Monday, April 23, 2018

April 23, 2018--Contortions

It has been painful to witness progressives, Democrats twisting themselves into contortions as they attempt to come to grips with what is happening with the North Koreans.

Their problem is less with Kim Jong-un and the North Koreans than with how to think about and react to Donald Trump's involvement.

Remember how during the 2016 primaries he said it would be his "honor" to meet face-to-face with Kim? He was roundly criticized and mocked by both his Republican and Democratic opponents as being naive and inexperienced in the world of global diplomacy. He was chastised for asserting that traditional forms of diplomacy (which included many months of pre-summit negotiations between lower-level staffs) were the necessary prerequisites to meetings between heads of states. Particularly hostile ones.

Think Kissinger meeting privately with Zhou Enlai before Nixon would consider getting together with Zhou much less Mao.

Failing to recall how neophyte Barack Obama was roundly criticized and mocked by his political opponents (Hillary Clinton leading the pack) during the 2008 campaign when he declared he would be willing to meet face-to-face with the leaders of Iran and North Korea in the search for peace, progressives, opposing Trump now in such ahistorical, knee-jerk fashion are being, well, intentionally forgetful, hypocritical, or both.  

So now we not only have a heads-of-state meeting on the books for late May/early June, but we appear to have Kim making all sorts of preemptive concessions about his nuclear weapons program.

First he announced he was suspending all testing of missiles and nuclear warheads. Then, again without demanding anything in return, he announced over the weekend that he will be shutting down his nuclear weapons research and fabrication facilities. He wants, he says, to turn his focus to the collapsed North Korean economy.

This latter promise is discombobulating progressives. On Saturday and Sunday, for example, on CNN and especially MSNBC, former senior Obama national security advisors and staff have been all over the airwaves struggling with how to think about and respond to these overtures.

First, and most appropriately, they expressed skepticism, warning that the North Koreans for decades have made promises of this sort that they haven't kept. Then they dismissed the evidence that the extra-severe sanctions imposed on the North Koreans, mainly by the U.S. and China, have led to the further hollowing out of the North Korean economy, such as it is, and this is forcing Kim to the table. 

They are ignoring this evidence because, as with Kim's pledge to scale back his weapons program, not to have criticized what seems to be unfolding would give tacit if not overt credit to Trump, as unlikely and crazy and as confounding as what may be happening might turn out to be. 

Liberals so despise Trump that they cannot bear to give some credit, much less offer any praise for his leading the effort to bring this about.

Most outrageously, if Trump pulls this off he would be a leading candidate to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. If the unthinkable were to occur, he as well as Obama would have one. 

Worse--all of us in our heart-of-hearts know Obama didn't really deserve his whereas if we manage to make a verifiable deal with the North Koreans, Trump will have earned his.

Sometimes the world is too confounding to deal with. This may turn out to be one of those occasions.

Kissinger and Zhou Enlai

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Friday, April 20, 2018

April 20, 2018--Trump's End Game

Many of us have been comforted by the belief that even if Robert Mueller is fired and his report gets squelched, even if President Trump pardons 20 or more people, everyone from son-in-law Jared Kushner to Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn and especially his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, all or most of them would still be prosecutable by state attorney generals such as New York's Eric Schneiderman for violating state law because presidential pardons pertain only to federal law.

For example, if Cohen secured a home equity loan from a New York bank, claiming it was to renovate his apartment but then used it to buy Stormy Daniel's silence, he might have committed bank fraud and thus could be pursued by Schneiderman.

Well, it may turn out, not so much.

Just two days ago the New York attorney general asked Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to pass a new law to cover a potential loophole in the current law that might not allow the state to prosecute anyone who had received a blanket federal pardon by a president. That to do so might be a technical form of double jeopardy.  

A quick analysis of how possible it would be to pass such a law suggests it could be quite unlikely. Though the New York Senate has a slim Democratic majority it is hard to believe that it is solid enough to go along with Schneiderman's request.

And so . . . 

