Sunday, September 22, 2019

Trump's Ukraine Scandal: If Anything Is An Impeachable Offense, This Is. But . . .

ERIN SCHAFF / THE NEW YORK TIMES
Not that he needed any prompting because of a lifetime of  sleazy and corrupt behavior, but Donald Trump still learned well from the Russia scandal, and elements of that attack on the bedrock of American democracy are all over his brazen efforts to pressure and possibly bribe or extort the president of Ukraine into conducting a witch hunt (there's that word!) against his leading Democratic challenger for the presidency.  If anything is an impeachable offense and demands his immediate removal from office, this certainly is it. 
In a replay of 2016, Trump repeatedly sought the help of a foreign government against an American citizen, but instead of powerful Russia President Vladimir Putin with Hillary Clinton as their target, it is weak Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, as the targets.   
And in an especially perverse twist, although the crime was far worse than the coverup in 2016, this time the crime is hiding in plain view -- it just look the news media a while to connect the dots -- and not only is there no coverup, but Trump fixer Rudy Giuliani is boasting about the crime and Trump, as is often the case, repeatedly denied discussing Biden with Zelensky until he acknowledged the bleeding obvious on Sunday while continuing to refuse to release a transcript of his July 25 call to Zelensky during which he pressed him no fewer than eight times to work with Giuliani to investigate the Bidens. 
Trump would instinctively try to get dirt on his opponents, let alone Biden, who has not hesitated to call out the president. 
"This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power,” Biden told reporters while on the stump in Iowa.  "Trump's doing this because he knows I'll beat him like a drum and is using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me." 
The president and his minions claim that as Barack Obama's vice president, Biden tried to sack a Ukrainian prosecutor who was probing his son's energy company, an allegation that is totally baseless.  Hunter Biden's hands are soiled, at best, and certainly not dirty, but that's beside the point.  Biden already has become the Lock Her Up Hillary of the 2020 campaign, the media will fecklessly repeat the Big Lie as they did with Clinton's emails, and every time they do it will stick a little more. 
What is different this time is that Trump has now been in charge for nearly three years and is more convinced of his invincibility than ever although outside of his ever reliable base, he is deeply unpopular, under investigation for a staggering array of crimes and unpresidential behavior, and House Democrats have nominally begun impeachment proceedings.   
Additionally, the July 25 call is part of a whistleblower complaint submitted by Trump appointee Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general.  But Joseph McGuire, director of national intelligence, is refusing to turn over the complaint to Congress, as is required by law. 
And it should not be forgotten that Trump withheld a bipartisan $250 million appropriation for military assistance for Ukraine urgently needed by the former Soviet republic to fend off Russian aggression, which at first seemed like yet another way to curry favor with Putin until the whistleblower complaint became known and members of Congress, some Republicans included, began breathing down his ugly neck to release the funds.  Then Trump .  
To return to where we began, if anything is an impeachable offense and demands Trump's immediate removal from office, this certainly is it.   But that's not how things work in Trump's America nor on Capitol Hill, which Republicans still have a stranglehold on the Senate and would never vote to convict him should the Democratic majority in the House approve articles of impeachment.   
So while calls for impeachment are growing, the House Intelligence Committee has yet more combustibles to investigate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members of her caucus in a letter on Sunday that if the administration's resistance continues, it "will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation," a formal impeachment vote remains an abstraction. 
More likely is that the whole mess will end up in voters' laps in November 2020.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related events. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Story Of The Birth, Long Life & Awful Death Of The John Evans House

