Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Any reasonable person watching the press conference held yesterday by presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki after what can only loosely be referred to as a “summit meeting” has to have come to one of three conclusions: that the US president is an intellectual midget incapable of understanding the simplest of concepts (such as who is “friend” and who is “foe”), that he is certifiably insane (a psychopath, for instance, is defined as having “a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits”...um, if the shoe fits), or that he is a traitor to his country.
Following the disgraceful display of capitulation demonstrated by Trump before a gloating Vladimir Putin, former CIA Director John Brennan was quick to tweet "Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous."
“High crimes and misdemeanors” is, of course, the constitutional definition of grounds for impeachment. Treason, as Director Brennan pointed out, is something else. As demonstrated by all of the pundits who were outraged by Trump’s performance but who balked a little at Brennan’s characterization of it as treason.
The word seems to scare a lot of people. But let’s look at it from Brennan’s clearly ethical and patriotic viewpoint. The simple dictionary definition of treason is “the crime of betraying one’s country.” In other words, putting one’s own interests or, worse still, the interests of a third party or country above those of one’s nation. That might not matter a great deal, in a peacetime situation at least, if you’re just John Doe. But if you’re Donald John Trump, and the president of the United States, it’s a very big deal indeed.
The US Constitution has its own definition of treason: “ "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort..."  
So where does that leave Trump? Andrew Wright, former assistant White House counsel and associate professor at the Savannah Law School, was quoted yesterday as saying that since the US and Russia are not at war, he didn't believe that Trump's conduct at the summit alone amounted to treason.
"It's quite clear he's selling out important American national-security interests by not standing up to Russian aggression," Wright told the on-line publication Business Insider. "That's why you see some people using the term 'traitor.' It's not a term I prefer to use ... It's the kind of thing I'd like to see after more investigative processes and legal findings."
But Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean and professor of law at Cornell Law School, countered that, even without a formal declaration, there is a case to be made that Russia and the US are indeed at war.
"One argument would be that Russia has engaged in a covert cyber intervention against US interests, including election meddling, that rises to the level of hostilities," he said.
"However, an even better argument would be that Russia and the United States are on the opposite sides of various armed confrontations in Syria." He was referring, of course, to Russia's backing of the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad while the US is providing a certain amount of support to rebel groups seeking to overthrow that regime, a situation that has brought US-coalition and Russian air support into dangerously close contact on more than one occasion.
No matter whether Russia and the US can be considered to be engaged in hostilities against one another, Putin’s Russia must at least be considered a hostile power, in terms of the strategic interests of the United States—whose democracy and system of government, mounting evidence shows, it has been actively seeking to undermine—and to the interests of its closest allies in Europe, where Putin is seen as a clear and present danger. And so the second part of the constitutional definition (offering aid and comfort to America’s enemies) would appear to fit.
The fact that Trump refused to even have his closest aides in the room with him and Putin when they met (and this was the US president’s stipulation, not Putin’s, although Putin must have been overjoyed by the suggestion) is telling. And it speaks to the body language of the two men when they later emerged to face the press, with Trump looking and sounding as if he had just been bitch-slapped and Putin smirking and posturing like the bouncer at a high-end disco.
And there can be no doubt that every thinking human being in the United States and in the NATO nations must have been utterly astonished, when Trump cavalierly dismissed the findings of ongoing probes and the indictment of a dozen military intelligence agents of Russia for explicit and reiterated intervention in the US election process and said that he believed Putin’s “strong and powerful denial” that he was involved.
Okay, we know Putin wasn’t sitting in bed at night with his laptop hacking the elections, but if Russian state intelligence was involved, Putin was giving the orders. This was like his repeated denials that Russia was involved in the fighting in Ukraine—following, it should be added, Russian annexation of Crimea. Those involved in the bloody fighting in ethnic Russian areas of Ukraine were, he insisted, volunteer guerrilla fighters. But they were wearing Russian uniforms without insignias and were armed to the teeth with Russian hardware. And official Russian troops and tanks were assembled all along the border with Ukraine. Obviously, Putin wasn’t there leading the charge with ivory-handled pistols in the style of George Patton, but let’s not kid ourselves: His finger was on the trigger.  
Stunned Americans are today asking, why. Why would a US president deny his nation’s own intelligence (more than a dozen intelligence agencies that say Russia is involved in cyber-warfare against the US)? Why would he show such utter and humiliating weakness toward the autocratic leader of an anti-democratic and anti-American expansionist regime? Why would he refuse to even bring up the subject of the twelve indictments against Russian cyber-spies, let alone demand their extradition? And why would he preface the summit with this nefarious autocrat by doing Putin’s work for him and trashing America’s closest allies, sowing discord in NATO and destroying international confidence in the US as the leader of the free world?
But those are the wrong questions. The question should be, how long will the American people put up with a president who is capable of doing these things? It is no longer a matter of whether Donald Trump is serving his own interests above those of the country he is constitutionally bound to serve. It doesn’t matter whether the Russians have something personal on Trump that, if revealed, would spell personal disaster for him, or that he simply can’t admit the role of Russian espionage in helping him win the election in 2016 and that if he is going to be able to justify as legitimate his controversial win over Hillary Clinton, he must place his own narcissism above the interests of the country—and if that’s the case...see item three in the first paragraph of this essay. What matters is that the president has proven himself unequivocally incompetent to serve in the high office that was bestowed on him.
Yesterday, we witnessed the president of the United States—an office usually held by individuals thought of as leaders of the free world—grovel before one of the world’s most ruthless autocrats, an authoritarian who has been in power for nearly two decades, and who, since 2014, has made no secret of leading his country on the path to a new age of expansionism, in pursuit of a return to the power and glory of the now defunct Soviet Union.
Trump has made it clear that he values his relationship with Putin above his responsibilities as president of the United States.
That should be a clear enough response to any questions in anyone’s mind about what happened this week.   