In this circumstance, "and so . . ." is not very comforting.

Also on Wednesday, at his press conference in Florida with Japan's prime minister Abe Trump, Trump was asked if he is going to fire deputy attorney general, Ron Rosenstein, or Robert Mueller. His response, "Well, they're still here."

They are, and more germane, so is he. Trump will continue to be here, he is gambling, even as the circle of protection closes in on him.

Here's how that might work--

Of course he pardons everyone in sight who has been investigated, questioned, deposed, or indicted by Mueller's people. That could include pardoning himself  

Then he fires everyone in sight associated with the Justice Department (Rosenstein, Sessions, Mueller) and in the federal southern district in New York City where the Michael Cohen case now resides.

Then all the Trump-associated lawyers move to shut down the possibility of any state attempting to prosecute him or any of his people via state law, claiming that would constitute double jeopardy.

There of course would be a firestorm of outrage. A "constitutional crisis" (whatever that means). All but Fox News and the right-wing crazies on talk radio would seethe, investigate, and run six-inch high banner headlines decrying these step toward a tyrany. And it would be that. A big step in that direction.

Some would see this scenario to be unlikely. Trump would instantly become the most reviled president in history. His ego is such that he wouldn't willingly take on all the abuse that would be heaped upon him. He'd rather take his chances. This could include impeachment, though he wouldn't be convicted. 

Most constitutional lawyers say that sitting presidents can't be criminally indicted. Couple that with the knowledge that the two presidents who have been impeached (Nixon, though he came close, never was) were not convicted and tossed out of office by the Senate. 

Thus, in Trump's mind there is a case to be made for standing pat. For letting things play out. In fact, Bill Clinton became more popular after being impeached. Andrew Johnson is a whole other story.

Trump has already been more fully exposed (almost literally) then any other president. ("Best sex ever!") He perversely seems to thrive on being humiliated. It's the old story of not caring what's said about you as long as they spell your name correctly and keep the spotlight on you.

So, he could be thinking, ride it out. How long will members of Congress go on cable news and rail about him and what he is bringing down upon the country? More than two weeks? I doubt it.

And so there he might continue to sit. Still with Air Force One available to whisk him back and forth to Mar-a-Lago. And he'll continue to be commander in chief, having his hands on all those terrible toys.

I know this is darkly pessimistic. But if any of it is true we have to face it and deal with it.

So here then is the good news--

THIS SCENARIO IS IN OUR HANDS TO RESIST AND OVERCOME.

By voting first in November and then in 2020. 

It really isn't that difficult. We don't need to take up arms. We just need to vote and get everyone we know to do so.

If the Democrats take over the House, investigations and articles of impeachment will follow quickly. If Democrats gain control of the Senate, though there will not be enough of them even with a few courageous Republicans to convict him--that requires a two-thirds vote--but Trump will be effectively neutered. That will get us safely to 2020 when he will be eminently defeatable. As long as we don't get stupid and nominate someone sure to lose. A list of those to follow one day soon. Hint--it includes Bernie and Warren.

Then the rebuilding will begin. Don't forget, we fought a Civil War that tore the country apart. But we survived and emerged stronger than ever.


Eric Schneiderman

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

April 19, 2018--Personalized Pricing

I logged-on to Amazon to see about ordering Daniel Stone's new book, The Food Explorer, the story about botanist David Fairchild, who traveled the world during the late 19th century to bring back to America foods such as kale and mangos that transformed what we eat. 

Its list price is $28. If I were virtuous, I would have gone to an independent bookstore to buy it. But since Amazon listed it at $18.45, plus sales tax, nearly a $10 discount, I thought about that for awhile and then, with some guilt, after deciding to buy it from Amazon, was surprised when I went to place the order to see that, including tax, it now cost more, $19.32. The price had jumped almost a dollar. Not enough to write home about or cause me to go out to Shakespeare and Company, but minimally, it was curious.

