This will be brief

As blogs at this site go, this one will be relatively brief. That is because what appears here now, is an elaboration on “Let us count the ways” that was published here on May 24th. Indeed, it is recommended that you use the archives window at the blog site and re-read that statement.

Apropos that blog from the recent past, today’s testimony by former FBI Director James Comey validated its contents; i.e. there are indeed, FIVE focuses of the investigation now being conducted by Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, and he has broad authority to delve into every one of them no matter where they lead and who they might involve.

Additionally, during the same session, Comey made it clear that one of the reasons that he felt compelled to make detailed, contemporaneous notes on his meetings with Trump was that he simply did not trust the president, worrying that 45 might well lie about what transpired during those talks. More on that next.

For the time being at least, we will have to deal with a “he said/he said” state of affairs; i.e. it will be Comey’s word against Trump’s. Based on the histories of the two men, that hardly seems a fair fight:  Comey has a long history of honesty and integrity (1); he is widely regarded by his associates in the Bureau as a “Boy Scout” and straight-shooter. In sharp contrast, 45 has a well-documented record of serial lying, adultery and short-changing people with whom he has done business. Detailed notes, indeed !!

End notes

What Special Prosecutor Mueller is dealing with is a many-headed legal and political mess. It is going to be a challenge for the media to sort out and explain to us, the significant complexities of all this. Over the months ahead, fatigue from our trying to process events and how they may be interconnected is bound to set in. The recommendation here is that from time to time, you step back, take a breather, don’t over-think this, but always stay connected to the “big picture”, even as you momentarily have it out at arm’s length. What is involved here is far too important to be permanently set aside.

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  1. Comey’s  detractors have been and remain hard at work trying to destroy his reputation as described above, citing his handling of the investigation into HRC’s e-mails. In that regard, the former Director may well have made errors in judgment, but he has never failed to try to do the right thing. That said,  it is always worth remembering that “judgment” and “honesty” are two different things. To conflate them is deceitful.

It’s a long story

Prologue

By the time you reach the end of this blog, you may be inclined to just blow its’ contents off as “a reach”. Contrariwise, the suggestion offered here is that you file all this away for later comparison to events that will be unfolding across the next many months as the investigations into the Trump/Russia connections proceed and their findings become public.

In the beginning

This long narrative actually has its origins way back in the 1980’s when Trump was making his move towards becoming a big-time real estate developer. He borrowed heavily in support of his plan to build casinos in Atlantic City NJ and turn it into a gambling mecca.

All this came a cropper when, in 1987, the stock market tanked and took real estate values down with it. Trump found himself near-broke and deeply in debt to his lenders. Salvation arrived in the form of a restructuring of his loans and the casinos were built and became part of Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc.

Over time, the casinos were mismanaged into insolvency and Trump Entertainment filed for bankruptcy in 2004, 2009 and 2011. As all this was playing out, Trump found himself a persona non grata with US banks. It was “Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me”. Trump, desperate for some working capital, simply couldn’t find any domestic lenders.

Loan-shopping

In 2008, Trump visited Moscow and began to get chummy with at least one member of the Kremlin’s inner circle. Coincidentally, he was received with open arms by the Deutsche Bank in Germany, an establishment that later ended up paying a $10 billion dollar fine for being complicit in helping Russian oligarchs launder illegally gained money.

This was a pivotal time for Trump who now found himself awash in funds, some supplied by Deutsche, and more alleged tossed in by Russian crime bosses. Donald Trump, Jr. even boasted publicly that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia”.

Miss Universe

By 2012, Trump had gained ownership of the Miss Universe Pageant. For reasons yet to be discovered, he decided to hold the 2013 event in Moscow. Accordingly, he was feted and shown every courtesy in the run-up to the contest, during it and thereafter. It was yet another step further into what was and remains at least a deep financial relationship with the former USSR, now Russia.

Innocent or something else?

Now, every bit of the foregoing can be written off as just so much international business. But, as we bring that history forward to current events, no such simple write-off is possible. As our intelligence specialists will tell you, Russians have a long history of trying to “work” foreign visitors into serving as witting or unwitting sources of what might prove to be useful information. At times, this can be accomplished by secretly collecting potentially damaging information on such folks and then blackmailing them. Could Trump, with his love of flattery and adulation have been played in that way?

