Donald Trump and Russia: Like Watergate and Iran-Contra — only worse

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was at the center of the scandal, but he's just the tip of the Russian iceberg.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was at the center of the scandal, but he’s just the tip of the Russian iceberg.

It took Richard Nixon more than two years to own up to the Watergate scandal. Facing impeachment, he resigned, and top aides spent time in jail. Ronald Reagan’s administration traded arms to Iran for the release of a few American hostages in 1985, using profits from those arms sales to fund a war in Nicaragua, and it took several years and three investigations to unravel the whole mess. Reagan escaped direct punishment for the Iran-Contra affair, but several on his team were convicted (and pardoned by Reagan’s successor).

It has taken Donald Trump less than one month for his administration to be embroiled in a scandal that’s just as bad—and perhaps much worse.

No one knows when we’ll get the full story about the Russian infiltration that reached high levels and inner circles of both the Trump campaign and the Trump White House. The scandal combines the power-grabbing paranoia of Watergate (interfering with an election, this time by a foreign power) with the illegal foreign policy workarounds of Iran-Contra (calling a Russian ambassador with inside info, and who knows what else).

Legendary newsman Dan Rather says Trump’s Russia scandal could end up being as bad as Watergate. “It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged,” Rather wrote on a Facebook post that quickly went viral. On his Meet the Press Daily show, NBC’s Chuck Todd said, “Welcome to Day One of what is arguably the biggest presidential scandal involving a foreign government since Iran-Contra,” further describing it as a “class-five political hurricane that’s hitting Washington.”

Three scandals of different magnitudes, with different details. What do they have in common? Let’s give a thumbnail description of these scandals and what we know so far about Trumpland’s ties to Russia.

Watergate: After the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters — described by the Nixon White House as a “third-rate burglary”—the scandal grew not because of the crime but because of the cover-up by the Nixon White House, including cash payoffs to the original burglars. The Watergate tapes—Nixon secretly recorded every conversation in the Oval Office — also provided damning evidence. (This is probably why the Trump team did not record Trump’s recent phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.) Shoe-leather journalism by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post broke the story open.

By March 1974, a grand jury indicted seven Nixon aides and named Nixon as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” The casualties: Attorney General John Mitchell, who also directed Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 campaigns, was convicted and served 19 months. White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and top White House aide John Erlichman both were convicted and served 18 months. Charles Colson, special counsel to the president, pleaded no contest and served seven months. Charges against White House aide Gordon Strachan were dropped before trial. The conviction for Robert Mardian, former aide to Mitchell, was overturned on appeal. Kenneth Parkinson, counsel for the Committee to Re-elect the President (fondly referred to as CREEP), was acquitted.

The two men who planned the break-in in the first place, White House staffers Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, were convicted and jailed. Jeb Stuart Magruder, aide to Haldeman, spent seven months in prison. White House Counsel John Dean implicated himself during Watergate hearings and spent four months in prison. Also convicted were the five original burglars, including James McCord, who was a former CIA officer and CREEP security director. All together, 40 people were indicted and/or jailed.

Nixon resigned in August 1974. One of the first things his successor, Gerald Ford, did was to give him a “full and complete pardon” for his actions as president. That pardon probably cost Ford the election in 1976.

Iran-Contra: This arms-for-hostages scandal developed in three parts. Iran was in a lengthy war with Iraq and desperate for weapons. Seven Americans were being held hostage by a pro-Iranian group in Lebanon. And the Reagan administration wanted to undercut the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. What to do?

In 1985, the U.S. sold missiles to Iran, despite a U.S. embargo on selling arms to Iran, a country that had held U.S. citizens hostage for 444 days starting in 1979. In exchange, Iran used its influence to release the hostages in Lebanon, even though it was against U.S. policy to bargain for hostages. (Only three were released, and they were replaced by three more Americans soon afterward. Secretary of State George Schultz referred to this as a “hostage bazaar.”) Much of the missile-sale profits were diverted for weapons and financial support to fund the Reagan-favored “contras” fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, even though it was illegal to fund the contras above the limits set by Congress.

A Lebanese newspaper exposed the whole affair in November 1986. At first, Reagan went on TV and vehemently denied the whole thing, denouncing the newspaper report. A week later, he said the weapons sale was not tied to the hostage release.

While investigating these issues, Attorney General Ed Meese discovered that the U.S. government could account for only $12 million of the $30 million that Iran had paid for the missiles. It turned out that Lt. Col. Oliver North, from his post on the National Security Council, was sending the extra funds to pay for activities of the contras with the full knowledge of the White House.

The congressional and independent investigations and trials took years, with much chest-thumping testimony from North, a decorated Marine with a uniform full of ribbons. His secretary, Fawn Hall, who had done her best to cover her boss’s tracks by shredding documents until the shredder broke down from overuse, actually uttered these words at a congressional hearing: “Sometimes you have to go above the law.”

Fourteen people were charged with operational or cover-up crimes; 11 were convicted, although some of those convictions were overturned on appeal, and sentences were for probation rather than prison time. North and National Security Adviser Adm. John Poindexter were convicted, but their convictions were overturned on a technicality. (Of course, North got a 15-year gig on — where else — Fox News.) President George H.W. Bush pardoned six people who were convicted or facing charges.

During the height of the scandal, Reagan and Bush continued to claim that they had NO IDEA about the entire scheme. The Reagan-appointed Tower Commission (see? appointing an independent investigatory panel isn’t so hard) determined that Reagan’s “disengagement” from running the White House meant that he had nothing to do with Iran-Contra. Might “disengagement” mean that Reagan was already suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease when he was president? Televised interviews with Reagan late in his presidency include a lot of shots of Reagan saying, “I don’t remember.”

Trump-Russia connections: Trumpland’s ties to Russia have long been known, even if they weren’t made public. First, there’s the money angle: As Donald Jr. told a real estate conference in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” This is the most plausible reason why Trump refuses to release his taxes.

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has longstanding ties to Russia, misled officials (i.e., lied to Vice President Mike Pence) for weeks about his calls to the Russian ambassador the day President Obama announced sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 election. Flynn finally was forced to resign as Trump’s national security adviser after only 23 days on the job. Now, new reporting from The New York Times shows Team Trump’s “repeated contacts” with senior Russian intelligence officials during the campaign, a campaign in which Russia heavily put its thumb on the electoral scale for Donald Trump by hacking into the Democratic National Committee. Trump campaign staff with ties to Russia included Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman, and Carter Page, former foreign policy adviser. Also included was Republican operative Roger Stone.

All three scandals share several characteristics: 1) Administration officials stepped over the line legally; 2) Officials denied, denied, denied any involvement; 3) Officials blamed the media and internal leaks, especially during Watergate and the current scandal, and claimed the story was “overblown;” 4) It’s never the president’s fault.

We know how the first two scandals turned out. The media are (finally) doing their part in exposing the Trump White House’s ties to Russia. So which part of the government will investigate all of these charges?

Well, don’t look to the House of Representatives. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, already said the Flynn situation “has taken care of itself.” Instead, Chaffetz is asking the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s Office to investigate leaks about Flynn.

Besides, Chaffetz will be too busy launching a probe into a cartoon show called Sid the Science Kid. From The Washington Post:

The chairman of the powerful panel — the main investigative committee in the House — sent a letter to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demanding to know why, in an attempt to raise awareness of the Zika virus, “CDC appears poised to make a sole source award to the Jim Henson Company for $806,000 to feature Sid the Science Kid in an educational program about the virus.”

Sid, for readers not familiar with PBS children’s programming, is a preschool cartoon character. Like President Trump, Sid is orange. Unlike Trump, he is highly inquisitive.

At this point, even the Muppets would do a more thorough job of investigating than Chaffetz will.

Don’t expect satisfaction from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, either. Russian influence on Flynn and Trump? Total loser of an issue. But the leaks that opened the nation’s eyes to this scandal? Now there’s a subject worth investigating, Nunes claimed. Did we mention that Nunes was a member of the Trump transition team? And remember when Trump couldn’t get enough of whatever WikiLeaks delivered, including asking Russia to find and release Hillary Clinton’s emails?

And as far as an independent committee to probe the Russia connections, Nunes, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all say nyet. As Nunes told Politico: “There is not going to be one; I can tell you there is absolutely not going to be one. And I am not going to be lectured by people who are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.”