Then Rona went on line to shop around for a couple of airline tickets for roundtrips flights to Amsterdam. We were thinking about the possibility of heading there for two weeks at the beginning of May.

Not unlike with the book, the price quoted began to bounce around. While online with United Airlines, every time Rona put them on hold to check this or that hotel (before committing we wanted to be sure there were rooms available in the two places we had identified as those in which we were interested) when she returned to the United webpage the price of the tickets had gone up. By the time we were ready to commit, it had risen more than $200 per ticket. As opposed to The Food Explorer on Amazon, real money.

(This became moot as we quickly realized that with all we have scheduled in late April the timing was not ideal for us.)

Previously we had both had experiences of this kind but didn't think much about them until yesterday when the New York Times published another article about Facebook, this time about why it is such a valuable company.

Among other things the article dealt with "price discrimination." The process by which Amazon and other e-commerce businesses use the Big Data they have gathered about us to determine the maximum amount we are willing to pay for any item. These "personalized prices" are becoming ubiquitous and thus are contributing to the bottom lines of United, Amazon, Wayfair, and Overstock.com. 

They determine our personalized prices by aggregating what they can learn about our buying habits, our income, the other goods and services we have shopped for, our age, political affiliation, where we live, if we are married or single, and a whole host of other information that is too subtle for me to either understand or describe.

These practices are not all predatory  Sellers also have the ability to customize prices to make things more affordable to, say, older shoppers (via senior citizen discounts) or those with limited incomes via 20%-off coupons.

But, we know, for the most part, Amazon and others are mainly interested in extracting from us as much as possible. This is partly why Jeff Bezos, is now the world's richest man.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April 18, 2018--Poor Sean

If Sean Hannity's connection to Donald Trump's "personal lawyer" and self-acknowledged fixer, Michael Cohen, is not a big deal (as Sean claims), why then is he making such a big deal out of being outed as one of Cohen's three clients? 

He could simply have shrugged it off, saying, "Next." 

Instead, he was on TV the other night with Alan Dershowitz, who disappeared from view after serving on O.J. Simpson's Dream Team before resurfacing as a Fox News favorite and Trump flunky (All Dershowitz seems to care about these days is who he thinks will be most supportive of Israel.)

Hannity fessed up to talking to Cohen a few times but not as a lawyer, merely seeking his advice and insight about a couple of possible real estate deals. Not for the hush-treatment Cohen is famous for concocting for, among others, Stormy Daniels. Thus far, Hannity doesn't appear to require one of these. Though, stay tuned.

So, I have been wondering, what kind of deals might Hannity have sought Cohen's advice about? In the wild west world of real estate development in New York City, Cohen is hardly known as either a player or the shiniest penny.

But he does have one potential source of information, insider information about potential real estate deals--those his Don, Donald Trump is involved in.

It is thus not difficult to imagine what Hannity and Cohen might have spoken about during those encounters late in the summer of 2016, just moths before the election. Conversations they appear not to want anyone, especially prosecutors, to know about. One of these might have gone this way--

"Michael? Sean here. Got a minute?"

"For you, buddy, any time. What's happening?"

"You know how I hate the stock market and how all my investments are in real estate?"

"I know that Sean. Everyone does. You've talked about it on the air. On Fox and on the radio. I can hardly blame you. Trading stocks is like gambling in a casino."

"I just signed a contract extension with Fox and between that show and the radio I'm looking at 36 big ones next year. As in millions. So I have some spare change that I want to put somewhere. And thought . . ."

"You've come to the right place, pal. I got a couple of things that might interest you."

"I'm taking notes."

"Be sure to tear them up and swallow them when your done."

[Both laugh]

"We're not talking about this, right?" Sean said, "If anyone asks we say we were just talking about the weather."

"I already forgot you called.

[Again they both laugh]

"So what have you got for me? The deal in Dubai worked out pretty well. It included that golf course designed by Tiger."

"Well, there's another golf deal in Aberdeen, Scotland  I now you're into golf and so this could be nice. You'd own a piece and never have to wait for a tee time."

