Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Donald J. Trump Disrespects Veterans; Disrespects Europe; Disrespects Democracy

Watching TV coverage of President Trump's first foreign trip, I was reminded of Casey Stengel's question during his first season with the newly-formed NY Mets: "Can't anyone here play this game?"

Apparently the answer is "no."

If we were dealing with simple incompetence, that would be alarming enough. But we seem to be dealing with something worse - actual malice toward Europe and toward democracy.

But there is also incompetence of a particular kind. An astonishing unwillingness to recognize reality.

What is said at official international meetings is important. There is both the substantive importance - the content of the statements; and there is a kind of ritual importance that may count for more.

Trump's refusal to reiterate the continued commitment of the United States to Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty - at a meeting that unveiled a monument to 9/11, which is the first and only time NATO ever invoked Article Five - was a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to our allies.

Coming on the eve of Memorial Day, it was also a statement of disrespect to the brave Americans and Allies who invaded at Normandy, at Italy and in the South of France in 1944, fought their way across Europe, reestablished democracy. It reflected disrespect for the sustained defense of democracy in Europe.

What the president said (and didn't say) and the way he said it reflected not only disdain for NATO, disdain for democracy, but also immense ignorance of how international security is managed on a day to day basis.

Oh, by the way, he also doesn't understand the first thing about international trade. I'll offer a hint - we have flexible exchange rates and flexible markets. One result is that bilateral trade balances are meaningless. He doesn't understand that.

He doesn't understand a lot of things.

Why doesn't someone on his staff explain these things?

I wondered about that. Especially since the National Security appointments are universally viewed as an order of magnitude more knowledgeable than the civilian appointees. So I looked up the bios of the generals appointed to these positions.

What I learned is that none of Trump's "brilliant" generals has any substantive knowledge about Europe, about Russia, about China, about East Asia, about Latin America, or about Africa. All they know is Central Asia. I don't even see evidence that they have any particular knowledge about Iran.

This is not good.

It means that it is almost impossible for anyone to brief the president on issues in the rest of the world.

On top of that, our journalists have very limited access to the government leaders in those parts of the world, because many foreign bureaus have been closed. As a result, Americans find themselves largely cut off from information about the outside world.

Last week Germany took the hint and decided to lead Europe in its own direction. France had already repudiated Russian attempts to interfere with her elections.

Last year's House of Cards included an episode where a character said, "the president IS the people around him."

We are just beginning to learn who some of the people around Trump are. Not promising.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trump And NATO - Making The World Safe For Democracy

A century ago last month, President Woodrow Wilson announced the entry of the United States into World War I "to make the world safe for democracy."

Wilson might have made the announcement as early as January of 1917, except for one thing - the world's most oppressive autocrat - the Tsar of Russia - was a key member of the alliance against Germany and Austria. But then on March 8, 1917  the Russian people overthrew the Tsar and established a parliamentary government.

After that, Wilson wasted little time entering the war against Germany, whose submarines were destroying unarmed and neutral American merchant ships on the high seas.

Wilson declared a number of aspirational goals, spelling some out in his famous Fourteen Points. Among them: "Open covenants openly arrived at;" (no more secret treaties); "National self determination,"

The commitments to democracy and to national self determination proved to have a powerful positive influence on allied efforts against the Central Powers. That effect may well have been more powerful than the vast influx of arms and men to the Western Front.

Thus, Democracy was one of the most effective weapons for the allies and continued to be effective in negotiating the peace. We should never forget that.

What did Wilson mean by democracy? Holding elections was not enough. He meant countries that governed themselves.

Wilson's biggest disappointment was his failure to persuade Republicans to support the League of Nations. That failure to involve the United States in the proposed collective security measure at least contributed to the outbreak of World War II.

Seeing that war on the horizon, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill tried again with the North Atlantic Charter in 1941. That charter became the foundation of the United Nations. The centerpiece: commitment to democracy and to national self determination.

At the time of the Charter, many observers of the international scene thought that authoritarian dictatorships were the wave of the future. Among those observers was Charles Lindbergh and his fellow members of the America First Movement. The Atlantic Charter declared otherwise:

The eight principal points of the Charter were:
  1. no territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;
  2. territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned;
  3. all people had a right to self-determination;
  4. trade barriers were to be lowered;
  5. there was to be global economic cooperation and advancement of social welfare;
  6. the participants would work for a world free of want and fear;
  7. the participants would work for freedom of the seas;
  8. there was to be disarmament of aggressor nations, and a post-war common disarmament.

