The Real Truth About Trump’s Economy

Candidate Donald Trump’s proposals on trade and some other issues didn’t seem at all compatible with conservative Republican ideology.  So, after watching congressional Republicans obstruct President Obama for almost eight years, I expected some of the same pushback for incoming President Trump.  And I thought the stock markets would react negatively.  Oh, how wrong I was.

Of course, Trump never misses an opportunity to claim credit whenever the S&P index sets a new record or the unemployment rate falls.  In fact, his supporters are glorifying the past three years as “the Trump economy” even though it has simply followed the positive trends established under Obama.

When Obama took office though, the unemployment rate was soaring.  It reached a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 and remained above nine percent for two grueling years as the global economy staggered from the powerful blow of the Great Recession.  When Trump was inaugurated in 2017, unemployment was at 4.7 percent and falling.  The positive jobless trend that started in 2010 just continued all the way down to 3.5 percent in 2019.

Trump and the Republicans assured us that economic growth would average 3 percent or more after they passed a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy at the end of 2017.  Yet, recession fears caused the Fed to cut interest rates three times last year.

A report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy revealed that almost 400 of America’s largest corporations had an average tax rate of around 11 percent for 2018, almost half the rate in recent years.  It also found that 91 Fortune 500 corporations, including many worth billions of dollars, paid zero federal taxes that year.

Conservative dogma dictated that these companies would invest their tax benefits in new plants and equipment that would supercharge the economy.  Instead, they have mostly bought back stock and increased dividends, which drove the stock markets to record highs and rewarded shareholders.  U.S. manufacturing was actually in recession for most of 2019.

Hmm, if lower taxes aren’t fueling today’s economy very much, what has Trump done to deserve credit for it?  Well, it’s clear to me; Republicans have assiduously avoided what they constantly demanded of Obama’s administration – cutting spending and balancing the federal budget.

Remember July 2011?  Tea Party Republicans in the U.S. House nearly caused a default on the nation’s debt over deficit spending.  The result was the Budget Control Act of 2011 that forced the Obama administration to accept caps on the amount the federal government could spend each year through fiscal year 2021.  More on these caps later.

Still, there was a battle to fund the government and raise the debt limit so the government could continue borrowing almost every year thereafter.  Republicans shut down the government over spending and Obamacare in 2013; they nearly caused another disastrous default on the debt in early 2014; and they threatened to oust Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2015 because he had – Gasp! – compromised with Democrats to keep the government running.

Before resigning from Congress, however, Boehner negotiated the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 with Obama.  This legislation funded the government through FY 2017 and suspended the debt limit.

Did Republicans cause gridlock and fiscal drama over federal spending during Obama’s tenure?  Absolutely!  Do I believe this was about deficit reduction?  No!  It was more about obstructing a Democratic – dare I say black – president.

Sure, Republicans still pay lip service to fiscal restraint.  Trump’s yearly budget proposal for 2017 called for trillions of dollars in spending reductions that would virtually gut the federal government.  And the Republican-controlled House passed the Budget for a Brighter American Future for fiscal year 2018 that would slice $6.5 trillion from spending over a decade – mostly from federal health care programs like Medicaid.

The 2011 budget caps for fiscal years 2014 through 2017 had been exceeded by small increases in federal spending.  But with Republicans in complete control of Congress in February 2018, Trump signed the Bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2018.  This legislation added almost $300 billion in additional funding for FYs 2018 and 2019.

The Bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2019 that Trump signed in August 2019 added over $320 billion more to federal spending for FYs 2020 and 2021.  Republicans had almost no problem letting Trump obliterate the spending caps they imposed on Obama.

But here’s the thing.  Over the past three years, Republicans have totally destroyed the credibility of their core policies – cut taxes for economic growth and balance the budget.

  • The 2017 tax cut failed to produce a surge of investment by businesses or the wealthy that received most of the benefit.  It’s consumer spending that has propped up the economy, even though middleclass taxes weren’t lowered significantly.
  • Instead of demanding that the federal budget be cut by $6.5 trillion over the next decade and balanced – as proposed in their Budget for a Brighter American Future – most Republicans voted to add over $3 trillion to the national debt since Trump’s inauguration.

In reality, it’s the massive government spending that Republicans always rail against that has provided the stimulus to keep the economy chugging along and unemployment at record lows.

Trump and his Republican allies have replaced sound, coherent policies with obfuscation and lies like “Tax cuts pay for themselves;” and “Trade wars are easy to win.”