The only hope for congressional oversight seems to rest with a few Senate Republicans. Tennessee’s Bob Corker of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Missouri’s Roy Blunt, and Arizona’s John McCain are among those publicly clamoring for further investigation. According to a Reuters story:

“Let’s get everything out as quickly as possible on this Russia issue,” Corker told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

“I would want to make sure, with all of this suspicion, that everybody fully understood what has taken place. Otherwise, maybe there’s a problem that obviously goes much deeper than what we now suspect,” Corker added.

The drama of Flynn’s departure was the latest in a series of White House missteps and controversies since Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20. Corker expressed alarm over the way the administration is functioning, referring to “so much back-biting.”

“Is the White House going to have the ability to stabilize itself?” he asked, while also voicing concern that the Russia issue could “destabilize our ability to move ahead as a country.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a prominent Republican voice on foreign policy who has been a Trump critic, called for a broader bipartisan congressional investigation, to be conducted by a special committee, if it turns out that Trump’s presidential campaign communicated with the Russians.

“If it is true, it is very, very disturbing to me. And Russia needs to pay a price when it comes to interfering in our democracy and other democracies, and any Trump person who was working with the Russians in an unacceptable way also needs to pay a price,” Graham told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Of course, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky doesn’t see any point to an investigation, because it “makes no sense” to investigate fellow Republicans.

Will the “Drip, Drip, Drip” of this Russian influence scandal be enough to make lawmakers launch an independent investigation? We can’t count on Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions to look into the matter or to appoint a special prosecutor, despite the demands of Democratic senators to do so. Will public opinion make any difference?

What name will the media — and the public — ultimately give this scandal? A Washington Post story gave several examples of names already used, most ending with “-gate.” Flynngate. Kremlingate. Putingate. Russiagate.

While it would be nice to avoid the “-gate construction,” as the great scholar of political lexicology William Safire put it, Watergate remains the yardstick for any scandal, potential scandal or anything a partisan wants to be perceived as a scandal.

As Safire put it in his Political Dictionary, “gate” is merely a “device to provide a sinister label” to something.

But it’s too late to avoid gates. The gate is already out of the gate. …

And Watergate is now a script, with lines such as “what did the president know and when did he know it,” as much as it is history.

Who will turn out to be the Deep Throat of this scandal? In Watergate, FBI Associate Director Mark Felt turned out to be Bob Woodward’s secret source who supplied details and confirmed facts about the Nixon White House. Of course, leaks are gushing out of this White House and the intelligence community faster than the overflow of the Oroville Dam. There are probably IC agents lining up to be Deep Throats.

The most important question: What will be the smoking gun?

Originally posted on Daily Kos, Feb. 19, 2017.

So you want to help a refugee family

Members of Epiphany United Church of Christ in Chicago church welcomed their sponsored Syrian refugee family when they arrived at O'Hare Airport.

Members of Epiphany United Church of Christ in Chicago church welcomed their sponsored Syrian refugee family when they arrived at O’Hare Airport.

With the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban currently on hold, refugee families—and those organizations aiming to help them resettle in the United States—can return to planning the next steps for a new life.

Many people are asking how they can help. Settling a refugee family into your community is not a task to be taken alone; more likely, it’s done by a group such as a faith community working with a local agency that assists refugees. This is one reason why so many churches have gotten involved.

When the travel ban was announced on Jan. 27, many refugee families already were at airports waiting to board planes. Their trips were abruptly stopped and their visas canceled, only to resume again a week later, when senior federal Judge James Robart of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a temporary restraining order against the ban. Before being named to the federal bench by President George W. Bush (he was approved 99-0 in the Senate in 2004), Robart was in private practice for 30 years. The man Donald Trump called a “so-called judge” also did pro bono work representing refugees.

A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments for and against the Muslim ban and ruled 3-0 against the Trump administration. The issue may end up in the U.S. Supreme Court—or the executive order may be redrawn. But for now, it’s legal for refugee families to resume their journeys.

During the resumption of travel, one Syrian refugee family was finally able to fly to Chicago. Members of a sponsoring church were waiting to greet them. Let’s see how they all fared so far.

Epiphany United Church of Christ on Chicago’s north side worked as a co-sponsor with Refugee One, which helps to oversee refugee families coming to Illinois. Groups wishing to be co-sponsors have a big job ahead of them which includes:

  • Raise at least $6,000 to $8,000 for expenses. The average cost is usually $8,500.
  • Meet the family when they land at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
  • Set up and furnish an apartment.
  • Stock the apartment with food and have ready a welcoming meal.
  • Visit them weekly for six months to help them practice English skills.

Other duties are suggested for co-sponsors and mentors, including tutoring children and helping adults find jobs. Refugee One staff is on hand to guide co-sponsors every step of the way. They provide lists of all needed items for the apartment, including furniture, kitchen supplies, linens, and personal care items, and specify what items need to be new, such as bedding and linens, and what can be used, such as furniture.

The agency also helps the refugee families get integrated into American life. It tries to get each employable adult into a job within three months, and steers families toward English language classes, health care, and vocational training.

Epiphany worked for about nine months to get ready for a family of two parents and two boys, a 10-year-old and an older teenager. The apartment was ready with furniture, beds, and a stocked pantry, only to have the family stopped before boarding the plane. In the lull, a Congolese refugee family moved into the apartment temporarily but left before the Syrian family arrived. The Syrian family moved in after spending one night at a hotel.

Church members at a rally against the Muslim travel ban.

Church members at a rally against the Muslim travel ban.

The Rev. Kevin McLemore is the pastor at Epiphany. He said two congregation members led the effort to sponsor the family, with about 20-25 on the refugee care team. Some 15 people went to greet them at the airport.

After selling their belongings and paying for their own plane tickets, refugees receive a one-time payment from the U.S. government of $1,125 per family member to help with initial expenses (despite false right-wing media reports that refugees get that amount per month—they don’t). That money goes mostly for six months of apartment rent, along with other settlement costs. After six months, the family becomes responsible for their own rent. Refugee One finds the apartments in neighborhoods with affordable housing that also are near public transportation, making it easier for family members to travel to work and school.

McLemore said the fear is that the Trump administration and the GOP Congress might cut those refugee funds to zero. That’s one of the reasons Refugee One recommends a high initial amount of funds from the co-sponsor.

“My other fear is that if there’s a sustained action against feelings about refugees in this country, some of the agencies that help them, like Refugee One, might shut down,” McLemore said. “If the numbers of refugees are brought down, the organizations that do resettlements won’t have enough clients. And then there won’t be enough people around to help them when they do come.”

The members of the Epiphany refugee care team plan to visit their family once or twice a week to help them learn about the city and to offer any needed practical help, such as teaching them how to use passes to take public transportation and showing them where the nearest laundromat is. “The plan is to have them move forward as quickly as they can as well as to give them their privacy,” McLemore said. “Right now, they don’t know any English, but they’ll learn soon enough.”

The family helped by Epiphany fled Syria in 2013 to Turkey, where they spent the next few years. They completed the two-year vetting process and received their visa just recently. At their request, there is no photo of the refugee family. Back home in Syria, relatives of other refugee families who made it to the United States faced harassment when photos of smiling refugee family members showed up on social media and in the news.

The family also will be introduced to members of the Syrian Community Network, a Chicago nonprofit group made up of former Syrians who help with Syrian refugee resettlement. The group will work with the family to connect them with community resources and to ease the transition to a new country.

Taking on the responsibility of accepting a refugee family is a huge undertaking. Besides churches, other groups tackling the process include businesses, neighborhoods, and groups of like-minded friends. Groups like Refugee One will gladly accept donations, as will national groups such as the International Rescue Committee, which supports newly arrived refugees with immediate aid; UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency; the White Helmets, a volunteer Syrian Civil Defense group; Heartland Alliance, which works with immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and others; World Vision, a Christian group that works mostly with children; and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to name just a few. Nine national nonprofit agencies handle refugee resettlement in the U.S.

Refugee families come from countries other than just Syria. These agencies work with families from Burma, Burundi, Colombia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Somalia, Yemen, and many other places.

A personal note: My own church is in the beginning steps of helping a refugee family. So far, two people have stepped forward to lead the effort, although it’s going to take work by people throughout the church to raise funds and to help with all of the tasks.

At the church’s recent annual meeting, one of those two volunteers stood up to address the congregation about co-sponsoring a refugee family. This was the same weekend that the Muslim travel ban had been issued and then stopped partway due to a series of lawsuits.

