Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Week in Review (Sept 3-9) and a Musical Sanity Break

by Nomad

Three stories dominated this week's news: Bob Woodward's expose on the Trump White House, the disastrous Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and the anonymous op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Monday seems to be the day in which everybody in Washington takes a deep breath and waits for the baseball-sized hail to begin pelting the rooftops. Nothing much seemed to happen so we will continue on to Tuesday.

The Kavanaugh "Sham"
Tuesday was unquestionably a historical day of political fireworks. Not the kind of display that makes audiences coo in awe. More like the kind that makes people shudder and grow red-faced in fury.
Even before the confirmation hearing began in the Senate on Tuesday morning, things got off to a rocky start. In question was the manner in which potentially-damaging information about the nominee was withheld from Senate committee members until the last minute. 

Democratic members objected to a last-minute "document dump" of some 42,000 pages of documents that members were not given an opportunity to read, review or analyze.
The hearings were called a "sham" and  “historically secretive and opaque.” Joining other members calling for the hearings to be delayed, California’s Democratic senator and former attorney general, Kamala Harris said 
"We cannot possibly move forward with this hearing."
But move forward, they did. Had Democrats marched out of the Senate, doubtlessly Republicans on the committee would have kept on truckin' in their absence.

Dinosaur Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa, who chaired the hearing, dismissed all criticism and pressed on unabated. He even asked at one point how much longer Democrats were prepared to argue about the proceedings and that he had no plan to change anything.

Suffice to say, things did not proceed smoothly. Here's how the Guardian described the scene:
A few moments into the hearing, Democrats on the Senate committee repeatedly interrupted the Republican chairman to demand an adjournment on the grounds of the late document dump. Requests denied. Chaos ensued as protesters in the room jumped up, waving women’s rights posters and screaming criticism of Kavanaugh and Trump. Seventy arrests were made during the morning inside and outside the hearing.
The questions at the hearings predictably flowed according to party lines, with Republicans singing Kavanaugh's praises and Dems grilling the nominee on his ultra-conservative positions on such contentious issues like abortion, civil rights, same-sex marriage, the constitutional limits on executive power and gun control.

On Wednesday, the charade continued with hours of intense questioning. Kavanaugh spent much time during the hearing not remembering things, declining to answer "hypotheticals"  dodging difficult subjects and generally stonewalling. 
Here is a highlight from Sen.Kamala Harris' questioning:

Polls showed that, despite Grassley's attitude that the Kavanaugh confirmation was something of a foregone conclusion, only 37% of voters say the Senate should vote to confirm Kavanaugh. Another 29% said the Senate should not confirm the nominee and another 34% were undecided.
It was no surprise to find that Republican voters thought Kavanaugh deserved a thumbs-up (67%) while 53% of Democrats thought the Senate should reject him.

Kavanaugh now faces a vote before the whole Senate, expected later this month. To confirm, the Republicans have a thin majority, with 51 of the 100 seats. The outcome could literally be determined by one or two votes crossing over party lines.

Justice Kavanaugh’s affirmation would be deemed a major triumph for the administration prior to the midterm elections in November. More importantly, adding Kavanaugh would likely push the ideology of the high court to the Right for the next 20 years on vital issues affecting millions of Americans.

By week's end, the Democrat Coalition had filed a criminal complaint for perjury against Bret Kavanaugh with the Dept. of Justice and will also file with the D.C. Circuit Court at the start of next week. In a historical irony, the judge who will review the case will be- none other than Justice Merrick Garland, the very man the Republicans refused to consider as a Supreme Court Justice.

Woodward's Unflattering Portrait
Meanwhile, excerpts from Bob Woodward's explosive new book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," were released and the shock waves were felt nationwide. The book paints the unflattering portrait of a leader who was "emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable." His administration is characterized in the book by "relentless infighting" and a "toxic" working environment.  

The book supports similar claims made in reporting found in Michael Wolff's “Fire and Fury,”   and former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman's “Unhinged.” Mr. Trump immediately dismissed the book as "another bad book" with "a lot of credibility problems." White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee called the two-time Pulitzer-prize winning author's book “nothing more than fabricated stories.” 
That's clearly a topic she is an authority on.

And what stories Woodward had to tell! There was the shocker about Trump's former top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, snatching a letter from Trump's desk to prevent the president from signing a US withdrawal from a trade pact made with South Korea. (Trump apparently never noticed, another comment on his inability to focus.)

The attitude, according to the book, among Trump's staff is that they are "protecting the country" by ruse and perfidy. Senior aides are facing an executive branch in the throes of a "nervous breakdown" necessitating an "administrative coup d'etat."

Other stories from the book alleged that Trump, in wild-eyed rant mode, ordered Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to assassinate Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, saying:
"Let's fucking kill him! Let's go in. Let's kill the fucking lot of them."
Upon leaving the Oval Office, Mattis simply ignored the president's order for a less lethal, less potentially catastrophic and more measured approach to foreign policy.
Since such a move could have led to unforeseen political and military consequences, Mattis' verdict was, without any question, the most prudent. But was disobeying the commander-in-chief grounds for a court-martial?