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Something like a Trump foreign policy seems to finally be taking shape. If it can be characterized by anything concrete, it would be by how the US president savages America’s erstwhile allies and befriends its enemies. There is no better example of this than the president’s apparent inability to find any fault whatsoever with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who is the antithesis of upstanding democratic leadership and of respect for the rule of law—especially international law. Meanwhile, President Trump has laser-focused blistering criticism on the current leaders—both female leaders, it might be added, which, if we were talking about anyone but Donald Trump, might simply be taken as a coincidence—of two of the most prominent of US allies, Britain and Germany. And he further trashed the entire NATO alliance in his first comments at a breakfast in Brussels, before the latest North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit had even begun.
Indeed, this week, far from striking a more conciliatory tone with America’s European allies, whom, for all intents and purposes, he has been serial-insulting ever since his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump waded into the summit in his typical bull-in-a-china-shop style and did his best to further fray the already increasingly thread-bare fabric of a 70-year-old alliance that has been largely responsible for maintaining a semblance of global peace since World War II. And he added insult to injury by quipping that he would probably have an easier meeting with Putin than with the America’s fellow NATO allies.
Most of Trump’s trash talk about Europe has to do—like the majority of other topics in his life—with money. His complaint is the same as that of other US presidents before him: that most of the United States’ allies aren’t paying their fair share of the cost of maintaining the Western alliance. As per usual, once Trump turns on the stream of insults, there’s always collateral mud-slinging. In this case, he made a tangential reference to his predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama when he said that other presidents had complained about the failure of European members of NATO to pull their own weight but that he planned to do something about it.
The threat sounds a lot like a Mafia-style “insurance” pitch. Pay up, because if not, well, it sure would be too bad if something happened and we weren’t there to protect you. As usual, Trump led with his mouth. Like when he said that the UK was in turmoil under its current Prime Minister Theresa May and described resigning Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (who's a sort of British brother by another mother to Trump in both looks and politics) as "a good friend" who had been "very supportive," adding that he wouldn't mind seeing Johnson while in England. Or when he said that Germany was “a captive to Russia” because of the Russian energy resources that it imports. He reiterated this last charge, saying Germany was, because of these energy imports, “totally controlled” by the Russians while asking to be protected from Russia.
Also as usual, however, Trump got his facts wrong. Germany actually only gets less than a third of its natural gas from Russia via the Nordstream Pipeline that connects the two countries directly. And although Trump isn’t the only Western leader who has shown concern over this and a second planned Russo-German pipeline, Germany has a healthy list of alternative sources with which to cover its overall energy mix.
It is wrong, moreover, to even consider the Nordstream Pipeline as a symbol of German dependence on Russia. In point of fact, Russia is notoriously short of export possibilities in almost every field except energy (and arms), so it could be strongly argued that the Russians are as dependent on German revenues as the Germans are on Russian gas. And if Trump really had any desire to hurt Putin’s Russia, instead of seeing how hostile he can make US relations with Germany, he would be trying to woo German Chancellor Angela Merkel in order to strike a trade deal to sell more LNC (Liquid Natural Gas) to the Germans—killing two birds with one stone by reducing a major ally’s dependence on Russia and at the same time underscoring his largely hollow “America First” policy by generating increased exports to Europe.
In terms of NATO as a whole, it can be argued that the major West European countries should be paying a somewhat greater share of the cost of the NATO alliance, or at least that they should have been paying a bigger proportion since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Originally, the US interest in NATO, and in paying whatever it had to in order to form part of that alliance, was as a platform for its Cold War and arms race against the Soviets. Since the late eighties, prosecution of that purpose has been largely curtailed. But since 2014, Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he plans to return Russia to a place of importance as a global military power. Clearly, the Eastern European nations are taking this threat seriously. Being the closest countries to the Russian Bear, they have already brought their NATO spending up to the Washington-demanded two percent or above, in anticipation of Russian aggression following Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his backing for irregular military action within Ukraine. It is the obvious hope of these Eastern members that if Putin moves on them, NATO, and particularly the US, will be there for them.
Furthermore, the US has used NATO as much as NATO has used the United States, and this is something of which Trump, in his blind ignorance, seems unaware. NATO continues to be a major platform for US global hegemony. If the NATO alliance falters, current Allies will be unlikely to help the US in its multiple military actions around the world. And if Trump decides to go back on the US commitment to NATO—the way he did on the worldwide climate accord—Europe won’t simply lie down and die. It will indeed find solutions for its own defense and security, marginalizing the US from any intervention in topics of European interest, and perhaps also becoming unwilling to continue to host strategic American military bases on European soil. In other words, while Putin is fighting tooth and nail to keep Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria so that he can continue to maintain a major Russian naval base in that country, the US president seems to be actively seeking to destroy the most strategic alliance of which the United States forms part in the entire world.
No matter what the future may hold—a single Trump presidency would surely be a plus—the increasingly hostile relations between Europe and the United States play, without a doubt, into the hands of Vladimir Putin as if he had planned Trump’s dubious foreign policy himself, and the US president is sure to get a warm, fraternal welcome from the Russian autocrat when they meet in Helsinki for a summit of their own next Monday.    

