Remember Benghazi?

January 16, 2019

I refer to a deplorable attack by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya during which four U.S. citizens were killed. That atrocity occurred in September 2012, just over 6 years ago.

Today (January 16, 2019) — just a month after President Donald Trump declared that the Islamic State had been defeated and that he was pulling U.S. troops out of Syria — a suicide bombing in northern Syria attributed to the Islamic State killed at least 16 people, including two U.S. service members and two American civilians.

About four hours after this vicious attack by Islamic Militants – and after having been briefed on the bombing — Vice President Mike Pence told the world, “Thanks to the leadership of this commander in chief and the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces, we are now actually able to begin to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners. And we are bringing our troops home. The caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated.”

Cold? Callous? Confused? Disconnected?

Even some senior Republican elected officials have pushed back on this mess, warning President Trump that his statements have served to encourage and inspire ‘the enemy we’re fighting.’

Back to Benghazi: At two years and four months, Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi investigation was longer than previous Congressional probes into 9/11; Watergate; the JFK assassination; and Pearl Harbor. Add to that time wasted: the $22 Million of public money spent in a clearly partisan attempt to “get” former Secretary Clinton, it must have been deeply disappointing to those who backed Gowdy when they read the final report which found no evidence of wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton.

Lessons Learned: Despite the temptation, let us be sure to tell our elected officials in Washington:  Please don’t waste any scarce government resources investigating the direct impact of President Trump’s actions on the January 16, 2019 Islamic State fatal attack on innocent people in northern Syria.

Trump does what he is told, and there is no reason to investigate what we already know.

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The Winning December Tale

December 21, 2018

Not to be outdone by venerable sources such as Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe and Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone), President Donald Trump and his loyal sycophants — Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway — have created a number of fabulous and fantastic episodes for December 2018.  We have endeavored to select the very best for your enjoyment tonight:

The Tale of A Shutdown

December 11, 2018:  Nationally televised from The Oval Office:

“I am proud to shut down the government…I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not gonna blame you for it.”

  • Donald J. Trump (speaking to Sen. Chuck Schumer)

December 17, 2018:  Bloomberg News:

Among those who have opposed Trump’s wall proposal is Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd, whose district is along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Among other observations, Hurd said that the response time from the border patrol on issues of illegal immigration is hours to days, making a border wall a waste of money because a wall is no obstacle if the response time is that slow.

  • Will Hurd, (R) TX

December 19, 2018:  Nationally broadcast on CBS News:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on the Senate floor Wednesday that he’ll introduce a short-term spending bill to fund the government into early February, and one of the president’s top aides suggested earlier in the day Mr. Trump may be amenable to that.

“We need the government to remain open for the American people,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and presumptive incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced their support for the legislation as well, paving a path to avert a shutdown.

Pelosi said in a statement, “Democratic and Republican appropriators have been ready to pass these bills in a bipartisan way, and we are grateful for their leadership to meet the needs of the American people. This is a missed opportunity to pass full-year funding bills now. However, Democrats will be ready to fully, responsibly fund our government in January, and we will support this continuing resolution.”

  • McConnell, Schumer, Pelosi

December 20, 2018:  Nationally televised on “The Ingraham Angle” (Fox News):

“I think that not funding the wall is going to go down as one of the worst, worst things to have happened to this administration. Forget Mueller. The wall, the wall, the wall. Has to be built. And it’s a scandal that it hasn’t been built.”

  • Laura Ingraham

December 21, 2018:  Broadcast via Twitter from @realDonaldTrump:

“The Democrats, whose votes we need in the Senate, will probably vote against Border Security and the Wall even though they know it is DESPERATELY NEEDED. If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time. People don’t want Open Borders and Crime!”

  • Donald J. Trump

December 21, 2018: 

It seems clear that Donald J. Trump and his loyal sycophants have created another alternative reality in their attempt to destroy the foundation of American democracy, and Vladimir Putin is very, very happy!

Since Donald J. Trump announced his candidacy for president in June 2015, there have been many commentaries on his financial history — particularly because he has refused to release his tax returns.

In 2016, David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner of The New York Times obtained Trump’s 1995 tax returns, and for their article published on the front page of The New York Times on October 3, 2018, they worked together for over a year to investigate the wealth that the president inherited from his father.

The narrative in the NY Times investigative piece is compelling.

Like most rules and regulations, U.S. tax law assumes that people will voluntarily comply in the interest of equity and fairness across the board.  If the laws are not fair, they should be amended, not circumvented.

Having worked in the real estate and financial services industry for many years, I am familiar with many of the strategies exposed in the article, particularly the rather arbitrary and capricious use of independent appraisals to determine market value at a point in time.