“The Trump economy” is just another one of them.

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Trump Adds to U.S. Mistakes in the Middle East

Let me make it clear, the following isn’t intended to defend the dictatorial Islamic regime in Iran, mitigate its terrorist activities in the Middle East or “mourn” for assassinated Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, as Republicans ridiculously accuse Democrats of doing.  I believe the history of U.S. involvement in this troubled region, however, sheds light on current developments.

It is well documented that the CIA and Britain’s MI6 engineered the 1953 coup that replaced Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh with the pro-western Shah of Iran – Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.  Mossadegh had nationalized the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and there were fears that he might fall under the influence of the Soviet Union.  Yet, many Iranians were angered by this audacious act.

Various U.S. administrations supported the Shah for 26 years.  Some observers claim he was a cruel dictator whose vicious crimes drove Iranians into the arms of Ayatollah Khomeini?  Others believe it was the Shah’s attempts to westernize the nation and his close ties to America that motivated radical Islamists to revolt as his power and health deteriorated?

Regardless, anti-American feelings in Iran were running high after President Jimmy Carter allowed the deposed Shah to enter the United States for medical treatment in October 1979.  In November, students supporting the revolution stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.  Most were treated horribly; some were beaten and many were severely physiologically tortured.  But when released after 444 days in captivity, none had died.

Nine months later, my legal job in the Middle East put me face to face with representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the annex to the Iranian embassy in Vienna, Austria.  The negotiation involved compensation for my employer’s manufacturing plant in Tehran that had been nationalized during the 1979 revolution.  It was an enlightening, yet surreal experience.

Over a year later, I was having dinner at a hotel in Kuwait City.  In the distance I could hear muffled explosions and asked about a construction project.  My Lebanese host smiled at my naivety.  The sounds, he said, were probably from an artillery duel between Iraq and Iran near Kuwait’s border.  Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had invaded Iran in 1980 and the war was still raging.

It was no secret that President Ronald Reagan supported Iraq with money and intelligence during the fighting.  Estimates indicate that hundreds of thousands of Iranian civilians and soldiers were killed in this bloody nine-year war, many of them child combatants.  Iranian officials may still believe the U.S encouraged Hussein’s invasion and that America shares the blame for these casualties.  But they certainly blamed the U.S. when its war ship in the Persian Gulf mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger jet in July 1988, killing all 290 people on board

In August 1990, Hussein launched a massive attack on tiny Kuwait.  President George H. W. Bush masterfully organized an international coalition of armies that swiftly drove the invaders out in 1991 – but he declined to pursue them into Iraq.

Iraqi forces escaping in various military and stolen civilian vehicles were bunched up in a three-mile-long convoy that was mercilessly attacked for 10 hours, mainly by U.S. aircraft.  Over a thousand vehicles were reported destroyed and hundreds of Iraqi soldiers died in the resulting conflagration.

Some observers called the ghastly scene of twisted metal and charred corpses an unnecessary massacre. Others saw it as justice for the “rapists and murderers” who had invaded Kuwait.  Iraqi parents and relatives probably viewed it as a vicious, unwarranted execution of their loved ones.

Apparently, President George W. Bush didn’t learn much from his father’s experience.  Based on what appears to be flimsy evidence of Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, he ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  The Iraqi military was totally destroyed and according to a 2013 study, an estimated 500,000 Iraqis were killed, including many civilians.  Many call this war the greatest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history.  Regardless, it greatly increased Iran’s power and terrorist capabilities in the region.

In 2015, the United States and four other permanent members of the UN Security Council, China, Russia, France and the UK, plus Germany negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement, officially the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”  It restricted Iran’s nuclear program for ten years.  In May 2018, President Trump withdrew the United States from this agreement and reinstated U.S. sanctions on Iran.  Tensions between the two nations have escalated ever since.

Trump claims his decision to kill Soleimani on January 2nd was necessary to prevent impending attacks on American interests and personnel.  Personally, I believe he was motivated by a desire to deflect attention from his impeachment and enhance his reelection chances.

But justified or not, here are the results:

  • Recent protestors of the Tehran government are now its supporters.
  • Iran’s leaders say they will renounce the 2015 nuclear agreement.
  • The Iraqi parliament has voted to expel U.S. troops from their country.
  • During heightened tensions over Soleimani’s death, a Ukrainian passenger jet was likely shot down accidently by Iranian forces, with a loss of 176 lives.
  • Iraq will fall further under the influence of Iran’s revolutionary leaders.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin will gain power in the Middle East.