To Russia with love

The question that ended the last section takes on special relevance when you look at how Trump has behaved vis a vis Russia for the past 18 months. His praise of Putin, suggestions that he could forge a better relationship with our Cold War adversary, that working together was possible, and then finally, his refusal to affirm what our entire intelligence community has concluded; i.e. that Russia meddled in our electoral process.

Were this not enough, look at the people among now-president Trump’s inner circle:  Michael Flynn, Paul Manaford, Roger Stone, Conner Page and Rex Tillerson, all with  some sort of connection to Russia, Russian money, and Russian power. Four of those five are now targets of one or another of the investigations into the Trump/Russia connection (1). And quite recently, we can add to those close to 45 who are persons of interest,  son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Epilogue

Given the cast of characters in this geopolitical drama and the various cross-currents of of their various interactions with Russia, do not expect all this to be unraveled in short order. The process for sorting things out is under way, meetings are being held, people and documents are being subpoenaed even as Trump and the White House seek and find ways to impeded this process. But those efforts will only slow the investigative momentum and contribute to the growing impression that 45 does indeed have something to hide.

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  1. See “Let us count the ways”, the last blog posted at this site on 5-24-17.

 

Let us count the ways

Prologue

With the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor, we now have three major investigations in progress vis a vis Russia’s interference in our election and team Trump. While the probes by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are relatively narrow in their scope, Mueller is under no significant constraints. Rather, his appointment carries with it the freedom to follow all leads, no matter where they might take him. The remainder of this blog will be devoted to citing and discussing the investigative “avenues” that the Special Prosecutor has already started to travel.

I. Russia’s election meddling

This past January, our Intelligence Community made public its general finding having to do with the allegation that Russia interfered with our election. The consensus was that had indeed happened and that those activities were aimed at helping Trump and hurting Clinton. Mueller may have some tidying up to do here, but he is sure to segue to the next topic of intense interest.

II. Collusion between the Russian interference and the Trump administration

Did one or more associates of 45, or 45 himself, wittingly or unwittingly, provide any sort of help to Russia in the meddling process? If evidence points unambiguously to an affirmative answer, then whomever aided the Russians is in danger of being charged with treason, and Trump’s administration would be badly tarred in the process. Guilt by association with the culprit would be unavoidable.

III. Obstruction of justice

As the aforementioned investigations have edged closer to probing topic II above, Trump has apparently taken steps to impede their progress. Specifically, he is reported to have made requests to high-ranking officials like former FBI Director James Comey that seem aimed at either absolving him of guilt or turning attention away from one or more of his associates; e.g. Michael Flynn.

This effort to protect Flynn has not been confined to Trump. While largely unnoticed, it also seems that VP Mike Pence has made at least two and possibly three false statements, the intent of which was apparently to shield the Trump administration from any negative publicity associated with the choice of Flynn as Advisor on National Security.

IV. Treasonous behavior independent of election collusion

Up until very recently, the possibility of treasonous behavior occurring free of Russia’s election meddling has received scant attention. But, it is now known that in Virginia, a grand jury has been impaneled to examine the legality of financial dealings involving associates of 45 and the Russians. Even if nothing treasonous is eventually found here, one or more cases might be made for illegal financial dealings with Russians, a major topic we turn to last.

V. Financial illegalities

In theory, there are two possibilities here:  tax evasion, but more significantly, the laundering of money gained through criminal enterprise. Investigative work here is just getting started so there is little that can be said on this topic now.

End notes

Is it always true that “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire”? No, because heat can cause smoldering and smoke without conflagration. Much remains to be discovered and made public before a step like impeachment can be given serious consideration. Right now, it seems best to stay attentive and to thank God that we have a free press that continues to do an outstanding job of keeping us abreast of the latest developments, try as 45 might to create an alternative, fact-free counter-narrative.

 

 

 

 

By the numbers

There are two numbers worth considering relative to what is happening politically in our country. Consider each with their attendant, respective analyses.

