Media (385)


Trump’s Pin Cushion

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

In the old west a pin cushion was a doll trappers put by the fire before they went to sleep, so that in case of a nightly attack the cushion would be hit first and not the person on watch, who would then fire his gun and wake up the others.  Yesterday William Barr was Trump’s pin cushion.  On Wednesday the president announced that the Attorney General would give a press conference before the release of the redacted Mueller report, which seemed absurd until Barr started talking and the purpose of his presser became clear.  The AG told two lies, followed by a few absurdities.  The lies were that Mueller had found no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and that the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel that the president cannot be indicted had not affected Mueller’s conclusions.  However, the word ‘collusion’ is disavowed in the report, and Mueller found lots of nefarious election related interactions between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but had not been able to establish that there had been an agreement, and therefore a conspiracy.  The OLC opinion was the reason why Mueller had not drawn a conclusion with regards to obstruction of justice, because the president could not be charged anyway and therefore would not be able to defend himself in court.

With regards to the obstruction of justice that undeniably took place Barr got caught in the web of his own lies.  On the one hand he said that he had concluded that Trump had not obstructed justice because the White House had fully cooperated with Mueller’s probe, but on the other that the president had been frustrated because his campaign and then his White House had been under investigation since 2016, which would justify all the lies told to Mueller and the attempts to obstruct his investigation.  As one pundit put it: Trump was frustrated because his criminal campaign staffers and his criminal National Security Advisor were under criminal investigation.  One of the juicy details in the report was that Trump, after hearing that a Special Counsel had been appointed, said “I’m fucked, this is the end of my presidency,” not exactly a sign of innocence.  On top of this it was revealed that White House counsel Don McGahn, when ordered by Trump to have Mueller fired, told aides he would not participate in ‘crazy shit’ and threatened to resign.  Sarah Sanders, finally, was exposed as a liar and a major source of fake news when she had to tell Mueller that her receiving messages from FBI agents about Comey having no support in the agency was all made up.

After Barr’s press conference and the release of the report it became obvious why Trump had wanted Barr to sit by the fire for him.  Most of the initial comments were directed at discrepancies between Barr’s statement and the report, and not so much at the crimes committed by the president, who meanwhile tweeted that there had been no collusion and no obstruction of justice, accompanied by a reference to ‘Game of Thrones’ which may have revealed his ambition to turn his presidency into a modern fascist regime.

Obviously these events drove Trump’s quirky behavior with regards to the southern border out of the press.  About family separations Trump said that Obama did it, that he stopped it, but that you need it.  His plan to bus asylum seekers to sanctuary cities may very well increase the flow of immigrants, and in combination with ending financial aid to three Central American countries makes you wonder if he wants a crisis at the border for political reasons.

There were also light moments.  On one of the MSNBC shows the president’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said that Trump has no tolerance for people who lie, which made Nicole Wallace burst out in laughter, and while Kellyanne Conway was trumpeting Trump’s total triumph on the White House lawn her husband George called Trump a ‘cancer on the presidency’ in the Washington Post.

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Trump’s Orbit

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

From the beginning of his presidency it has been obvious that Donald Trump doesn’t tolerate being contradicted, which is the standard attitude of someone with narcissistic personality disorder who believes that he knows everything better than anybody else.  The turnover of the president’s cabinet members and aides so far allows us to identify three kinds of people who have worked or still work for him with regards to personal ethics and respect for the law.  The first kind operated both on ethical standards and with respect for the legal system.  These are the people who stayed in their positions in spite of – or rather because of – Trump’s mental instability and ignorance, to protect the country as well as they could from its fallout.  Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis belong in this category.  The second kind operated without any ethical standards and would do anything Trump asked except breaking the law.  Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen fit this profile.  The third kind consists of people without any ethical standards and respect for the law like Stephen Miller and Mick Mulvaney, who with their advice encourage Trump to establish a modern fascist dictatorship.  They are still in the White House.

