Media (346)

 

Planet Trump

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Donald Trump has moved beyond Kellyanne Conway’s alternative facts and up to a galaxy where every connection with reality is accidental.  Last Sunday America and South Korea signed an agreement that implies that South Korea will start paying $70 million per year more for the presence of the US military on its soil.  On Tuesday the president told his press pool that South Korea is now paying $500 million per year more, causing the government in Seoul to question his sanity, albeit only behind closed doors.  Something even more bizarre happened at a Trump rally in El Paso, Texas.  In one single speech the president declared ‘I have built the wall,’ followed by ‘we are building the wall’ and finally ‘I will build the wall.’  He urged his followers to adopt the slogan ‘Finish the Wall,’ while fact checkers established that during Trump’s presidency not a single new piece of border fencing has been erected and that no construction is under way.   To confuse the pundits even more Trump flashed a new version of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign slogan ‘Stronger Together,’ which didn’t work then and won’t work now.

In his speech the president also made the false claim that after a local wall had been built crime in El Paso went down significantly, while in fact for decennia the city has been one of the safest in the US.  El Paso was a strange location for a Trump rally to begin with, since its population is for 80% Hispanic and it is the hometown of Beto O’Rourke, who used the opportunity to stage a counter-rally and raise his national profile.  According to the president his event attracted a crowd of 35,000 and O’Rourke’s about 300, while the police estimated both crowds to be of a similar size of about 8,000.  The strangest moment of the night occurred when Trump pretended to be walking a dog on the White House lawn, although it may be have been a sign that he realizes how badly he needs a friend in DC.  Back in the Oval Office the president made it known that he was ‘not happy’ with the final result of bi-partisan negotiations about a spending agreement, although he seemed to realize that he would have to accept it to avoid another shutdown and even called Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity at FOX NEWS to ask for their permission.

Developments with regards to funding for the wall over the last year have showcased Trump’s total lack of negotiating skills.  A year ago, with a Republican majority in the House and support from the Democrats in exchange for a DACA arrangement, he could have gotten $25 billion for the wall but turned it down.  Last December he could have gotten $1.6 billion instead of the $5.7 billion he demanded, but decided to shut down the government, knowing that the Democratic majority in the House would not give him more and incurring serious damage.  According to the current bill he’ll get $1.3 billion.

Meanwhile in the Mueller probe all eyes are on a summer 2016 meeting between Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, his deputy, Rick Gates, and Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik a block away from Trump Tower at the height of the campaign.  Mueller’s team seems to think that a deal was made exchanging Russian support for Trump in the election for a promise to lift sanctions on Russia and to accept its claim on Crimea and its warfare in Ukraine.  Obviously, the $1,000 question is: did Trump know?

This morning the president signed the bi-partisan budget bill and simltaneously declared a national emergency so that he can use another $6.7 billion, mostly from Department of Defense funds, to build the wall.  His declaration can be undone by a Joint Resolution of Termination by Congress or in the courts, because it is a flagrant violation of Article 1 of the Constitution, but if all of that fails it is a big step towards totalitarianism in the US.

 
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One Sentence

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The State of the Union address lasted eighty two minutes, but in one sentence Donald Trump captured its essence: there won’t be legislation if there are investigations.  Trump reminded some pundits of Richard Nixon, who in one of his State of the Union addresses said that it was time to bring the Watergate investigation to an end, but the president’s situation differs from Nixon’s in two important ways:  Nixon was only accused of playing a role in the cover up of the Watergate break-in and lying about it, while Trump is a potential suspect of conspiring with a foreign adversary to influence the presidential election in his favor and on top of that of money laundering, tax evasion and even being a agent of that adversary, while his violating campaign finance laws has already been proven in court.  Additionally, Nixon had at least some respect for the US Constitution, while Trump’s statement was a frontal attack on Congress’s responsibility of exercising oversight of the Executive Branch.  If anything, that sentence showed how scared Trump is of investigations not only of his election and inauguration, but probably even more of his business practices.

The president’s threat didn’t deter congressional Democrats, who immediately announced broad investigations into all of the above areas, crossing the ‘red line’ Trump had drawn where it came to investigating his business.  Other than that, the address was solely intended to solidify his base, with fact free remarks about illegal immigrants and ‘the wall’ for the racists and rants about late term abortions and mentioning the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem for the Evangelicals.   En passant the president took full credit for the ‘economic miracle’ that started eight years ago under Obama, and mentioned that there are more women in Congress now than at any time in US history, for which in a twisted way he can also take credit, because most of them decided to run in opposition to his agenda.  The self-congratulatory foreign policy section contained  praise for Trump’s irresponsible decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement and from the INF treaty with Russia, which might start a new nuclear arms race, while high expectations were conveyed for the next meeting with Kim Jong-un, who is ready to bamboozle Trump once again.

In a televised interview before the Superbowl the president doubled down on his disbelief in information gathered by the American intelligence services, and produced the gaffe that some troops will remain in Iraq to keep an eye on Iran, upsetting the Iraqi leadership and risking the US presence in Iraq altogether.  Subsequently it was leaked that intelligence briefers describe Trump’s attitude during the briefings as one of ‘willful ignorance,’ and are instructed not to tell the president anything he doesn’t already agree with, while mentioning his name and title as often as possible.