2017
(A POSTSCRIPT: At a meeting on September 17, 2019, Pennsylvania State Representative Andrew Dinniman, meeting with state parks officials and state and Chester County preservationists, pledged that the remains of the John Evans House would not be demolished and will be preserved as an interpretive site for the London Tract settlement of Welsh Baptists if private funding can be secured.)   
The first thing you need to know about the John Evans House is that it was really old, as in 304 years old.  
The second thing you need to know is that I lived in the John Evans House, brought my newborn children home to its welcoming embrace, cherished it in summer heat and winter cold, and worked tirelessly to keep it from the fate that befalls far too many historic structures -- be they grandiose mansions or tarpaper slave quarters -- in a country that neither understands nor values its past. 
The last thing you need to know is that the John Evans House was killed twice over.   
It was first killed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was gifted the house and the verdant lands around it by an act of Congress.  Its response was to willfully neglect a profoundly historic structure that predates the commonwealth itself by nearly 75 years and then list it for demolition.  And then it was killed again by what in all likelihood was an arsonist.  
This then is the story of the birth, long life and awful death of the John Evans House. 
Ca. 1850
John Evans was a Welsh Baptist who, as the story goes, sought a new life in the New World early in the 18th century to escape religious persecution.  He and his brother Thomas sailed to the Pennsylvania colony where they bought land in what would become Chester County in Southeastern Pennsylvania and the northernmost of the three lower Pennsylvania counties that were to become Delaware.  The seller was William Penn.  The nearest neighbors, Lenni Lenapes who had lived in the region for perhaps 2,000 years and had sold much of the valley to Penn in 1683, were not consulted.  
The Evans brothers sailed home, outfitted a ship and returned with their families and servants to the colony in 1715, which as years go, was pretty tumultuous beyond the Evans's tight-knit world and centuries-long legacy of messing with their Welsh Baptist brethren by whomever happened to be in power in the so-called United Kingdom. 
Elsewhere in the U.K. in 1715, Viscount Bolingbroke was secretly negotiating with France, leading to the Treaty of Utrecht, which more or less ended the War of Spanish Succession. There was a rare total solar eclipse in London, the first in almost 900 years, scaring the bejesus out of Believers and Non-Believers alike.  In the young American colonies, the first black slaves were arriving, while to the south in the Province of Carolina, the Tuscarora gave up their war against encroaching settlers and fled through Lenni Lenape country to upstate New York. 
Meanwhile, John Evans had the Belgian bond brick ballast from his ship transported to 400 acres he had been deeded in a secluded valley hard by the confluence of the East and Middle Branches of White Clay Creek where he built a two-story gentleman's house of the ballast bricks with touches of what would become known as the Georgian architectural style.  The first floor was an all-purpose room.  There were two small bedrooms on the second floor and servants would have been quartered in the attic. There undoubtedly was a summer kitchen behind the house, while cooking was done in the large fireplace downstairs in cold and inclement weather.   
The valley must have been heaven on earth for the Evanses. 
The White Clay ran high, clear and fast even during the driest summers when its banks were perfumed by wildflowers.  The creek ran deep, as well, as it coursed between boulders that were visitors from the last Ice Age and had stayed put after the big thaw. The verdant woodlands of oak, chestnut, maple, black walnut and sycamore teemed with wildlife, including deer, bear, turkey, mink, beaver and turtle.  There were trout and eel in the creek, and when it flooded its banks in the spring, its deposits further enriched already fertile soil.   
John Evans understood that he was building on a flood plain and the basement was constructed to allow water to run in and drain back out.  I witnessed this at least once a year during my tenure there, and I became adept at being able to quickly remove the motor on the oil furnace as flood waters rose.  
Underlying the valley is a conglomeration of rock formations, including the black granite that was the primary stone in the fieldstone walls of the first of two expansions to the house.  The first expansion was later in the 18th century with the addition of a dining room with a grand fireplace and three more bedrooms upstairs.  The master bedroom, which had a commanding view of the creek and field behind the house, had a smallish, free-standing fireplace. 