Unquestionably, Trump has weakened the national security of the United States and compounded its mistakes in the Middle East.  When will it ever end?

 

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A Letter to Rural Americans

Both Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) recently claimed that Democrats not only hate President Trump, they hate the 63 million people who voted for him.  That would include many of you folks who live outside urban areas.

President Trump and Republicans like Scalise and Jordan want you to think that urbanites are socialists and leftist elites that look down on blue collar Americans, farmers and everyone like many of you who don’t have a college degree.  They want you to hate liberals back so you won’t vote for Democrats.

Certainly, rural areas are suffering.  They have fewer good-paying jobs; hospitals are closing; adequate health care is scarce; public schools are substandard; and a way of life formed over the decades seems to be diminished.  The population is aging all over the nation but more so in the heartland.  Younger, college educated people are drawn to the cities where the better jobs are.  That may be the way it is – but Democrats didn’t cause this.

Think back to 2008 when the nation was on the cusp of the Great Recession.  Loosely regulated financial institutions were making billions of dollars trading over-valued assets involving subprime mortgages.  The housing bubble burst and those securities became “toxic.”  President George W. Bush wasn’t totally at fault for millions of Americans losing their jobs, their homes and their employer provided health insurance – but his Republican administration should bear the lion’s share of the blame.

President Obama entered office in 2009 with a Democratic-controlled Congress.  They immediately passed a large stimulus package to help create jobs and they began work on the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.  It was designed to provide more Americans with health insurance, specifically those without employer coverage, like many of you.

It’s been widely publicized – and is quite obvious from his actions – that then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) initiated a policy among congressional Republicans to obstruct everything Obama attempted to accomplish.

Not one Republican in the U.S. House and only three Republican senators voted for the stimulus legislation even though it included substantial tax cuts for working Americans.  No Republican in either chamber voted for Obamacare in 2010.

Obama’s stimulus helped end the recession in June 2009 but unemployment still reached 10 percent that October.  The entire nation was struggling and the economy was in the doldrums.  Yet, McConnell refused to help the president alleviate your suffering and speed a recovery.  He claimed that his “main goal” was to make Obama a one-term president.  How un-American and politically corrupt was that?

Americans for Prosperity – a Koch brothers organization funded mainly by billionaire conservatives – and the GOP railed against the stimulus and viciously attacked Obamacare, both in the courts and in the media.

Obamacare was designed to force every state to expand Medicaid coverage.  A Republican-backed lawsuit in the Supreme Court sought to invalidate Obamacare in its entirety but failed in that objective.  It did, however, achieve a ruling that states could refuse Medicaid expansion.  That’s exactly what numerous Republican states did after the GOP took control of state governorships and legislatures in 2011.  They deprived millions of you in rural areas from having health insurance and 14 of these states still do that to this day.

Candidate Trump made numerous claims in the run up to the 2016 election, one of which was to immediately repeal Obamacare and replace it with a much better plan.  He also claimed he would bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States and renegotiate trade agreements that he claimed were a disaster for U.S. manufacturers and farmers.

Yet, a Republican-controlled Congress failed to fulfill Trump’s Obamacare repeal promise in 2017 because their replacement plan would cause around 20 million Americans to lose their health insurance.  Hospitals and health care providers depend on Medicaid and other insurance dollars to remain viable, particularly in the countryside.  And many small hospitals have closed as a result of GOP attacks on Obamacare, particularly in Republican states that didn’t expand Medicaid.

Trump did manage to sign a massive tax cut in 2017 that mainly benefited corporations and the wealthy.  That’s one reason why Census Bureau numbers indicate that income inequality in the U.S. is at a 50-year high.  Companies primarily used this largess to buy back stock and increase dividends to their mostly urban, rich shareholders.

Yes, Trump renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  But his trade war with China and tariffs he imposed on products from other countries have damaged U.S. farmers and disrupted manufacturers, many of which are in small communities.  As of the year ending in September, farm bankruptcies had increased 24 percent over the same period in 2017-2018 and U.S. manufacturing is currently in recession.  When farms aren’t profitable and these businesses are idled, you folks in the surrounding areas really feel the pain.

No, Democrats don’t hate you.  In fact, the Democratic-controlled House recently passed Trump’s NAFTA replacement.  And they’re eager to raise taxes on the wealthy to provide comprehensive, low-cost health care for your family and better education for your children.