[More laughing]

"Wait, there's one more thing. You're gonna love this."

"Shoot."

"What do you think about us cutting you a piece in Trump Tower . . . Moscow?"

"Really? I thought he gave up on that one? Without Putin . . ."

"Let's just say it could be back on track."

"Who could resist that deal."

"Again, off the record. Very off the record."

"My lips are sealed."

"I just got back from . . ."

"Moscow?"

"No. That would be to chancy. This is all one-off stuff. From Prague."

"In Czechoslovakia?"

"It's now in the Czech Republic."

"And?"

"The Russians who were at the meeting were all hush, hush, wink, wink. But I got the strong feeling it'll be a go. Depending of course on what happens in November."

"I'm in," Sean said. "And I'll do all I can on the show to get out the vote."

[Lots of laughter]

"So, how's the weather out there on the island?"


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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

April 17, 2018--Fallout

I have been hearing from angry friends all morning. They are angry with me, actually most are furious with me for agreeing with the likes of Ann Coulter, criticizing the weekend missile strike in Syria.

One said, "So it's OK with you to let Assad get away with using poison gas to kill his people? Did you see those videos of children, babies gasping for their last breath as they vomited and soon died? I can't believe you wouldn't agree with using a targeted missile strike against his chemical weapons facilitates."

"The strike appeared to turn out well." I agreed, "We seem to have managed to avoid killing any Russians. If we had, who knows where this would have led."

"You're avoiding the issue," my friend pressed on, "Even in warfare there are rules and conventions. Combatants agree not to torture prisoners, engage in ethnic cleansing, or, in this case, not use chemical or biological weapons. There is the Geneva Convention that spells out a lot of this. I can't believe you would have not done anything. What Assad did was barbaric."

"I agree with that too," I tried to say. "I even agree with Trump that Assad is a monster. The last I read, he presided over the slaughter of about 600,000 of his own people. Hundreds of thousands more have been crippled and millions have become refugees."

"And, so, if it was up to you you'd stand back and watch this happen?"

"Though I wouldn't put it quite this way, I must admit I probably would. I would not get involved in what's happening on the ground in Syria, that godforsaken place, any more than I was in favor of invading Iraq or, for that matter, getting involved in Vietnam. Where more than 58,000 of our young people were killed, hundreds of thousands more wounded, and at the end of the day we lost the war. Haven't we learned anything from behaving like the world's policeman?"

"But a tyrant deploying poison gas on his own people is not only against the rules of war--what a concept, war having rules--but monstrous."

"I don't know how to put this," I said, "but what's the difference between using gas to kill babies and blowing them up with conventional weapons? Hideous barrel bombs full of shrapnel is seemingly the weapon of choice in Syria for Assad's air force. This is monstrous too so why not, using your logic, go after his air force and the factories where barrel bombs are assembled?"

"I can't believe your lack of anger or passion about this," my friend said.

"Maybe I've gotten to be too old and seen too much evil in my lifetime. That could be what has made me appear to be inured to barbaric behavior of this kind. About that, guilty as charged. But, still, I am not insensitive to this nor am I seeing your distinctions between poison gas and fragmentation bombs, and I am not convinced it's a good idea for us to try to chase down all the Assads of the world. Sadly, there are too many of them and I don't think it's our role to go after all of them."

"There's a point to what you're saying, but complete hands off when there are holocasts going is also not acceptable. I don't know how to determine where to get involved and when to ignore evil behavior, but a version of America First, or anything that smacks of that is not acceptable to me and shouldn't be to you. I know you were a young boy during the Second World War and were aware even then of Hitler's regime--including how some in your family died in concentration camps--and in later years you knew about other atrocities, but you're opting out now is not attractive or, to me, acceptable."

"I love you a lot," I said, "And respect you. I'll have to do some more thinking about this. One thing I won't concede though--all of this is very complicated and can lead to a lot of hypocritical talk and behavior."