“Before, I was excited about this project,” the volunteer said. “Now, I’m on fire.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 12, 2017.

It’s YUGE. Spoof videos mock Trump at #everysecondcounts.eu

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Late-night comedians in Europe have taken Trump trolling to a whole new level.

When President Donald Trump announced in his inaugural address that from now on, it would be “America First,” it was inevitable that other countries would mock him by competing to see which country came in second. They are doing so with “official” (and we’re using that term loosely) videos touting each country’s qualifications about why it’s the best in the race to be runner-up.

Not just the best. Fantastic. So great.

This started with the spoof “tourism” video from the Netherlands, which, being founded by William of Orange, was a natural fit for the orange-skinned Trump. Before long, other countries were jumping on board faster than Trump can sign an executive order.

Late-night TV comedians across Europe started producing their own videos, which are compiled and added almost daily at everysecondcounts.eu. The website’s image is its own parody of the official symbol of the European Union, a large circle with gold stars on a dark blue background. The site has its own Facebook page and Twitter account, both of which announce new entries in the fight for which country will be No. 2. At last count, there were 13 videos, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Morocco, Portugal, Slovenia (“Look, Slovenia should be sloppy second. @FLOTUS is from here after all”), and Switzerland, and you can link to all of the videos from the website. The Twitter account promises that entries from Australia, Austria, and Spain are due soon.

(Unfortunately, the widely seen Netherlands video originally posted here has been removed from circulation. Looks like the country’s claim to be second was FAKE NEWS all along. So we offer the entry from Denmark instead as an example. It’s great. It’s fantastic. You’ll love it.)

The videos start out, “This is a message from the government of [fill in blank]. Dear Mr. President: Welcome to this introduction video about [name of country].” They all mock Trump’s official “America First — Taking Our Country Back” logo with “America First — [fill in the blank country] second.”

The narrators of these videos use a Trump-like voice with Trump-like cadence and Trump-like language, which is so easy to mock. “It’s going to be a great video. It’s gonna be absolutely fantastic.” Most contain references to walls, being orange, towers, the KKK, fake news, tiny hands, and pussy-grabbing. And Mexico. They make fun of how bad Mexico is and how it’s going to pay for everything.

These videos are spreading across social media faster than piano-playing cats. The Netherlands video has more than 74 million views, and other countries are quickly catching up. Besides skewering Trump, the videos also make fun of their own countries and throw in some European history and culture. Since most Americans probably couldn’t find many of these countries on a map, you could even consider these videos educational. (Well, you could…)

Besides those “official” videos, there are similar entries from outside Europe. China has an entry that features Trump saying the word China for several minutes, compiled from campaign rallies and TV appearances, showing how obsessed he is with the Asian nation. (“Look, I love China, OK?”) Iran has its own video, which proclaims Trump’s similarities to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “a pioneer in the field of alternative facts.” Who knew there were so many ways to make fun of Hair Twittler? Mexico has a video, although instead of a spoof, it’s official policy hitting back against Trump and his proposal for a wall.

There’s even one from the “government” of Mars, claiming that “other planets suck. We can prove it.” It offers up Mars after Trump destroys the Earth. Except it would be Mexicans’ fault.

(OK, now THIS video also has been removed — probably beamed up back to Mars. Total losers. Instead, we’ll offer the entry from Germany, which is really our favorite anyway.)

As Jan Böhmermann, the comedian in the German entry, said (in English), “From now on, we are going to ridicule the shit out of the president of the United States and his fucking phony administration.” (Maybe it’s legal in Germany to use profanity on TV if it’s done in another language?) “When the whole world is standing up to make fun of you, you really have achieved something truly great,” Böhmermann added.

Countries that don’t make videos? Total losers.

UPDATE: Now there are entries from Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Namibia, and more. The everysecondcounts.eu page even has a new image of a world map, since there are so many countries featured.

But none from Russia. Sad!

Is Steve Bannon Donald Trump’s Rasputin? Da!

The man on the left is the real power behind the Romanov throne, uh, I mean the White House.

The man on the left is the real power behind the Romanov throne, uh, I mean the White House.

It has become painfully obvious who is running the show at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And it ain’t the guy with the orange skin.

The moniker “President Bannon” has become common when describing the white nationalist serving as Donald Trump’s alt-right-hand man: former Breitbart honcho Steve Bannon. But that description, while capturing the ultimate power grab, doesn’t accurately encompass the totality of the influence.

Past U.S. presidents have given others a majority stake during their terms in office. When Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated with a stroke, his second wife, Edith, made decisions on which matters to bring to the bedridden president’s attention. Certainly George W. Bush seemed second-in-command to Vice President Dick Cheney and adviser Karl Rove. All presidents have had strong advisers who influenced their decision-making.

But Bannon is in a class by himself. He was pulling Donald Trump’s strings before the election, even long before he became the campaign’s CEO. As President Trump’s chief strategist, Bannon first sucks up to Trump then bends his ear with his theories and beliefs of white nationalism, his anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic bigotry, his desire for a global populist movement for “Judeo-Christian” values, his paranoia. Bannon writes (or at least dictates) the ill-thought-out executive orders; Trump just signs them. Bannon overrode other agencies to say that yes, green card holders also would be affected by the Muslim ban. Bannon now is ensconced at the National Security Council and is (by some reports) running the show there, too. According to a story in Foreign Policy:

Even before he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principals committee” this weekend by President Donald Trump, Bannon was calling the shots and doing so with little to no input from the National Security Council staff, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution.

“He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC,” the official said. He described a work environment where there is little appetite for dissenting opinions, shockingly no paper trail of what’s being discussed and agreed upon at meetings, and no guidance or encouragement so far from above about how the National Security Council staff should be organized.

Writing executive orders. Setting national security policy. Telling Trump what to do. To me, the best reason to think of Bannon as Rasputin is …

Rasputin was Russian.

Grigori Rasputin was a Russian peasant, mystic, and faith healer who gained total influence over the Russian ruler Nicholas II, and especially his wife, Alexandra. He may or may not have had success “treating” their son, Alexei, for hemophilia, even if it was nothing more than calming the young prince and discontinuing the aspirin his doctors had prescribed, which is an anti-coagulant. But Alexandra was convinced that Rasputin was a savior, so he completely ingratiated himself with the Romanov rulers, especially in the last year of their rule. This is from a Guardian review of a 2014 biography, Rasputin: A Short Life by Frances Welch:

Rasputin took advantage of the Russian tradition of the wandering peasant holy man, walking from village to village and reputed to have a direct connection with God (even Tolstoy, toward the end of his life, visited one). He also exploited the loneliness and isolation of the last Romanov couple, Nicholas and Alexandra – the tsar a polite, indecisive man and the tsarina a German-born and English-bred granddaughter of Queen Victoria (“The tsarina was as happy ordering chintzes from the latest Maples catalogue as she was cultivating mystics,” writes Welch), who never quite adjusted to Russian life or shed her accent (she communicated with Nicholas in English). …

The worse things got, the more Alexandra came to rely on Rasputin’s judgment. In the summer of 1915, with the war going poorly for Russia, Nicholas decided to leave the capital and assume command of the Russian army. This was a moderately bad idea militarily, but it was a disastrous idea for the government, which was left in Alexandra’s hands. The tsarina was devoted to Russia, but inexperienced, and blinded by her belief in Rasputin. Under their joint direction a series of catastrophic decisions were made, as experienced ministers who disliked Rasputin were dismissed in favour of non-entities and incompetents.

Hmm. “Experienced ministers who disliked Rasputin were dismissed in favor of nonentities and incompetents.” The “loneliness and isolation of the last Romanov couple”—Trump is said to have almost no friends outside his family. Does this sound familiar?

Writing in Salon, Heather Digby Parton also calls Bannon Trump’s Rasputin:

Indeed, Bannon’s “understanding” of the world is exactly what has people concerned. Bannon has become Trump’s most influential adviser and (along with Stephen Miller, a former aide to attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions) seems to be guiding Trump toward his goals, even if the president is clueless about the details or the ramifications. Bannon is a radical white nationalist whose main objective, as he has openly admitted, is to blow everything up — essentially to destroy the existing social and political order. What that leaves us with after the smoke clears is anyone’s guess, since he is notably vague on the endgame. …

You can see this perfectly manifested in the first week’s orders on (nonexistent) voter fraud, immigration and deportation policies. The ban on Muslims from certain countries has particular national security implications, in that experts believe it will be a splendid propaganda tool for ISIS and will drive a wedge between the U.S. and many of its allies — something that fits perfectly with Bannon’s overall “blow it up” philosophy.

