Tag Archives: donald trump

Son of Citizens United?

Weary as we all are of the daily news about the Trump administration, it occasionally foreshadows general issues that could achieve much greater importance in the future.

This past week, as Donald Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, “lawyered up,” and Mike Flynn’s prospects looked increasingly bleak, there was speculation that everyone’s business records would soon be the subject of subpoenas.

Not so fast, came the counter-argument from Flynn’s attorneys; the Citizens United decision might extend to protection of corporate records. If an individual has the right to refuse to testify on the grounds of self-incrimination, so might the corporation refuse to share it’s “testimony” (corporate records) on the same grounds.

A desperate claim, for sure, but the idea of civil rights for corporations, once elevated to that of the individual, was certain to raise bigger issues down the line. If money is the corporation’s constitutionally protected “voice,” why wouldn’t all the protections for the individual against self-incrimination be equally valid for corporations?

The favorite fantasy scenario has always been around attempting to convict a corporation for first degree murder. Who would potentially serve the sentence? You can’t execute a corporation or lock it up for life.

Now we are seeing the real nub of the question. If a corporation succeeds in arguing its fifth amendment right to remain silent; and sharing its records is deemed to be a violation of that right; we might as well wave goodbye to legal resolution of disputes, entirely.

It’s unlikely that such an argument would succeed in the normal course of court proceedings; but given the unprecedented nature of the circumstances and recent partisan incursions on the justice department, it’s worth considering.

One would naturally think that the corporation, like any citizen, could still be compelled to share its records, but the flawed Supreme Court logic that awarded civil rights to corporations might just as easily favor the argument that documents, like money, are a form constitutionally protected “voice” for the corporation. It would then be a fairly simple matter to extrapolate from that narrow protection to a broader protection against self-incrimination through documents for all citizens.

Poof! There go the underpinnings of our justice system.

What next, Democrats?

A respected Special Prosecutor, former FBI chief Robert Mueller, has been appointed to investigate the Trump campaign/Russia question; and though still early days, the process is in motion to neutralize Donald Trump’s current threat to the Republic.

He is, it would seem, the lamest of ducks.

It’s time for Democrats to turn the lion’s share of their attention to the needs of the people, as urgently expressed since well-before the last election cycle.

Meet or even precede every Republican policy pitch with a well-developed counter-pitch. They are in complete disorder, with a mortally wounded leader who, at the best of times, can’t think in a straight line.

This is Democrats’ chance to show what they can offer in the way of measured, human-friendly policy around job creation, improvements to Obamacare, infrastructure priorities, social justice, education and national security.

If Democrats waste this opportunity by focussing only on the Trump melt-down, they will have squandered the advantage they should have in 2018.

Job 2 is to begin a serious look at reforming the presidency. In the words of the president, “who knew” that so many ethical issues were not codified, but simply left to the discretion of the president?

Nothing speaks so clearly to the eighteenth century sensibilities of the “Founding Fathers” as their apparent confidence that gentlemen will behave as gentlemen should when elected to the single highest office in the land. Those esteemed founders did not trust unbridled democracy. They imposed restrictions on the roll of the individual electorate, but not, curiously enough, on the power of the head of state. The United States was, after all, the immediate if rebellious offspring of monarchy, retaining a fundamental affinity for the institutions of its royalist parent.

What was once little more than a quaint convention of the past, has, under Trump’s administration, erupted into a full-on constitutional crisis.

I don’t expect the Republican-held Congress to lift a finger while they are in power to repair the mighty gaps in the powers of the presidency through which an autocrat (or a selfish child), carried into office on a whim of the electorate, might throw centuries of ethical convention to the four winds and behave like an absolute monarch.

If Democrats are wise and see to the urgent business of their constituents, they can seize the House in 2018. It then behooves them to set about codifying some limits on the presidency; like, for instance, he/she must share his taxes both as a candidate and throughout his/her administration. In order to qualify to appear on the ballot in the first place, every candidate’s tax returns for at least three years should be publicly available.

Divestiture of financial interests by the president must also be codified under the law; and conflict of interest must be more clearly defined, including specific rules governing the president’s family members, former business partners etc. Remedies for violation of these rules must be clearly laid out and include stiff penalties.

