Monday/ Trump’s lawyer raided by the FBI

There President Trump was today, in the Cabinet Room with the press and TV cameras, flanked by his top military brass, and new National Security Advisor John Bolton. The media was invited to the start of discussions about what to do about the atrocities of the chemical attack on civilians in Syria over the weekend.

From today’s online New York Times. That’s VP Mike Pence on the left of Trump and new National Security Advisor John Bolton on the right. Bolton will probably advise Trump to bomb Syria. Bolton was a very controversial pick for NSA, with his role in promoting the Iraq War and a bluntness that makes him an extremely undiplomatic diplomat.

Instead, Trump launched into a four-minute rant about the news of the day: that his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, had his office, his home, and his Manhattan hotel room raided by the FBI.  ‘They broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys .. ‘ (um – the FBI had a search warrant); ‘It’s a disgraceful situation’ (disgraceful, yes); ‘it’s an attack against the country, really’ (you are not a king, President Trump, you are not ‘the country’, and you are not above the law).

On and on it went, as he took swipes at Special Investigator Robert S. Mueller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and denounced the investigation again as a witch hunt by the Democrats. Is it November yet? – so we can vote all the Republicans out of the House and the Senate, and impeach Trump? For me it does not even matter anymore, what Mueller’s investigation finds.

Tuesday/ the ‘Rexit’, finally

Headline from politico.com. ‘Tillerson, a career oilman from blunt-spoken Texas, had come to the State Department with significant overseas business experience but was still very much a novice in the ways of international diplomacy’, writes Susan Glasser. Tillerson leaves the State Department understaffed and demoralized. There is a lot of work to be done to repair the damage.

Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is out, fired via Trump tweet.  (Tillerson got a heads-up on Friday that ‘something is up’, from Chief of Staff Kelley). Trump and Tillerson never got along, and Tillerson was fired almost immediately after contradicting the official White House line on the murder of a Russian double agent in London, though. Coincidence, or the last straw? (Tillerson called Trump an ‘f** moron’ last July).

Also: Trump’s personal aide (‘body man’) Johnny McEntee is also out over ‘serious financial crimes’ and security issues, escorted out of the White House today, not allowed to retrieve even his jacket or any personal stuff.

Finally: It looks like the Democrat will win the Special Election for House Representative in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, held today. This is a district that Trump carried by 20%. Trump, Don Trump Jr and VP Mike Pence were all there to campaign for the Republican.   So the loss is not a good sign for the Republicans for the mid-term elections* in November this year.

*Representatives of the House have two-year terms, and Senators have six-year terms.

Wednesday/ gone: Chief Economic Advisor

Brett Stephens writes in the NYT that we do not know if Trump’s Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn quit ‘out of horror of the president’s protectionist turn, or merely out of the pique of losing a policy argument’ (over the trade tariffs).   What is certain, is that the Trump Administration is looking increasingly unstable and unable to retain key personnel.

The Republicans are finally getting worried that Trump’s economic and trade policies might make trouble. (They were not too worried about the tax cuts massively increasing the deficit). The House sent a letter today, signed by 107 representatives, asking Trump to refrain from implementing broad-based tariff measures that could trigger trade wars with Europe, China, and even Canada.

Will we be OK? It’s been 10 years since 2008’s global financial crisis. During a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ last week, Bill Gates was asked if, in the near future, the U.S. will have another crisis similar to 2008.  ‘Yes’, he said, admitting that the question would be better directed at Warren Buffet. ‘It is hard to say when, but this is a certainty’.

The conclusion of Matt Taibbi’s article called ‘The Great American Bubble Machine’ that appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine in 2009.  The article detailed the excesses and greed from the giant financial firms such as Goldman Sachs, and the lack of government oversight, that led to the 2008 crisis. Here we are in 2018, and I don’t think anything has changed. 

Friday/ President Chaos, flailing at it

It was another week of Trump chaos.  (‘Never have we seen such chaos and corruption‘, opines Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post). As Alec Baldwin’s tweet says: we are hanging in there until we have the impeachment hearings, the resignation speech, and the farewell helicopter ride to Mar-a-Lago.

Trump’s long-time Communications Director (Hope Hicks) announced she is resigning, after admitting she tells ‘white lies’ for the President.
It’s been more than a year since Trump himself gave a press conference.

It now looks as if son-in-law Jared Kushner punished Qatar last April, by supporting a blockade against them, just weeks after they refused to invest in his private firm.
Do these people do anything at all for American citizens, for the country? Kushner never, ever says anything on the record, and does not speak to the press, or in public.