That worldview is reflected in far right movements and parties in the  U.K. (the UK Independence Party), Germany (the Alliance for Germany), the Netherlands (the Party for Freedom) and France (the National Front), among others, and some of these movements have also been cultivated by the Russian president Vladimir Putin. (There is evidence of his government’s attempts to meddle in European elections, in a similar fashion to what allegedly happened in the U.S. during the recent presidential campaign.)  This is the worldview that is likely to inform President Trump on policy.

As Bannon said last summer, Trump is just a “blunt instrument” and at this point it doesn’t matter if he “gets it” or not. In his new role as Trump’s Rasputin, Bannon is now in a position to literally make his dreams of destruction come true.

We don’t have to go into similarities between the two men, starting with bad taste in clothes. Rasputin was an infamous womanizer and drunkard; Bannon has been married and divorced three times, and let’s not even speculate about his interactions with women (one ex-wife filed a charge of domestic violence, but it was dropped due to “witness unavailability”).

There is ample evidence of Bannon’s ties to, or at least sympathy with, Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in whom many in the alt-right movement believe they have found an ally. Bannon has described himself as a “Leninist.” Of course, many others in Trumpland, including past campaign officials, current White House staff, and Trump family members, have ties to Russia as well, especially financial ones.

A Washington Post story quotes from a November Bannon interview in the Hollywood Reporter. This is how Bannon described himself:

“Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power,” he told the Hollywood Reporter in November, embracing the comparisons of him to those figures.

In the same interview, Bannon compared himself to a powerful aide to England’s Henry VIII — an aide who helped engineer a world-shaking move of his era, the split of the Church of England from the Catholic Church.

“I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors,” Bannon told the Hollywood Reporter.

For anyone who has read Hilary Mantel’s excellent trilogy on Cromwell, Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and the upcoming The Mirror and the Light, you know it doesn’t end well for Cromwell, who lost both the king’s favor and his own head.

Speaking of killing: No doubt you’ve heard accounts of how Rasputin was a hard man to kill. The story always makes for entertaining reading and has been the climax of several films about the Russian “mad monk.” Here’s the gist:

Rasputin was described as a man with “incredible charisma, bad teeth, questionable hygiene (he claimed that he once went six months without changing his underwear), and a strong animal odour.”

Rasputin was a man with “incredible charisma, bad teeth, questionable hygiene (he claimed that he once went six months without changing his underwear), and a strong animal odour.”

Worried about his influence on the royal family, many in the Russian aristocracy banded together to hatch a plot to kill Rasputin. Five men formed an assassination squad: Prince Felix Yusupov, Grand

Duke Dmitry Pavlovich, Dr. Stanislaus de Lazovert, Russian Army Lt. Sergei Mikhailovich Sukhotin, and Vladimir Purishkevich, a member of the Duma.

The night of Dec. 29, 1916 (or Dec. 16; with calendar changes, the date of Rasputin’s death is given as either Dec. 30 or Dec. 17, as Russia did not accept the Gregorian calendar until 1918), Rasputin was lured to Yusupov’s palace in St. Petersburg with the promise of sex with Yusupov’s wife, Irina, while the other four co-conspirators waited upstairs. The plan was to kill Rasputin after midnight and dispose of his body before dawn.

First, he was offered pastries and wine laced with potassium cyanide, but he refused to eat or drink anything. Yusupov ran upstairs for advice. When he returned, Rasputin started eating and drinking the poisoned fare, but it seemed to have no effect.

A panicked Yusupov went back upstairs to confer with his cohorts and returned with a gun. He shot Rasputin twice, once in the chest and once in the back. Rasputin fell. When Yusupov checked the body an hour later, Rasputin reportedly lunged at him and ran into the courtyard.

At this point, Purishkevich chased and shot at Rasputin, hitting him in the back and the head. Rasputin was dragged back inside, and Yusupov began hitting him with a dumbbell. But Rasputin remained alive, so the five bound him with rope and wrapped him in cloth. They drove him to the Great Petrovsky Bridge on the Malaya Nevka River, where they dumped him off the bridge into a hole in the frozen river, although one of his bloody boots got caught on the bridge.

Rasputin’s body was found on a few days later. An autopsy showed that no poison was found in his system; there were three bullet wounds in his chest, back and head; and there was water in his lungs, indicating that he had drowned (one version says the autopsy showed no water in his lungs).

The five conspirators were placed under house arrest and received many letters of congratulations. But Tsar Nicholas stopped the investigation and trial, knowing the harm it would do to the monarchy. Yusupov was exiled, and Pavlovich went to fight in World War I; both men survived the Russian Revolution and the war.

Many of these details about Rasputin’s killing come from the memoirs of Yusupov and Purishkevich. What is fact and what is legend about this assassination probably will never be known; many documents concerning Rasputin’s death were destroyed in the revolution.

But enough history, even if the account can never be fully corroborated. Which Republicans today are powerful enough—or even are willing—to take on Steve Bannon, as these Russian aristocrats (for selfish reasons of their own) did Rasputin? I wish to stress that I am not advocating anyone’s assassination in the literal sense.

But someone needs to have the decency and love of country to stop this guy. House Speaker Paul Ryan? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? Craven weasels. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham? HA! Perhaps the upcoming battle might be between Bannon and Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. That would be a fitting parallel.

There may not be much difference between calling Bannon “President Bannon” or “Trump’s Rasputin.” But his undue influence gets more dangerous with each passing day, and it needs to be at least curbed, if not stopped altogether.

On Quartz, author Anastasia Edel compares the Trump-Bannon approach to the Russian Revolution and offers a possible solution:

But if Bannon can model his strategy after Lenin’s, so too can Trump’s opponents heed the lessons of the Russian Revolution. …

We should remember, however, that revolutions are only able to take hold when the majority remains complacent. …

This “silent majority” is not necessarily in the Trump camp. They did not vote to end Affordable Care, Medicaid, and Social Security. They do not necessarily believe that the best government is one that’s designed by billionaires, for billionaires, or that climate change is a hoax. It is these voters who need to be mobilized to protect our democracy.

If there is any lesson from the Russian Revolution, it is that active engagement with the base is critical.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 5, 2017.

 

You want action on climate change? Elect some scientists.

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As the nation is forced to deal with an actual President Trump and the climate deniers in his cabinet and in Congress, those opposing him and his party are starting to “grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself,” as President Obama encouraged them to do in his farewell address. But who will these new leaders be, and where will they come from, especially when it comes to the issue of climate change?

How about some actual scientists?

A group called 314 Action (the name comes from the first three digits of the number pi) is actively recruiting scientists to run for office with a a new effort called STEM the Divide. The organization lists several mission statements and purposes on its website:

We are members of the STEM Community, grassroots supporters, and political activists committed to bring innovation to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education, aggressively advocate for real solutions to Climate Change, and elect more STEM trained candidates to public office. …

314 Action champions electing more leaders to the U.S. Senate, House, State Executive and Legislative offices who come from STEM backgrounds. We need new leaders who understand that climate change is real and are motivated to find a solution.

The group’s website lists four issues as its focus: Climate change, STEM education, gun violence, and energy. The organization is seeking candidates at all levels, not just in Congress. The group’s founder is Shaughnessy Naughton, a chemist, breast cancer researcher, and entrepreneur who has run unsuccessfully for office but now wants to concentrate on 314 Action. According to a story from Motherboard, which covers science and technology:

[Naughton] says she can use the experience from her losses to help scientists have stronger representation on a local, state, and national level.

“We have school boards that are determining the curriculum for our children and having people with a pro-science agenda at the table is very important,” she said. “We’re looking at the federal level, which is very important, but we’re also looking a few steps prior to that so we can build a pipeline to have more scientists at all levels of government.”

314 Action’s board of directors includes scientists and university professors from a range of scientific fields. Many are heavy hitters in the scientific world, such as world-renowned climate researcher Michael E. Mann, PhD, the lead author of the Observed Climate Variability and Change chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Scientific Assessment Report in 2001. In 2002, he was chosen by Scientific American as one of the 50 leading visionaries in science and technology. On the political side, the board also includes Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s campaign in 2004 and has become a campaign veteran.

