up the current situation … thank you, TokyoSand for this post, and for your kind permission to share!

Political⚡Charge

By Marc Murphy, Louisville Courier-Journal

Here are some of the best editorial cartoonists in the country (and a few from abroad) with their visual opinions about this week’s news:

Trump Seeks Revenge

By Morten Morland

By Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By Bill Bramhall, New York Daily News

By Banx

Barr Interferes with Justice

By Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

By Pat Chappatte

By Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle

By Ann Telnaes, Washington Post

Image

By Mike Peters, Mother Goose and Grimm

By Jeff Darcy, Cleveland.com

By Matt Davies, Newsday

By Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

And Other News

By Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

ByJim Morin, Miami Herald

By Christopher Weyant

By Matt Davies, Newsday

By Matt Davies, Newsday

By Kevin Necessary

By Rod EmmersonNZ Herald

Want to get these political cartoon roundups every…

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A Banana Republic?

Today on Twitter, Trump posted:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson seemed to foresee the lesson of the Senate Impeachment Trial of President Trump. ‘When you strike at the King, Emerson famously said, “you must kill him.’ Mr. Trump’s foes struck at him but did not take him down. A triumphant Mr.Trump emerges from the biggest test of his presidency emboldened, ready to claim exoneration, and take his case of grievance, persecution and resentment to the campaign trail.” Peter Baker @nytimes The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”

I and a few thousand others reminded him that he is NOT a king, but some 60,000 people actually liked his post.  I wonder how much more we will tolerate …

More than a few times, I have made the claim that Trump is turning the U.S. into a ‘banana republic’, and it seems I’m not alone in this idea.  On Thursday, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote a column that I think sums the situation up quite well.


America, the Banana Republic

Feb. 13, 2020 at 5:55 p.m. EST

I covered South America for The Post from 1988 to 1992, a time when nations such as Argentina, Brazil and Peru were struggling to reestablish democratic norms after the long, dark night of military dictatorship. One of the biggest challenges was implanting something we take for granted in this country: public confidence that justice, for the most part, is blind and engages in an honest search for truth.

I never thought I’d be living in a country like that again. But thanks to President Trump and the inexcusable damage he is doing to our justice system, South America’s past has become America’s present.

There has been considerable hyperventilation, some perhaps by me, about the grave harm Trump is doing to our democratic institutions. I am not hyperventilating now. Public faith in justice is a delicate, precious thing. Once squandered, it is incredibly hard to regain.

That’s the kind of damage Trump is threatening with his outrageous and un-American attacks on the Justice Department and the federal judiciary for finding his cronies — including longtime political adviser Roger Stone, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort — guilty of crimes and deserving of punishment. I know what the impact of this behavior is, because I’ve seen how it plays out before.

I lived in Argentina, where the president for much of my time there, Carlos Menem, was a populist norm-breaker who nepotistically involved his family in running the government and was widely viewed as corrupt. In 1991, Menem’s sister-in-law and appointments secretary, Amira Yoma, was indicted on money-laundering charges that involved suitcases full of cash allegedly being smuggled in and out of the country. Yoma’s ex-husband was head of the customs service at Ezeiza International Airport outside Buenos Aires, where he allegedly facilitated the cash-smuggling.

Menem was accused of secretly meeting with the prosecuting judge in charge of the Yoma case. The president initially denied having had such a meeting but ultimately admitted it, claiming it was about some unrelated matter. The judge’s secretary alleged that the judge had gone to the presidential residence, where she showed Menem secret prosecution documents about the Yoma case.

That judge was suddenly taken off the case, which was assigned to a different judge, and Yoma was eventually cleared of all charges. It is safe to say that few Argentines were surprised.

There simply was very little confidence in the ability of the justice system to discern truth from falsehood or to punish the powerful and well-connected. There was an understanding, moreover, that prosecutors and the court system could and sometimes would be used as political tools.

Years after leaving office, Menem was convicted on unrelated charges involving weapons smuggling and embezzlement. He maintained his innocence, claiming he was being persecuted by his political enemies.