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Of course the meeting with Putin will be easier for you, Donnie. You'll kiss his ass, he'll pat you on the back and the authoritarian love affair will continue as up to now. Our Western allies will actually insist that you do something for the unity of democratic nations against the advance of tyranny, but when anybody mentions freedom and democracy to you, you glaze over.

When will people wise up and realize that, whether by omission or commission, this president is engaged in treason against everything the US used to stand for?

Friday, July 6, 2018


After US District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle tossed out a DNC case against the Trump campaign for the Russian hacking this week, The Don bloviated:
This Dave Lebow painting is apropos
“Just won lawsuit filed by the DNC and a bunch of Democrat crazies trying to claim the Trump Campaign (and others), colluded with Russia. They haven’t figured out that this was an excuse for them losing the election!”
But that's not what the judge said. In her 45-page opinion she specifically said her dismissing the case on a technicality made no judgment regarding collusion with Russia. Here's a quote from the judge's decision:
“It bears emphasizing that this Court’s ruling is not based on a finding that there was no collusion between defendants and Russia during the 2016 presidential election...This is the wrong forum for plaintiffs’ lawsuit. The Court takes no position on the merits of plaintiffs’ claims.”

'nough said...


The resignation this week of Scott Pruitt as EPA “administrator” (more like liquidator) was immediately and resoundingly hailed by virtually all environmental protection groups, wildlife conservationists, scientists and friends of the earth in general. But his successor promises to be little if any better—if, hopefully, less flamboyant and corrupt.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was one of the first to weigh in. He observed that, “instead of protecting our environment and combating climate change, he (Pruitt) has worked to protect the interests of the fossil fuel industry and polluters all over the country.” Senator Sanders opined that, “his resignation is a positive step forward for our country. I will do everything possible to see that the next EPA administrator actually believes in environmental protection.”
Scott Pruitt...out
All I can say is, good luck with that, Bernie. The man who, as deputy director, will likely replace Pruitt permanently is none other than Andrew Wheeler. Until now in the Pruitt EPA, Wheeler has been in charge of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. His qualifications for the job? He is a former executive from the American Chemistry Council—a grouping of major chemicals manufacturers—and a former lobbyist for the coal industry. That makes him likely to act as an advocate for the interests of some of the very industrial activities that the EPA was formed to monitor. Oh, and, by the way, he is understood to have made a three hundred thousand dollar contribution to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Wheeler is the Trump administration’s fallback, after it permitted Pruitt to be its fall guy. Whenever the swampy water starts reaching the gunwales of this US president’s lifeboat, somebody gets thrown overboard, and this time it was Pruitt’s turn. But replacements are seldom if ever any great improvement, because, in the end, what is flawed is Trumpian policy and the dysfunctional administration as a whole. That’s because, to survive for a while in the Trump administration, all you have to be willing to do is his bidding—no matter what that might be. Anyone carrying a knapsack full of ethics with them need not apply. Pruitt, then, was a shoo in...until he wasn’t.
Lately, Pruitt’s personal antics have been giving the administration headaches, as the news media has tracked down his multiple indiscretions in running his shop as if he were a moneyed prince rather than an environmental agency administrator. The chain of scandals had gotten so bad—from the use of taxpayer money to purchase luxury furniture and contract high-end travel to secretly scheduled meetings and close relations with industry lobbyists, and from firing anyone in the EPA who questioned his most controversial maneuvers to using his post to garner business opportunities and jobs for his immediate family—that White House aides are reported to have been strongly urging the president to cut him loose.
Someone, then, evidently made Pruitt see the writing on the wall. But at least he didn’t miss the White House Fourth of July picnic and fireworks!
Andrew Wheeler...in
If I were to try and second-guess Trump, I would say that he didn’t fire Pruitt sooner because the former EPA director’s serial delinquencies served as smoke and mirrors to take attention off of the serious business of rollbacks that he was seeking to institute on the president’s behalf—rollbacks that have literally attempted to take environmental protection back half a century, to when American industries trashed the air, water and land of the US and the world with utter impunity.