“Out of the lab, into public office” is the motto on the page asking for volunteers to run for office. Scientists interested in pursuing public office can submit a form on the website, and there is an online information session planned for March 14 (yep, that’s 3/14, or pi day for your inner nerd) for scientists who want to take the next step in pursuing a political career. The purpose of that forum is “to talk them through basic campaign structure, communications and messaging strategies, and money-raising processes,” according to the Motherboard story.

Since many of these candidates will be political novices, the group hopes to connect them with campaign professionals to show them the ropes. According to a story in The Washington Post:

STEM the Divide will offer training for first-time candidates and connect them with experts who can help organize their campaigns, as well as organize a network of donors from which the group can raise funds on the candidates’ behalf.

Some of the donors already in line are people who contributed to Naughton’s congressional campaigns. Other connections will come from advisers, such as Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann and Democratic political consultant Joe Trippi.

There are only two science PhDs in Congress today, both Democrats: Rep. Bill Foster, a particle physicist from Illinois, and Rep. Jerry McNerney, an engineer from California. There are 18 physicians, both senators and representatives, on the Republican side who make up the GOP Doctors Caucus.

Since 314 Action has been getting more publicity, including the Post story and a story in The Atlantic, more and more scientists are indicating an interest in running. The new group has 400 possible candidates so far, with new calls coming in every day. Even if not all of those actually run and—even more important—win, they will be changing the election conversation on topics related to science. From the Atlantic story:

Since the election, many scientists have made forays into politics, from signing open letters to marching in open protest. “I think most scientists view their work as pure and noble, and politics as a dirty game. It’s almost like selling out or going to the dark side,” says Frances Colón, who until recently was Deputy Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State. But, since Trump’s victory, “many more scientists are realizing why their voices are needed. I’ve had numerous coffees with people who are considering ways to run.” …

For now, 314 Action will only back Democratic candidates. I wonder if that risks turning science into yet another partisan issue, but Naughton argues that it is already on that road. “When we’re talking about climate change, there’s a clear distinction between the two parties,” she says.

Of course, running for office isn’t free. The group currently has more than 80,000 donors. To counter anti-environmental money, such as that donated by the Koch brothers, it’s going to need dollars as well as candidates.

After the success of the Women’s March on Jan. 21, scientists are planning their own March for Science. When else would they have it but Earth Day, on April 22? They’d like to keep it nonpartisan, but the differing approaches to science between the two parties are too obvious. According to a story on Yahoo News:

The scientific community has expressed indignation at a number of policies set forth by the new Trump administration. The president’s decision to defund NASA’s Earth Science divisions –and more recently to censor environmental agencies such as the EPA, the National Parks Service, and the Department of Agriculture over climate change data — has spurred scientists around the world to speak out against the administration.

And this has to be one of the best protest signs ever:

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Sure there’s voter fraud. By Republicans.

These voters look alive to me!

These voters look alive to me!

So Hair Twittler is asking for a “major investigation” into voter fraud, the kind that exists only by seeing the world through orange-colored glasses.

Donald Trump is still so incensed about losing the popular vote — and the fact that news media keep reporting it — that he keeps tweeting about it, claiming that he would have won more votes than Hillary Clinton if not for the “millions” of illegal votes cast for the Democratic candidate. His press secretary, Baghdad Sean Spicer — you know, the guy who delivers “alternative facts” — repeated the lie with a straight face, citing a “study.”

Never mind that every study ever done on voter fraud shows that it’s almost nonexistent. Never mind that David Becker, the author of a 2012 study by Pew Research (the study Baghdad Sean referred to as a 2008 study) says his work, and other voter studies done by Pew, do not show such fraud. The Becker study shows problems in the voter registration process, but voter registration and voter fraud are very different things.

A Washington Post story quotes Jesse Richman, the author of the study Spicer might have meant. That study, by professors at Old Dominion University, said that 14 percent of non-citizens claimed they were registered to vote. But making such a claim doesn’t mean they tried to to cast a ballot, and Richman said such a conclusion about voter fraud wasn’t warranted.

The results “suggest that almost all elections in the US are not determined by noncitizen participation, with occasional and very rare potential exceptions,” [Richman] wrote.

In the days after the election, Team Trump had plenty of confidence in the votes cast.

Despite Trump’s repeated claims, his attorneys stated there was no evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 election. In a court filing opposing Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s recount petition, lawyers for Trump and his campaign wrote: “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

Look, we all know this is about Trump’s ego and not about voter fraud. (Well, that and supposedly what he heard from a German golfer.) It’s about the fact that nearly 3 million more people voted for Clinton than for him. It’s also a way to distract from other issues Trumpland is facing, such as the ethical conflicts with his businesses and with some of his cabinet nominees; the fact that insiders are leaking to Beltway media that President ThinSkin can’t handle embarrassment; his daily executive orders on the Affordable Care Act, his wall with Mexico, a Muslim ban, immigrant deportation, freezing EPA grants, etc. But voter fraud is the latest shiny object.

Even though they are extremely rare, let’s look at some actual cases of voter fraud. See if you can connect the dots on what the perpetrators have in common.

In January 2016, New Hampshire resident Derek Castonguay pleaded guilty to voter fraud. He was so excited about voting, he was registered to vote as a Republican in both Windham and Salem, N.H.

In February 2016, Wisconsin resident Robert Monroe was sentenced to jail on 13 counts of voter fraud. He had cast illegal votes in 2011 and 2012, including voting multiple times in the recall election, for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, from multiple locations and in the names of his son and his son’s girlfriend. Monroe tried to claim he was in a “fugue state” when he voted so often, but the judge wasn’t buying it.

In 2014, Leslie Rutledge, the Republican candidate for Arkansas attorney general, was registered to vote in Washington, D.C., Arkansas, and Virginia. She registered to vote in Washington in 2008, then voted absentee from Arkansas in the same election. An Arkansas county clerk canceled her Arkansas registration in 2014 when he learned she was registered in multiple states, meaning she couldn’t run for office, because in Arkansas you must be registered to vote to run for office. Rutledge objected and blamed “big bureaucrat, big government” politics. Rutledge ultimately won her argument — and the attorney general’s race. Oh, and she’s a YUUUGE Trump supporter.

In Illinois, a 2014 candidate for the General Assembly, Republican Nancy Myalls, was found to have cast votes in both Illinois and Wisconsin, where she owned a vacation home, in 2008 and 2012. She was another Republican, like Robert Monroe, who wanted to make sure she could vote for Scott Walker in the recall election. Although Myalls was never prosecuted for voter fraud, at least she lost the election for a state legislative seat.

In February 2012, the Republican secretary of state in Indiana, Charlie White, was found guilty on multiple counts: two counts of perjury and one each of false registration, voting in another precinct, submitting a false ballot, and theft. At the time of the fraud, he had used his ex-wife’s home as his voting address because he “didn’t want to give up a $1,000-a-month” town council salary. Remember that the secretary of state is in charge of elections.

In January 2013, Roxanne Rubin, a Nevada Republican, accepted a plea deal for voting multiple times in the 2012 election. Rubin claimed she didn’t want to commit fraud, she just decided to “test” the integrity of the voting system by voting multiple times.

In Arizona in 2012, a Republican candidate for county supervisor, John Enright, was forced to withdraw his candidacy when it came to light that he had been sending in absentee votes for his girlfriend—who had been dead for five years.

Also in Arizona in 2012, an unidentified Republican man thought it would be hilarious to register his dog as a Democrat, just to show how easy it was to commit voter fraud. He committed voter registration fraud, but not voter fraud — the dog obviously wasn’t going to show up to vote. And what dog would want to register as a Republican anyway?

There are four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election out of 135 million votes cast, which turned up in an exhaustive online search by The Washington Post. Three of the four involved Republican voters and Trump supporters. The fourth involved an election worker in Florida counting absentee ballots who was arrested after she filled in bubbles for a Republican mayoral candidate.

Of course, Steve Bannon, President Popular Vote Loser’s right-hand man in the White House, is registered to vote in two states — New York and Florida. One of the Trump offspring, Tiffany, is registered in both New York and Pennsylvania. Trump Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin is registered in both New York and California. Two more double dippers: Son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is registered in New York and New Jersey, and Baghdad Sean Spicer is registered in Rhode Island and Virginia. Presumably all five voted Republican. Even Gregg Phillips, Trump’s guy pushing the bogus “millions voting illegally” claim, is still registered in Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas, under two different versions of his name.

What is there to say but — Sad!