The house grew again around 1800 with a story-and-a-half addition containing a kitchen with a large walk-in fireplace, rendering obsolete the summer kitchen behind the house. There also were various small outbuildings probably built of oak and chestnut. 
In 1725, John Evans had begun construction of what became known as the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church (home of the legendary Ticking Tomb) a few hundred feet to the west of his house in thanksgiving for his good fortune.  The area around the house was farmed, but a mill and millrace soon were built nearby.  Later, grist and lumber mills and other businesses began springing up as the colony became a young republic and the nearby village of Landenberg grew and thrived.   
ca. 1930
In one of history's ironies, the White Clay Creek Valley is an oasis today compared to the fouled waters and air of 150 years ago when industry thrived in and around Landenberg and the John Evans House house passed out of the Evans family. 
A succession of other families lived in the house, including the Yeatman family in the mid-1800s.  (The house is referred to as the Yeatman Mill House by the Bureau of State Parks.)  An emigre family from Canada operated a sod farm for some time in the 20th century on the fertile floodplain behind the house.  I know that because I found a son's Army dogtags under an opening in some attic floorboards and traced his ancestry. 
By the early 1960s, the house was somewhat in decline but still solid.  It was fronted by a white picket fence when I first discovered it while riding my three-speed English bike into the valley from my family home a few miles away on high school-aged explorations.  I imagined what it would be like to live in this brick-and-stone jewel and fantasized about being able to do so some day. 
Out of college and back from a stint in the Far East a few years later, the house was somewhat seedier but still solid.  The picket fence was gone and the valley and environs had been gobbled up by the DuPont Company, which was headquartered in nearby Wilmington, Delaware.  
The chemical giant, which for 200 years had an outsized presence in the region, intended to dam the White Clay and flood several thousand acres of the valley, submerging the Evans House, the church Evans built, and dozens of other structures.  A magnificent habitate would be wiped out in the service of supplying water from a massive reservoir to a textile manufacturing plant DuPont intended to build at the Milford Crossroad north of Newark, Delaware. 
1983
But in a twist of fate that help seal the career a young politician who was to rise to national prominence, the John Evans House and valley were saved. 
DuPont had consolidated its grip on the valley by secretly razing houses.  One day there would be a house and the next day a newly landscaped and seeded lawn.  Some were simple bungalows, but a few were historically significant, including the magnificent three-story and balconied Elzey House on Sharpless Road off London Tract Road, which was reminiscent of the Deer Park Tavern in Newark before it was bulldozed and buried in an unspeakable crime against history.  Only the three giant sycamores that shaded the house remain. 
Du Pont's furtive scorched earth policy left the John Evans House as probably the oldest structure still standing in the valley even if George Washington never slept there.  A cabin made of chestnut logs said to have been built in the 1680s sat uphill on the far side of the White Clay, but it was destroyed in an arson fire well before DuPont big footed onto the scene.
DuPont began curbing its less altruistic corporate instincts because of furious opposition to the dam and reservoir from an unlikely coalition of foes: Dorothy Miller, a birding enthusiast and devoted environmentalist, a sportsman's club affiliated with the United Auto Workers Union at the Newark Chrysler Assembly Plant, and Sally Rickerman and Jan Kalb, whom I jokingly referred to as Attack Quakers in my admiration for their outspoken faith-based belief in saving the valley, which they happened to love and was where their own historic homes were located.  
I did my part as a young editor at the Wilmington News Journal, where I assigned a reporter to write a series of stories on the mysteriously disappearing houses, which a DuPont mouthpiece initially denied had disappeared at all. 
With the indefatigable Dot Miller leading the charge, the coalition fought DuPont to a standstill and then in 1970 a slate of Democrats was swept into office in New Castle County, Delaware on a reform platform that included opposition to the dam and reservoir, which had been backed by the deeply entrenched DuPont-friendly Republican incumbents.  (The News Journal was a DuPont shill and pro dam and reservoir, and I caught flak for the stories.)    
Among the newly elected reformers was a 28-year-old county councilman by the name of Joseph R. Biden. 