On Thursday, Trump announced* trade tariffs of 25% and 10% on steel and aluminum imports, out of the blue, defying the advice of economic advisor Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. ‘Trump starts trade war’, said all the major European and Asian newspapers this morning. Economists universally agree: trade wars are bad.        *Still to be signed into law, some time next week.

As many observers note:
1.  It’s unsettling to have a President with no impulse control.
2. These crises are all of Trump’s making. What will he do when a real one hits?

This morning’s classic Trump tweet: petty, demeaning, lashing out. This Trump tweet is the one with the corrections Alex > Alec and dieing > dying. Our President does not read, and therefore cannot spell. Sad. (SNL is Saturday Night Live, a comedy show on which Baldwin frequently portrays President Trump).

Friday/ Trump’s campaign criminals

From the front page of today’s on-line New York Times.

Special Investigator Robert Mueller has so far unsealed over 100 criminal charges against 19 people (13 are Russians).

Just today, Rick Gates (age 45), Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016-17, pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States, and to lying to FBI investigators.

Cable TV talk show host Chris Hayes’s Twitter musings on Manafort, the Trump campaign and the Russians.

Additional charges were also brought today against Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager for a few months in 2016. Manafort (age 68) now faces dozens of counts of money laundering* and bank fraud charges. He maintains his innocence (good luck with that).   *We’re talking tens of millions of dollars here.

The most tantalizing questions remain.
Why did Trump fire FBI Director James Comey in May 2017?
Why did Trump lie about Don Jr’s meeting with the Russians in June 2016?
Why does the FBI refuse to give son-in-law Jared Kushner a security clearance? Why has Trump still not implemented the bipartisan congressional Russia sanctions, passed over six months ago?

Saturday/ Russia’s meddling

Deputy AG of the Dept of Justice Rod Rosenstein briefing reporters on Friday. Thirteen Russians were indicted. An American was separately indicted for identity theft. More indictments will surely come, since these did not address obstruction of justice, criminal hacking of the Clinton campaign servers, or money laundering.

 

Exactly how Russia interfered with the 2016 Presidential Election in the USA, became much clearer on Friday.

The Dept of Justice charged 13 Russian nationals with using stolen identities and exploiting YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to wage a well-funded and well-coordinated campaign to promote Trump and to tear down Hillary Clinton.

What’s still not clear: to what extent Trump, Trump Jr and Trump campaign staff colluded with the Russians – and to what extent they obstructed the Mueller investigation. Yes, Deputy AG Rosenstein said bluntly on Friday: “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American had any knowledge” of Russian involvement .. but surely more indictments are forthcoming.

Fake-News-President Trump launched a tweetstorm on Friday & Saturday full of denials and I-told-you-so’s. He quoted Rosenstein and others, claimed exoneration from colluding with the Russians, said this had no effect on the election, and again attacked the FBI.

Excerpt from the FBI’s 37-page indictment. The 13 Russians and their accomplices purchased Facebook advertisements, recruited US persons to appear as Hillary Clinton in prison garb at rallies, and urged US voters to attend pro-Trump rallies. Trump supporters eagerly retweeted and posted the fake Russian ads against Clinton.

Thursday/ aftermath of another massacre

17 kids were shot dead in a Florida high school yesterday. So: another gunman joined the long list of mass murderers enabled by the National Rifle Association, loose gun laws, and the inaction of Congress in the United States.

Many, many Americans had hoped the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut would be a turning point. Below is a graphic from the New York Times that shows the accomplishments of our lawmakers since then. (Keep scrolling down to look for a colored square).

 

Friday/ one Korea: the dream is fading

It was great to see the unified Korean team come into the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony. One could argue that Korea is the only divided country that remains in the world.  For example, there was North and South Vietnam (united in 1975), East and West Germany (united in 1990), and South North and South Yemen (also united in 1990). And yes, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but one cannot see it become one country again.

I read that support for Korean unification is fading, though. Some 50% of young South Koreans regard North Korea as an outright enemy, that they want nothing to do with. The harsh reality is that there is a yawning chasm between the economies of the countries. The per capita income difference between the South and North is 20 to 1. For West Germany and East Germany it was 3 to 1.

Here come the Koreans, the unified team entering the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony. It is not a first: unified Korean teams marched in the opening ceremonies of the 2000, 2004, and 2006 Olympics as well. Real unification? Very hard and very real obstacles remain. [Picture from Vox.com]

Monday/ something is rotten in the State of the Union

‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’ – Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4.