Surely there must be cases where Democrats committed voter fraud, you might say. Perhaps, but a video example of Democratic voter fraud—widely spread by GOP conspiracy theorists in 2016 — was actually filmed in Russia, according to Snopes.com. Also from Snopes: a piece shooting down video claims of voter fraud made by James O’Keefe’s “Project Veritas.”

A post by FactCheck.org debunks Trump’s claims of “massive” voter fraud, whether they’re about dead people voting, non-citizens voting, or people voting more than once. These cases involving Republicans aside, the actual number cases is so small that that it couldn’t affect any election outcome. Thirty-one incidents in 14 years, out of 1 billion votes cast. As FactCheck reports:

In an Aug. 16, 2014, article for the Washington Post, Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, currently on leave to work with the Department of Justice overseeing voting, wrote that he has been tracking allegations of voter fraud for years, including any “credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.”

“So far,” he wrote, “I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. … To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents below come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.”

In 2012, a team of students led by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University analyzed 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 and concluded that “while fraud has occurred, the rate is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent.”

Yes, states and local governments are slow to clean up voting rolls, so sometimes voters who moved from one location or one state to another might show up on multiple rolls. That doesn’t mean they voted more than once (except for the Republicans named above). Voters die, and they remain on voting rolls until removed. That doesn’t mean zombies trudge to the voting booth with arms outstretched as if they walked off the set of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.

You know what is fraudulent about voting regulations? Things that make it harder for people to vote. Voter ID laws and other voter suppression measures target the elderly, recently naturalized citizens, African-Americans, Hispanics, and students, making it harder for them to cast ballots. And yes, those efforts are done by Republicans to depress votes for those who might be more likely to vote for Democrats.

Whatever “investigation” might be launched by the Trumpsters is sure to be used as an excuse for even stricter voter ID laws. The Trump team has said the probe will be focused on urban centers, which lean heavily Democratic.

The 2012 Pew study lists many voter registration problems and offers less expensive, effective ways to solve registration issues, such as online voter registration and online voter data comparisons. By all means, let’s streamline voter registration to have accurate voter rolls. But let’s not waste time, effort, and money on a problem that doesn’t exist.

So take it away, CNN’s Jake Tapper:

Originally published by Daily Kos on Jan. 29, 2017.

Trump’s executive orders show it’s amateur hour in Trumpland

Trump loves the hoopla and attention of signing executive orders. Too bad for him that many will never be enacted.

Trump loves the hoopla of signing executive orders. Too bad for him that many will never be enacted.

In the early days of his presidency, President Donald Trump has been signing orders willy nilly, as soon as the papers are placed in front of him.

But just because he signs them doesn’t mean they’re going to happen.

In just one week, Trump has signed orders at a frenzied pace, more than any other president in history in as short a time. Politico has the entire list, which could need updating as soon as the next time Trump grabs his pen. So far, he’s signed orders on:

  • Building his famed wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and boosting border security in general.
  • Freezing all regulations.
  • Reviewing and relaxing manufacturing regulations.
  • Reinstating plans for the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • Promoting “Made in the USA” pipelines (apparently Trumpland didn’t know that foreign-made steel was being used in these pipelines).
  • Scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP (China really liked that one! It will give them a lot more leverage with trading partners).
  • Streamlining environmental review of infrastructure projects.
  • Providing “relief” from the Affordable Care Act.
  • Reinstating a stricter abortion policy to ban U.S. funds for foreign entities that perform or promote abortions.
  • Freezing the size of the federal workforce.
  • Pursuing undocumented immigrants.
  • Banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, including all refugees, now rejected twice in court.

Remember when Republicans in Congress and right-wing media constantly complained that President Obama was acting like a “tyrant” every time he signed an executive order? Yeah, those voices are pretty quiet these days.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s going to take a lot more than Trump’s signature for most of these measures to make them happen.

Remember that one of the first things Obama did upon taking office in 2009 was to sign an executive order closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Congress blocked providing funds for any closure and blocked transferring any of those prisoners to prisons within the United States. Eight years later, Gitmo is still open, and Trump vows to expand it.

The border wall — Trump’s signature issue and the subject of  full-throated calls by his campaign crowds to build it and have Mexico pay for it — will cost an estimated $12 billion to $15 billion. Even those estimates are probably low, and Mexican officials have been clear that there’s no way in hell that they’ll give a penny for the effort.

A Republican Congress that screamed every time President Obama wanted to spend anything on infrastructure or on any of his signature initiatives may not go along with this huge expenditure, either. House Speaker Paul Ryan was all smiles about Congress passing a spending bill for the wall, but with no details about funding. Many of his fiscally conservative House members basically said, “Not so fast.” And with no new source of revenue for the wall construction, that would add bigly to the nation’s deficit spending.

Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer of “alternative facts” fame, floated a 20 percent tariff on all Mexican goods coming into the country to pay for the wall. Trumpland quickly dropped the idea within hours, no doubt when media started reporting that the 20 percent charge would be paid by U.S. taxpayers. Never mind the fact that much of our produce in winter months comes from Mexico; those goods would have a 20 percent surcharge, affecting nearly all U.S. consumers. The Trump team obviously didn’t think through all of the ramifications of floating payment ideas. Headlines like “Families paying 20 percent more for groceries” aren’t the kinds of coverage the White House is seeking.

This demonstrates the biggest problem with Trump’s executive orders. It’s amateur hour. The actions are being written by his advisers — many by white nationalist adviser Steve Bannon — who have no idea how to implement actual policy. They’re still thinking in campaign mode, not governing mode. As soon as Bannon can write them, Trump signs them. Details and the effects of the orders be damned.

But it gives Trump a chance to look like he’s in charge, much like the new president of a company does in making changes just to show who’s boss. It also brings to mind the image of a dog or a wolf marking its territory. And here we thought we were finished with imagery involving Trump, Russian hookers, and urination.

A recent Washington Post story outlined the problems for Team Trump:

Many of the sweeping actions President Trump vowed this week through his executive orders and proclamations are unlikely to happen, either because they are impractical, opposed by Congress and members of his Cabinet, or full of legal holes.

The reality — that yawning gap between what Trump says he will do and what he actually can do — underscores his chaotic start, which includes executive actions drafted by close aides rather than experts and without input from the agencies tasked with implementing them.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham reported that he was “mucho sad” about the idea of the 20 percent tarriff. In a series of tweets, he wrote:

Border security yes, tariffs no. Mexico is 3rd largest trading partner. Any tariff we can levy they can levy. Huge barrier to econ growth.

Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila, or margaritas is a big-time bad idea. Mucho Sad.

Oh, Senator Graham. Don’t you know that you always need an exclamation point after using “sad” in a tweet? Sad!

 

How media can hit back on Trump’s ‘alternative facts’

Chuck Todd wasn't buying what Kellyanne Conway was selling.

Chuck Todd wasn’t buying what Kellyanne Conway was selling.

No question: The media love to write about the media. And Donald Trump offers an opportunity for fresh fodder from journalists to give advice to other journalists on how best to do their work when confronting the lies of the Hair Twittler administration.

There’s no shortage of “how-to” pieces on media coverage of a President Trump. They run the gamut from “We’re all going to die” to “Now we’re free to be real journalists again.” Reporters are even getting advice from Russian journalists: “Welcome to the era of bullshit.”

The truth—and there still is such a thing these days, even in an “alternative facts” world, as Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway claimed as she lied through her teeth on Meet the Press — is likely somewhere in the middle. Official “news” certainly will lean toward exaggeration, lies, and propaganda from the Trump administration.

Reporters know they’ll be forced to climb “Bullshit Mountain,” as Jon Stewart used to say on The Daily Show. The ridiculous and laughable claims by Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer — living up to the moniker of “Baghdad Sean” — about the small size of Trump’s inaugural crowds are just the latest example. But as long as reporters remember to do their jobs honestly, without worrying about getting skewered in an unpresidential tweet, we’re likely to be served better by the Fourth Estate.

The reaction to the possibility of closing the White House daily briefing room went from  “about damn time — it’s too small, anyway” to “OMG we’ll no longer have access.” When the Trump team conceded that they wouldn’t close the room but would make decisions about who would be in or out of the 50-seat space, the reaction turned to “but that’s the White House Correspondents’ Association’s job!” to Democracy is under assault.

Trump’s shit-show of a press conference and Spicer’s equally bombastic briefing room appearance while refusing to take any questions shows that any news conference by team Trump is going to be worthless anyway. So what is a White House reporter to do?