In those fragile democracies I covered years ago, seeing justice be warped by politics had a corrosive effect on the larger society. A lack of confidence that court proceedings could — or even were intended to — arrive at truth encouraged the propagation and spread of conspiracy theories. Argentina still struggles to escape the widespread belief that unseen forces control events from deep in the shadows.

This is not the sort of path I ever thought the United States could take. Our justice system obviously has flaws, starting with the way it disproportionately punishes people of color. But it has not been naive, at least in my lifetime, to believe that federal prosecutors and judges tried their very best not to let politics influence their decisions — and that they generally succeeded because they took their responsibilities seriously.

When four assistant U.S. attorneys asked to be taken off the Stone case, they were sounding an alarm. We must all pay attention.

Their recommendation that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison for his crimes was tough, but federal prosecutors tend to be tough. Stone was duly convicted in a court of law, and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will decide his punishment. But when higher-ups in Attorney General William P. Barr’s Justice Department overrule the prosecutors who handled the case on Stone’s recommended sentence; when Trump tries to delegitimize those prosecutors as “Angry Democrats” because they worked for former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III; and when Trump goes so far as to try to intimidate Jackson, a highly respected veteran federal judge — when such things happen, I have to wonder whether I’m back in Carlos Menem’s Argentina.

Snarkier Than Usual Snippets

Disclaimer:  Filosofa is in a foul mood tonight.  While doing laundry, I cursed one of my daughter’s shirts, calling it a bitch and threatening to cut it into a thousand pieces, if that gives you any indication.  All day long I’ve tried to write my piece for mine and Jeff’s Discord & Dissension project for tomorrow, and I feel completely dysfunctional, unable to focus.  So, long story short, you can expect the snippets to be even snarkier than usual tonight.


Ay, Pobrecito Barr …

Poor Bill Barr, ultimate boot-licker and sycophant who has sacrificed the integrity of the United States Department of Justice for whatever it was Trump promised him.  Now he is whining that mean ol’ Donnie isn’t being fair to him.  In an interview with ABC News yesterday, Barr said …

“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president. I’m gonna do what I think is right. And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

Say WHAT???Trump-BarrThis from the man that has given the keys to the kingdom to Trump and told him that no matter what he does, as long as he is the sitting president, he cannot be charged with a crime?  This from the man that has changed the laws to suit the president, has opened an investigation into one of Trump’s rivals even though it has already been proven that there was no wrongdoing?  And this from the man who totally and completely misrepresented the results of Robert Mueller’s report?  Are we actually supposed to feel pity for Billy boy?  The man who once had a decent reputation sold his soul downriver to become one of Trump’s toadies, and now we’re supposed to feel sorry for him?  No way, José!

Barr said he was determined to lead the justice department without being influence by outside forces, including the president.

laughing-gif

Too late, Billy Boy!Bill-BarrFormer Justice Department official, Matthew Miller, wrote on Twitter: “Don’t be fooled by this one, people. Barr is telling the president that his impulsiveness is making it politically harder for him to deliver the results he wants. If Trump would just shut up, Barr could take care of him much more effectively.”

No doubt.


Trump’s bloody wall …

Yesterday, the Pentagon informed Congress that it intends to divert some $3.8 billion earmarked for military equipment to Trump’s damn stupid, useless, abominable border wall!  You know what?  If the Pentagon has so much more money than it needs, then let’s cut their budget and leave only enough to take care of the troops – salaries, benefits, medical care, housing, etc.  They are obviously well over-funded, if they can afford to give it away for something so useless.

If Congress intended to fund the bloody wall, they would have allocated monies for it.  They didn’t.  Therefore obviously the representatives of We the People do not see the wall as a priority at this time.  Congress, and We the People, have spoken, MISTER TRUMP.  Even some of Trump’s boot-lickers in Congress were actually upset over this one, saying that Trump had overstepped his constitutional authority by second-guessing congressional spending decisions.