While they are at it, a scrub of gerrymandering is very much in order, too! Partisan divisions are too great to allow one “side” or the other full discretion to control districting.

Until some of the vulnerabilities in presidential privilege and voter suppression are effectively addressed, we are in no position to pontificate to younger nations on the lessons of democracy.

We have the high-ground here; and the vast majority of Americans disapprove both of this president and of the Republican controlled Congress. It’s a perfect opportunity for Democrats to win over hearts and minds. Let’s not squander it by focussing entirely on the toddler in the room.

Here’s to our French allies!

In a sweeping rejection of her nationalist and xenophobic message, French voters have chosen Maria LePen’s rival and opposite, Emmanuel Macron as the next President of France.

Preliminary vote counts give Macron something like 65% of the vote, while LePen could only manage 34%.

This is a victory for progressive values that we can ALL celebrate, and it has been a while since we Americans have had much of anything to be glad about.

It seems that Donald Trump’s antics have provided just the cautionary tale that French voters needed in order to sober up and see the writing on the wall/.

Too bad the Brexit vote came too soon to benefit from the same dose of cruel perspective.

Tomorrow morning’s 3:00 AM tweets from King Donald will no doubt deliver angry rebukes to former President Obama for “interfering” in the French election.

Maybe the “coincidence” that Macron’s party headquarters was hacked will somewhat dampen his inclination to shoot off his twitter mouth, since it does simply add more credibility to the ever thickening tissue of evidence that his own inner circle may have colluded with Russia in undermining the 2016 U.S. election.

But never mind all of that for today. Let’s relish the moment with a toast:

“Liberte, égalité, fraternité!”

Eyes on the sideshow while the Big Top burns

One mistake that Democrats made in the 2016 presidential race was to allow themselves to be distracted from an issues based campaign by the constant barrage of outrageous behavior that Donald Trump exhibited throughout.

They overestimated voters interest in and ability to follow the bouncing ball of policy consequences from the relatively brief attention that policy received when Donald Trump himself was not the subject of hyperbolic conversation.

Now, we are all in danger of falling for the same bait and switch during the reckless reign of Citizen Trump.

While we and the media react in slack-jawed disbelief to every new demonstration of Trump’s impulsiveness, and every new hint that the Russians might be his handlers, the real policy impact of the Trump presidency only gets attention as an afterthought.

Meanwhile, the administration is moving quickly to try and reduce the U.S. government to a single purpose war machine.

With the stroke of a pen, vital safeguards for streams and waterways are eliminated; with another stroke, outgo consumer protections.

Trump has installed as his cabinet people who have contempt for the very institutions they now oversee. His picks have the added advantage to someone bent on crippling government agencies, of being demonstrably incompetent.

While we focus on the trail of Russian toilet paper that dangles from Trump’s right shoe, he is dismantling important environmental regulations, gutting entire agencies and defunding almost every social service in order to finance the biggest military build-up in modern history.

Why do you think he’s doing that? Wrong question.

Never mind why HE is doing that. He probably just wants to play soldier. More to the point: why do you think his advisers are encouraging him to do that?

We don’t really know enough about son-in-law Jared Kushner to speculate on his world view, but we know that Steve Bannon belongs loosely to that lunatic fringe who see Armageddon as the only way to salvation…and if you don’t want to be bested in Armageddon, you better have enough military might to crush all comers in a single earth destroying act.

Many of Trump’s most ardent supporters would be perfectly happy with this scenario, because they fervently believe that we are in the End Times and have no interest in preserving the natural world for future generations, or providing for the real needs of a population that may soon cease to exist.  Others simply don’t care because their interests are so narrowly focussed that they simply don’t see beyond sunset in their own backyard.
Now that Mike Flynn has been ejected, the generals in Trump’s cabinet represent the only real bench of competence in his sphere. Even Rex Tillerson seems to have been relegated to a back seat as the State Department prepares for massive funding cuts in favor of nuclear and conventional armaments.

Military leaders are a boon to Trump’s agenda, not only because they are unlikely to object to massive spending in their sector and elevation of “readiness,” but also because they come from a culture of unquestioning obedience to the will of the Commander in Chief.

