Day 695 – GOP’s Institutional Corruption

Ryan Zinke resigned/was fired yesterday as ethics investigations were bearing down on his corrupt reign as Secretary of the Interior–yet another crooked Trump cabinet member to leave in disgrace.  Zinke’s grotesque perversion of the department he oversaw was chronicled recently by Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times, detailing how he violated the agency’s Science-based mission by turning it into a prostitute to the gas & oil industry.

https://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-interior-science-20181210-story.html

The corruption rife in Trump’s cabinet also extends into the Republican party, especially on the edges of the Mueller probe.  It’s easy to forget that Michael Cohen was Deputy Finance Chairman of the Republican National Committee.  Adulterer Elliott Broidy, a hush-money client of Michael Cohen, was Vice Chairman of the Republican National Committee.  Paul Manafort used to be a deputy political director of the Republican National Committee.  And the Republican party received millions of dollars from the NRA–who received millions of dollars from Russia.

But beyond the crooked personalities and corrupt lobbying of the Republican National Committee, the GOP has a long history of a different kind of corruption–institutionalized corruption–that’s only now getting a lot of attention.  An excellent and insightful analysis of the the corrupt GOP was published in The Atlantic by George Packer this weekend.  He details the rot at the heart of one of our two major political parties, making great points about the nature of their corruption.

The fact that no plausible election outcome can check the abuse of power is what makes political corruption so dangerous. It strikes at the heart of democracy. It destroys the compact between the people and the government. In rendering voters voiceless, it pushes everyone closer to the use of undemocratic means.

And he points out the best way to see and characterize Republicans in contrast to Democrats.

Republicans have chosen contraction and authoritarianism because, unlike the Democrats, their party isn’t a coalition of interests in search of a majority. Its character is ideological. The Republican Party we know is a product of the modern conservative movement, and that movement is a series of insurgencies against the established order.

Packer’s is a concise and spot-on critique of the decades-long project that has arrived at its most extreme and warped iteration in Trumpism, a party that will do anything for power, including destroying our democracy:

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/how-did-republican-party-get-so-corrupt/578095/

Our task is to make sure Trumpism is the death rattle of the GOP’s malignant project–and not just the latest chapter–by stopping the GOP in 2020.  Keep resisting…

Day 694 – Bad Rulings

A Texas judge yesterday ruled that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was unconstitutional, setting the stage for a legal challenge in a higher court that could derail the legislation that has delivered insurance to tens of millions of Americans.  The ACA is still in place but Republicans will use this ruling to further their project of denying as many citizens as possible access to affordable care.  The GOP wants to go back to the old days when insurance companies made money by denying sick people insurance coverage.  Time will tell.

On the subject of bad court rulings, one of the most compelling and important articles recently came from Thomas B. Edsall in the NY Times, who wrote about the corrosive impact of money in politics thanks to the grotesque (and wrongly decided) Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court.  I urge you to read it:

“In the eight years since it was decided, Citizens United has unleashed a wave of campaign spending that by any reasonable standard is extraordinarily corrupt.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/06/opinion/citizens-united-corruption-pacs.html

Edsall comes to the conclusion that we have “a Supreme Court incapable of applying either reason or common sense”.  In other words, a majority of the Supreme Court are Republicans.

Enjoy your weekend and keep resisting…

Day 693 – Trump Was In The Room

More big news yesterday in the Trump Crimes saga.  It was reported that the meeting between Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and publisher David Pecker to discuss how Pecker could assist Trump’s presidential bid was convened and attended by Donald Trump himself. So Trump was a party to the conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud that Cohen has already plead guilty to.  This is yet another damning piece of evidence bolstering the felony campaign finance fraud case against the president, and it isn’t even the core Mueller case.  It’s instead being investigated by the Southern District of New York.  Coverage by Tom Winter of NBC:

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/justice-department/trump-was-room-during-hush-money-discussions-nbc-news-confirms-n947536

It was also reported that the Trump Inauguration Committee is under criminal investigation for possible financial abuses, potential pay-to-play favors, and illegal foreign donations.  So far the foreign contributions seem to be associated with countries in the Middle East, including Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia–of course.  The committee raised over a hundred million dollars and has not disclosed publicly where and how that money was spent.  The probe was started after materials were seized in the raid of Michael Cohen’s law offices.  Coverage from the New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/us/politics/trump-inauguration-investigation.html

It was also reported last night that Jared Kushner is being considered for the soon-to-be-vacated post of White House Chief of Staff.  It’s likely that nobody else wants the job so, because he is already in legal jeopardy, Jared wouldn’t be hurting himself by taking it.  But this is Banana Republic governance.  Dictator Trump surrounding himself with incompetent loyalists whose interests are closely aligned with his.  Pathetic.