“Once those choices have been made, the Department of Defense cannot change them in pursuit of their own priorities without the approval of Congress. Attempts to do so undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution.” – Representative Mac Thornberry, top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee

Frankly, I hope the wall gets blown to bits, section by section, until there is naught left but a brick or two.


John Kelly found them!

Former Chief of Staff John Kelly finally, some 13 months after leaving Trump’s employ, found his cojones!  I wonder where they were hiding all this time?  Kelly, who is also a retired Marine Corps general, was giving a speech at Drew University in Morristown, New Jersey, on Wednesday night when he let off a bit of steam about Trump’s firing of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman last week.  Of Vindman, Kelly says …

“He did exactly what we teach them to do from cradle to grave.  He went and told his boss what he just heard. Through the Obama administration up until that phone call, the policy of the U.S. was militarily to support Ukraine in their defensive fight against … the Russians. And so, when the president said that continued support would be based on X, that essentially changed. And that’s what that guy [Vindman] was most interested in. We teach them, ‘Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.’”

But, once the box was opened, Kelly didn’t stop there.  Kelly laid out his doubts about Trump’s policies regarding North Korea, illegal immigration, military discipline, Ukraine, and the news media.  He said he did not believe the press is “the enemy of the people”, and he sharply criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump has steadfastly courted.  He also disapproved of the president’s language about migrants, saying that most migrants are merely looking for jobs …

“In fact, they’re overwhelmingly good people … They’re not all rapists and they’re not all murderers. And it’s wrong to characterize them that way. I disagreed with the president a number of times.”

Kelly faulted Trump for intervening in the case of Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL who was convicted last year of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter, and later pardoned by Trump …

“The idea that the commander in chief intervened there, in my opinion, was exactly the wrong thing to do. Had I been there, I think I could have prevented it.”

Too bad that Kelly didn’t find his conscience when he was still there, as perhaps he might have done some good.  Trump, of course, was quickly informed of Kelly’s words and had to retaliate, for that’s the only thing Trump knows to do …

“When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn’t do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head. Being Chief of Staff just wasn’t for him. He came in with a bang, went out with a whimper, but like so many X’s, he misses the action & just can’t keep his mouth shut, which he actually has a military and legal obligation to do. His incredible wife, Karen, who I have a lot of respect for, once pulled me aside & said strongly that “John respects you greatly. When we are no longer here, he will only speak well of you.” Wrong!”

One can only hope that Karen Kelly is undergoing psychiatric care.


One bright spot …

Marie YovanovitchI shall end with a bit of uplifting news.  Former ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who became a central witness in the impeachment inquiry against Trump, received the Trainor Award at Georgetown University this week, in recognition of her 33-year career as a diplomat.  If anybody has earned the award, it is Ms. Yovanovitch who had a difficult and unexpected role during the House investigation into the administration’s shadow diplomacy and the pressure campaign on Ukraine.  She was vilified by Trump and his family, and it was later learned that Trump directly ordered her firing, claiming she had shown ‘disloyalty’ to him – sound familiar?

Thumbs up to Ms. Yovanovitch.  👍


And on that note, I shall leave you and go finish my post for this afternoon, hopefully in time for Jeff to review it before posting.susan-collins

An OUTRAGE!

Roger Stone … he’s a nasty piece of work.  He’s part of the reason we are in the mess we’re in today, with a president who thinks he’s king, with the wealthy calling the shots while the rest of us are lied to and our rights diminished on a daily basis.  But let’s go back a little further …For many years in the 1980s and ‘90s, Stone was a lobbyist for Donald Trump on behalf of his casino businesses.  Stone has been involved in so many scandals that I’ve lost count.  Stone is also associated with Proud Boys, a far-right, fascist, white supremacist group.  He has been affiliated with Alex Jones’ Infowars, Breitbart, and the conspiracy theory that claimed President Obama was born outside the U.S.  Stone has linked his fortunes with so many nasties that it would take me the whole day to tell you about them all.  But his most recent crimes landed him, finally, in very hot water.stone-angryRoger Stone was largely responsible, along with Russian operators and Julian Assange, for hacking into Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 election.  On January 25, 2019 Stone was arrested on seven criminal charges in relation to Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election:  one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering.