Scott Pruitt’s job—what Trump has defined as “a very good job”—has been to deny science and to deny the need for the measures that have been instituted progressively since the late 1960s to mitigate, alleviate and repair gross environmental damage inflicted on us all by low former industry standards that completely ignored the human cost and lasting consequences of unaccountable production and corporate irresponsibility. In short, his job was to make things easy for Trump and Trump’s industry friends (and Super PAC backers) in their industrial operations.
There can be no doubt that Pruitt was serving the interests of Donald Trump, not those of the United States. In his resignation letter, he proudly (if unwittingly and a little insanely) alluded to this fact, seeming to have considered Trump’s rise to power and, by reflection, his own, as acts of God. And I quote:  "My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decision for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enable(d) you to effectively lead the American people..." He might have added to this last...over the brink of environmental disaster.
Among other “achievements” that Scott Pruitt engendered in his service to God and King were the following, as compiled by the environmental news site, EcoWatch and the Environmental Integrity Project, and with comments of my own added:
  • Convinced Trump to pull the US out of the historic Paris climate accord.
  • Effectively blocked an expected ban on a pesticide so toxic it causes brain damage in children.
  • Rolled back the Obama era Clean Power Plan at the behest of the tottering coal industry. The plan would have helped, among other things, to dramatically reduce asthma attacks in parts of the US, especially among children.
  • Tore entire sections about climate change out of the EPA website because they directly contradicted (based on scientific facts) his own ridiculous and dangerous theories on the subject—basically, that it doesn’t exist.
  • Delayed action to regulate a highly toxic paint-stripping chemical that kills people on contact.
  • Cut EPA staff by 50 percent—mostly the scientists and researchers—and boasted publicly about it.
  • Rolled back the EPA Clean Water Rule that was designed to protect US streams and wetlands from environmental devastation that eventually affects navigable waterways and the drinking water of an estimated one in three Americans.
  • Indefinitely halted compliance deadlines on the 2015 Effluent Limitations Guideline, a federal regulation instituted to limit toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants. 
  • Announced “reconsideration” of the EPA Coal Ash Disposal Rule, the first federal rule governing disposal of coal ash, the by-product created from burning coal. Coal ash contains toxic pollutants including arsenic, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium (if you don’t remember what this last one is, see a re-run of the movie Erin Brockovich) that, without proper disposal controls, can leach into groundwater, surface water, or air and threaten health and the environment.
  • Announced a “review” of the Greenhouse Gas Rule, saying that, “if appropriate”, the EPA would initiate proceedings to suspend, revise, or rescind the rule. Greenhouses gases are the number one proven cause of climate change, which Pruitt—evidently quoting his gut and his boss, but not proven scientific fact—has denied.
And the list goes on, all part of the septuagenarian president’s “to-hell-with-the-environment-I’ll-be-dead-soon” attitude toward effective stewardship of the world that current and future generations will inherit from him and other world leaders.
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said Scott Pruitt would “go down in history as a disgrace to the office of EPA administrator. He will forever be associated with extraordinary ethical corruption and the abuse of power for petty personal enrichments. Sadly, the ideological fervor with which Pruitt pursued the destruction of environmental regulations and the agency itself live on in the Trump administration.”
A 2018 study in the American Journal of Public Health said that already in the first six months of Pruitt's tenure as EPA head, the agency moved to a pro-business stance unlike that of any previous administration. So marked was the change, according to the study, that “the Pruitt-led EPA has moved away from the public interest and explicitly favored the interests of the regulated industries.”
The only bright spot in Pruitt’s tenure as EPA administrator is that his policies were so faultily enacted that most are being legally challenged and promise to get mired down in litigation for a long time to come. Legal experts are quoted as saying that the legal and scientific bases of Pruitt’s measures are so fragile that it makes them easy to challenge.
Still, there is virtually no hope of advances in environmental protection as long as Donald Trump remains in office. And the machinations of the village idiots that he is placing in charge of perhaps the most sensitive area of government—because of its far-reaching effects on humankind and nature—could have disastrous consequences for the future.