2000
It was not until 1984 that the future of the John Evans House seemed to be assured.  
That was when Biden, by then a two-term U.S. senator, and colleague Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania sponsored legislation under which DuPont would receive a generous one-time tax break, which no one talked about, by deeding the valley to the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania in perpetuity for a preserve -- as opposed to a park -- that beyond rustic trails and the occasional gravel parking lot would remain undeveloped and largely undisturbed.  
Meanwhile, with DuPont as my landlord, my boyhood dream had come true and I had been living in the house since 1981.  With the deed transfer, my rent checks went to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, custodian of the new White Clay Creek Preserve.
But from the start, the Pennsylvania side of the White Clay Creek Preserve was woefully underfunded. 
We made "sweat equity" repairs to the John Evans House in return for reduced rent. These repairs were, for the most part, fairly minor, although we never did get the skid marks out of a corner of the living room floor, which a neighbor who had lived in the valley for years later told us were from the kickstands of motorcycles parked there when bikers had briefly used the house.  Yet for being 270 years old, the house was in good condition and as structurally sound as the day John Evans had opened the front door to his family for the first time. 
The house remained in that condition, if a little rough around the edges, until after the last tenant moved out about 1998 when the inevitable deterioration commenced that befalls old houses that are not kept up. 

2015
Looking back, the fate of the John Evans House was determined when the state did an inadequate job of closing it up.  
Houses like people need to breathe, and this is especially true of old houses as temperatures and humidity cycle up and down.  This house's doors and windows were sealed with plywood boards instead of boards with louvers, which experienced preservationists use.  Louvers would have allowed the house and its floors, walls, ceilings, attic and roof to breathe and not suffocate, checking its deterioration until the state woke up to the treasure in its midst or an angel with deep pockets came along. 
By 2015, the house sat forlorn and very much neglected.   
There was hideous graffiti on some of the first floor plywood boards and the roof and attic dormer windows were collapsing inward.  The floors on the second floor had collapsed from being exposed to the elements because of the roof collapse.  Vegetation had overtaken and seized the back of the house, covering the windows from which I had watched the sun burn off the mist over the creek on many a morning, slowly but surely assisting in a team effort of time and neglect to ravage an irreplaceably beautiful house. 
In 2006, the state Bureau of Parks first listed the house for demolition.  
"The John Evans House was a topic of conversation on many occasions," said Carla Lucas, president of the Friends of the White Clay Preserve, which was founded in 2012 as a chapter of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation.  "Those who visited the Preserve on a regular basis watched the building deteriorate. We'd talk to the park manager, who said the state would do nothing because it would cost at least $600,000 to repair."
More recently, vandals had been breaking into the house although it is only a few hundred feet from the Preserve headquarters.  That has been made easier because the Preserve, which is being slowly starved by the Bureau of Parks, has not had a manager since 2015 and has only a single full-time employee to oversee its 2,072 acres.   
Then on the afternoon of September 20, 2017, the house burned, leaving only the exterior walls standing despite the efforts of volunteer firemen summoned from West Grove, Avondale and Hockessin.   
The cause was almost certainly arson.

2017
Even after the fire -- no, because of what the fire laid bare -- the exterior walls of the John Evans House have an extraordinary story to tell. 
Despite the deterioration of the roof, attic and floors, the walls of the house remain structurally sound and survived the fire pretty much intact, a monument to the built-to-last craftsmanship of the 18th and 19th centuries.  And despite much hankie-wringing in recent years among wannabe preservationists that the house was about to fall down, no such thing was going to happen.
All of the fireplaces are intact, if bare. 
The freestanding fireplace on the second floor wall is largely unscathed although the floor and joists beneath it had given way.  The living room fireplace, on which I did some restoration work during my time in the house, also is substantially intact, as is the kitchen fireplace with its lovely arch.  The magnificent dining room fireplace and hearth are scarred but also intact, as if ready for the next dinner party although it will never come.  
There is a dreary record of historic structures on private land giving way to drug stores, banks and housing developments in history-rich Chester County. But it simply is unheard of that a structure on public land -- your land and mine -- with the three-century lineage of the John Evans House would be allowed to deteriorate to the point where it became easy prey for vandals, giving new meaning to the term willful neglect. 
The trajectory of that neglect becomes shockingly apparent in examining official documents pertaining to the house that I obtained from the Bureau of Parks as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request:
March 1998: A document states that the house is "in need of major repairs [but] due to its historical nature, plans are to keep this structure and improve it as monies allow. There is a project listed in the amount of $100,000 to effect those repairs.  There are no plans to remove this building, nor change its use in the foreseeable future."  
February 22, 2006: The then-director of the Bureau of State Parks states in a letter to a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources administrator that the bureau intends "to dispose of" the house. 
2007~2009: The disposal request wends its way through the state bureaucracy with approvals obtained from the Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau of Engineering and Architecture and Department of General Services, among other agencies.
September 12, 2008: A regional parks manager states without elaboration in a letter that "We have found no documentation that supports the building as historically significant."
2008~2009: The house is stripped of distinctive interior architectural
features, including fireplace surrounds, mantles and molding. 
September 4, 2009: A Historical and Museum Commission review concludes that the White Clay Creek Preserve "has provided no alternative uses for this building at this location and there are no alternative sites within the park to which this building can be moved." 
October 14, 2009: A demolition permit is approved by the Bureau of State Parks, but the house remains standing because of a lack of money to tear it down.    
We can blame the usual whipping boy, the chronic underfunding of state parks for this meant-to-fail strategy, but that rationale has become profoundly disingenuous because it excuses the Bureau of State Parks and the Preserve staff (when it had one) of their responsibilities as stewards of a structure gifted the people of Pennsylvania by Congress. 
"I think it was a failure all around to preserve the John Evans House.  Privately as citizens of the community we could never get organized to find the funding necessary to at least put a decent roof on the building to stop the
deterioration," said Lucas.  "As stewards of the property, the state failed to see the historical value of this house and dedicate funds to preserve it." 
"The state parks system is so underfunded and so understaffed it is hard to blame a specific person but as an organization, they could have done more." 
Following the fire, the office of Governor Tom Wolfe deferred comment on this tragic state of affairs and punted to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the parent department of the Bureau of Parks. 
"There are limited resources to tackle historic structures like this one," said Christina Novak, director of the department's Office of Communications.  "DCNR does maintain one of the largest inventories of historic structures in the commonwealth.  In many cases the department is successful when it finds a partner organization which can find use for the building and generate revenue to facilitate the rehabilitation.  This has not been the case of this structure." 
We live in an era when the Pennsylvania state government opened its lands, including state parks and forests, to rapacious frackers, although Wolfe did ban new drilling on most state lands in 2015. 
Yet only a trickle of the billions of dollars in natural gas that energy companies have extracted since 2005 while polluting streams and rivers ever finds its way back into state coffers and places like the White Clay Creek Preserve, where it could make a difference.   
And might have saved a 304-year-old historic and architectural gem. 