No one seems to care that all he is offering is a lot of talk and a handful of magic beans.

Trump’s tame billionaires and bankers are cooing contentedly over a roaring stock market, convinced that they can be long gone before Trump’s voodoo math hits the fan.

Don’t look to Republicans for a timely rescue. They, too have sold their souls for a Supreme Court pick and one final chance to railroad the bigotry and fear of their voting minority into policy advantageous for the privileged.

Here it is six weeks into an administration that threatens to dismantle all the hard won refinements of our enlightened democracy and all we’re talking about this Sunday morning is another unhinged wee hours tweet from the Screwball-in-Chief.

If we don’t start to pull focus on policy immediately, we can only expect the worst.

Saffron or Algae Blooms?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Messenger reader who noted the ironic coincidence of headlines in last nights paper.

Just as President Donald J. Trump signs his second attempt at a Muslim travel ban, the early cost of this administration’s arbitrary agenda is vividly illustrated by two local examples.

Saffron: Vermont’s next cash crop?

The feature story tells us that, thanks to an Iranian postdoctoral student, we may soon see an extremely valuable cash crop, saffron, cultivated in our own backyard…at St. Albans Bay.

In the “brave new world” of Donald J. Trump, just being Iranian would be sufficient to invoke the President’s travel ban against him. That Dr. Ghalehgolabbehbahani is also a man of science would surely serve only to reinforce the administration’s antipathy toward him.

The President’s clumsy attempts to target Muslim countries for exclusion is already impacting interest in travel and study in the U.S. That doesn’t bode well for several industries which heavily depend on foreign dollar infusions.

Over to the side, on the same front page, is a warning from Senator Patrick Leahy. Being in a position to know, Sen. Leahy predicts that Donald Trump’s massacre of the EPA budget will imperil cleanup of Lake Champlain.

It’s a pretty easy guess that Leahy’s prediction will prove accurate. In the new federal budget, funding for clean-up of Chesapeake Bay has been slashed from $73-million down to just $7-million. Somehow I suspect that if the waterways lapping near to Capitol Hill merit so little support from the Trump administration, Lake Champlain, way up here in blue country, will receive less than none.

It should be noted that, even though funding for water protection is being sacrificed on the pretext that an exponential hike in military spending is urgently required, the President isn’t prepared to abandon his frequent getaways to Mar-a-Lago (four so far) that had already cost the tax payers $10-million before the paint was even dry in the Oval Office. That’s $3 million more than the Chesapeake Bay clean-up funds! The indignity is only worsened when a translation of “Mar-a-Lago” is considered. (Look it up!)

So, once the clean-up funding runs out and the stench of algae blooms hangs heavy over St. Albans Bay, perhaps we will at least be grateful that one Iranian chose to locate here before Donald Trump closed the door.

Words Matter

Listening to Steve Bannon on stage at CPAC last week was a painful but necessary way to get in touch with what the Trump White House has on its collective mind.

Moderates are alarmed at the expressed hostility to a free press, but may entirely overlook the still more sinister sub-text. When Bannon railed against the “globalist and corporate media” he was drawing on language that the far, far right “Nazi” fringe understands is anti-semitic.

Under Bannon’s thumb, “America First” has become a favorite slogan of Trump accolades, a direct descendent of the same phrase used by Nazi sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh before the U.S. entered WWII.

Later at CPAC, Donald Trump doubled down on the dread in his own anti-media speech in which he ominously suggested that he is going to “do something” about media outlets that are at odds with his preferred narrative.

Excluding the New York Times, CNN, Politico and others from a press “gaggle” at the White House on Friday afternoon, may indeed represent the opening salvo in delivery on his threat.

Trump has repeatedly referred to the media as “the Enemy of the People.” When challenged, he says he is only referring to the “fake news” media; but then he lists among those who promulgate “fake news,” sources like the New York Times and Washington Post that have a sterling reputation for accountability and pointedly praises the most questionable outlets which justhappen to have a bias in his favor.

A great piece in the New York Times takes a closer look at this “Enemy of the People” phrase, tracing it to legendary Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Post-Stalin, even hardliners like Kruschev avoided the phrase, recognizing it as a bridge too far.

