Media (413)

 

Paying the Price

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

For three years Trump has treated the US population to a daily truckload of falsehoods, almost with impunity, but now his lies are catching up with him.  Visiting the CDC last week he called the corona virus ‘mean,’ but said that the tests were ‘beautiful,’ as perfect as his phone call with Zelensky.  Wearing a campaign hat the president added that everybody who wanted could now be tested, and that doctors told him ‘you know so much about these things,’ for which he credited his ‘natural ability.’  But in spite of all the good news Trump said that the patients on a cruise ship off the coast of California shouldn’t come ashore, because they got sick through no fault of the US and would raise the number of cases in the country.  Apparently the president didn’t want to acknowledge that there was barely any testing going on in the US because of the CDC’s botched attempt to develop its own test, while reliable tests from the World Health Organization were amply available and being used in all other countries.   Without mass testing epidemiologists don’t know how and where the virus spreads and fly in the dark, but Trump had done enough and went golfing.

Coming back from a weekend at Mar-a-Lago followed by a fundraiser in Orlando Trump was still in denial, and so were his advisors Kellyanne Conway and Larry Kudlow, who stated that the virus had been contained.  Yet the pandemic, now officially declared by the WHO, came closer to Trump when GOP congressman Matt Gaetz, who rode with the president in ‘the beast’ and flew with him on Airforce One, decided to self-quarantine after he had been in contact with someone at CPAC who carried the virus.   During the first half of the week the public heard competing messaging from Trump and experts like Dr. Fauci, with the president saying that ‘it will go away,’ and ‘stay calm’ because ‘a lot of good things are going to happen,’ and Fauci informing the nation about the seriousness of the situation.   But eventually Trump showed signs of understanding that there was a real problem, not so much because of the growing number of patients and deaths but because Wall Street was tanking and on its way to becoming a bear market.  Watching the main argument for his re-election evaporate before his eyes the president finally decided to take action.

Not surprisingly Trump’s attention first went out to supporting businesses that in his eyes were most affected by the crisis, like for example hotels, of which he owns quite a few.  Since in the middle of all the commotion Russia and Saudi Arabia got engaged in a price war the president added the oil and gas industry to the list of casualties. For the support of working men and women who might temporarily lose their paycheck he proposed eliminating the payroll tax for the rest of the year, a measure that would benefit higher income earners much more than their lower counterparts.

Last night, now realizing how dire the situation had become, Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office with a speech that could have been written for a hostage video and was delivered with the whining monotony he reserves for these occasions.   First the president pathetically seemed to congratulate himself for having done a much better job than Obama with Ebola, and then he announced a ban of travel from the European mainland for one month, followed by a few as yet tentative economic measures.

Not a word about testing or the badly needed expansion of hospital capacity in the US, and no explanation why travel from Europe minus the UK had been blocked but not travel from for instance South Korea, a country with thousands of corona virus cases.  When asked why European leaders had not been briefed Trump aggressively responded ‘they don’t brief us when they raise tariffs on us either,’ which suggests retaliation.


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Ignorance and Disinformation

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA) 

As long as he’s been president political observers have wondered how Trump would function in a crisis situation.  There were some opportunities to observe him in international conflicts, but he fell in love with Kim Jong-un and backed away from a military confrontation with Iran, with the latter making more sense than the former.  Now there is the corona-virus crisis, and the nation has a front row seat to watch the president rise to the occasion.  Initially Trump called COVID-19 ‘a new hoax,’ of which the purpose was to bring the president down, and spoke of the ‘great job’ his government had done preparing for all eventualities.  It soon turned out, however, that that job had consisted of cutting 80% of the Centers for Disease Control’s funding for a global disease outbreak and shutting down the global health security unit of the National Security Council.  Then Trump suggested that the virus might ‘miraculously’ disappear, but just in case it wouldn’t he put vice president Pence in charge of managing the government’s response.  Pence immediately told the CDC to stop issuing statements and pulled Dr. Anthony Fauci, its utmost expert, off the Sunday morning shows.

The message Pence sent to the CDC was essentially ‘stop informing the public,’ but because of the world-wide spreading of the virus  the White House could not remain silent, and since neither Trump nor Pence had anything sensible to say about the threat to the health of the US population it was inevitable that Fauci would re-emerge as a spokesperson.  What followed were bizarre moments, for instance when Fauci, flanked by the president and his VP, used the word ‘pandemic,’ and you could see Trump think ‘there goes the stock market’ while his face turned from orange to red and he was clearly enraged.  At another occasion Trump, again more concerned about the markets than anything else, tried to assure the American people that there would be a vaccine ‘relatively soon,’ followed by Fauci’s explaining the process of developing a vaccine and estimating that it would take a year to a year and a half before a vaccine would be available.  That was after a meeting with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry where the president first made clear that he didn’t know what a vaccine is and then asked if the flu vaccine would work in this case.

Trump preferably surrounds himself with staffers like his new National Security Advisor who don’t know much about the area they’re responsible for, which allows him to ramble without being contradicted, and he is therefore very uncomfortable in meetings with people who actually know what they’re talking about.  True to form he shared with representatives of the airline industry his optimistic view that Americans would fly less and stay in the country more to go shopping here and not elsewhere, probably making his audience worry about their own stock options.