38%

Every three days, well-known pollster Gallup published the results of their sampling of public opinion vis a vis Trump’s job approval. Yesterday, the rolling average for the 13th, 14th and 15th showed 45 at an historic low of 38%, with disapproval standing at 57%. It is noteworthy that among the most ardent Trump supporters, his approval still registers in the 90’s! It is that group of voters that congressional Republicans fear should they ever turn on the bloc’s hero., something they have thus far shied away from doing.

78%

This number represents the clear majority of respondents to a CNN poll that want the Russia/Trump connection investigated by a special prosecutor. Unswayed by this strong showing, Republicans continue to maintain that existing, functioning congressional committees be allowed to do their job.

In response to that stance, one must ask “Do we or do we not have a representative form of government?” How do elected representatives turn their back on a signal from seventy-eight percent of the country? Here’s a plausible answer:  Because they control all of the aforementioned committees, Republicans can determine the pace at which their respective investigations move ahead, who gets called as witnesses and what documents are subject to subpoena. It is an advantageous position to be in if you are inclined to slow-walk the proceedings and control what news comes out of them. (1) In simple, direct terms, there is the opportunity to minimize the damage that would potentially be inflicted on Trump’s administration and his presidency. Think about that relative to the preceding section and how loathe congressional Republicans are to upset rabid 45 supporters.

End notes

While the foregoing two sections have some value in their own right, they are most assuredly subject to change when the next set of polling data becomes public. Those new results will take into account the public’s reactions to yesterday’s allegation that Trump tried to influence former FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation of 45 associate, Michael Flynn, and that 45 gave away classified intelligence to two Russian diplomats without following established protocol before doing so. (2)

Both of these very recent developments, especially the first of the two, have had a very unsettling effect on congressional Republicans who now have no choice but to interview Comey about the veracity of the story that Trump interceded in Flynn’s behalf. If it holds up, then talk about charging 45 with obstruction of justice will be more than whispered in the coat rooms on Capitol Hill.

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  1. Recall the last blog posted at this site; i.e. “Tick-tock”.
  2. Any president has the legal right to declassify whatever bits of intelligence he chooses, whenever he chooses. But, there is a protocol that must be followed before that information is shared with anyone. From all that has been gathered, Trump failed to do that.

Tick-Tock

“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme” Ken Burns:  Historian and documentary film-maker.

Prologue

Forty-four years ago, the administration of Richard Nixon found itself caught in the vortex of the investigation into the Watergate scandal. On October 29, 1973, the president made the fatal decision to try to derail those proceedings, by ordering his Attorney General Eliot Richardson, to fire the inquiry’s Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned in protest. Nixon then turned to William Ruckelshaus to undertake the axing. He followed Richardson’s lead and resigned in protest. It was left to Robert Bork who finally acceded to Nixon’s order and so, Cox was gone.

The series of events cited above famously became known as “The Saturday night massacre”. It ultimately led to the appointment of Leon Jaworski as Special Prosecutor who vigorously exercised his mandate to get to the truth. In the end, the accumulation of evidence against Nixon became so overwhelming that even members of his own party in Congress saw that his impeachment was inevitable. They so informed the president and, to avoid that stain on his record, Nixon came forward on August 8, 1994 to announce his resignation.

Is there a “rhyme” now?

Less than a week ago, on May 9th, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. This move was questioned,  for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that very different narratives surfaced regarding who was responsible:  The White House Communications Office contended that 45 acted on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Deputy Director of the Justice Department, Ron Rosenstein; whereas Trump claimed that it was he and he alone who came to the decision to remove Comey; what Sessions and/or Rosenstein said simply didn’t matter. He claimed that under Comey’s leadership, the FBI was “in turmoil” and that the Director “wasn’t up to the job” of leading anything or anyone .

But, it had already been well-established that Comey, as Director of the FBI, was heading up the Bureau’s counter-intelligence investigation that implicitly involved a number of Trump associates; i.e. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Connor Page. Furthermore, it seemed clear that Comey was going to put himself beyond the reach of any interference by Trump. Investigative reporters and pundits with a grasp of Watergate history, justifiably became suspicious, their concerns reinforced by Comey’s temporary replacement Andrew McCabe, who flatly rejected Trump’s description of the FBI under Comey.

End notes

From the date of the Saturday Night massacre to that of Nixon’s resignation, 279 days passed. During that period, there were just two reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who were doggedly chasing down Watergate leads. There was neither the Internet, nor cable news political talks shows to keep the public apprised of what was going on.