Actually, it’s the conservative billionaire supporters of the Koch organization that really hate you.  They despise Democratic programs that would provide rural American families with better health care and education because that might increase their taxes.  And like Scalise and Jordan, they want you to hate liberals so Republicans can remain in power to protect their wealth.

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Why Only Two Articles of Impeachment?

Impeach Pic

The U.S. House is set to vote on two articles of impeachment, which if conveyed to the Senate will be the basis for a trial of President Donald J. Trump.  The first involves abuse of power, the second claims the president is guilty of obstructing Congress.  Ardent Trump supporters, like Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins (above, right, courtesy of Kevin Kruse), are adamant that he has done nothing to warrant impeachment; critics believe the list of Trump’s impeachable offences is almost endless.  I agree with the latter assessment but here’s why two is best for now.

First, almost no one believes that the GOP-controlled Senate would convict Trump, no matter how many articles are presented, how egregious the offences they describe or how damning the proof of his conduct.  Sadly, his grip on the party is just that strong.

Still, numerous pundits believe Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) is rushing this process and that she should include many more charges.  New York Times columnist David Leonhardt listed six additional offenses he believes Trump committed, including obstruction of justice as outlined in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, corruption of elections (hush money payments to Trump’s paramours) and conduct grossly incompatible with the presidency (constant lying).  I would add one more, criminal conspiracy.  Trump arguably conspired with his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and others to commit a crime, possibly bribery.

Other writers have decried Trump’s blatant disregard of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from accepting a gift or profit from a foreign government.   No wonder, Trump still controls his business empire and foreign governments curry his favor by flocking to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. and his other properties.  In fact, Washington, D.C., and Maryland filed a lawsuit against Trump on that issue, which is currently working its way through the courts.

No doubt Democrats were mulling important political considerations in choosing just two articles.  There are numerous newly elected Democratic representatives in districts won by Trump in 2016 who would prefer to avoid a vote on impeachment.  And numerous articles would result in a long, drawn out trial in the Senate that could significantly exacerbate their reelection problems.

Also, impeaching a president is not wildly popular with the electorate and may become less popular the longer the process continues, particularly into an election year.  Voters are impatient and tend to believe that an election is the way to resolve problems with a president.  That’s probably why Ms. Pelosi discouraged impeachment inquiries for as long as she did.  As she knows – and has cautioned several times – impeachment is a very divisive process and the nation is already polarized more than it has been in decades.

But for the whistleblower’s complaint that shed light on crimes Trump may have committed during his phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, we wouldn’t be where we are on impeachment.  And we might never have known about Trump’s months-long scheme to coerce a foreign government into announcing an investigation that would smear his political opponent and support a conspiracy theory that Democrats and Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.  This attempt by Trump to get a foreign government involved in the 2020 election, however, was just too much for Pelosi to let pass.

It’s clear that Trump believes he’s above the law.  “I’ll do whatever I want” is one of his favorite phrases.  After getting caught with his call pressuring Zelensky, he doubled down on national TV by asking China to investigate the Biden’s and confirmed what he wanted from Ukraine, “If they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Biden’s.”

Regardless, I agree with the two-article indictment against Trump.  Both are simple and easy for the public to understand.  The obstruction of Congress charge is particularly strong and very difficult for Republicans to refute.  The record is clear that Trump blocked all document production and witness testimony from his administration.  In effect, he refused to acknowledge that Congress is a coequal branch of government with oversight powers as set forth in the Constitution.  If this precedent is established, future presidents, including a Democrat, could hide corruption and criminality with no accountability.

Yet, I believe there might be another consideration on Pelosi’s mind.  The courts are deciding numerous cases that should shed light on Trump’s conflicts of interest and his subservience to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  It’s likely his financial records and tax returns will see the light of day, particularly if Democrats control the House in 2021.  Key administration officials like former White House counsel Don McGann, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others could be required to testify before Congress.

Pelosi knows that when experienced prosecutors have indicted a criminal for several serious crimes, they frequently try them first on just one of the many offenses.  If they fail on the first, they can try the perpetrator on a second, a third, and so on.  Democrats may be thinking that later evidence of Trump’s crimes would provide a another opportunity to hold him accountable, whether or not he is reelected for a second term.

If they loaded the articles of impeachment with Trump’s many other impeachable offences now and he is acquitted by Senate Republicans – which is nearly certain – it would be difficult, if not impossible, to charge him with those crimes in the future.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a shiny, uplifting New Year to all.