From the “We’re all going to die” camp comes Washington Post Media Columnist Margaret Sullivan, who predicts that Trump’s presidency will be a “hellscape of lies and distorted reality.”

Trump will punish journalists for doing their jobs. Famously touchy and unable to endure serious scrutiny, he has always been litigious — although, as journalist Tim O’Brien has pointed out based on Trump’s failed suit against him, sometimes unsuccessfully so.

Imagine that tendency, now with executive powers, a compliant attorney general, and a lily-livered Congress. Trump’s reign will probably be awash in investigations and prosecutions of journalists for doing their jobs, stirring up the ugliest of class wars along the way. …

So, we can expect President Trump to lie to the media, manipulate reality, and go after those who upset the notion that adulation is his birthright.

After Spicer’s “news” conference (and we’re using that term loosely), Sullivan had moved on to declare that The traditional way of reporting on a president is dead.

On the other hand, Politico writer Jack Shafer claims that Trump will offer journalism opportunities like never before because now reporters won’t be bound by the usual inside-the-Beltway rules and decorum.

If Trump’s idea of a news conference is to spank the press, if his lieutenants believe the press needs shutting down, if his chief of staff wants to speculate about moving the White House press scrum off the premises, perhaps reporters ought to take the hint and prepare to cover his administration on their own terms. Instead of relying exclusively on the traditional skills of political reporting, the carriers of press cards ought to start thinking of covering Trump’s Washington like a war zone, where conflict follows conflict, where the fog prevents the collection of reliable information directly from the combatants, where the assignment is a matter of life or death.

In his own way, Trump has set us free. Reporters must treat Inauguration Day as a kind of Liberation Day to explore news outside the usual Washington circles. He has been explicit in his disdain for the press and his dislike for press conferences, prickly to the nth degree about being challenged and known for his vindictive way with those who cross him. So, forget about the White House press room. It’s time to circle behind enemy lines. … Opportunities to ignore the White House minders and investigate Trump announce themselves almost daily. …

It’s not winter that’s coming with the inauguration of Trump. It’s journalistic spring.

Hmm. A rogue journalist vs. President News in 140 characters or less? It’s going to take a lot of those rogue journalists — and an even greater number of readers — to have an impact. And those rogue journalists must make sure not to be distracted when Team Trump wants to change the subject of a potential scandal with an outrageous tweet.

Also at Politico, Roger Simon writes that Team Trump’s real problem is that they are upset because the rest of us aren’t obsequious enough.

This is what Trump wants. Our humble submission and respect. Sort of like what a dog gives his master when he comes home at night.

Or the touch of the cap the lower classes used to give the upper classes in days gone by.

Trump wants figuratively, if not literally, a nod of the head, a bend of the knee, a curtsy. A recognition that even though approximately 3 million more Americans voted for his opponent, he deserves not only our submission, but our humble submission.

Simon’s ending advice:

We do not fight against the things we hate. We fight for the things we love.

Do not hate Trump. Love America. And the next four years will fly by.

(Roger, when you’re sitting in a comfortable office in D.C., you have the luxury of letting four years “fly by.” People who could lose health coverage; be deported; get sick because of health hazards from weaker environmental and workplace protections; become the targets of hate crimes because of their skin color, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or politics don’t have that luxury. And those are just a few examples. Just sayin’.)

A group of journalists from alternative media outlets writing at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) offers a manifesto of advice to U.S. journalists covering Trump. Their six rules (discussed in depth at the link) are:

  • Don’t consent to closed-door meetings.
  • Stop normalizing hate.
  • Cover real issues.
  • Diversify the newsroom.
  • Cover local issues.
  • Cover political dissent.

Speaking of lists, the folks at Bill Moyers & Co. offer 10 Investigative Reporting Outlets to Follow. They are Pro Publica, the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting, now online at Reveal, Frontline on PBS, Mother Jones, the Intercept, Real Clear Investigations, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and BuzzFeed. (Even if you disagree with some of the suggestions, it’s still quite a list.) Moyers & Co. will regularly offer a roundup of the week’s Best Investigative Journalism.

Katrina vanden Heuvel offers some advice in The Washington Post about the need for reporters not to be conned by Trump’s game of “divide and conquer”:

To function properly, the media have to be more than an echo chamber. At the same time, journalists should remember that we all face a common threat from an administration that is hostile to the very notion of freedom of the press. But instead of lamenting Trump’s contempt for the media, the best defense is to get to work and prove that watchdog journalists committed to digging up the truth still have a vital role to play in our democracy.

Indeed, if Trump’s news conference last week taught us anything, it’s that he intends to deploy the same strategy against the media that he used so ruthlessly with voters during the campaign: divide and conquer. As journalists, we can’t allow him to pit us against one another. If he succeeds, it will become even more difficult to defend the American people’s right to know.

Dan Rather is now 85 years old, but he’s still not afraid to take on Trump. He tells reporters that they can’t “back up or back down or turn around.” This interview was in Variety:

Coverage of middle America — what some people call “the flyover states” — needs to increase. But that comes up against the hard reality that the old business model of journalism is shrinking or gone, and the new business model has not yet arrived. So at the very time we need more on-the-ground reporting, there are fewer reporters to do it. …

I think what’s needed now is a re-dedication to the idea that the press, the media, has a special responsibility as part of the checks and balances in our system. We can’t back up or back down or turn around. We can’t get distracted or lose focus or, for that matter, deal in any kind of cowardice, small or large.

On a post on his Facebook page that quickly went viral, Rather also minced no words about “alternative facts.”

What can we do? We can all step up and say simply and without equivocation. “A lie, is a lie, is a lie!” And if someone won’t say it, those of us who know that there is such a thing as the truth must do whatever is in our power to diminish the liar’s malignant reach into our society.

There is one group of people who can do a lot — very quickly. And that is Republicans in Congress. Without their support, Donald Trump’s presidency will falter. So here is what I think everyone in the press must do. If you are interviewing a Paul Ryan, a Mitch McConnell, or any other GOP elected official, the first question must be “what will you do to combat the lying from the White House?” If they dodge and weave, keep with the follow ups. And if they refuse to give a satisfactory answer, end the interview.

Facts and the truth are not partisan. They are the bedrock of our democracy. And you are either with them, with us, with our Constitution, our history, and the future of our nation, or you are against it. Everyone must answer that question.

The Columbia Journalism Review published An open letter to Trump from the US press corps. It’s a little late to throw down the gauntlet, and I doubt that such a letter will have members of the Trump team shaking in their boots. Anyway, here are some samples from the letter.

But while you have every right to decide your ground rules for engaging with the press, we have some, too. It is, after all, our airtime and column inches that you are seeking to influence. We, not you, decide how best to serve our readers, listeners, and viewers. So think of what follows as a backgrounder on what to expect from us over the next four years. …

We will set higher standards for ourselves than ever before. We credit you with highlighting serious and widespread distrust in the media across the political spectrum. Your campaign tapped into that, and it was a bracing wake-up call for us. We have to regain that trust. And we’ll do it through accurate, fearless reporting, by acknowledging our errors and abiding by the most stringent ethical standards we set for ourselves.

We’re going to work together. You have tried to divide us and use reporters’ deep competitive streaks to cause family fights. Those days are ending. We now recognize that the challenge of covering you requires that we cooperate and help one another whenever possible. So, when you shout down or ignore a reporter at a press conference who has said something you don’t like, you’re going to face a unified front. We’ll work together on stories when it makes sense, and make sure the world hears when our colleagues write stories of importance. We will, of course, still have disagreements, and even important debates, about ethics or taste or fair comment. But those debates will be ours to begin and end.

We’re playing the long game. Best-case scenario, you’re going to be in this job for eight years. We’ve been around since the founding of the republic, and our role in this great democracy has been ratified and reinforced again and again and again. You have forced us to rethink the most fundamental questions about who we are and what we are here for. For that we are most grateful.

Some decent advice from a variety of sources. Let’s see who listens — and what their results are.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 22, 2017.

Women are coming for you, Donald Trump

One of my favorite signs from the Women's March in Chicago. We're all with each other now.

One of my favorite signs from the Women’s March in Chicago. We’re all with each other now.

What do you do when you plan for a Women’s March that totaled 22,000 people on Tuesday and the crowd grows to 150,000 by Saturday? Or maybe 250,000? You march on.

