Media (378)


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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A Rat in the House

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

In business Trump had a reputation for paying off his last debt with his next loan, which most likely put him deeply in debt with Putin’s clique.  In politics the president is trying to do the same thing, taking attention away from the latest scandal by creating a new one.  There is no security crisis on the southern border, illegal crossings are at an 18 year low, but Trump manufactured a humanitarian crisis by making it all but impossible for asylum seekers to be processed and taking thousands of children away from their parents.  The next step would be to declare a national emergency and use his new autocratic powers to try and build his ludicrous wall, by taking money out of the Pentagon budget if an attempt to use emergency funding for victims of hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas and of wildfires in California fails.  Holding 800,000 government workers and a growing number of people and businesses depending on their services hostage, Trump now claims he never said Mexico would pay cash for the wall, in spite of videos showing the opposite.  Another video showed the results of a Home Depot saw cutting easily through the president’s preferred wall design.

As a true grifter, in a short speech from the Oval Office that resembled a hostage video but turned out to be a fundraising ploy for his campaign, for which the major networks were abused, Trump made his case to the American people.  The next day he gave candy to Nancy Pelosi and when she didn’t give him $5.7 billion for the wall in return he ran out of a meeting in the Situation Room, making the impasse complete.  Declaring a national emergency now appears to be his only way out of this mess, in spite of the fact that it will be immediately challenged in court and stayed, because even in Trump’s own words the crisis is not on the southern border but in DC.  The president can then tell his base that he tried as hard as he could and keep the wall alive as an issue for the next campaign.  Meanwhile his attempt to push other scandals off the front pages is failing.  It was revealed that Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with a Russian who is still connected with his country’s security services, and on February 7th Michael Cohen will publicly testify before the House Oversight Committee about the crimes Trump ordered him to commit.

There can be no doubt that the information Manafort provided to the Russians was used to interfere in the US elections, and if Trump knew anything about it it makes a conspiracy charge even more shut than the Trump Tower meeting with Natalia Vesilnitskaya, who last week was proven to be a Russian government agent, already does.   Cohen’s testimony can be even more damaging, because for the whole world to see and hear on live television he will implicate Trump in a campaign finance violation scheme that constitutes a felony he will go to jail for.

The fact that Trump in good mafia boss tradition called Cohen ‘a rat’ indicates how fearful he is of his former fixer’s testimony.  Cohen won’t be able to talk about things prosecutors are still investigating, like the Trump Organization, but he will have enough to say.  Anticipating the fall-out of these developments the White House has added seventeen new lawyers to its staff, and Rudy Giuliani demanded to see the Mueller report before the Department of Justice decides what to do with it.

Meanwhile furloughed government workers and those working without pay are suffering, unable to pay mortgages and the like.  The Coast Guard suggested to its members to hold yard sales or become dog walkers to make ends meet.  Because for Trump the only thing that matters is ‘the tallest’ or ‘the biggest,’ at some point he will boast about being responsible for the longest shutdown, which it will be by tomorrow.


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De stankgolf van een gedreven journalist

De Volkskrant heeft niet zoveel abonnees in Rotterdam. Het had daar lange tijd een klein kantoor aan de Nieuwe Binnenweg. 
      Op dat kantoor hing een soort oorkonde van de Dikke van Dale. Een pamflet, waarin vermeld werd dat het nieuwe woord stankgolf geijkt was en in een volgende editie zou worden opgenomen.
Uitvinder van dat woord was mijn collega Wim Phylipsen met wie ik van eind 1971  tot half 1977 op die Rotterdamse redactie heb samengewerkt.  Vanochtend stond in de Volkskrant dat Wim Phylipsen plotseling is overleden.
      Hij was tachtig jaar.