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Pray Tell, What Do Nancy Pelosi & Barack Obama Have Against Polar Bears?

STEVEN KOSLOWSKI / ALAMY 
I have no regrets about anything. Regrets is not what I do. 
~ House Speaker NANCY PELOSI
The catalogue of the horrors that Donald Trump has inflicted on man, woman, child and beast -- ranging from migrant families separated in border concentration camp cages to polar bears threatened by oil drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- is so horrifying and so vast that it barely can be comprehended.  But as the third year of the Trump nightmare slouches to a close, we need to remember that beyond that traitorous Republican congressional choir, there have been other enablers, chief among them Nancy Pelosi. 
This assessment is unfair to Madam Speaker only to the extent that she and Democrats in general have been constrained by the limits of their legislative powers.  All that changed when the Blue Wave midterm election victories bestowed the party a substantial House majority and the mandate and some of the tools they needed to take down the demigod in the Oval Office. 
Alas, it has been nearly a year since that Blue Wave broke on the shore of a Trump-besieged America and nearly eight months since Pelosi was handed those tools, but all she has done in that time is shoot sparks out her ass and mumbled about stopping Trump while pretty much standing in the way of efforts to do just that. 
This assessment also is unfair to Madam Speaker, but only to the extent that Trump has been overwhelming in his vileness as only a malignant narcissist with immense powers can be.  But the president has outplayed Pelosi at virtually every turn and rather than embolden her to fight back harder, she has retreated and pouted when called out on her egregious leadership lapses. 
The deadly serious business of impeaching a president who has been rubbing his high crimes and misdemeanors in Pelosi's face finally if belatedly would get underway last week as House Judiciary Committee took the unbold step of voting on Thursday to formally establish the rules of an impeachment investigation, but Pelosi shat on that by pointedly refusing to use the word "impeachment" in reference to a vote that was all about impeachment.  
"I support what is happening in the Judiciary Committee that enables them to do their process of interrogation and their investigation, and I salute them for that work," Pelosi said in saying nothing much in the manner that Sarah Palin, who after all softened up that infamous basket of deplorables for Trump, would say nothing. 
 When pressed by reporters on Thursday and again on Friday about whether she is uncomfortable with the term "impeachment inquiry," Pelosi bristled and then became visibly angry.  Not at Trump, mind you, but at being called out. 
"I'm not answering any more questions about a possible inquiry, investigation, and the rest," Pelosi barked before walking away from the podium and cutting short her weekly press conference after calling for the media to focus on Senate Republicans' refusal to take up a Democratic proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases. 
"Why is it that you are hung up with a word over here when lives are at stake over there?" she asked and then click-clacked out of the room on her power pumps, although a whole lot more lives are at stake -- not to mention American democracy itself -- beyond the innocents of the next mass murderer squeezing off shots from the 100-round clip in his assault rifle.  I don't for a moment believe Pelosi is a double agent secretly in Trump's pay, but why is she so intent on fighting a battle here and a battle there but not the war?  
Yet again this assessment is unfair to Madam Speaker because she has to balance the party's interests insofar as not alienating those crucial swing voters in advance of the 2020 election, as well as luring a few deplorables out of their basket.  But Trump is not just any president and the election is merely the most important since 1860, forget about 1932 or 2008.   
While I've got my hammer out, I'm going to take a whack at Barack Obama. 
Trump's predecessor is the most influential and beloved Democrat of the past decade, yet his otherwise commanding voice has been substantially absent since Trump began taking a wrecking ball to America.  We've heard more from Lock Her Up Hillary's soul mate than from the 44th president. 
That is a damned shame, but I suspect it is just as Pelosi wishes.  As do most of the Democratic presidential wannabes beyond Joe Biden.  Obama's hugely positive legacy is being marginalized if not argued over on the debate stage, and the feeling persists that Pelosi believes that Obama unbridled would trample on her own message, whatever the frick that is.  (I can, however, purchase Official Obama Merchandise at the Official Democratic Store, as I am reminded by email, although no presidential Sharpie pens.) 
Sorry, Nancy and Barack, but this is not a big game as politics so often is.  Have you given up without really trying?  Sure seems that way.   
It is a game that Trump is playing for keeps.  The time for circumspection, as well as relying on that hackneyed old game playbook, is over.  The crisis is well upon us, and Pelosi's stubborn inaction -- as well as Obama's silence -- looks more and more like dereliction of duty with every passing day and every opportunity lost.  