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A Tale of Republican Heroes and Today’s GOP

Once upon a dark time, three Republican men took the oath of office and served in the administration of President Richard M. Nixon.  They were Elliot Richardson, William Ruckelshaus and Robert Bork.  Respectively, they were the U.S. Attorney General, the deputy Attorney General and the Solicitor General.  One fateful Saturday night in October 1973, each faced a choice, honor their oath to protect and defend the Constitution or renege.  Two chose the high road; one decided that executive authority took precedence.

Richardson was a New England blueblood and a lifelong Republican; his father was a physician and a professor at Harvard Medical School.  He attended Harvard and graduated in 1941.  But his further education was interrupted by the war in Europe where he served in the U.S. Army infantry.  His unit landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy during the D-day invasion and in subsequent operations in France he was a awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

After the war, Richardson returned to Harvard and received a law degree in 1947.  He served as a law clerk to both U.S. circuit court and Supreme Court justices and was in private practice at prestigious law firms.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Richardson as a legislative assistant in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1957.  He would later serve as secretary of that department, Secretary of Defense, undersecretary of State and Attorney General, all under Nixon between 1969 and 1973.

William D. Ruckelshaus was born in Indianapolis, Indiana to a long line of prominent lawyers and active Republicans.  After graduating high school, he inexplicitly served two years in the U.S. Army as a drill sergeant.  Then Ruckelshaus took his undergraduate degree at Princeton, graduated from Harvard Law School and joined the family law firm in 1957.

Later he served in various politically appointed positions in the Indiana government, including counsel to the Indiana Stream Pollution Control Board.  Ruckelshaus also helped draft the 1961 Indiana Air Pollution Control Act and made a losing bid for the U.S. Senate in 1968.

No doubt due to his connections in the GOP, Nixon appointed Ruckelshaus as an assistant U.S. attorney general in 1969.  Then Nixon tapped him as the first administrator of the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency in early 1970.  Ruckelshaus left EPA in April 1973 to serve as acting FBI director during the Watergate investigation and then briefly as deputy attorney general at the Justice Department.

Robert H. Bork was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a middleclass family.   His father was a purchasing agent for a steel company and his mother was a school teacher.  He graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and was awarded a Phi Beta Kappa key with his J.D. degree in 1953.  Obviously, he was a brilliant lawyer.

After a stint with the Kirkland and Ellis law firm, Bork was hired as a professor at the Yale Law School.  There he formed his belief in “originalism,” a theory embraced by today’s conservative justices.   Originalism calls for judges to adhere to the “original intent” of the framers when interpreting the U.S. Constitution.  Bork was also known for supporting corporate conglomerates and opposing civil rights legislation.

Bork was appointed Solicitor General of the United States by Nixon in June 1973 at the height of the Watergate investigations.

So it was that these three men had their “rendezvous with destiny” on October 20, 1973.  That evening, Nixon made a desperate decision to fire the man who was investigating the Watergate scandal, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.  What followed came to be called the “Saturday night massacre.”

When asked to fire Cox, Richardson resigned effective immediately.  Deputy Ruckelshaus also refused to dismiss Cox and immediately resigned.  When Nixon asked third-in-line Bork to fire Cox, it’s reported that he too considered resigning.   But in the end, he complied.

Unfortunately for Nixon, this drama was all for naught.  He was forced to appoint a replacement for Cox; the Supreme Court required him to produce the damning White House tapes; and after learning his support in Congress had eroded from Republican leaders, including Sen. Barry Goldwater, Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974.

Why bring up this decades-old affair?  Well, Mr. Ruckelshaus just died in November; it highlights how the GOP has changed since 1974; and another Republican president is facing impeachment.

I believe President Trump’s affronts to the Constitution are actually worse than Nixon’s.  Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report details numerous attempts Trump made to obstruct justice and halt the Russia investigation.  And Trump’s scheme of withholding critical military aid to coerce Ukraine’s President to announce an investigation of a political opponent is as much a crime as the Watergate burglary, which attempted to collect intelligence on a political opponent.

Yet, if you searched the GOP from bottom to top and from state to federal, I doubt if you would find many Republican officials that compare to ethical heroes Richardson and Ruckelshaus, or even to conservative Goldwater.  Today, the party is chockablock with the likes of ultra-conservative Bork who will yield to executive authority and violate their oath of office.