It was revealed last week that President Trump had pushed to have special investigator Robert Mueller fired in June 2017. Trump only stopped short when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. Trump and his White House staff now deny all of this (Trump: ‘fake news’), or refuse to comment – of course. They all lie, from the President on down, all the time, basically.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. ‘State of the Union’ misspelled on the visitor’s gallery tickets.

Today FBI Deputy Director Andrew G. McCabe abruptly stepped down. His retirement in the next few months had been widely expected, but Trump attacked him and the FBI relentlessly over the last few months. Then there is the bizarre spectacle of the House Republicans (Trump stooge Devin Nunes chief among them), that join in attacking and undermining the FBI.

So I refuse to tune in Tuesday night to see Trump’s State of the Union speech. Something in the State of the Union is rotten, and he will surely not convince me otherwise.

Paul Rozenzweig writes in The Atlantic that the person to watch is Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney-General at the Dept of Justice. Mueller effectively reports to him, and plays by the rules. So Mueller will not charge Trump with anything, or indict him. Rosenstein will decide if Mueller’s report (after the Russia investigation) will even be made public! Some speculate that Trump’s end goal is really to get Rosenstein fired and replaced. (Rosenstein’s boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a Trump supporter and recused himself from the Russia investigation).

Thursday/ Trump at Davos

Trump’s arrival at the World Economic Forum in Davos caused a stir, but if I read reports correctly, he did not step on too many toes.

Per the  NYT: He expressed regret for sharing anti-Muslim videos originally posted by an ultranationalist fringe group in Britain, but made no apology for calling African nations “sh**hole” countries.

The carry-bag on the left made the rounds at Davos. Its picture is from cartoonist Chappatte, and the bag is available at store.chappatte.com. I like the t-shirts from the website, as well (very ‘Davos’). The American Century t-shirt has a hamburger in there, the atom bomb, and (maybe?) a play on the money tree logo from investment funds management company American Century.   The sausage in the next t-shirt is cervelas (also servelat or zervelat), a sausage produced in Switzerland, France and parts of Germany.  Finally, a t-shirt that shows a future when snow may be rare, even at Davos.

Saturday/ another year, another march

A few signs from the march today.

I went marching again today (here is 2017), joining friends in the Seattle’s Women’s March (protesting the Trump Administration).

We were not as plentiful as last year’s 100,000+ marchers;  the crowd size estimated to have been around 40,000. It was cold and rainy, and the weather might have been a factor.  Some 300,000 people packed the streets in Chicago, and 120,000 in New York City. And in Austin and Dallas, Texas, the crowds were larger than last year.    

Friday/ President Art-Of-The-Deal & his Republicans shut down the government

In a way, it’s fitting that under the Republicans, the government shut down – on the eve of the dysfunctional Trump administration’s one-year anniversary. Since I don’t work for the government or the military, the shutdown does not affect me in a big way.  I do feel sorry for American kids on CHIP* and immigrant kids on DACA*, who are impacted.  It’s disheartening that politics and governing are so broken in the United States Congress.

*CHIP: Children’s Health Insurance Program.  DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive directive from the Obama administration that halted deportation of immigrant children brought to the USA by their parents. Trump rescinded DACA.

Monday/ Martin Luther King Day

Monday was a federal holiday in the United States, marking civil rights giant Martin Luther King’s birthday – 89 years ago to the day.  King and Nelson Mandela were contemporaries, but never met.

The South African government refused to issue King a visa in 1966. Mandela was in jail by then – arrested in 1962 for ‘conspiring to overthrow the state’, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Mandela first visited the United States (he made three trips) in June 1990, four months after his release from prison.  A ticker tape parade was organized for him in New York by New York City Mayor David Dinkins.

King’s widow Coretta Scott King, attended Mandela’s inauguration as South African president in 1994.

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Marian Robinson tour the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial before the dedication ceremony in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy).

Thursday/ the President of the United States is obnoxious, and then lies about it

So this happened in the Oval Office on Thursday, when Trump discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal.  Trump, per the Washington Post: ‘Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’ .  On Friday morning, Senator Dick Durban confirmed that he used the word several times.

 

Early Friday morning, Trump denied in tweets that he used derogatory language, as the fall-out continued. The government of Botswana sent a letter inquiring if they are a sh** hole country as well.  (And how about South Africa, President Trump?). The US ambassador to Panama announced his resignation.