Will investigations into Russia’s meddling in our 2016 election, and possible collusion between team Trump and the Russians proceed at the same or a different pace? These issues will move towards resolution at a rate that will be determined, to some extent at least, by the outcomes of several congressional investigations that are now running roughly in parallel with the FBI’s. It is no small matter that every one of the former is under the control of a Republican chairman. Given the extreme political polarization that exists today, these individuals have it in their power to slow-walk or otherwise impede the search for the truth. This state of affairs raises the question:  “Will they put country ahead of party as they should?”

We have entered an intensely important time so stay tuned and engaged. Tick-tock !!

 

 

 

Senate sub-committee hearing: Take-downs and take-aways

Yesterday, the Senate’s Judiciary Committee’s sub-group conducted a hearing that featured testimony from Sally Yates, recently fired Acting US Attorney General, and James Clapper, former Director of the Department of National Intelligence. What follows in no particular order, are what may fairly be judged as the most significant take-downs and take-aways.

Take-downs

The sub-committee’s Republican members repeatedly raised questions about “leaks”, unauthorized statements to the press, and “unmasking”. Clapper responded by acknowledging that all are important, but that greater attention needs to be paid to Russia’s meddling in our 2016 election and how to prevent this from happening again. It is a matter of setting the right priorities.

Yates’ testified that she held two face-to-face, highly informative meetings with White House Counsel McGahan regarding Director of National Security, Michael Flynn. Her characterization of these tete-a-tetes stands in sharp contrast to their being dismissed as a terse “heads up” by Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, and 45’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus.

Sub-committee member Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tried to trap Yates into admitting that Trump’s immigration order was constitutional. Yates was having none of it and cited a point of law that effectively rebutted Cruz.

In a morning Tweet that preceded the hearing, Trump referred to Yates, as a  partisan with a grudge against him and his administration. Yates chose not to respond directly. Rather, she repeatedly refused to behave as a partisan, choosing instead to not step over the line of confidentiality in order to score political points..

In another Tweet following the hearing, 45 falsely claimed that Clapper had testified that there was no collusion between the Trump administration and Russia, and that claims that such relationship exists is “a hoax”. Clapper made no such assertion, simply stating that he did not know of any collusion.

Members of the Trump administration, including 45 himself, have claimed that Michael Flynn got the highest level of security clearance from the Obama administration. As matters of fact, (1) no administration is involved in issuing security clearances. The vetting of a person for same is conducted by a team of career public servants in the CIA; and (2) what Flynn received from the CIA, was a low level security clearance. Trump’s transition team never sought the higher level vetting for Flynn.

Take-aways

We learned that Flynn is not only under a cloud for lying about his profitable foreign contacts; he is also being investigated for behavior that Yates described as “…a problem in and of itself.”

Throughout the hearing Yates presented herself as a poised professional who had a command of facts and consistently put them forward both accurately and clearly. She came across as a credible witness.

Anyone who expected that the results of this hearing would severely damage the Trump presidency must have ended up disappointed.  That did not happen. But, neither did 45 and his minions walk away untarnished. We are at the start of what is likely to be a long and tedious process, the outcome of which, right now, is anybody’s guess. It could involve only Flynn, or extend into the White House; even as far as the Oval Office.

 

 

Not so fast !!!

Earlier this week, House Republicans passed, by the slimmest (one-vote) margin, a bill that repeals and replaces Obamacare. After almost eight years of failing to do just that, the same members of Congress popped the tops of some beers, lit cigars and joined Trump for a celebration in the White House Rose Garden. Never mind that their bill has been rated “dead on arrival” in the Senate, that it is a putrid piece of legislation, and that it is the equivalent of a Baby Ruth candy bar that they slipped into the punch bowl. (1)

Over on the other side of the aisle, House Democrats and Progressives in general see this as a monumental political gaffe that has served to infuriate and energize their base. The plan now is to make every GOP representative who voted “yes” on the bill, pay for it when the 2018 midterm rolls around. If the results of that election serve to flip the House majority, then the aforementioned Republican celebration will prove Pyrrhic. (2)

The reality is with their separate reactions, Republicans and Democrats are both playing with our heads, trying to shape our perceptions regarding what the bill’s passage actually means. A sober assessment of what is ahead would lead to a cautionary warning to both; not so fast !!