Russian scholar Mitchell A. Orenstein points out that Donald Trump seems to deliberately repeat this kind of Soviet era language because it inflames his supporters as it renders the words meaningless for opposition purposes:

“He is only alienating them, and they are the people he wants to alienate anyway,” Mr. Orenstein continued. “His base sees comparisons with Stalin as just more evidence of the liberal mainstream media going haywire.”

Moreover, by using such a loaded term in such a cavalier fashion, the president “is in the process of rendering it meaningless,” Mr. Orenstein said. “It becomes just na-na-na-na-na,” he added, because nobody really thinks Mr. Trump will bring back the guillotine.

Returning to Bannon’s CPAC speech, he used the term “economic nationalism,” and that, too, merits deconstruction for all it may portend. An excellent article in the Washington Post examines the practical economic consequences of pursuing a course of economic nationalism. When taken to it’s logical conclusion, with all the deregulation and protectionism Trump would like to impose, the policy favors sectors that can prosper in global isolation. Sectors like fossil fuel energy and housing become “winners,” while others like tech and higher education are the losers. The result would be a dumbed-down America, fed on “alternative facts” and ripe for the kind of third-world political chaos that Bannon would dearly love to see.

But for those like Donald Trump who have no patience with book learnin’ and studied history, “economic nationalism” sounds superficially like a good thing. The fact that “nationalism” has long been code for the racist/xenophobic view of “us over them,” lifted straight out of the Third Reich’s playbook, means nothing to them.

Focussing on the “economic” preface to Bannon’s nationalism pretty much misses the point.

Like “white nationalism,” “economic nationalism” seeks a new world order in which the interests of a single homogenous group are placed above the well-being of everyone else, eschewing any moral or ethical responsibility for the greater good. Efforts at shutting down immigration, deportation and suppressing the minority vote, which are also on the agenda of the Bannon/Trump world order, serve to further isolate and elevate the privileged population.

“Nationalism” of any kind is not to be confused with patriotism, which is love of country. Nationalism is an expression of contempt for the rights and interests of any people other than those who are recognized as belonging to the dominant population, whether it addresses exclusion as a cultural or a national matter.

It’s as if this administration is, through its choice of isolationist language, pulling up the drawbridge on diversity and intellectual growth. Mr. Trump perhaps forgets how much our economic prosperity was built on risk taking, immigrant ingenuity and a open-armed national persona.

If Trump has his way, America is about to get a lot smaller, colder and poorer.

Donald Trump’s Terrible Awful No Good Very Bad Day

There have been many days that prompted bloggers to adapt the popular children’s book title to frame the immediate chaos around Donald Trump’s political misadventures; but today of all days seems to cry out more than most for that redundant banner headline.

Leaving aside the trail of stinking piles drying in his wake every day, today might one day be remembered as the day that his epic losing streak began.

This morning, like so many Americans (and as I have done every morning since the inauguration), I reflexively turned on the news even before the coffeemaker in order to find out what new region of Twitter hell Donald Trump had taken us to overnight. Despite his best efforts to gin up international tensions, nuclear war hadn’t yet broken out, so I settled into my kitchen chair with a sigh  and a steaming cup of relief. It was going to be a pretty good day after all.

Mr. Trump’s immediate national concern seemed to be his adult daughter’s broken heart at being told by Nordstrom that they could no longer carry her line of merchandise because sales had been so poor over the last quarter. Never one to underplay a family slight, Mr. Trump had tweeted how “unfair” Nordstrom’s decision was; that it obviously was politically motivated, and that his daughter is such a good person who is always trying to get him to do “the right thing.” Then, for good measure, he tweeted it again to the vast readership of his official @POTUS feed.

Even though, for some reason, this gross exercise of  conflict of interest doesn’t set him up for immediate consequences, it does add to the growing file of transgressions that may ultimately be his undoing. Furthermore, Nordstrom probably has a pretty good case for a lawsuit.

Apparently Ivanka hasn’t been very successful at getting Dear Ol’ Dad to do the “right thing”, either.