Saturday/ such a ‘stable genius’

‘The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.’ -Albert Einstein


A book by Michael Wolff called ‘Fire and Fury’ was published on Friday (the printed copies quickly selling out), adding fuel to the speculation about President Trump’s sanity and mental fitness for office.

And what does President My-Nuclear-Button-Is-Bigger-Than-Yours do? He claims he is ‘like, really smart’, and then corrects himself. No, he’s actually a ‘stable genius’.  (Well, your tweets make you look like an unstable idiot).  Looks like we’re in for another long year in politics here in the United States.

Saturday/ a request for Santa

‘Bring an end to the Zuma era .. that is all I ask’, pleads a teary-eyed ‘South Africa’ in Santa’s lap, in this cartoon by Fred Mouton in Saturday’s newspaper Die Burger. (In the United States, a similar request from Santa would be to get President Trump impeached).

Monday/ it’s Cyril

Top: The South African Rand’s exchange rate experienced a ‘Ramaphosa bump’ in the last week or two. The Rand strengthened to R12.56 to the dollar, but slipped to R12.78 early on Tuesday morning. Bottom: Top Six refers to the leadership of the ANC. Some analysts say Ramaphosa has his work cut out for him with some surprising and questionable candidates that got elected to the Top Six.

Early Monday evening, the results were in: Cyril Ramaphosa won the vote for ANC President, with 2440 votes to 2261.  Hopefully this is a sign that the disastrous Zuma presidency and legacy will be coming to an end.

There was TV coverage all day, but none of the exhaustive and detailed analysis that come with elections on TV in the United States.

 

Thursday/ can the ANC change course?

The 54th National Conference of the African National Congress (South Africa’s ruling political party) is set to start on Friday at an exhibition center near Johannesburg.   The event is more or less the equivalent of the national party conventions we have in the United States before a presidential election. By Sunday, the ANC will have elected a new chairperson, and it is very likely that this person will become South Africa’s new president as an outcome of the 2019 national elections.

Even though Cyril Ramaphosa served as deputy president of South Africa under President Jacob Zuma since 2014, many (most?) South Africans hope that he will prevail over his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, ex-wife of Jacob Zuma. It is time to pay serious attention to South Africa’s economic challenges and clean out the worst of the vast corruption and cronyism in the Zuma administration.   Ramaphosa has tweeted that he wants to address infrastructure challenges, and wants to target a 5% growth rate for South Africa’s developing economy (currently at about 1% annual growth).

From the front page of the newspaper the Sowetan.  There are high hopes that Cyril Ramaphosa (on the left) will vanquish ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and reduce corruption and help rebuild the economy.  Zuma’s presidency (he took office in 2009) has badly tarnished his own reputation, and that of his party, the ANC.

Tuesday/ ‘The President Stole Your Land’

Homepage of outdoor clothes maker Patagonia’s website today. Its billionaire owner is vowing to fight Trump’s executive order in court.

‘I have a bone to pick with your President Trump’ said my friend from South Africa on the phone today. (She is an enthusiastic outdoors person).  Yes, I said: I think I know what you mean.

From the New York Times: Trump sharply reduced the size of two national monuments* in Utah on Monday by some two million acres, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history.  The administration shrank Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by 85 percent, and cut another monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, to about half its current size.

*National monuments are lands that are protected from development by law. They are roughly analogous to national parks, but while national parks are created by Congress, national monuments are created by presidents through the Antiquities Act. 

Observers say this order by Trump will precipitate a legal battle that could have far-reaching implications for the course of American land conservation, and for national monuments.

That’s me and my 1996 Toyota Camry, in the left corner.  The spectacular rock formation is in Monument Valley in the south of Utah, and the picture is from a road trip with my friend Marlien, in 1999. We had overnighted in a little town nearby, with the charming name of Mexican Hat.

Friday/ Michael Flynn pleads guilty

Today, Michael Flynn* pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in January (about meeting with the Russians). Doesn’t sound like a big deal? It’s a very big deal: a felony, a serious crime that can send the offender to jail for 5 years. Flynn will be a convicted felon, after all is said and done. Harry Litman writes in an opinion piece in the New York Times that Flynn will testify as a witness for special investigator Mueller, and that this ‘portends the likelihood of impeachable charges being brought against the president of the United States’.

*Former Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency (2012-2014), former National Security Advisor to President Trump, resigned after just 26 days in this role on February 13.

From Harry Litman’s opinion column in the New York times. ‘ .. indicating abuses of power arguably well beyond those in the Watergate and Iran-contra affairs’.