Thursday, September 12, 2019

House Democrats Wrap Up Another Week Of Dithering While America Burns

MANDEL NGAN / AFP-GETTY IMAGES
If you recall the headlines atop my blog posts on impeachment over the last several months -- among them Whatever Happened To That Democratic Blue Wave?, Fuggedabout Trump: The Democratic Circular Firing Squad Goes After Obama, and most recently The Long, Tragicomic Slog Toward Impeachment -- you probably are onto my view that if Donald Trump goes down it will have less to do with House Democrats, whose extraordinary dithering continues apace, than the unchained nutjob president himself. 
It should go without saying that this is an epic failure of the Democratic congressional leadership and a betrayal of 2018 midterm election voters. 
This was going to be the week, or so we were led to believe, that the serious business of impeaching a president who has been rubbing his high crimes and misdemeanors in Democratic faces with impunity would finally get underway.  Yes, the House Judiciary Committee took the extraordinarily unbold step of voting to formally establish the rules of an impeachment investigation on Thursday, but the party leadership couldn't even agree as to what that meant. 
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had preloaded the inevitable confusion by declaring before the vote that the vote was not tantamount to an impeachment inquiry. 
Then post-vote, House Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries seemed to state the obvious in explaining that "We're conducting an impeachment investigation into the culture of corruption, abuse of power and obstruction of justice." 
Fair enough, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promptly stepped on Jeffries' lines by pointedly refusing to use the word "impeachment" in reference to the vote. 
"I support what is happening in the Judiciary Committee that enables them to do their process of interrogation and their investigation, and I salute them for that work," she said in saying nothing.  When pressed by an uppity reporter about whether she is uncomfortable with the term "impeachment inquiry" and if people should be using a different term, Pelosi bristled. 
"We are on our path.  Where it takes us is where the -- we will follow the facts," quoth Madame Speaker. 
Former Obama White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer cut through the crap.
"The politics of impeachment are debatable," tweeted Pfeiffer.  "Maybe they are good. Maybe they aren't.  No one knows.  But I do know that the current Democratic strategy of telling the base they are impeaching Trump and telling the moderates the opposite is an absolute disaster."
That about sums it up. 
The Democrats can't even agree on what to call the damned thing because many are afraid of their own shadows, let alone Trump's small hands -- as they hang themselves out to dry and the clock ticks down to 2020, which happens to be a presidential election year.  This inevitably will suck even more oxygen out of the impeachment "initiative," such as it is, just as the Democratic president debate on Thursday night (during which it was acknowledged in passing that Trump is a really bad man) stole the day.  
To put things in an historic context, this depressing state of affairs owes much to the corruption of American politics, which long predates Trump.   
"Moscow Mitch" McConnell has been teaching a master class in that since he famously uttered upon the election of Barack Obama that his priority was to make sure the Islamofascist from Kenya was a one-term president.  He had to settle for the next best thing, making sure that Obama was unable to accomplish much of significance over two terms, the crowning achievement of which was refusing to join the then-president and Democrats in sounding the alarm once the extent of Russia interference in the 2016 campaign to grease the skids for Trump became known. 
But Democrats have, in their own way, been almost as corrupt, pretty much parking their vaunted principles at the door in talking the talk but not walking the walk.  The mess they have made of impeachment is a result.     
To return to where I started, only Trump -- incapable of changing his outrageous behavior and curbing his assault on decency and democracy -- may be able to end his awful presidency.   
Oh, and that noise you hear is Vladimir Putin laughing into his vodka.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Sharpiegate Isn't Just Another Trump Inanity, It's What Fascist Governments Do