In the next couple of weeks we’ll find out in which category William Barr and Steven Mnuchin belong.  So far the Attorney General is playing Trump’s game, keeping the Mueller report away from the general public and even from Congress, and only promising to release a heavily redacted version, in his own words ‘a first pass.’  The only ‘ethical’ standard Barr seems to respect is protecting the president at all cost and keeping the myth of Trump’s ‘complete exoneration’ alive as long as possible, but he knows that the House Judiciary Committee will subpoena the unredacted version of the report and his response will tell us if he’s still on speaking terms with the law.  The Treasury Secretary is facing a similar choice, although Mnuchin’s obligations are even clearer:  the relevant statute says that the IRS ‘shall’ provide tax returns upon a request from the House Ways and Means Committee.  The Secretary’s authority in these matters has been delegated to the Commissioner of the IRS and can only be reclaimed on 30 days’ notice.  Mnuchin’s involving himself and consulting with the Department of Justice and probably the White House is therefore already illegal and puts him in the third category.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Barr surprised friend and foe by referring to the origins of the Mueller probe as ‘spying’ on the Trump campaign, not only repeating the false narrative Trump has peddled since his election but also throwing it at his base as fresh red meat.  In spite of a half-hearted attempt to walk his statement back it was obvious that Barr deliberately disregarded the role of FISA-judges in the approval process for FBI surveillance on behalf of a president he obeys like a trained circus elephant.

Wednesday night, when the deadline set by the House Ways and Means Committee expired, Mnuchin released a statement that he could not comply because he was still reviewing the request in consulation with the Department of Justice.  However, there is a little know article in the statute that says that any government employee who does not follow the tax law can be fined up to $10,000 and emprisoned for up to five years.

We may soon see Mnuchin comply with the request, not because he respects the law but because he fears for his freedom, which will undoubtedly lead to his being fired by the president.  Barr is rapidly sliding into the third category, and it is to be expected that from now on only people without ethical standards and respect for the law will work for Trump.

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‘Completely Exonerated’

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Something is rattling the president and causing his behavior to become even more erratic than his default mode of mental instability warrants.  This week he cut all financial aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, against the advice of experts who argued that it will bring only more asylum seekers to the southern border.  Subsequently he threatened to close that entire border, in spite of the serious damage that would do to the US economy, and he complained that Puerto Rico, a US territory but referred to as ‘that country’ by a White House spokesperson, had received far too much aid after Hurricane Maria, according to Trump $91 billion while the real number is $11 billion.   In a speech at a fundraiser the president said that he loved Germany because his father was born there, apparently no longer aware of the fact that Fred Trump was born in the Bronx, and in a Q&A with the White House press corps he tried to talk about the ‘origins’ of the Mueller investigation, but twice misspoke and referred to the ‘oranges’ of the probe, making even the most long-faced correspondents chuckle and getting multiple replays on the political talk shows.

There were plenty of reasons for the president to be discombobulated: Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to make the full, unredacted Mueller report available to Congress is beginning to look more and more like a white-wash and forced the House Judiciary Committee to authorize its chairman to subpoena the report.  And while Trump was also back-peddling on his generous promise that the whole report would be made public members of Mueller’s team indirectly informed the New York Times that Barr had failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry, which were more troubling for Trump than the AG had indicated.  It was the first time tension between Barr and the Special Counsel’s office was aired publicly, and if the Justice Department and the White House were trying to pull off the mother of all cover-ups by letting the narrative that the president had been completely exonerated take hold before more damaging information would become available they have failed already, because only 29% of the population, even less than Trump’s 33% base, believes in his innocence, 40% does not, and 31% still doesn’t know what to think.

Adding to the president’s discomfort was the information from a whistle blower in the White House Personnel Security Office that at least 25 staffers – Jared Kushner among them – received security clearances that were initially denied because of concerns about potential blackmail, foreign influence, conflicts of interest, questionable or criminal conduct, financial issues and drug abuse.  The House Oversight Committee authorized a subpoena for Carl Kline, the official who had played a key role in reversing security clearance decisions.

To make a bad week even worse for Trump the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee asked the IRS to release the president’s tax returns for the last six years to him by April 10th.  By law the committee is entitled to this information but it is to be expected that a subpoena and then a lengthy court battle will follow the request, drawing Treasury Secretary Mnuchin into a fight with the House.  Trump meanwhile insists that his returns are still under audit.

Unexpectedly the president announced that he would not develop a health care plan before November 2020, making it the number one election issue, and today he travels to California to unveil a plaque with his name on it on a new section of the wall.  The construction of that section was approved by Obama, whose name should therefore have been on that plaque.