Where many — if not most — wealthy families and individuals pay their fair share of taxes (perhaps grudgingly), the Trump family has notoriously and conspicuously fought against taxing authorities, continually challenging assessments and levies as a part of their overall family business plan.

Note a recent kerfuffle in Westchester County, NY where a Trump National Golf Club is located.

With a 65,000 square foot club house, private gourmet restaurant, swimming pool, tennis pavilion and courts, the 18-hole, 7,261 yard Jim Fazio designed course is situated on 140+ acres of prime real estate in the Town of Ossining, NY.

This ultra-exclusive private club demands a hefty 5-figure initiation fee from new members, with minimum annual dues of $19,400.

In his 2017 Executive Branch Personal Financial Disclosure Report (filed 6/14/2017), Donald Trump revealed the value of his ownership interest in Trump National Golf Club – Westchester at ‘over $50,000,000.’ with annual personal income attributable to the Club of $9,771,428.

Yet, in 2015, the Trump Organization sued the town of Ossining to lower its assessment from the 2014 value of $13.5 Million to $1.4 Million in order to reduce property and school taxes.

After the feud with Ossining became public, Trump’s lawyers raised the dollar value of the golf course, but it was still nowhere near the official 2015 assessment of $14.3 million and 2016 assessed value of $15.1 million.

The moves are consistent with repeated efforts by the Trump Organization to challenge property valuations in an effort to win massive local property tax reductions, not to mention the potentially illicit impacts on federal, state and local income tax obligations which in many cases are directly linked to these local assessments (valuations).

Over the past several years, Trump has lauded himself as “one of the most successful businessmen in the world,” who paid “no more tax than legally required.”

“I have brilliantly used [the U.S. tax] laws,” Trump said at a campaign event in October 2016. “I was able to use the tax laws of this country, and my business acumen, to dig out of the real estate mess — you would call it a depression — when few others were able to do what I did.”

It was a reported $916 Million net operating loss in 1995 which gave Trump the ability to avoid paying taxes on more than $50 Million in annual taxable income over the following 18 years.

Make America Great Again? Only if others are willing to cough up the tax revenues needed to pay the freight.

I have reviewed some of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s judicial decisions; I’ve read some of his legal opinions; and I listened to some of the testimony he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee in early September.

My limited research led me to conclude that Judge Kavanaugh supports highly subjective views on the 2nd Amendment; on women’s reproductive rights; and on the executive power of the presidency.

Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee shed new light on his published positions, as well on his devotion to President Trump and Trump’s political agenda.

Judge Kavanaugh is quite personable and well-spoken, yet I believe his positions are not in keeping with the mores of American society.  His responses to many of the difficult but seemingly fair questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were evasive and ambiguous.

Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump in July 2018, drawn from a carefully vetted list of conservative jurists compiled by the Federalist Society, following Trump’s campaign promise that his judicial nominees would all be picked by the Federalist Society, an ultra-conservative legal organization.

Our nation is currently at a crossroads, possibly at or near a similar state which preceded the Civil War.

It is not slavery that divides us today.  What divides us today is petty political divisiveness, exacerbated by special interest groups which operate behind the curtain, seeking to gain economic and political power over their opponents.

Our next Supreme Court Justice ought not to be an ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative individual.  People who lean heavily left or right might attempt to institute abrupt changes to our legal order.

Abrupt change is both dangerous and disruptive, and has the potential to create political paralysis, or worse.

We recently began to hear talk of the ‘Deep State’ – an invisible but powerful alliance of career bureaucrats; officials who sit in powerful positions; and who serve through multiple presidential administrations.

Candidates for elected positions in the U.S. seem to often campaign on the abrupt and transformational changes they will institute on “Day One.”

Conspiracy theorists whisper innuendo accusing career public servants of creating obstacles to enact abrupt change, turning career public servants into natural enemies of those officials who are elected on their “Day One” promises.

Conspiracy theorists whisper innuendo accusing these career public servants of creating obstacles to enact abrupt change.

Career public servants often advocate for research and planning; for using historic data and experience to predict future outcomes; for upgrades to systems and infrastructure to improve data security and data integrity.

In the end, Presidents come and go, every 4 years, or so.  Supreme Court justices serve a lifetime appointment.

Supreme Court justices should be politically neutral, above the fray of partisan politics.  The future of our nation is at stake.

Change is both necessary and inevitable.  Abrupt and unplanned change could result in a good outcome; history tells us that it is much more likely to result in catastrophic result.

“We Fed an Island”

September 15, 2018

While U.S. President Trump continues to blame the people of Puerto Rico and their elected local leadership for delays, inefficiencies and various failures in the response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (2017), Trump is lavish with praise for the wonderful response by his administration.