As noted above, the House bill is viewed as so bad by the GOP’s Senate majority, that it won’t even be considered for debate. Indeed, there are some senate Republicans who want to scrap it altogether to clear the way for the writing of another bill that may or may not include some parts of the House document.

What might a Senate bill look like? Since that chamber has more moderate Republicans than are present in the House, expect any new document to reflect a softening, especially when it comes to the funding of Medicaid. If that is indeed what materializes and passes out of the Senate, then it must be reconciled with the House bill and that is going to take some major concessions on the part of all the Republicans involved in that process. The end result of all that compromising then gets returned to the House where it will not be welcomed gladly by that chamber’s arch conservative Freedom Caucus. Indeed, that raises the outside possibility that this same bloc will demand another set of revisions before they will vote their approval.

This tedious back and forth is the way the Constitution requires that the legislative process must work. That is why the “Not so fast” admonition is so appropriate here. We have just concluded step-1 in what will eventually prove to be a six-step process, ending with 45 signing a “repeal-replace” bill into law, assuming one even makes it to his desk.

End notes

Keep paying attention, but do not be swayed by the rhetoric issuing from both sides. Be sure to seek out the differences between the House bill and what the Senate comes up with, and in particular how the Congressional Budget Office “scores” both in terms of how many people will be negatively affected and the comparative costs.

Never has “stay tuned” been more appropriate.

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  1. This imagery recalls the “pool scene” from the movie “Caddyshack”. If you missed that flick but still catch the meaning, your mind is as mischievous as mine.
  2. After King Pyrrhus who, in 280 BCE, won a fierce battle against the Romans, but at such a great loss of the lives of his own men, that history later recorded it as a “Pyrrhic victory”. That is the way the House GOP’s step-1 repeal-replace bill will be seen if the 2018 midterm results in an overturning of their majority.

 

 

 

Tax fraud

No, not the “tax fraud” that involves someone cheating our federal government out of what it is due. What we’re going to deal with here, is Trump’s tax plan. Actually, it’s hard to justify calling anything a “plan” when it is published on a single sheet of paper, with wide margins, double-spacing and a generous font. Let’s call it a “sketch” In fact, it more like a “sketchy” sketch.

The Sketch

Without going into arcane details (which Trump has yet to provide anyway), here are some important basics:  (1) The existing tax brackets will be reduced in number from seven to just three (2) the corporate tax rate will be dropped precipitously down to 15%; (3) the standard deduction will be doubled; (4) the alternative minimum tax (AMT) will be eliminated; and (4) the estate tax will also be erased from the books.

Impact on the middle class

Of course, at this juncture, we can’t know for sure. But is likely that the middle class will pay less in taxes if they fall into the lowest tax bracket (i.e. 10%), especially in combination with the doubling of the standard deduction. With more money in hand, those in the middle should bump up their consumption which is a good thing because this increase in demand will cause suppliers to ramp up production. In turn, that should lead to more hiring and thus, job growth.

Impact on the richest

Those in the 1% will enjoy a 4.6 percentage point drop in their taxable income from 39.6% to 35%. But, the real boon for them is the elimination of the alternative minimum tax (AMT). This part of the tax code came into being to prevent very wealthy people from paying too little vis a vis their total income. Basically, it requires that a member of the upper crust calculate his/her taxes by the standard means, and then using the formula from which the AMT is derived. The taxpayer then must pony up the higher of the two.

Since its inception and use, the AMT has affected a steadily growing number of taxpayers who have found themselves with a heavier tax burden because of it. With that in mind, you can see how 45’s proposal to repeal the AMT will produce a major windfall for our millionaire/billionaire class. Had that been the status quo in 2005, Trump’s return to the federal treasury would have dropped from $36 million all the way down to just $5 million. (1)

Then there is the ending of the estate tax which is to say yet another major benefit to the wealthiest among us. Now, it would be one thing if the heir(s) to a millionaire’s estate plowed that money right back into the economy in the form of a big uptick in their consumption. But, that’s not what happens. As Thomas Piketty showed in his study of the accumulation of capital, it basically gets hoarded for passage onto the next generation in the family. (2)

Taking the contents of this section into account, there is considerable justification for referring to the president as “Donald the beneficent”. Certainly, he has offered us a tax sketch that is abundantly generous to himself, his family and their ilk,  but less so for the rest of America who don’t qualify for his 35% tax bracket.