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Monday, April 16, 2018

April 16, 2018--Ann Coulter & Me

Tell me I'm hallucinating. 

I woke up Saturday morning to the news that overnight we had bombed a number of chemical weapons sites in Syria. Putting aside for the moment how I feel about that, I thought I heard that Ann Coulter, as well as numerous right-wingers, who I assumed, as hawks, would reflexively call for tough action wherever and whenever, staunchly opposed President Trump's decision to attack military assets of the Assad regime.

I woke up in a hurray and sure enough, with the exception of dead-ender Sean Hannity, pretty much all the talk-radio bloviators, conspiracy theorists, and Fox News hosts and guests were ranting about how Trump violated his campaign pledge to bring all troops home from overseas misadventures, especially those that were involved in "nation building." They reminded Trump about this, since they know he was watching and listening, citing our failed involvements in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region.  

The Hill reported that Fox hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham both claimed that Friday night's attack was inconsistent with what Trump said during the campaign and that it could be "risky" for us, considering the country's experience with the Iraq War.

Well-named Michael Savage, host of the radio show, Savage Nation, tweeted--

"We lost. War machine bombs Syria. No evidence Assad did it. Sad warmongers hijacking our nation."

Warmongers, I assume, including Trump.

Ann Coulter showed her opposition to the missile strike by retweeting postings by other conservatives who condemned the move, citing Trump's past tweets in which he cautioned about military action in Syria.

Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, broke down in tears on his  talk show when grossly gasping out his opposition to the missile strikes. He said-- 

"If he [Trump] had been a piece of crap from the beginning, it wouldn't be so bad. We've made so many sacrifices [he did not list them] and now he's crapping all over us. It makes me sick."

Best of all, alt-right conspiracy theorist and social media personality, Mike Cernovich, on his men's empowerment website, Danger & Play, posted--

"At least I won't feel bad when he gets impeached."

About that, we agree. As I do with Ann Coulter. 

That is, unless I was hallucinating.



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Saturday, April 14, 2018

April 14, 2108--Wagging the Dogs

I tend not to be conspiratorial minded, but these days I am hard-pressed to maintain this posture.

I mean, is it a coincidence that the military action we are taking against Syria seems to be occurring at the same time as James Comey's book is about to be published?

What better way is there to keep the former FBI director's book off the front page then stumbling into a potential war with Russia?

Is it a coincidence that President Trump was egged-on to take a very tough position on Syria by British Prime Minister Theresa May who is also attempting to keep her collapsing political fortunes off the front pages? 

They both may have personal interest in wagging the dogs of war.

And why, all of a sudden, was former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, pardoned by Donald Trump? Not just, I suspect, as a gesture to the base who feel Scooter was persecuted and prosecuted for political reasons by a former special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald? Forget for the moment that it was during a Republican administration, during George W. Bush's presidency that he was appointed and that Fitzgerald, like Mueller, is a lifelong Republican. 

And where else besides Fitzgerald have I heard anything recently about a "special counsel"? 

Anyone picking up anything about someone called "Robert Mueller"? What might be happening with him and the person he reports to, Deputy Attorney General Ron Rosenstein?

Also, could it be that the timing of the Libby pardon is an unplanned coming together by chance of these incidents?

Or is Libby's pardon a signal to those already indicted by Mueller that if they hang tough and do not turn on their boss pardons down the line await? Is Paul Manafort paying attention?

Then though I am relieved that initial reports indicate our military strike in Syria was tightly targeted and "moderate" (the way this morning's New York Times described it) is the timing and confluence of activities merely coincidental?

Chance, coincidence are always possibilities; but Trump, who we must agree, if nothing else, has thus far figured out how to live a life in which he many times has "gotten away with murder" (until now a figure of speech) in both his private and professional life may be at it again. 

Things are looking quite bleak for Trump right now, especially the threats to him from Comey's published accusations and the ramped-up investigation of his "personal lawyer," Michael Cohen, that nothing emanating from Trump is likely being left to chance. 

Scooter Libby

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