That’s why today’s Republicans won’t think of suggesting that Trump resign and why this president will not be convicted by the Republican-controlled Senate no matter what crimes he commits.

Sadly, the GOP of the Nixon era no longer exists.  But we desperately need it back.

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Things You Need to Know for Thanksgiving Dinner

Unless last year’s conversation over turkey and dressing caused an irreparable breach with your relatives that love President Trump, it’s time to get prepared for this year’s feast.  I know; you say it’s a waste of time because they simply won’t listen to facts.  Granted!  But in case they want to press some false narratives, it’s best to be prepared.

One ground rule you should attempt to establish early on is that the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have no relevance.  Neither does anything said or done by former secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  They are in the rear-view mirror, have no power and weren’t involved in government during the past three years.  This will be a tough sell because conservatives always want to go back and relitigate the past.  “Whataboutism” is their main defense to criticism of Trump.  Disarm them of this deflection tactic and they become like participants in the reality TV show, “Naked and Afraid.”

Always be adamant about what has been a fact for decades; Russia is not our friend.  This shouldn’t be a contentious point; conservatives have railed against Russia since forever.  During the 2012 presidential campaign, candidate Mitt Romney claimed Russia was our most dangerous geopolitical threat.  It was one of his positions that in retrospect was spot on.  If there’s pushback on Russia, press for facts on why Trump should be more friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin than our allies.   Could it be that Putin knows something about Trump that we don’t?

If they respond that the “Russia hoax” conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller cleared the president with “no collusion and no obstruction,” ask if they have read Mueller’s report.  Whether they answer yes or no – yes is probably not truthful – refer to the letter signed by over 1,000 bipartisan former federal prosecutors which opines that if Trump were not the president, he would be indicted for obstruction of justice based on Mueller’s findings.  Quickly follow with:  And these are both Republicans and Democrats, in case they don’t understand “bipartisan.”

Be prepared for a rapid segue to the economy; it’s Trump’s favorite ploy.  True, the stock markets are at all-time highs but remind them that the gross domestic product (GDP) is the economy and growth there is slowing.   Point out that Republicans promised that the December 2017 tax cut would pay for itself and the economy would grow at 3 percent or more.  Instead, the federal deficits are skyrocketing and the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates three times recently, all to hold off a recession.  Numerous reports indicate that businesses have mainly bought back stock with their tax cut largess, which helped elevate the stock markets.

Yes, unemployment is low, but Trump took office when it was around 4 percent.  His job creation numbers simply follow the trend at the beginning of 2017.  And the president’s tariffs on China and our allies are threatening to cause all of the positive numbers to lose altitude, including those on employment, the stock market and economic growth.

Sooner or later, the impeachment inquiry will come up.  You know, how the Democrats are trying to erase the 2016 election results they didn’t like.  Ask if it’s okay for the president to withhold military aid to Ukraine to get dirt on a political opponent.  In case they claim “no quid pro quo,” respond that EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and others clearly testified there was.  Even the president’s former top adviser on Russia and Europe, Tim Morrison – a witness called by Republicans on the Intelligence Committee – confirmed this.  And remind your conservative relatives that Trump has stonewalled every attempt by the Committee to get documents and testimony from witnesses who were involved with the aid hold up.  Is he afraid they’ll reveal the truth?  Heh-heh-heh!

If you haven’t been assaulted with a turkey leg or a spoon full of mash potatoes and gravy isn’t dripping off your face, consider going on offense:  Just why does Trump love Vladimir Putin so much?  While they are groping for a way to deflect this broadside add: Trump refuses to accept that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, contradicting his own intelligence community and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee report.  He criticizes NATO, the main defense against Putin’s territorial expansion plans.  He abandoned the Kurds in Northern Syria and Putin took over.  Now he has weakened Ukraine as it battles Putin-instigated aggression on its Eastern border.  And when did anti-Russia Republicans learn to love Putin too?

If you have them off balance, don’t let up.  Where are we with North Korea, huh?   Kim Jong-un is firing off missiles toward Japan and Trump is begging for another photo-op with him.  Last I saw, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro – who Trump strongly opposed and Russia supported – is still firmly in power, another win for Putin v. Trump.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump rejected on his first day in office was signed by the 11 other countries involved and goes on without us.  Analysis of Trump’s replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) indicates it didn’t change much.  And Trump’s tariffs aren’t accomplishing anything except taxing American consumers.