BILL O'LEARY/THE WASHINGTON POST
Sharpiegate, the name that inevitably has attached itself to Donald Trump's hissy fit over being caught out misstating that Alabama was at risk from Hurricane Dorian, has now outlived the ferocious storm that prompted the president's bloviations.  And while all of this may seem like just another silly distraction, it is far more ominous.   
The government scientists and weather forecasters tasked with warning us when meteorological dangers loom are being accused of being the president's enemies and their careers threatened because they were more concerned about conveying accurate information than covering the president's big ass.   
Make no mistake about it, this is what fascist governments do.   
In this case, the apolitical National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was pressured to release a statement -- notable because it was unsigned -- backing Trump's false claim that NOAA's National Weather Service had warned Alabamians that they were at risk.  He had backed up his contention by altering a NOAA map at an Oval Office press availability as Dorian bore down on the Carolina coast showing its projected path with a Sharpie pen in a crudely amateurish effort to reinforce his lie.   
Lest anyone in government still not get the message, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Mills, easily the most corrupt yes man in Trump's Cabinet, reinforced it. 
Ross, whose department oversees NOAA, threatened to fire the agency's top political appointees because in contradicting the president about Dorian's path, the NWS's Birmingham office staff was, in the words of an administration official quoted by The New York Times, "motivated by a desire to embarrass the president more than concern for the safety of people in Alabama." 
There you have it.  And astonishing until you consider that this was just the latest instance in which an administration heavy did a pretty good imitation of being a henchman for Adolph Hitler or Josef Stalin in accusing government employees merely trying to do their jobs of being the big, bad autocrat's enemies because they didn't toe his line. 
Other instances included Justice Department lawyers who dared contradict the president, environmental scientists who happened to believe that climate change is a very real threat and not a Chinese government hoax, and Postal Service administrators who were loath to punish Trump arch-enemy Jeff Bezos and Amazon by obeying Trump and raising the online giant's shipping rates. 
Pardoning the analogy, but Trump has turned Dorian into the perfect storm, justifying with yet another racist swipe at people of color the U.S.'s refusal to allow refugees fleeing devastation in the Bahamas into the U.S. if they don't already have visas.  This although Bahamians have long been allowed to enter the U.S. without visa if they have a passport. 
"I don't want to allow people that weren't supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States," as Trump callously put it, because they include "some very bad people and very bad gang members." 
As I am now weary of repeatedly writing, as Trump loses his shit with each passing outrage, he further weaponizes his pathologies.  And this folks, is how democracies die. 
Are you paying attention, Nancy Pelosi?
BYE-BYE BOLTON  
Scandals in the Age of Trump tend to be short lived because there always is another one waiting in the wings.  But Trump's firing of John Bolton (who claims he resigned) on Tuesday kind of breaks the mold even as it reinforces the West Wing as being one big revolving door. 
This is because of all the war-mongering neoconservatives to emerge in the run-up to the Iraq war, a fool's errand resulting from the need for the Dubya administration to take down Saddam Hussein even though he didn't have squat to do with the 9/11 attacks, Bolton was the worst of the American Exceptionalism clique.     
As well as the latest big shot who thought he could bend Trump to his will and ended up losing his dignity, a frangible concept in this case. 
Trump had repeatedly mocked Bolton as a warmonger, which is rich, sometimes ticking off the names of countries and joking that Bolton would want to invade them, and said he had axed his third national security adviser because he "disagreed strongly with many of my suggestions." 
Read the president's failed North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela and ISIS containment policies, and most recently his insistence that Russia be allowed to rejoin the G7.  (Have I missed any?)  One of the areas in which Trump and Bolton did agree was pissing on America's staunchest allies. 
There always is the chance that Trump will replace Bolton with someone even more willing to spill the blood of young Americans.   But for the moment, at least, a very dangerous man is out of circulation while an even more dangerous man clings to power.        