The biggest blunder made so far was the administration’s initial inability to produce a diagnostic test kit for the virus, which put the US far behind other countries.  The CDC botched its first attempt to produce a reliable kit, and today it was announced that the deadline for its production would not be met.  According to Trump a decision by Barack Obama had delayed the approval of tests by the Food & Drug Administration, but health experts have no idea what that decision might have been.

Meanwhile the president’s attempts to misinform the public continue.  Last night on ‘Hannity’ he said that he ‘had a hunch’ that most COVID-19 patients have very mild or no symptoms and that some of them even go to work, and that therefore the World Health Organization’s fatality rate of 3.4% is too high.  The suggestion that patients could go to work is about the most dangerous message that can be sent right now.

 

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A Tale of Two Crises

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Before his departure to India Trump continued his cleansing of the security services with the removal of Deputy National Security Advisor Victoria Coates, although the White House denied that she was suspected of being ‘Anonymous.’  Devin Nunes’s henchman Kashyan Patel, who played a prominent role in smearing the Mueller probe, was hired as advisor to Richard Grenell, the new acting DNI, and ‘Johnny’ McEntee, charged with purging the administration of ‘bad people,’ is receiving help from Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni, one of the leaders of the ultra-conservative ‘Groundswell’ group.   The NSC process has already degenerated to the point where NSA Robert O’Brien reads the president’s tweets aloud at the beginning of meetings, so that the council’s advice can be tailored to what Trump wants to hear.  When asked about the removal of Joseph Maguire as acting DNI the president lied that Maguire had not been pushed out but that his term would have ended on March 11th anyway.  Maguire could of course have been the permanent appointee, but was not rewarded for keeping the whistleblower complaint away from Congress.

Trump was furious when the news broke that Russia is helping both him and Bernie Sanders in the 2020 election.  He still sees every mention of Russian support as an attempt to delegitimize his 2016 victory and claimed that he was never told that Russia is interfering again on his behalf, suggesting that Adam Schiff leaked the information.  The president stated emphatically that he neither got nor ever wants any help from Russia, but simultaneously used the opportunity to say that ‘of course Putin wants Bernie, because Bernie honeymooned in the Soviet Union.’  And then it was off to India, where the Trumps visited the Taj Mahal, namesake of the Atlantic City casino Trump ran into the ground in spite of frequent injections of money from his father.  At a presser the president called a rally in the world’s largest cricket stadium that seats 125,000 ‘the biggest event India has ever seen,’ apparently unaware that Dwight Eisenhower once drew a crowd of one million.  According to reporters, after Trump’s speech one third of the attendees had left the stadium, and after India’s president Modi had spoken only one third was still there.

Back in the US the president had to deal with the crisis caused by the corona-virus, misspelled as ‘carona-virus’ by him in a tweet.  Trump was furious with the Centers for Disease Control because of the virus’s effect on the stock market, for which he also blamed the media, the Democrats and in particular Tuesday night’s Democratic debate.  At a press conference he claimed that the risk to the US was minimal because of ‘great early decisions’ – which didn’t include moving money away from CDC for ‘the wall’ – and professed his ignorance with regards to annual flue deaths.

Incorrectly maintaining that there are only 15 corona patients in the US, who are all getting better,  Trump put Mike Pence in charge of the effort to contain the virus, to the surprise of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar who had not been informed.  According to the president Pence has a stellar record managing health crises as Governor of Indiana, although we were soon reminded that he caused the spread of HIV/Aids because he had ‘to pray on’ a containment strategy.

The presser, for once in the White House room reserved for such occasions, produced a bizarre tale of two crises.  On the one hand there were Trump and Pence, displaying a ‘no big deal, we have it under control’ attitude, and on the other multiple CDC experts who warned that a spread of the virus is inevitable.  Of course the latter are not as interested in the stock market as the president.


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Trump’s Law Enforcement

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

With his impeachment trial over Trump is reorganizing his troops and updating his weaponry.  After kicking the Vindmans out of the White House and Sondland out of Brussels he removed the Undersecretary for Policy, John Rood, who had testified in Congress that Ukraine met the standards for military aid, from the Pentagon.  And the president claims that he knows who under the pseudonym ‘Anonymous’ wrote a book about White House insider attempts to thwart his agenda, but so far nobody has been identified.  Choosing loyalty over competence Trump appointed Richard Grenell, the US Ambassador to Germany, as acting Director of National Intelligence.  Grenell has no intelligence background and will keep doing his ambassadorship on the side, but he is close to Don Jr. and apparently that qualifies him sufficiently.  The president also chose his former body man John McEntee, in the West Wing simply known as ‘Johnny,’ to head the Presidential Personnel Office, and he brought former Communications Director Hope Hicks, who is slated to become the 4th Mrs. Trump if that position becomes available again, back from exile.