The past as prologue

Because Trump’s sketch has provided us with so few numbers, and because we have yet to see the real impact of what he has proposed, we are left using history as a guide, Think of it as educated albeit fallible guessing.

The odds are very good that putting more money in the hands of people who are most likely to spend it will boost consumption. In turn, this will spur suppliers to jack up production and hence, take on more workers.

The sizeable lowering of the corporate tax rate is supposed to liberate those business entities to plow more money into research and development, more aggressive marketing, the upgrading of plants and equipment, and even expansion. All this should leads to job growth though that isn’t always the case:  Some years back, Coca Cola introduced a new soda that promptly fell flat and allowed Pepsi to gain a larger portion of the soft drink market share.

So far so good; at least as far as predictions go. Now, here’s the downside:  All this tax cutting must be equaled by economic growth robust enough to generate the same or a greater amount of  federal tax revenues, otherwise, we end up with a budget deficit and yet another addition to the national debt. History shows that has never happened !! Never has this been truer than under Republican presidents; Reagan and both of the Bushes. Provable history shows that the tax cuts pushed by these three never paid for themselves. They all ran deficits and added to the national debt. So, let us attach to the list of predictions, the forecast that like his closest Republican predecessors, Trump’s tax cuts will leave us in another hole.

End notes

Once it emerges in final form, what can legitimately be called Trump’s tax plan, will get shaped and re-shaped by Congress, especially the House. If the plan carries with it, strong projections of deficit-spending, look for the “budget hawks” in both chambers to have their economic discipline and frugality tested to the limit. Congressional Democrats  will do what they can to contribute to the shaping process. But they are in the minority so the tax plan that eventually gets passed will have “Republican” stamped all over it. Depending on your reaction to it, you’ll know exactly who to cheer or to blame.

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  1. The drop in Trump’s tax burden from $36 million to $5 million was derived from two pages of his 2005 return that was leaked to David Cay Johnson, an investigative reporter who aired it on the Rachel Maddow Show on March 14, of this year.
  2. See Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century. Published by Brillance Audio in 2014.

 

 

Celebrating Earth Day and science

Prologue

Take note of today’s date because at 9 AM (EST) there commenced what is literally a worldwide celebration of Earth Day and the value of science in helping us sustain it as a habitable planet. Naturally, environmentalists will play a prominent role in a march as well as workshops and the convening of advocacy groups.

What is unique about this year’s celebration is that it is being coordinated with scientists who believe in a reality-based world that is shaped by carefully gathered evidence, and who view that mind-set as being under attack, in particular by the Trump administration. Seeing the stripping away of scientifically established, environmentally-friendly regulations, scientists have shed their white lab coats and taken to the streets in protest.

Why science?

At the most fundamental level, science and its methodology, stand as the single greatest contributor to our knowledge of the material world and how it works. It is responsible for so much that we take for granted in our day-to-day lives:  electric lights, convection ovens, power-driven forms of travel; the list is endless. Yet, in spite of an abundance of evidence of the value of science that surrounds us, there are people who are not at all comfortable with it.

Why is science “suspect”?

There is no question that as a body of scientific evidence accumulates relative to some matter, we are confronted with the challenge of opening our minds to this new information. Indeed, we may find that something we believe in and accept is now open to not just debate, but to change. The view held here is that this triggers discomfort in some people and so they not only object to and distrust the new data, and the means of its acquisition; they oppose being shown that change is needed and become active in fighting it. How that plays itself out in our politics will be covered next.

Equal rights for the LGBTQ community

In spite of substantive evidence to the contrary, there are many people who believe that homosexuality is a choice and a sinful one at that. Without question, much of this sort of thinking is rooted in the Old Testament with no acknowledgement that Jesus never spoke a single word against that lifestyle. And so we have activist groups demanding that state and even federal legislators pass discriminatory laws though such statutes would stand in clear violation of our Constitution’s “equal protection” clause. Fortunately for members of the LGBTQ community, the courts has reliably chosen to follow the Constitution and not the Bible. Yet, the opposition remains firmly in place and the fight goes on.