Ik was, toen ik bij de Volkskrant begon 26 jaar en keek nogal op tegen mijn nieuwe collega's. Ik had namelijk alleen nog maar bij regionale kranten als het Leidsch Dagblad en het Dagblad De Stem gewerkt.
      De werkwijze en de instelling van de Volkskrant moest ik nog leren. Wim Phylipsen was daarbij mijn leermeester. Hij las mijn verhalen hardop voor en liet dan op subtiele vaak humoristische wijze weten hoe het beter kon. 
      Maar hij wilde dat ik zijn verhalen ook voorlas en daarbij kritiek leverde. Dat vond ik in het begin ongehoord, maar na een paar maanden was het vanzelfsprekend geworden.

Een jaar of zes geleden reageerde hij plotseling op mijn blog. Een levendige correspondentie volgde.
      Wim Phylipsen was een geboren Rotterdammer, die er altijd moeite mee had als mensen in ''zijn stad'' ''zijn krant'' een Amsterdamse krant noemden.
Hij had waardering voor de Rotterdamse mentaliteit, kende de haven bewonderenswaardig goed, had contacten op alle niveaus en was verder een karakteristieke, innemende man.

      Ik ben hem veel dank verschuldigd... .  




The Kremlin in DC

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The brilliant movie ‘The Death of Stalin’ shows the members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR fawning over their leader, first when he’s still alive and kicking, then when he becomes unconscious after a brain hemorrhage, and even after his death.  They whisper the obligatory compliments and commendations, scared that Stalin may catch them uttering one wrong word, like the name of a former comrade who has been disposed of by the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) , and fearful of what their colleagues might report to ‘the boss’ about them.  There must be a similar atmosphere in the White House, not only among staffers but also among cabinet members.  The latter was on full display yesterday, when Trump held one of those meetings where nothing of substance is being discussed but Department Secretaries are supposed to heap praise on him, after which he does them one better.  This time acting Attorney General Whitaker took the cake for effusively lauding the fact that Trump had stayed in DC over the holidays.  It was too much for Mike Pence, who chimed in that he, too, had stayed in Washington, hoping for some extra credit.

What Trump has in common with Stalin is megalomania and the inability to take responsibility for any failures, always blaming and blasting others for government actions that go awry.  Add to that the president’s pathological narcissism, and it leads to statements like: “I think I would have been a good general, but who knows,” in spite of a total lack of military experience, and “I could run for any office in Europe,” notwithstanding his extreme unpopularity in the Old World.  Sitting next to the acting Secretary of Defense Trump said that he ‘effectively’ fired Jim Mattis, something all attendees knew to be a lie, and praised the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, all but inviting the Russians back there together with India, a move that would significantly boost Pakistan’s support of the Taliban and soon lead to their taking over the country.  The president, who received a bone spur deferment from serving in Vietnam thanks to a doctor who did his landlord, Trump’s father, a favor, also saw fit to make fun of ‘his’ generals, who are ‘better looking than Tom Cruise,’ and of the ‘extremely big’ guns of Secret Service members protecting him in the White House.

Fortunately, unlike Stalin Trump has a Congress to reckon with, which will probably be his downfall.  He says he won’t hesitate to force over 800,000 government workers to go without a paycheck for a prolonged period of time, half of them without a chance to ever recoup their salary, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t give him a penny for a wall that is only a useless monument to his vanity, and that Mexico was supposed to pay for to begin with.  As this conflict drags on, the dire consequences of the shutdown will accumulate, and even the GOP will have to abandon Trump.

Yesterday former Homeland Security Secretary Jay Johnson pointed out that there is already 700 miles of fencing in places where it makes sense on the southern border that could be somewhat expanded and complemented with technologically more advanced security tools.  So there is a deal to be made, but Trump is too ignorant of the facts to see it.  His ignorance stretches from the southern border to Syria, which he characterized as ‘death and sand’ with no ‘real wealth’ that could be taken.

When asked by Chuck Schumer to give one argument for keeping large parts of the government closed instead of continuing to discuss border security under temporary funding, Trump said: “Because opening the government would make me look foolish.”  To give us a preview yesterday he looked really foolish when he showed up in the White House press room to take some attention away from Nancy Pelosi and had nothing to say.


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