For a while it was expected that Trump would announce his intention to declare a national emergency and build a wall on the southern border in his State of the Union address, but Mitch McConnell made it clear to him that GOP senators would not support such a move, even though Lindsey Graham urged his colleagues to do just the opposite.  With no other option left, yesterday the president indicated that he might be willing to accept a bipartisan compromise Congress is working on.

Absent in the State of the Union address was any reference to climate change, even a denial.  Trump made up for that omission in a tweet the following day, declaring that global warming is a Chinese invention to negatively affect American economic growth and industrial effectiveness.  It only illustrated that the president’s willful ignorance stretches far beyond national security matters.


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A National Security Threat

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

On Tuesday the leaders of the US intelligence community, all appointed by Trump, testified in Congress about their annual ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment,’ and the president didn’t like it.  In summary, the testimony came down to: Iran is still in compliance with the agreement that Trump pulled out of, North Korea has no intention whatsoever to denuclearize, ISIS has not only not been defeated but has morphed into an international terrorist organization, and Russia interfered in the 2016 elections and is preparing to do it again.   Since Trump has pretty much an opposite view on all four issues he tweeted that the assessment was ‘wrong’ and that the Directors of National Intelligence, the CIA and the FBI should go ‘back to school,’ because apparently they had not been taught ‘intelligence.’  A public rift like that between a president and his intelligence professionals has never occurred before, and what was already suspected after Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki became apparent:  Donald Trump is Putin’s instrument in lowering moral and integrity in the US intelligence forces, which makes his presidency America’s number one national security threat.

Adopting Putin’s worldview of course implies that sanctions on Russian enterprises should be lifted, which is why companies controlled by oligarch Oleg Deripaska are free to do business in the US again after some window dressing with the ownership, creating a windfall for Deripaska and for a Russian shareholder who had a previous business relationship with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, the official who lifted the sanctions.  It makes Democrats wonder if Putin has ‘kompromat’ on more members of the administration than just Trump, and in that context Robert Mueller’s indictment of Roger Stone is relevant.  Stone is doing his usual song and dance routine, but the expectation is that he’ll start singing about the president when he’s looking at potentially spending the rest of his life in prison.  Acting AG Whitaker meanwhile, in one of his last acts in that position, screwed up by announcing that Mueller would soon issue his final report, violating the rule that the Department of Justice doesn’t talk about ongoing investigations.  And Chris Christie speculated that Trump has much more to fear from the investigations by the Southern District of New York than from Mueller.

In a response to Trump’s criticism of the intelligence leaders Chuck Schumer urged them to ‘educate the president,’ knowing quite well that that is an impossible mission.  Completely missing in their assessment is a reference to a crisis on the southern border and the need for a wall.  The Democrats will never give the president money for that vanity project and at least twenty GOP senators won’t tolerate another shutdown, so that declaring a national emergency becomes Trump’s only option.  He is then guaranteed to lose a legal challenge, after which everybody can move on.

Having demonstrated his profound knowledge of international affairs the president turned to the issue of climate change, and in reference to the current polar temperatures in most of the US tweeted that ‘we could use some global warming,’ redundantly making clear that he doesn’t understand the difference between ‘weather’ and ‘climate.’  We may hear more, similar wisdom from Trump when he finally delivers his State of the Union address to Congress next Tuesday.

In one of his spontaneous erratic conversations with reporters yesterday Trump said that the DNI and the CIA Director had told him they were ‘totally misquoted.’  Since their testimony was on live TV they must have misquoted themselves, but that detail eluded the president.  He also called the negotiations in Congress about border security a ‘waste of time,’ and declared that the wall is already being built.

 
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A Big Fat Defeat

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Donald Trump has one issue and one thing working for him.  The issue is national security, symbolized by keeping terrorists and drugs out of the country with a wall on the southern border, and what’s working for him is a strong economy.  With the partial shutdown he was destroying both.  Apart from the fact that for terrorists points of entry are primarily airports, and for drugs regular border crossings, national security was threatened in a variety of ways.  FBI agents issued a written statement saying that they could no longer effectively battle terrorism, gangs and drug trafficking, and five former Homeland Security Secretaries, including John Kelly, who until recently was Trump’s Chief of Staff, urged the White House and Congress to restore funding for what used to be their department, because otherwise it couldn’t keep the country safe.  Add to this that the TSA agents who check the luggage of airline travelers were not getting paid and therefore more often called in sick, and that air traffic controllers, who already have an extremely stressful job because of the combination of full responsibility and no control, were not getting paid either, which created more stress for them and endangered air traffic nationwide.