The legalization of marijuana

Here again, religion now joined by old wives’ tales, have come together to conspire to block legalization, even its use for medicinal purposes. While one could make the argument that we do not yet have a clear understanding of the effects of long-term recreational use of weed, its’ application in pain management for example, has been rather well documented. At the least, passage into law of the legal use of the latter should be a no-brainer. Sadly, there are states that continue to hold out against such change. It is not surprising that many comprise what we call our nation’s “Bible belt”.

End notes

The foregoing are just two of many available examples of how rigidity in thinking impedes evidence-based decision-making and sound public policy. Because the two examples leaned heavily on religion as a source of opposition, there is a need to be careful here and not condemn religion or its practice per se. The narrow focus here has been and should be on how religion or any ideology for that matter, move us in the direction of narrow, stilted thinking that works against our having a shared sense of what is real and what should be set aside.

 

 

 

Some of this and that

Herewith, some items that did not exactly make front page news.

Enough

Senator Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced that he will not seek re-election, citing the need to spend more time with his family. You may recall that Chaffetz was the father who asserted that after hearing Trump brag about grabbing women’s “privates” in the infamous “Hollywood Access” tape, said that he could not support such a man and face his daughter. Of course, no sooner had 45 been elected than the chagrined Chaffetz changed his tune and refused to use his position as Chair of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee to subpoena Trump’s tax returns.

A BOMB vs. bombs

Throughout his second term, President Obama authorized multiple airstrikes against ISIS positions in Syria. But, because he did not implement a full-scale invasion of that country, the raids were decried by conservatives as “too little/too late” and “leading from behind”. Contrast that to Trump dropping one very big BOMB on an ISIS enclave in eastern Afghanistan and 45 is suddenly seen as “presidential”. Apparently, the size of the bomb you drop makes all the difference (sic).

Targeted

With his continued resistance to releasing his tax returns, Trump has effectively turned congressional Republicans into pinatas that have been subject to incessant whacking by their constituents at recent town hall meetings. One has to wonder how long those same elected officials are going to put up with being used by 45 because that is exactly what he is doing; i.e. you must defend me no matter what the political cost to you in your state/district. So, suffer the abuse from constituents for my sake.

The wrong demand

Members of the public who are insisting the Trump release his tax returns are making the wrong “ask” because it leaves open his now well-rehearsed retort that those documents are “under audit”. What should be demanded is proof of that claim since there is no reason in the world to take the word of a man who has a decades-long history of serial lying.

As a matter of fact, if 45 really is under audit, proving that would be as simple as releasing a standard letter that the IRS automatically sends to every taxpayer whose return is subject to review. The sense here is that widespread demand for the public airing of that letter with no response from Trump forthcoming will reveal that his “under audit” excuse is yet another lie. This guy really does have something to hide.

And the beat goes on

About a month ago, in a tv interview, 45 made the outrageous claim that Obama and his administration has engaged in illegal spying on him and/or members of his team. This was quickly followed by unequivocal rebuttals of that charge by FBI Director Comey and Mike Rogers, Head of National Intelligence. Unpersuaded, conservatives in and out of government then took on the unenviable task of proving that Trump was right and the aforementioned two men were wrong. That effort continues as this blog is being typed, with each “expose’ ” of the “real truth” taking one conspiratorial tack or another, each to be effectively rebutted by fact-checkers.

Oh-oh

In response to North Korea’s provocative test-firing of missiles, Trump supposedly ordered a naval strike force, including the carrier Carl Vinson to head towards that country in a show of force. This deployment was supported in public statements by two top cabinet officials (Mattis and McMaster) and 45’s press secretary, Spicer. The trouble is that the Vinson was headed in the opposite direction towards Australia. Unwilling to admit to this major gaffe, Spicer intoned that the carrier was now headed towards North Korea; end of story/full stop.

End note

If there is one thread that runs through each of these squibs, it is to put the party first, admit to no errors or lies, and never waiver from the 24/7 engagement in a zero sum game wherein you intend to win every point, or at least, deny a single point to your opponent whether that be the public or the Democrats.