By now, if a full-scale food fight is not in progress, it might be best to call for dessert.  That may be the only thing on which everyone can agree.  😊

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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Which Way to a Banana Republic

Not long after the 2016 election, I emailed a conservative friend to express my fear that President Trump would seriously weaken democracy in our republic.  He responded that he feared for democracy too, but for a different reason.  He was concerned that Democrats would impeach Trump and the United States would become just like a banana republic.  At the time both houses of Congress were controlled by the GOP, so I assumed he was parroting something he heard on Fox News.

Well, my worst fears have now been confirmed.  Trump has continuously claimed that the media is the enemy of the people, that political opponents should be jailed, that white supremacists have “some very fine people” on their side and that immigrants are subhuman.

During a May 2017 love-in with Russian officials in the Oval Office, Trump announced “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. [James Comey]  He was crazy, a real nut job.”  He added “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”  Later, he admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt on national television that his reason for firing Comey was “this Russian thing [investigation].”

Republicans, including my aforementioned friend, blame Democrats for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation even though it was initiated by Trump appointee Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein because Comey was fired.  Although Mueller didn’t find evidence that Trump colluded with Russia during the lead up to the 2016 election, his report detailed 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice committed by Trump.  Over 1,000 bipartisan former prosecutors signed a letter stating that if Trump were not president he would be indicted for these crimes.

When Mueller’s testimony before congressional committees on July 24 fizzled, Trump apparently figured he was freed from the Russia investigation constraints.  The very next day he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which he asked for a “favor.”  Initially, Trump wanted information about cyber-security firm CrowdStrike and “the server.”  Although, it is doubtful Mr. Zelensky had any idea what Trump was talking about, this company is implicated in a debunked conspiracy theory as having taken the computer server from the Democratic National Committee headquarters to Ukraine.

Later in the call Trump focused on investigations of his political opponent, former VP Joe Biden.  Although Republicans defend the president by claiming he was generally discussing “corruption,” that word does not appear in the transcript released by the White House.  Joe Biden is mention twice, however, and Hunter Biden is referred to once as “Biden’s son.”

The president implied, without evidence, that Joe Biden had “shutdown” a “very good prosecutor” from investigating his son, adding “and a lot of people want to find out about that.”   Supposedly, U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani were to contact Mr. Zelensky about CrowdStrike and the Biden’s.

Barr now claims no knowledge of why he was mentioned in this call and denies he was involved in Trump’s scheme.  Soliciting foreign help in a U.S. political campaign is illegal and Democrats are calling it bribery.  So, Giuliani is up to his ears in what appears to be a criminal conspiracy that may also include EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and others.  Sondland is already under the threat of a perjury charge, so his testimony next week will probably be scrupulously truthful and could implicate the president in a crime.  But for the whistle blower, we may never have known about all of this.

It’s all rather simple though, isn’t it?  Russia has been continuously attacking Ukraine for over five years.  This nation desperately needs U.S. military and political support to counter Russian aggression.  Trump wanted Mr. Zelensky to get dirt on a political opponent and give credence to a conspiracy theory that would clear Russia of election meddling.  So, he planned to withhold almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine until Zelensky complied.  In fact, Trump jeopardized the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers to advance his personal political interests. At best, this was an abuse of power; at worst it was a diabolical plot to benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Incredibly, Republicans are blaming the whistle blower instead of focusing on the national security threat that Trump was perpetrating.

I have not favored impeaching the president, even though Mueller’s report specified a number of attempts by Trump to obstruct justice.  AG Barr’s preemptive letter exculpating Trump on these charges caused public confusion.  It is clear now, however, that Trump was not chastened by the near miss of the Russia investigation; rather, he was emboldened by it.  Consequently, I agree that House Democrats had no alternative but to commence impeachment proceedings.

So yes, my worst fears about Trump have come true and so has the impeachment that concerned my friend.  It’s unlikely that Trump will be convicted in the GOP-controlled Senate.  Like the congregation of cult leader Jim Jones, Republicans have chosen to follow Trump and “drink the Kool Aid.”

If, however, the president is removed from office, I believe the nation will heal in time and the rule of law will be reaffirmed.  But the consequences will differ if Trump escapes impeachment unscathed and gets four more years to continue his authoritarian ways:  Crimes by his associates will be pardoned, political opponents will be persecuted and the United States will truly become just like the banana republic my conservative friend feared.

 

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