The week could have started so well for Trump.  The White House was gloating after Robert Mueller appeared to rebuke Buzzfeed’s assertion that the president had instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, but the celebration only lasted until Rudy Giuliani hit the Sunday morning talk shows and revealed that Trump had pursued a Trump Tower in Moscow right up to the 2016 elections.  The next day Hizzoner did his usual shuffle and tried to walk his erratic statements back, but the damage was done.  The optics of a two minute visit of Trump and Pence to the MLK monument were not good either, especially after the VP declared that Dr. King would have liked Trump’s policies.  The president’s next brilliant move was to inform Nancy Pelosi that he would give his State of the Union address next Tuesday in the House chamber, rain or shine.  The Speaker immediately responded that he would not be welcome as long as the shutdown continued, and after briefly pretending that he would give the speech at a different location Trump acknowledged that he had been outplayed.  He also admitted that he could not find any weakness in Pelosi, by being unable to come up with a nasty nickname and just calling her ‘Nancy.’

Yesterday neither of two Senate bills, one based on a ‘compromise’ Trump offered earlier that came down to his restoring two programs he had tried but so far failed to eliminate and receiving $5.7 billion for ‘The Wall,’ the other a Continuing Resolution that would end the shutdown, offered by the Democrats, gathered the 60 votes needed to pass.  Next, senators started looking for a compromise, but since nobody knew what kind of bill the president would be willing to sign the wait was for Trump, who caved today and reopened the government for three weeks without getting any funding for the wall.

As all this was playing out Michael Cohen issued a statement that he would not voluntarily testify in the House on February 7th, because his family, in particular his father-in-law, had been threatened by both Trump and Rudy Giuliani.  This appears to be a clear case of witness tampering, for which according to Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, the president should be censured and Giuliani indicted.  To make sure that Cohen’s testimony is heard anyway he has now been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

To make the president’s total defeat in his battle with Nancy Pelosi even worse his main economic adviser said that economic growth could be as low as 0% in the first quarter of 2019, thanks to the shutdown, taking away Trump’s strongest asset.  Additionally, it was reported that Jared Kushner had received a security clearance he did not qualify for, and this morning Trump adviser and ‘dirty trickster’ Roger Stone was arrested and indicted.


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Rudy’s Marbles

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

In a CNN interview with Chris Cuomo Rudy Giuliani went off the rails.  He acknowledged that members of the Trump campaign probably colluded with the Russians, but maintained that the president knew nothing about it.  So while Paul Manafort shared polling data with a Russian secret agent, Don Jr., Manafort and Jared Kushner met with a lawyer working for the Kremlin, and Kushner tried to set up a back channel with Moscow, Trump was completely in the dark.  Add to that the fact that Michael Flynn had frequent contacts with Russians and lied about them and that Trump had a reputation as a micro-manager involved in every transaction at the Trump organization, and it explains why Hizzoner’s assertion lifted Cuomo’s eyebrows to a level they may not come back from.  It’s Giuliani’s role, as Trump’s TV lawyer, to get out in front of information that is soon to be revealed, but this time he apparently went too far and later tried to walk his words back by saying that neither Trump nor he knew anything about anybody colluding with the Russians at any time.  There were serious questions about Rudy having lost his marbles and the damage was done.

Meanwhile the stalemate in Washington is complete.  Nancy Pelosi asked Trump to delay his State of the Union speech or to mail it in because of security concerns related to the shutdown, and the president made a military plane for a congressional delegation to Afghanistan, led by Pelosi, unavailable, because ‘she should be in DC negotiating with him.’  Knowing that his poll numbers are becoming ever more unfavorable Trump said to his acting Chief of Staff “we’re getting crushed, why cannot we get a deal?,” indicating that he doesn’t realize that he cannot get a deal precisely because he’s getting crushed.  All the cards are in Pelosi’s favor, by cancelling the State of the Union she took his biggest podium away from Trump, while the president took something away from US troops in a war zone, who greatly value visits by politicians informing themselves.  A vote about the administration’s plan to lift sanctions against three companies owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska shows that Trump’s GOP support in Congress, even in the Senate, is crumbling, and that may be the only way out of the current mess, if Mitch McConnell finds his balls.

On the legal front Trump’s problems are mounting.  It was revealed that after he fired Comey the FBI started a counter intelligence investigation into the president, which would only be done if there was reasonable suspicion that he was either an agent of or targeted by Russia to act in its favor.  Mueller inherited this probe, and the fact that Trump withheld information about his meetings with Putin from his closest associates and even confiscated the interpreter’s notes from one of those meetings doesn’t help his case.  Neither does his proclaimed intention for the US to leave NATO.

Michael Cohen’s public testimony in Congress on February 7th could become even more explosive than already expected since it was revealed that Trump’s former fixer hired an IT firm to manipulate on-line polls in Trump’s favor, and that the president ordered him to commit perjury when testifying in the House about the Trump Tower project in Moscow.  The latter, for which Mueller apparently has proof beyond Cohen’s word, is obviously obstruction of justice and as such an impeachable offense.

After Trump made barely veiled threats to his family Cohen now apparently fears for his life, although it is unlikely that the president will have him shot on 5th Avenue before his testimony.  The latest revelations prompted Giuliani to say “if you believe Michael Cohen I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale,” not realizing that when it comes to believability only Trump scores lower than what was once ‘America’s Mayor.’

 

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