“I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” Mr. Trump said.  “I actually think it is one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”

Meanwhile, other sources do not agree with President Trump’s assessment.

One of the true unsung heroes involved in the Island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria is José Andrés, a chef and restaurateur who helped organize others from the food industry to form a veritable army comprised of both professionals and volunteers to feed residents, medical professionals and other disaster response workers.

A year after the initial response to Maria began, José Andrés has released a book reflecting on his experiences and lessons learned from the disaster response.

This article from the Washington Post describes his passion and introduces the book in a manner I wish I was able:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/jose-andress-riveting-we-fed-an-island-calls-for-a-revolution-in-disaster-relief/2018/09/05/b126d766-ad70-11e8-b1da-ff7faa680710_story.html?utm_term=.df529f66adc0

Constitutional Conflicts

August 11, 2018

We frequently hear from advocates of the 1st amendment, the 2nd amendment, the 4th amendment, et al.

We don’t often hear about one of the key concerns of our ‘Founding Fathers’, perhaps best voiced by James Madison who said, “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”

Indeed.

Madison and his colleagues made sure that one of the basic precepts of the U.S. Constitution was to ensure a separation of powers enforced through a series of checks and balances to prevent a single person (or branch of the federal government) from becoming too powerful, thus thwarting the potential for fraud, self-aggrandizement and to encourage timely correction of errors or omissions.

The system of checks and balances is intended to act as a circuit breaker over the separation of powers, balancing the authorities of the separate branches of government.

It assumes honest and impartial actions by each department charged with the responsibility to verify the appropriateness and legality of actions initiated by the others.

Never before Donald Trump have we had a senior elected federal official who refused to disclose the details of his finances.  And, in U.S. history there has never been a president for whom it was more important that we know the details of his finances.

Trump has a well-documented history as an incompetent and perhaps corrupt businessman. After election, he refused to divest himself of his holdings, providing an open window of opportunities for bad people to entice him – and his family – with unimaginable advantages.  Why?  Trump’s income comes from an incredibly complex web of companies that are impossible for outside observers to comprehend.

We know from public information that the Trump Organization is not just one company, but a very complex assemblage of pass-through entities.  In a March 2016 letter from his tax lawyers, Donald Trump’s financial situation is described as “inordinately large and complex for an individual” because he holds “interests as the sole or principal owner in approximately 500 separate entities (which) are collectively referred to and do business as The Trump Organization.”

Now, more than 18 months after Trump was inaugurated, The Trump Organization continues to bring in money from deals involving potentially questionable characters and foreign governments possibly looking to influence POTUS. We have no idea who his partners in those hundreds of pass-through companies are, and whether they might have compromising information on him.

How can it be that we have allowed Mr. Trump to get away with keeping his tax returns secret?

Why?

Members of Congress have abdicated their role as arbiters of Executive Branch ethics by refusing to demand release of current (2014 – 2017) business and personal federal income tax returns from Donald Trump, The Trump Organization, and any relevant and/or related entities.

We can only conclude that this is clear evidence of dereliction of duty by these officials whom we elected to represent the interests of the American people.

Economically and financially competent American voters must demand full and immediate disclosure of current tax returns by senior elected officials, particularly at the executive and legislative level.

If they who wish to serve don’t wish to disclose, they shouldn’t run for public office.

If they who are elected refuse to disclose, they should automatically be removed from public office.

No exceptions. No excuses.

Those who are schooled in the techniques of propaganda will always frustrate those of us who rely on facts and logic to arrive at informed conclusions.

Those who possess a rudimentary understanding of how propaganda works can have a rather profound effect on public opinion.

Those who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat the mistakes which were made in the past.

Senator Joseph McCarthy was an American politician who served as U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957.  McCarthy rose to national prominence in the early 1950’s by initiating a probe to ferret out communists holding prominent positions in both the public and private sectors. During his investigations, safeguards promised by the Constitution were trampled.

An atmosphere of fear of world domination by communists hung over America in the post-WWII years:  fears of a nuclear holocaust based on detonation of an Atomic Bomb by the USSR in 1949;  the transition of China – the world’s most populist nation – to communism; and the effective control of half of Europe by the Stalin regime.

McCarthy picked up on national paranoia and relentlessly told his story that communist spies were everywhere and that he was America’s only salvation.

McCarthy was never elected to the Presidency, yet his leadership as head of the Senate Committee on Government Operations gave him the platform from which to launch an investigation which derailed and/or ruined the careers of thousands of public and private sector professionals.

McCarthy created a carefully manufactured series of situations and events which provided the foundation for his quest to distract the attention of a majority of the American public to focus away from the big picture toward his personal animus toward communist intrusion.