Just got back from the Chicago event, which was GREAT. Probably the fact that the sun was shining after a few days of rain brought people out to join in one great protest event.

The “march” part was officially canceled after the organizers realized the crowd was too big. The rally went on, but there were too many to get to the rally point, so not everyone heard the speakers. But who cares? We read each others’ signs. We passed out “SHE GOT MORE VOTES” stickers. And we knew we weren’t alone.

People still marched wherever they were, no matter what street they were on, and they were cheered heartily by the surrounding crowd. The El cars were packed on the way into the city in the morning, and cheers and applause greeted the crowds at every stop.

No pussies backing down here.

No pussies backing down here.

So many good signs, many with a pussy theme:

  • We need a leader not a tweeter.
  • Women’s rights are human rights.
  • VAGINALANTE!
  • Pussy Lives = 9; Trump Lives = 0.
  • Keep your tiny hands off my pussy!
  • Keep Loving Louder.
  • RESIST!
  • IF YOU’RE NOT ANGRY, YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION.
  • My mother fought for this 100 years ago. We’re not stopping now!
  • STILL A NASTY WOMAN.
  • Too many DICKS in Congress.
  • I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA.

The crowd was mostly women, but there were lots of men, too, with signs, pussy hats, etc. Lots of pink overall, including pink hair. More of a white crowd, but racially mixed. Several Black Lives Matter signs, too. There were still Hillary gear, signs, and shirts, and lots of “nasty woman” T-shirts and buttons.

Damn straight she did.

Damn straight she did.

A tweet from Joy Ann Reid said there were now 600 of these marches worldwide. There was even one in Antarctica. I look forward to seeing more photos and reading more accounts. You can’t ignore us, President ThinSkin.

Nasty women are all over.

Nasty women are all over.

 

Obama’s last goodbye: Yes, we did, and yes, we still can

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So President Obama has given his last speech to the nation. And he’s left a hole in my heart.

We were lucky enough to get tickets to attend his farewell address. We were among those standing in line for hours to get into the huge convention center hall at Chicago’s McCormick Place where Obama would bid us all goodbye and remind us to live up to the country’s democratic ideals.

But he did something even more important: He challenged those in attendance and the 24 million watching on television not to let the accomplishments of his administration be the end of a movement, but a beginning.

That’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. You answered people’s hopes. And because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

The huge, multi-racial crowd at McCormick Place was made up of many campaign veterans from 2008 and 2012. Many carried American flags; one woman even had three adorning her updo. The place was awash with Obama shirts, hats, jackets, stickers, and pins. Many T-shirts proudly proclaimed that the wearer was with one of the many groups affiliated with the campaign: Teachers for Obama. Pennsylvanians for Obama. One woman held her infant daughter—who was obviously not around eight years ago—wearing a pink “My Mama’s for Obama” T-shirt, perhaps passed down from an older sibling, relative, or neighbor.

A woman I phone-banked with in 2008—she must have gotten there an hour or two ahead of us and was far ahead of me as the line snaked around four times the entire length of the convention hall floor—called my name and waved. Our older daughter, who worked on the 2008 campaign and (full disclosure here) has worked for the White House for six years, saw many campaign buddies and current and former co-workers. There was even an “OFAmily” party afterward for anyone who had ever worked on any of the campaigns.

Many had saved and were wearing Obama campaign buttons. Many wore buttons that proudly proclaimed, “I WAS THERE,” sending the message that they were among the million-plus crowd who braved the cold in January 2009 for the inauguration of the first black president. I remember seeing so many of those buttons on the lapels of Chicagoans’ down coats in 2009.

They were there then, and they were there for the farewell address. And now the Obama presidency is over, and the country is better off for it, even as many of us grimly anticipate what lies ahead.

This was the beginning of the line of the 20,000 or so people waiting to get into President Obama's farewell address. Some had lined up at early as 5 a.m. As police finally let them enter the security checkpoint, the crowd started chanting, "Yes, we can."

This was the beginning of the line of the 20,000 or so people waiting to get into President Obama’s farewell address. Some had lined up at early as 5 a.m. As police finally let them enter the security checkpoint, the crowd started chanting, “Yes, we can.”

You may have watched the speech on TV or read the transcript online. You actually got a better view of it than we did; we didn’t have the VIP tickets of those sitting in front of the stage. We stood off to the side in the huge crowd and watched on a giant screen. The sound quality was so-so in such a big hall, and Obama’s words often were drowned out by sustained applause and cheers. I had to read the speech online later to see all the words and watch clips to get the full emotional impact. If you missed the address for some reason, you can read the transcript here or watch it online:

Rather than repeat everything Obama said—that has been well covered by now—I want to share what we felt and what those feelings might mean going forward.

The crowd was diverse in race, age, and ethnicity. It came as no surprise that many African Americans wanted to see the farewell address from the nation’s first black president. But there were Latinos, Muslims (head scarves adorned many heads), and Asians as well. Somehow, I doubt you’d see the same mix at an event for Donald Trump.

The crowd also was primarily young. The majority were in their 20s and 30s—prime ages for campaign workers eight years ago and for current White House staffers. But others were high school students who were too young to vote or campaign in 2008. Why were they there? What made this speech so important?

“I just felt like I had to be here,” said one high school student near me in the crowd who was there with several classmates from Collins Academy High School in North Lawndale, a poor Chicago neighborhood with high crime rates. All were wearing sweatshirts that read, “MY BLOCK. MY HOOD. MY CITY” and are with a program that takes teens from various inner-city neighborhoods on day trips to expose them to other parts of the greater community, always ending with a service project by the kids themselves. Program founder Jahmal Cole and volunteers waited in line in single-digit temperatures the previous Saturday to pick up tickets for his group, but he struck out; the tickets were gone. After a public plea, many Chicagoans donated their tickets to the teenagers. “It would be like seeing Martin Luther King Jr. or John Kennedy speak. It’s history in the making,” Cole said in a story reporting the generosity of the city’s residents.

Many former campaign colleagues hugged each other and traded stories about what they were doing now, showing pictures of spouses and children on cell phones. One young man pushed his mother in a wheelchair so she could be present. She kept telling him how much she appreciated his taking time off work to bring her to the speech. “I don’t mind,” he told her. “I’m glad to share the experience.” When you’re in line for so many hours, there’s a lot you can share with those around you.

Chicago is rightly proud of its native son, even if Obama isn’t really a native and even if he ends up living elsewhere when the family leaves Washington in a few years after his sophomore daughter Sasha finishes high school. (During the speech, as the camera panned the family, many in the crowd wondered aloud why Sasha was missing. I mentioned to a guy next to me that she probably had a test the next morning, which turned out to be correct. But I did like the Twitter suggestions that she was part of a SEAL Team 6 group hunting for Trump’s tax returns.)

Obama got emotional toward the end of his address, thanking his White House staff, the military, Vice President Joe Biden, his daughters, and especially Michelle Obama. Many in the crowd wiped away tears along with the first family.

All that was bittersweet, as it was when he introduced what he called his “final point” about democracy being taken for granted. “NO!” the crowd shouted, not ready for him to leave the stage yet, not ready for anything final.

The image that really punched me in the gut was Obama walking off the stage. That’s when it really hit me: No more Obama. No more soaring rhetoric. No more speeches to soothe the nation after a mass shooting. No more mic-dropping humor at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner. No more calling out Republicans in campaigns. No more outlining the country’s needed priorities during the State of the Union address. No more being the only adult in a room of political children. No more standing up for what’s right.

The speech demonstrated the stark difference between the outgoing and incoming presidents. Obama gave an emotional goodbye with grace and inspiration while Trump exploded in a childish tantrum both on Twitter and a train wreck of a news conference. Talk about going from class to crass, or from the sublime to slime. Even as much as we dread Trump coming into power, that’s made worse when we’re reminded of what we’re losing.

On a Chicago radio talk show the morning after the speech, one caller, after admitting to quite a few tears during the farewell address, said it “felt like your big brother and his family have moved out of the house.”

“You knew they wouldn’t stay forever,” she said. “But you hoped this day would never come.”

The day has come. But if Barack Obama inspired anyone in our audience—or those listening around the country—to “grab a clipboard, gather some signatures, and run for office yourself,” there’s hope. I know three people, never politically active before, who are now running for office on library and school boards. Obama ran on hope, and hope was his final message to us.

Show up. Dive in. Stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in other people, that can be a risk, and there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America — and in Americans — will be confirmed.

I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 16, 2017.

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