Woodward also reports that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, supposedly the most astute member of Trump's inner circle calling Trump "an idiot", depicting the president as "unhinged" and "off the rails."
Kelly was quoted in the book, saying
"We're in Crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had."
Coming from a man who commanded a task force in Baghdad, Samarra, and Tikrit, Kelly's "worst job" description of his White House gig speaks volumes.
The book is scheduled to be released in its entirety on 11 September, such an auspicious date is no coincidence.

Blam! and Gob-Smacking
Wednesday should definitely have come with "Blam!" warnings. Early that morning, it would have hard to imagine anything- short of an asteroid hitting a nuclear power plant during an earthquake- that could have forced the Kavanaugh hearings into the number two position on the Breaking News ticker. 

However, when the New York Times published its anonymous op-ed piece, that's exactly what happened. Reportedly penned by a senior Trump administration official, the article claims there is a so-called resistance "working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations." And it seems that all Trump's inclinations are his worst.

They are, the writer claims, fighting "to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office."
Gob-smacking, as the Brits say. 

The group, purports the writer, is quite happy with some of Trump's agenda, ("successes" and "bright spots") such as his policies on effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military. Yet, the president is his own worst enemy and his leadership style is "impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective."
Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
Trump's behavior is erratic but thanks to the "unsung heroes" in and around the White House, things would be more disastrous. 
The op-ed article went on to say:
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.
The article immediately set off a game of "Clue: The White House Edition." Was it Mattis? Was it Kelly? Or was it Mike Pence? Or Ivanka and Jared?

Even Trump- a man not known for his ability to silently reflect before taking action- ordered poor little tyke, Jeff Sessions use his elfish magic and uncover the identity of the author. Rosenstein, watch your back.

As absorbing as these disclosures and confessions might be, not everybody was reassured that these unelected staffers were essentially covering for a man who is both unfit for his position and a threat to the nation, indeed the world.
Is it really in the best interest of the nation to have unnamed bureaucrats effectively running operations?
As a columnist in the Wall Street Journal said:

The writer who dares not speak his own name is no hero.

This appears to be the consensus opinion. President Obama said in a speech on Friday, 
[T]he claim that everything will turn out OK because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren't following the President's orders, that is not a check – I'm being serious here – that's not how our democracy is supposed to work.

These people aren't elected. They're not accountable.They're not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that's coming out of this White House and then saying, Don't worry, we're preventing the other 10 percent. That's not how things are supposed to work. This is not normal.
But then, abnormal is quickly becoming Trump's trademarked brand.

Trump and the First Amendment
According to reports on Thursday, while watching disruptive demonstrators interrupting the Kavanaugh hearings, suggested that protesting should be illegal. He reportedly said that it was "embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don't even know what side the protesters are on."

In addition, in a tweet, the president also called for NBC to lose its broadcast license.
"I have long criticized NBC and their journalistic standards-worse than even CNN. Look at their license? 
It's not the first time that Trump has made such a demand. He said the same thing when the news outlet broadcasted claims that his then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Trump "a moron." It was pointed out at that time that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which regulates broadcasting is an independent agency, would be beyond White House control.

A Voice of Sanity
On Friday, former president Barack Obama delivered a stunning speech at Illinois University. Nomads took comfort from the sensible words of a familiar friend. It was a much-needed reminder of what a sane president actually sounds like.

He told the crowd:
That's the story of America, a story of progress. Fitful progress, incomplete progress, but progress. And that progress wasn't achieved by just a handful of famous leaders making speeches.
It was won because of countless quiet acts of heroism and dedication by citizens, by ordinary people, many of them not much older than you. It was won because rather than be bystanders to history, ordinary people fought and marched and mobilized and built and, yes, voted to make history.
Here are some other highlights.

And what was Trump's response to Obama's speech? He dismissed Mr. Obama’s speech as boring.
“I’m sorry, I watched it, but I fell asleep. I found he’s very good, very good for sleeping.”
This week, Obama announced that he planned to aggressively campaign on behalf of Democratic candidates in the mid-terms. That marks a change of strategy for Obama who has largely stayed away from the campaign trail. (Unlike Trump, who would rather run for president than be president.)

With legitimate fears of a blue wave in 2018, Obama's planned participation cannot be good news for Republicans, saddled with a president more unpopular than any president in modern history coupled with a Congress with a mere 17% approval rating.

So that's what the week of September 3-9 looked like. In a word, a single word, how would you describe the events of the week? 

A Musical Healing Moment
A fine mix of indy folk, personally selected by Nomad. Just think of it as a bubble bath for your mind.

The playlist consists of:

  1.  Mipso - People Change
  2.  Tom Leeb - Are We Too Late 
  3.  The LumineersDead Sea 
  4.  Ray LaMontagne - Such a Simple Thing
  5.  Tall Heights - Learn Again
  6.  Vikki Gilmore - Empty Past
  7.  The National - About Today
  8.  Peter Bradley Adams - The Longer I Run
  9.  Judah & the Lion - Only To Be With You
  10.  Gregory Alan Isakov - That Moon Song
  11.  Elmore - One Man Town
  12.  Taywood - Time Waits For No One
  13.  Amber Run - 5AM
  14.  Lord Huron - The Night We Met

Have a great Sunday, friends.