The new twist this morning was that shameless Trump sycophant and consigliere Kellyanne Conway had taken it upon herself to ‘right’ Nordstrom’s ‘wrong’ by appearing on Fox news to give impromptu commercial endorsement for the First Daughter’s products and exhort the faithful to go forth and buy Ivanka’s crap.

Like so many of Trump’s closest advisors, Kellyanne’s qualifications for the job must be seriously questioned. Supposedly she is a lawyer, and yet, she seemed to be totally unaware that what she was doing in hawking Trump family merchandise on TV represented an immediate and gross conflict of interests, a breach of White House ethics, and a set-up for worsening optics on the general issue of conflicts within the Trump administration.

It seemed that what Kelly Anne had crossed was an ethics bridge too far even for the Donald, because it wasn’t long before the word came out that counsellor Kelly Anne had herself been “counselled.” What exactly this means is unclear, but it seems to suggest some acceptance of responsibility was finally being broached within the administration, if only by a side flunky.

But we had to wait until evening for the best news, when the 9th Circuit Court Decision came down as a sweep in favor of the plaintiffs. A crushing defeat for King Donald!

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, and there are a few more innings to be played in the game of anti-American immigration policy; but tonight we can pause in the battle for a little celebration, knowing that it’ must be somebody’s job at the White House tonight to sit on Donald and restrain his little fingers from unleashing a Twitter storm of unintended consequences.

Perjury could save the nation.

Sunday musings in a flu and Robitussen-induced fog:

Congressional Republicans have all the power to stop Donald Trump’s march to catastrophe, but recognizing that they have been effectively castrated by fear of populist revolt from their base, we are left frantically looking for a “Plan B” before the Doomsday Clock strikes twelve.

Apparently our best legal opportunity to curb the insanity is to get him into court for any reason and force him to testify under oath. This has been suggested repeatedly in the media but, IMHO, hasn’t gotten nearly enough traction.

The man appears incapable of distinguishing truth from fiction and it is unlikely that he can restrain himself from at least one boldface lie in the course of any sworn testimony, no matter how brief.

Therein lies the easily pulled lynchpin to impeachment.

I would guess that, by the time he lies under oath, at least half of all congressional Republicans would leap at the chance to push him toward the exit sign if given that opportunity through a simple impeachable offense such as perjury.

They’ll know, of course, that they will still have Mike Pence (God forbid!) to do their rightwing bidding…but Pence is considerably less likely to launch a missile strike on a whim.  We might actually survive to to see another election.

The beauty is that Donald Trump has done so many nasty and double-dealing things to so many people over the course of his personal and business history that the opportunities for court-ordered depositions abound.

What the public and the media must do is find some way to reassure his myriad victims that they have the opportunity to do the country a great service simply by dragging his ass into court.

Donald Trump will inevitably do the rest. He is programmed to lie even about trivial things. He simply can’t help himself.

“Quick, Kellyanne, he’s gonna blow!”

Donald Trump and his newly minted Press Secretary/attack dog, “Spike” Spicer, just spent the first day of his administration whining about the turnout for his inauguration and attempting to bully the press into confirming his false assertion that it was the biggest turnout in history.

It was speculated that, in typical Trump fashion, this was a diversionary tactic to distract from the unflattering super story of the day, the “Women’s March on Washington.”

Aerial photos left little doubt that the first Obama inauguration drew a vastly greater turnout than did Trump’s little do, nevertheless Trump and his stooge eagerly and persistently plunged into perjury in defense of his fragile ego.

Aerial photos also delivered the unmistakable message that turnout for the “Women’s March” dwarfed the modest captive gathering on the mall the day before.

How must it feel for Donald Trump to gaze upon the photos from across the country of the throngs and throngs of demonstrators who rose in coordinated opposition to his agenda, all in a single day? Does he understand that the volume of demonstrators across America who braved traffic jams, dangerously crowded subway cars, and other inconveniences to take a stand against him probably numbered in the millions but still represented no more than half the number of votes by which Hillary Clinton won the popular vote?

If he does, Kellyanne must have him hog-tied in the White House mess to keep him from tweeting away his rage. All he wrote was

“Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election. Why didn’t these people vote?”

Newsflash, Donald, these people did vote and you lost the popular vote.