One of his techniques involved throwing Congress ‘under the bus.’  He publicly cited “..the graft, the corruption, the dishonesty, the disloyalty, the treason in high Government positions” as a critical ingredient in failure of government to protect “the 140,000,000 American people” from the “cloak of numbness and apathy” and offered to supply his spark to rekindle their passions.

McCarthy’s Reign of Terror lasted almost 5 years, until Senate leadership introduced resolutions in late 1954 to censure McCarthy for ‘behavior contrary to Senate traditions’.

On December 2, 1954, the U.S. Senate voted 65 to 22 to condemn McCarthy for “conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute”.

The McCarthy saga ought to provide an historical reference to the dangers of allowing a passionate and eloquent person who has perfected some of the powerful tools and techniques of propaganda to take the American people on a wild and crazy ride toward ruin.

What is most distressing to me is the willingness of congress to allow such egregious behavior to continue unchallenged:  in the 1950’s for almost 5 years; in the 2010’s for over 2 years.

Sixty plus years later, it seems that Donald Trump is using some of the Joseph McCarthy techniques to distract us away from the real issues at hand.

Trump has perfected the art of propaganda, using a myriad of techniques which were refined over the course of the 20th century.

Trump’s particular expertise is in an arena often referred to as ‘authoritarian’ or ‘totalitarian’ propaganda, a form of communication where a would-be leader offers a simple narrative which explains the root causes of pain groups of people feel, while concurrently providing a simple solution to remove the pain.

The offered reasons for the pain (and problems) point toward another group (or groups) working in conspiracy with corrupt politicians. (“Drain the Swamp”  “Lock Her Up”  “Make America Great Again”  “It’s The Immigrants”  “Build A Wall”)

The solution is very simple:  Join the New Team; Elect the Would-Be Leader; and the problems will be solved through elimination of the corrupt politicians and their entrenched groups.

The constant repetition of the simple message helps get it accepted, and it ensures a loyal and stable base.

The repeatedly false claims that Trump made during his campaign — ‘crime is at record highs, the economy is in decline, Obama has killed jobs, the military is a disaster, an international conspiracy is behind it all’ –and so on—are immune to disproof by presentation of actual facts. During his campaign, Trump created a fictional world too compelling to be weakened by reality.

Why do groups of people buy into such fictions?

Is it ‘groupthink’? A mass desire to escape from the reality of change? Or some other emotional variable?

What gives authoritarian propaganda its magnetism is the promise to fully reveal the previously secret dealings of those ‘swamp creatures’ who formerly called the rules of the game.

What such propaganda fails to reveal is the replacement of one set of entrenched swamp creatures with an entirely new – mostly inexperienced – cadre of fresh swamp dwellers.

“Those elected members of congress who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat the mistakes which were made in the past.”

Today, I watched and listened to a significant portion of the Congressional hearing involving FBI agent Peter Strzok.

I believe this Spanish Inquisition model was perfected by Rep. Trey Gowdy during his multi-year ‘Joseph McCarthy-inspired’ Benghazi investigation.

I also believe that the needs and rights of the American people are being completely ignored by members of Congress who follow this Model, seemingly fully deaf and blind to the needs and rights of the American people.

Trey Gowdy gained a national stage when he took charge of the Benghazi committee in the spring of 2014, prior to which there had already been seven (7) previous House and Senate investigations (plus an internal review by the State Department) into the conditions surrounding the terrible attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia.

The Benghazi incident took place in September 2012 when attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and 3 other Americans.

Gowdy’s Select Committee on Benghazi consumed significant amounts of American resources, yet it yielded nothing that was not already known.

Today’s performances by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (backed up by Rep. Trey Gowdy) would be worthy of Tony Award nominations had they taken place within a Broadway show.

Although they were not performing on Broadway, they did help to inspire a vicious and highly partisan attack on Mr. Strzok, both professionally and personally.

I am an American citizen, property owner and voter who has become completely disillusioned by the increasingly malignant infestation of our legislative bodies by individuals who seem to be motivated by evil intent, and who further seem to be unwilling and unable to adhere to the commonly acknowledged rules of decorum.

This charade — publicly attacking Peter Strzok, a man who has an exemplary 20+ year history of service protecting and supporting the U.S. Constitution — is completely out of context.

If Strzok is a traitor or is guilty of some heinous crime, that should be determined behind the scenes, perhaps by a Grand Jury.

There is no excuse for a committee of the Congress to attempt to publicly eviscerate and excoriate a sworn federal agent who has proven his willingness and ability to protect the best interests of American citizens while upholding the U.S. Constitution.