On February 18, 2019, Stone posted on Instagram a photo of the federal judge overseeing his case, Amy Berman Jackson, with what resembled rifle scope crosshairs next to her head.Amy-Berman-JacksonAfter a week-long trial in November 2019, the jury convicted Stone on all counts.  His sentencing hearing was originally scheduled for February 6th, but his attorneys requested a delay until sometime after March 9th.  Stone’s attorneys have argued for no jail time, but only probation.  Yesterday, prosecutors recommended a sentence of between 7 and 9 years.  Immediately Donald Trump tweeted inanely …

“This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

And now I come to the part of this story that should horrify you.

Stone-orange-suitThe Department of Justice plans to reduce its sentencing recommendation.  No word yet on whether they will recommend only probation, or perhaps a sentence of only a few months.  But think about this one, folks.  The man is a criminal, has been a criminal all his adult life, has been proven to have broken countless laws including lying to Congress and threatening a witness, and he is a large part of the reason that Donald Trump is sitting in the Oval Office today, though not through legitimate means.  And yet, because Donald Trump threw a hissy fit, the Department of Justice, under Trump’s lackey William Barr, is going to actually override justice to please the “president”.  In other words … we have no Department of Justice and Trump is now calling the shots.

Think about it … it can work in both ways.  Say I’m arrested outside the White House for protesting something that Trump has done … if Trump told William Barr he wanted me put away for life, no amount of arguing by my attorneys would change the verdict.  Is this what we’ve allowed to happen in this nation? Paul Manafort is serving a 7 ½ year sentence for his crimes … why should Stone get any less, for his crimes were every bit as serious as Manafort’s?

broken-justiceJustice.  It’s a funny word, for it’s open to interpretation.  There are grey areas, for sure.  But, when the ‘man’ sitting in the Oval Office can literally override the courts, can decide what he wants and the Department of “Justice” will accede to his whims and wishes, then … there is no justice.  If the court gives Roger Stone no more than a slap on the wrist for his very serious crimes, then this nation is in deep trouble … the last bastion of hope for salvation from a cruel dictator will have crumbled.

Are You Listening, Democrats?

This morning I happened upon Greg Sargent’s column in The Washington Post in which he writes about what we can expect from Trump in the coming nine months after he is almost certainly acquitted of his crimes tomorrow afternoon.  But more importantly, he makes some suggestions for the democratic-led House in the coming months that I think are very prudent.  At the very least, Congress must continue pulling back the layers to expose the corruption, and keep We the People informed so that we do not go blindly to the polls in November.  Let’s hope Nancy Pelosi and others in the House read Mr. Sargent’s column!


The Plum Line

Opinion

Trump is about to get a lot more dangerous. Here’s what’s coming.

Image without a caption
Greg Sargent
Opinion writer
Feb. 4, 2020 at 9:38 a.m. EST

When President Trump is acquitted by the Senate on Wednesday afternoon, he’ll surely take from it the message that he can continue abusing his powers however he sees fit to corrupt the 2020 election. He now knows he’ll face zero consequences.

But House Democrats can try to do something about this. They can redouble their oversight and investigative efforts, post-impeachment, geared toward the specific aim of illuminating — and preventing — future efforts by Trump to wield the machinery of government to influence the election’s outcome.

Some ultra-savvy pundits will scoff: Didn’t Democrats just get through impeachment? And some Democrats will be tempted to slink away in defeat, muttering that impeachment wasn’t “worth” the “trouble.”

But this is precisely the wrong message to take from what just happened. The impeachment and trial produced a remarkable new fact record documenting extraordinary misconduct and likely criminality on Trump’s part. This has stripped away any illusions about what Trump is capable of inflicting on our political system — demonstrating why continued efforts to protect the country are even more imperative.