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Programmamakers in wording

Ik vond een aantal oude mappen, die in één doos zaten. Mappen met gegevens van stagiaires. Het waren er 72. 
Bij vrijwel al die mensen heb ik nog beeld. Ik was bijna altijd eindredacteur van programma’s en dan vielen die stagiaires direct of indirect onder mij.

      Er was zeer veel belangstelling voor stageplaatsen bij de VPRO. We hadden het maar voor het uitkiezen.
Natuurlijk studenten van de diverse journalistieke opleidingen (HBO & Universitair) , maar er was ook interesse uit allerlei andere studierichtingen.
       De meeste stagiaires kwamen voor drie maanden, maar er waren ook zogeheten snuffelstages, die vaak niet langer dan een week duurden.
Er zaten vaak goede studenten tussen. Mensen die ik nog regelmatig in kranten tegen kom, op de radio hoor of op de televisie zie.
        Maar de meesten zijn uit ''mijn'' zicht verdwenen. 

Niet altijd liep zo’n stage goed af.
Er zaten soms studenten tussen zonder enige aanleg voor dit vak.
Over zo’n geval schreef ik -het was 1986- eens een stukje in de VPRO-Gids.

En voor de jongeren onder ons:
Het Gebouw was een radioprogramma van de VPRO, dat van oktober 1984 tot oktober 1993 iedere vrijdag van ‘s ochtends zeven tot ‘s middags half vijf werd uitgezonden. En een telex-boodschap was een zeer ouderwets soort E-mail.



 Eerder geplaatst september 2012)

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The Mueller Mess

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Immediately after Attorney General Barr’s four page letter with conclusions from the Mueller report became available Trump started lying about it, claiming that he had been ‘completely exonerated.’  In fact, the letter said that no criminal conspiracy had been established, but that the Special Counsel had not been able to exonerate the president with regards to obstruction of justice.  In Mueller’s  place Barr decided to exonerate Trump, which is not surprising since the Attorney General got his job because of his conviction, expressed in an unsolicited memo last summer, that Mueller could not investigate the president for obstruction of justice, a peculiar opinion because both Nixon and Clinton were accused of obstruction of justice in impeachment procedures.  Considering that the Special Counsel was installed to prevent political appointees from making such calls Barr was way out of line, and his curveball made observers question the rest of his reporting to Congress.  We’ll have to wait at least weeks for the lengthy report that 82% of Americans want to see to become public, and as for the counter-intelligence origins of the probe we may never know how deeply compromised Trump is.

It is not surprising that Mueller didn’t conclude that there had been an organized conspiracy with the Russians, because the Trump campaign from the beginning of the probe looked like the Keystone Cops of collusion, and the Russians, who are great at hacking but not at conspiring, probably didn’t want to get too chummy with  a bundle of amateurs they didn’t need to interfere with the US elections.  Instead of continuing to be delighted with Barr’s version of Mueller’s main findings Trump got into a vicious rage, and subsequently accused his Democratic opponents of treason, asked the TV networks no longer to invite his critics on their shows, announced an investigation of the investigators, and eventually blamed the probe on Obama.  Maybe to give it to his predecessor one more time, the next day the president decided to no longer defend Obamacare in court but instead to ask for it to be totally dismantled, against the advice of his AG, his Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Minority Leader of the Republicans in the House.  At least the latter understands that without a replacement that Republicans have not been able to develop since 2010 this is a suicidal move.

Other than his need to undo everything Obama has achieved there is ample speculation about Trump’s motives here.  Some observers think that he cannot do without a fight, and that because he considers the Mueller fight over he has moved on to the next one.  According to others Trump feels invincible and believes that he can now do anything, including taking coverage away from 20 million poor Americans, scrapping protections for pre-existing conditions and taking young adults off their parents’ insurance.

Trump’s latest attack on Obamacare is a godsent for the Democrats, who were divided between those who wanted to strengthen Obamacare and those who wanted ‘Medicare for All’ immediately, and who are now united in the first position.  Since the legal fight about Obamacare will stretch well into 2020 it will be the most important election issue, and since the Democrats control the House they are in charge of health care legislation.

In spite of Trump’s trumpeting that ‘the Russia Hoax’ is over, according to recent polling 56% of Americans don’t believe that Trump has been exonerated, and his approval rating is stuck at 41.6%.  In Michigan, a state Trump desperately needs in 2020 where he held a rally last nigh, only 31% of the voters would re-elect him.  The man is not really winning.

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