Lastly, the Senate voted yesterday to officially acknowledge that Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the death of WaPo journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  The bipartisan bill passed by a unanimous vote but may never make it to the president because the House, under Paul Ryan, might not allow the bill to be voted on.  GOP House members would rather coddle a murderous dictator to protect Trump than pretend they care about human rights or our bedrock national values.

Every day seems to bring a new scandal or outrage.  Keep resisting…

Day 692 – Trump Screwed by Pecker

For Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in jail yesterday by a judge who didn’t buy Cohen’s contrite sentencing statement.  The judge pointed out that the crimes Cohen committed deeply undermine our Democracy, from lying to Congress to campaign fraud intended to subvert the outcome of a presidential election.  In his statement, Cohen again asserted that he had violated campaign finance law under the direction of President Trump, and lamented his years covering for Trump’s “dirty deeds.”

The Cohen sentencing was highly damaging to Trump, implicating him as a co-conspirator.  If Trump weren’t shielded by the presidency he would almost certainly be under indictment along with Cohen.  But perhaps the biggest blow yesterday came moments after the Cohen sentence was handed down.  The Southern District of New York prosecutors unsealed a cooperation agreement with the parent company of the National Enquirer and it’s publisher, David Pecker, who had also aided Trump in violating campaign finance laws by giving one of Trump’s mistresses what has become known as a “catch and kill” publishing deal, effectively buying her silence shortly before the election to eliminate the chances that she would tell her story to the media.

The cooperation agreement states that the parent company of the National Enquirer and David Pecker will not be charged, and implies that they will instead divulge everything they know about Trump, including every story they ever buried for him.  More importantly, it’s safe to assume that they will confirm that Trump knew about and authorized the “catch and kill” arrangement, which qualifies as a campaign finance violation.  Here is the full story in the New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/12/nyregion/trump-american-media-michael-cohen.html

Keep in mind that the campaign finance crimes implicating Trump are a mere sideshow to the Mueller investigation.  They are being prosecuted by another arm of the Justice Department.  We have yet to see most of what Mueller has been working on, but all signs point to a conspiracy by Trump and his family.  So it’s safe to imagine that we are still only seeing the tip of the iceberg—but it already appears large enough to sink the Trumptanic.

Forgive the title, I couldn’t resist.  But keep resisting…

Day 691 – Is Pence Dirty Too?

The biggest news yesterday came from a meeting between Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Trump.  Trump blathered and blathered about working together and bi-partisan and The Wall and then Pelosi and Schumer informed him that they disputed his claims about the necessity of The Wall, and the meeting became a long argument between a frantic and interrupting Trump and a calmer and confident Pelosi and Schumer.  In the end, the Democrats were able to get Trump to admit that he would shut the government down unless he got his wall–a comment Trump almost certainly regretted later.  The party responsible for a government shutdown always ends up the attracting the ire of the American public, so now Trump has painted himself into a losing corner.  Great negotiating, Donnie.

Here is coverage of the meeting from the New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/us/politics/trump-border-wall-government-shutdown.html

As the photo with the Times article shows, VP Mike Pence was also in the meeting, though he never said a word, sitting on the periphery while trying not to nod off.  Cable news reported on further filings in the Michael Flynn case yesterday, but Rachel Maddow pointed out something very significant about Pence.  Pence was asked many times in TV interviews about Flynn’s tenure in the Trump transition and he lied over and over about what he knew and when he knew it.  Why did Pence do so much lying when it came to Flynn?  Maddow implies that Pence may have some legal jeopardy when it comes to Flynn, especially if Pence lied to Congress or a Federal agent.  Many of the less mainstream investigative journalists on social media have been saying for over a year that Pence is in hot legal water, but Maddow is among the first in the mainstream media to circle back to the role Pence played in an enterprise that has amassed so many indictments.  Keep your eye on this Pence angle.

The disclosures from the Michael Cohen filings implicating Trump in at least two federal campaign finance felonies are getting the attention of conservatives who, up until now, have dismissed the Mueller probe.  The Cohen charges don’t come from Mueller, they come from the southern district of New York.  Mike Allen at Axios published an article about the effect the recent court filings are having on Trump voters:

One Trump loyalist said after a day of conversation with “hardcore MAGA [Make America Great Again] online influencers”: “These are the people most predisposed to believing the ‘witch hunt’ rhetoric, but they are now expressing real concerns.”

https://www.axios.com/donald-trump-political-legal-problems-robert-mueller-5c9cb684-23ea-47c8-88e7-243a9bb1ef1e.html

The heat is only going to keep rising as more details emerge from the various probes, especially if new figures around Trump are indicted and his support erodes.