“We have to use all the oversight powers we have to try to check efforts by Trump and the White House to steal the election,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary and Oversight committees, told me.

“Just because we’ve impeached the president does not mean his schemes have stopped,” Raskin added. “He continues to be a one-man crime wave.”

Subpoena Bolton

For starters: One of the House committees should immediately invite former national security adviser John Bolton to testify, and if he refuses, subpoena him.

Bolton’s forthcoming book will report that Trump privately linked nearly $400 million in frozen military aid to Ukraine directly to his demand for sham investigations validating lies about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election that absolve Russia of that crime and smearing potential 2020 foe Joe Biden.

Bolton’s book will also report that as early as last May, Trump instructed Bolton to press the Ukrainian president to work with personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani on the scheme to extort those announcements from Ukraine.

Learning more about both these episodes — which Senate Republicans refused to do — will further illuminate the scope, reach and inner workings of this whole scheme. Bolton can almost certainly detail other episodes implicated with it.

This matters because this scheme is still in operation today. Republicans have been running ads in Iowa that echo the fabricated narrative of Biden corruption in Ukraine. Giuliani has been meeting with former Ukrainian officials to further validate that narrative.

And Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, is still pursuing a “review” of the origins of the Russia investigation that appear designed to discredit that investigation — and its conclusion that Russia sabotaged the 2016 election to help Trump — just as Trump wants.

What this all means is that post-acquittal, Trump will simply keep up his smearing of Biden with disinformation, including with “evidence” fabricated by Giuliani with the help of foreign officials, as well as his ongoing whitewashing of Russia’s 2016 attack on our political system.

A maximal picture of Trump’s willingness to corrupt the government in service of this whole effort will better equip the American people to evaluate the disinformation and lies we’ll continue seeing on all these fronts. Testimony from Bolton about Trump’s orchestration of this scheme will focus public attention on it as it continues.

Call Lev Parnas

That’s also why House Democrats should seek testimony from Lev Parnas, the former Giuliani associate who turned on Trump after getting indicted on campaign finance charges in connection with efforts to push out Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who stood in the way of the extortion plot.

Parnas’s lawyer has indicated he is prepared to testify in detail about the whole scheme, including the role played in it by Trump and Giuliani, and other players such as Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

To repeat, this scheme is ongoing as we speak. Trump’s propaganda network will continue to bombard voters with disinformation about fake Biden corruption and invented Ukrainian 2016 electoral sabotage. House Democrats need to keep the focus on this disinformation’s corrupt origins.

“Parnas can speak to the shady characters Rudy is talking to,” Sam Berger, an expert on democracy reform at the Center for American Progress, told me. “Congress needs to figure out everything it can about Trump’s ongoing efforts to cheat in the upcoming election.”

Get to the bottom of Barr’s activities

As part of the case against Parnas, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have opened a criminal investigation into whether Giuliani broke U.S. laws by working with foreign officials to oust Yovanovitch, something that could further implicate Trump.

Has Barr allowed this case to proceed undisturbed? We have no idea.

Trump has threatened retribution against Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment manager. And Gabriel Sherman reports that Trump has privately told people he wants to see Bolton criminally prosecuted. Fox News’s Sean Hannity has preposterously claimed Biden broke laws in Ukraine.

Given Barr’s role in helping Trump whitewash Russia’s attack on our democracy, one cannot rule out at least the possibility of Barr somehow using the Justice Department against one or more Trump foes in some form, perhaps to lend validity to Trump’s narratives.

What exactly is Barr doing with his “review” of the Russia probe? Has Trump ever tried to instruct him to prosecute one or more of these enemies? Democrats should try to grill Barr on these matters.

“Every other attorney general has appeared before the Judiciary Committee,” Raskin told me. “I would expect this attorney general to appear as well.”

Administration officials will resist any and all efforts at such oversight. But Democrats must try and, if necessary, go to court. Protecting the country demands no less.

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