Four years later, when our soldiers, sailors and airmen returned from the war, we all recognized the outcome reflected the triumph of democracy over authoritarian dictatorships. Over the following decades, we did our best (and largely succeeded) to extend the reach of democracy in the world.

This week in Brussels, President Donald J. Trump abandoned that effort.

This is a tragedy and an outcome up with which we should not put (to borrow from Churchill's observation about dangling prepositions.)

As we approach Memorial Day, please remember that many Americans have dedicated their adult lives to the defense of democracy. They have never sworn personal loyalty to any president (thanks to the foresight of our founders), but have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution, to which our loyalty belongs.

This is our oath to democracy.

Let's renew our global effort to defend democracy.

Friday, May 19, 2017

How To Keep Up With Trump News? - There's Just No Way

I've been trying to follow the daily, hourly, and by the minute bombshells out of the White House - just can't keep up.

I do remember Watergate, though, so maybe I can guess what's coming. As the Farmer's ad says: "I know a thing or two because I've seen a thing or two.

Here's what we can look forward to:

1. Government paralysis: hundreds of senior government positions are vacant because Trump has not yet nominated them - appointments won't get easier;

2. International paralysis: we often forget how many international crises happened during Watergate  - what I remember is how hard it was to get the attention of the White House:
  • 1972 -
— June - Watergate break in'
— October 8 Kissinger meets with the North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho in Paris for peace talks to end the Vietnam War, and initially the talks go well.
— October 18 President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam rejects the proposed Paris peace agreement, complaining that Kissinger had not consulted him.
— December 17 Paris peace talks break down.
— December 18 Nixon orders "Christmas Bombings" against North Vietnam following the breakdown in the Paris peace talks.
  • 1973 -
— 27 January Paris Peace Accords ends the American war in Vietnam; POW's returned in March.
— October 6 October War begins with a surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria. The U.S. supports Israel while the Soviet Union supports Egypt and Syria.
— October 12 Nixon orders Operation Nickel Grass, a major American effort to supply Israel with weapons to make good the IDF's heavy initial losses.
— October 20 Arab oil embargo led by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia against the U.S and other Western nations begins as punishment for support of Israel. The oil embargo sparks major inflation in the United States.
— October 24 The Soviet Union announces that it sent will troops to Egypt, which in turn leads Kissinger to warn that the United States will sent troops to fight the Soviet forces deployed to Egypt. Nixon places the United States military on DEFCON 3, one of the highest states of alert. The Soviets back down.
— October 25 A ceasefire brokered by the U.S and the Soviet Union ends the October War.
— January 18 Under an American disengagement plan negotiated by Kissinger, Israeli forces pull back from the Suez Canal.
— March 17 Arab oil embargo against the West ends.
__ August 8 Nixon resigns.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Memo To Voters: Don't Elect A Person Who Declares "I Alone Can Fix It"

So how many classified documents were found on Hillary Clinton's e-mail server? Actually, none were found. At least none that were marked classified.

About three documents were found that certain agencies contended after the fact contained classified information. Assuming for a minute that the judgment was correct, whose fault was that?

The rules for handling classified material aren't necessarily cut and dried, but one thing is perfectly clear: classification of any document  is the responsibility of the originator, not the recipient. In other words, if an improperly classified document was found in Hillary Clinton's possession, and she did not originate the document, she would not have been guilty of any infraction.

Congressional investigators have completely obfuscated that issue. I believe Jim Comey did so as well.

Just saying.

Are there any Patriots in the Republican Party?

Gobsmacked. There's no other word to describe my reaction to Trump's latest assertion of the power to disclose intelligence information from other countries to the Russians. And to do it from the hip.

This is just one more example of Trump's apparent belief that he was elected emperor or dictator. No wonder he likes the Russians so much. Before the 1917 revolution, Russian Tsars ruled by issuing decrees (Ukase) on any subject they wanted to. Putin follows similar procedures, even to the point of having his opponents assassinated.

So when Donald J. Trump tweets that he has the "absolute right" to declassify anything he wants to, that sounds an awful lot like the assertion of an absolute monarch. He apparently is under the impression that there are no limits to his power.