Keep resisting…

Day 690 – Under Pressure

The most important development in yesterday’s news cycle was the announcement that indicted Russian spy Maria Butina has agreed to cooperate fully with the Mueller probe.  It’s highly unusual for a Russian spy and indicted criminal to become a Federal songbird because they can never go back to Russia even though they’ve acted as an enemy to our nation. But now that she is cooperating, her involvement with Trump and the NRA has a lot of conservatives quaking in their shoes.

Betsy Woodruff in the Daily Beast has the scoop on Butina:

Butina had once hobnobbed with the stars of the Republican firmament, getting pictures of herself with Gov. Scott Walker, Donald Trump Jr., NRA chief Wayne LaPierre, former Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and former NRA president David Keene. On July 11, 2015, Butina was in Las Vegas at an early rally for Trump’s embryonic presidential campaign, and asked the future president a question about Russian sanctions. Trump gave a surprisingly detailed answer. A year and a half later, she attended the invitation-only Freedom Ball after Trump’s inauguration.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/maria-butina-pleads-guilty-agrees-to-cooperate-with-us

As the Butina deal was hitting the news, a group of 40 former senators wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post to current senators reminding them (shaming them) of the importance of guarding our democracy from threats as the Mueller probe gets closer to a conclusion.  Though not named, Speaker Mitch McConnell was surely the main target of the letter, as McConnell has shamefully gone out of his way to protect Trump and prevent a Mueller protection bill from getting a vote.  Here is the op-ed:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-are-former-senators-the-senate-has-long-stood-in-defense-of-democracy–and-must-again/2018/12/10/3adfbdea-fca1-11e8-ad40-cdfd0e0dd65a_story.html

The more shame, ridicule and pressure we can direct toward McConnell the more likely he will be to question his allegiance to the sinking Trumptanic as more criminal allegations surface.  If they do, there will come a point when McConnell sees the cost of sticking with Trump as higher than supporting him.  The more we can do to hasten that moment, the better for our nation.

Keep resisting…

Day 689 – We Need Good Government

It’s not difficult to imagine that Trump is becoming like the proverbial frog in a pot of hot water.  The heat keeps rising but he won’t hop out until it’s too late & the water boils.  Cable news this weekend seemed to coalesce into a consistent chorus asking not “if” but “when” Trump would be impeached as multiple investigations bore down on him and his family, one already pointing to felony campaign fraud.  Would the Democrats wait until more information from the Mueller probe came to light, or would they move quickly once in office?  The salient observation has become:

If Trump isn’t a clear and compelling candidate for impeachment, nobody ever will be.

An excellent article was published on Saturday in the New Yorker by Adam Davidson shedding light on one of the few silver linings to the Trump debacle–that we are fortunate Trump and his circle are so incompetent:

…what we now know is a powerful tale that combines elements that are familiar from other Trumpworld scandals. It is at once shockingly corrupt, blatantly unethical, probably illegal, and yet, at the same time, shabby, small, and ineptly executed.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/swamp-chronicles/the-ineptitude-of-donald-trumps-co-conspirators

As we move forward and work to remove Trump from office, either through impeachment or by voting him out in 2020, we have to remain hyper-aware of the possibility that a much more capable and nefarious authoritarian figure could try to rise upon the shoulders of the sentiments that brought Trump to power.  Vigilance is the price we have to pay to keep this from happening again.  If we don’t learn from this catastrophic chapter in our history our Democracy is doomed.  And in this spirit, it’s crucial to regain the narrative of the importance of government.

Government in a democracy is neither bad nor evil.  If you hate government, you hate your neighbors and fellow citizens because that’s who government is.  Demanding smaller government (or larger government) for its own sake is ridiculous and wrong headed.  We should demand smart, efficient and effective government that is equal to the challenges we face and the problems needing to be solved.  Good government is essential to keeping our air clean, keeping our food supply safe, keeping our infrastructure from crumbing, keeping our nuclear arsenal from polluting our ground water, keeping track of our military spending, and on and on and on.

Trump and his cult of know-nothing government haters have reminded us by their ineptitude of just how important good government is.  When conservatives and Fox TV roll out their usual “government is bad” bullshit we need to beat their nonsense back and not allow their anarchic propaganda to go unchallenged.  We need good government.

On a lighter note, here’s a cartoon from the weekend.

Image may contain: 9 people

Keep resisting…