After Attorney General Barr, who is facing an insurrection at the Justice Department, said in an interview that the president’s tweets about pending cases make it impossible for him to do his job, Trump agreed.  Barr’s implicit message that he’s happy to do the president’s dirty work but can only do it in the dark, however, fell on deaf ears with Trump, who told the White House press corps that he has every right to interfere because he is the chief law enforcement officer in the country.  Illustrating what he believes to be his authority the president then attacked the judge and the jury forewoman in Roger Stone’s case and threatened to sue the four prosecutors who withdrew from the case when Barr reduced their sentencing recommendation.  And Trump was only getting started.  Without the customary Department of Justice review process and in fact on a whim he granted clemency to the disgraced ex-Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich, who was doing 14 years for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat after Obama had been elected president.  A FOX News appearance by Blagojevich’s wife had gotten her husband off the hook.

Having commuted the sentence of Blagojevich, who immediately upon being set free declared himself a ‘Trumpocrat,’ Trump pardoned Bernard Kerik, a former NYPD Commissioner under Rudy Giuliani, who was convicted for tax fraud and is now a FOX News commentator.  Pardons were also granted to Michael Milken, the former ‘junk bond’ king who had done 2 years for securities fraud and conspiracy, Edward DeBartolo, the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, convicted for concealing an extortion plot, and three other male white collar criminals.

Next to seven men Trump also pardoned or commuted the sentences of four women, respectively convicted for storing and distributing drugs, Medicare fraud and participating in a stolen vehicle ring.  Pundits see a relationship between the president’s earlier pardoning of Scooter Libby and the commutation of Blagojevich’s sentence, because both had been prosecuted by Pat Fitzgerald, the former US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and a friend of James Comey.

Trump’s commutation and pardoning spree is widely seen as an attempt to prepare the American electorate for the upcoming pardons of Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and possibly also Paul Manafort.  Today Stone was sentenced to 40 months in jail for his role in the Russian plot to get Trump elected in 2016, and the president cannot let him rot in the slammer and risk that Stone starts singing about it.


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Rule of Law No More

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

After his acquittal in the impeachment trial Trump went into full vengeance mode.  Lt. Col. Alex Vindman and his brother Yevgeny, a lawyer who had nothing to do with the Ukraine case, were removed from their positions with the National Security Council and perv-walked out of the White House.  The fact that Alex had obeyed a congressional subpoena – and thus disobeyed a presidential order – only made things worse for Trump, who insisted that the Pentagon should investigate him.  Gordon Sondland was next, and after his removal as US Ambassador to the EU everybody who testified to the House Intelligence Committee had retired, been fired or left their positions.  A final victim, at least for now, was a female Pentagon employee who had questioned the withholding of money for Ukraine and whose nomination for comptroller was withdrawn.  At a rally in New Hampshire the president, with his whole mob family minus Melania present, read Al Wilson’s ‘The Snake’ to discredit asylum seekers, confused Concord NH with Concord Mass,  called for Obama’s impeachment and engaged in some virtual incest with his daughter Ivanka.

When prosecutors, following guidelines, recommended a 7-9 year sentence for Roger Stone for lying to and obstruction of Congress and witness tampering in the Russia investigation, Trump tweeted furiously that the sentence would be a miscarriage of justice, and within a few hours the Department of Justice, apparently after an intervention by Attorney General Barr, withdrew the recommendation, just like it had earlier reduced the recommendation for Michael Flynn from a prison term to probation.   The president declared that he never communicated with Barr about the recommendation, which may very well have raised his number of lies to over 17,000.  In addition to interfering in Stone’s case Barr issued a new policy that all politically sensitive investigations have to be approved by him.  All four prosecutors who had been involved in the Stone case quit the case in protest, and one of them resigned from DOJ altogether.  A new victim of Trump’s wrath was the DC District Attorney who oversaw the Manafort, Flynn and Stone cases and had resigned to take a top position with the Treasury Department that was subsequently denied to her.

Still not able to let go the president told reporters that prosecutors should apologize to Stone, who will be sentenced next week.  When asked if he would pardon Stone Trump said that he didn’t want to talk about that now, but since the judge has full discretion with regards to the sentence and she and Stone have duked it out quite a bit during the trial a stiff sentence, followed by a pardon, might be forthcoming.  In a new development, according to Lindsey Graham a line to Barr has been opened for Rudy Giuliani, who is under investigation himself, to relay dirt about Hunter Biden.

Next to the dismantling of the rule of law the week was full of the usual idiocies.  At the New Hampshire rally Trump announced without any proof that the Corona virus would be gone by April because of the rising temperatures, and said that the EU had been created to rip off the US.  With the text ‘Tough Guys for Trump’ he tweeted a clip from HBO’s show ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ with Larry David wearing a MAGA hat, clearly not realizing that David was making fun of his deplorables.

After a line-up of Senate Republicans, led by bobblehead Susan Collins, fantasized that the president had learned ‘something’ from his impeachment trial their hopes and dreams were put to the test yesterday.  In answer to reporters’ questions Trump said that he had learned that Democrats are ‘crooked and vicious’ and that his impeachment was ‘a disgrace that should never have happened.’


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