That isn't in keeping with our patriotic traditions.

There is a reason that officers of the United States swear to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States," rather than an oath of loyalty to the president.

We also had an early dispute over how to address the president. An early candidate phrase was "Your Highness." That didn't fly. Quite rightly.

Every day in every way we learn yet again that when other candidates declared Donald J. Trump unfit to serve as president, they were absolutely correct.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Some Thoughts On Firing Comey

Sources of confusion. Press reports are that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein threatened to resign unless Trump backed off on the assertion that he fired Comey based on recommendations by Rosenstein and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to fire the FBI director. So what is that about, since all of the TV commentators read the Rosenstein memorandum as making such a recommendation?

According to the Washington Post, Trump had decided to fire Comey ahead of time and then called Sessions and Rosenstein to the White House on Monday May 8th and directed them to put in writing the reasons for firing Comey. They complied.

But Rosenstein, an experienced Justice Department official, DID NOT INCLUDE IN HIS MEMO A RECOMMENDATION TO FIRE COMEY!

So Rosenstein had every right to object when Trump claimed in writing that he was only following Rosenstein's recommendation. He had carefully followed the president's direction and put in writing some reasons to fire Comey but he did not make the recommendation to do so.

My reading is that Trump, unfamiliar and contemptuous of the ways of career government officials, totally missed the subtlety of Rosenstein's memo. Apparently Trump was in such a big hurry that he did not ask anyone familiar with government to review Rosenstein's memo.

Anyone with experience in government would have spotted what Rosenstein did. More evidence that Trump is not competent to govern. But we already knew that.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Deja Vu All Over Again

I'm not a great admirer of FBI Director Comey. I think he acted wrongly on the Clinton e-mail matter. But I don't think those actions had anything to do with his firing.

I also don't think Sally Yates' decision about Trump's first immigration order had anything to do with her firing.

This is about Russia.

Let's get this straight! Our democracy is under attack.

It is under attack by the Republican Party, whose leaders demonstrate contempt for democracy.

It is under attack by Russia, whose leader, Vladimir Putin, despises democracy..

I have seen some such attacks before.

My wife and I were in Washington DC during Watergate.

I knew some of the players in the White House, in the Congress, in the Department of State and in the Pentagon.

But it was a different time.

I have learned some things recently about ties between the Brexit campaign, Russian hacking, Steve Bannon, Bannon's billionaire sponsors in the Mercer family and extraordinary computer technology to target specific voters with particular false news reports.

These same techniques were used to get the UK out of the European Union, satisfying a major goal of Vladimir Putin. The same techniques were used in our 2016 presidential election, and succeeded in electing Donald Trump. I suspect the same techniques have been used in US elections to state and congressional offices over the past eight years.

The same techniques were used last Sunday in France, but it didn't work. They will probably be used in this summer's elections in Germany.

Now the deputy White House spokeswoman urges that the Russia investigation be ended.

A hundred years ago last month, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany "To make the world safe for democracy."

Our democracy in 1917 was flawed. Women could not yet vote. Blacks could not yet vote in most of the country. Unions had few rights. We still had child labor. And on and on. But over the next 80 years we worked hard to make our democracy better. And we spread democracy across the industrial world.

This plainly did not impress our billionaire class. Like the bandits in "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre," they don't need no stinkin' investigations.

Since the presidential campaign of 2000 and the case of Bush v. Gore, our democracy has been subjected to one attack after another.

It is time to fight back.

Follow the bodies.

Only we ourselves can defend democracy from its enemies.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Vive La France!

I certainly breathed a sigh of relief at the outcome of the French election for president.

I only regret that I don't have a tricolor to fly from our front porch in recognition of France's dedication to Democracy and to Europe. The UK has abandoned the cause of Europe and has largely abandoned politics to the Tories.

France still stands as a champion of democracy in Europe.

Some years ago I posted other celebrations of the actions of French citizens in the face of tragedy. For example, after Charlie Hebdo: and

Now we have a subsequent election in the aftermath of several episodes of terrorism in France - a clear choice between a candidate dedicated to improving Europe against a candidate committed to erecting barriers and withdrawing from the EU and from NATO.

But French voters stood up for freedom and for Europe.

Vive la France!