Monday, September 09, 2019

Slowly We Turn, Step By Step: The Long, Tragicomic Slog Toward Impeachment

JABIN BOTSFORD / THE WASHINGTON POST
The long, tragicomic slog toward impeaching Donald Trump finally is picking up speed -- which is not to be confused with gaining momentum because the political clock is fast running down -- as the House returns from its summer recess this week and the Judiciary Committee ponders what the parameters of its long-incubating investigation should be. 
Not a day too soon.  
Trump's high crimes and misdemeanors make Richard Nixon's ill deeds of 45 years ago seem almost quaint by comparison, a paranoid piker who tried to cover up a third-rate burglary compared to a narcissist whose malignancy visits destruction on everything he touches, in this case a quaint institution known as American democracy. 
By any reasonable measure, Trump already should have been ridden out of the Oval Office on a rail for his massive corruption, but these are not reasonable times.  And while 21 members of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's own party have bolted in allegiance to Queen and Country over his amateurish attempts to emulate his counterpart in Washington as he strangles on the Gordian knot of Brexit, it is unimaginable that 21 Senate Republicans would do the same over Trump's relentless attack on the values we once held dear.    
God knows Judiciary Chairman Jerrod Nadler and committee Democrats have plenty to choose from as they sketch out a projected four months of hearings to gather evidence to prove Trump is corrupt against a backdrop of lukewarm public support for impeachment. 
While the president's repeated and copiously documented attempts to obstruct justice in trying to shut down the Russia scandal, which revealed hundreds of contacts between Russians and Trump campaign associates, is likely to remain the committee's primary focus, there are the hush money payments Trump directed his then personal lawyer and fixer and now imprisoned Michael Cohen to make in the weeks before the 2016 election to women with whom he had extramarital affairs, and dangling pardons to officials willing to break the law to implement his inhumane immigration policies. 
As well as violations of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause. 
The merging of Trump's official duties and commercial interests is now so frequent that it has become as routine as his tweetstorms, witness the underwhelming response to the latest outrages -- that Vice President Pence stayed at Trump's Doonbeg resort hours away from his meetings in Dublin with Irish officials earlier this month and Air National Guard personnel stayed at the Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland in March when an Air Force plane stopped at a nearby airport to refuel at considerable expense on the way to Kuwait from the U.S. rather than at one of the military bases where it typically would lay over and taxpayer-funded fuel was cheaper. 
The New York Times further reports that since Trump became president, there have been thousands of visits to his properties, not only by Trump himself, but by foreign leaders, lobbyists, Republican candidates, members of Congress, cabinet members and others with ties to the president.  At least 90 members of Congress, 250 Trump administration officials and more than 110 foreign officials have been spotted at Trump properties since 2017, according to social media posts and counts by various watchdog groups. 
Meanwhile, five other congressional committees have been chipping away at other potentially impeachable acts, including getting Trump's tax returns, financial records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One, and his bizarrely secret interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who of course had much to do with him being president in the first place.  
In early August, with more than half of the 235 House Democrats on record as favoring impeachment, Nadler publicly declared that his committee had already launched impeachment proceedings although the full House has not voted to do so and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fearful of a backlash from the sheep grazing in their home district pastures, has stopped short of endorsing impeachment because it would be disruptive.  As opposed to Trump being disruptive.  Or something 
Nadler's claim sparked confusion, even if it was made to convince judges presiding over the deluge of litigation filed by the White House in defiance of congressional summonses of the urgency of providing Democrats with the substantial evidence they have been seeking but on-the-run Trump has tried to block at every turn. 
There are precedents for launching impeachment proceedings without a formal vote. 
In 1973, the Democrat-led Judiciary Committee did just that, putting in place staff to prepare for the possibility of impeachment following the "Saturday Night Massacre" when Nixon axed several Justice Department officials for refusing to fire the special counsel investigating his administration in the wake of the Watergate burglary and cover-up.  In 1998, the Republican-led Judiciary Committee did much the same in its perjury and obstruction of justice inquiry involving Bill Clinton stemming from the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones. 
As I have written, Trump is one truly sick dude, and his deterioration has been accelerating, witness Sharpiegate, which is outlasting the hurricane that prompted his latest buffoonish effort to cover his big ass.  
It can be argued that the proverbial banana peel that will bring Trump down is lurking around the next corner.  Or perhaps the corner after that.  And it also can be argued that Trump has never stood on his own, suckling on his father's fortune as a young businessman, then relying on dirty tactics, laundered money from Russian oligarchs and mobsters and carpet bombs of lies to survive.  Indeed, he may already have gone down, but is being propped up by the likes of Mick Mulvaney, Mitch "Moscow Mitch" McConnell, the NRA and Fox News.  
What is especially disturbing about all this is that Trump keeps finding new ways to weaponize his psychoses while Nadler, Pelosi and the still-large field of Democratic presidential wannabes chase their tails instead of Trump's. 
Yes, Trump is likely to lose in 2020, but impeachment just may be the banana peel we've been hoping and praying for.