Friday, December 21, 2018

Can and Will the 116th Congress Override a Presidential Veto?

     Donald Trump will not sign a CR or a budget bill unless it contains billions of dollars to build his wall.  And the government is about to be shutdown.  House Speaker Ryan didn't have the gumption to put the CR up for a vote.  Instead he sent a bill to the Senate which contains the billions of dollars Trump demands for his wall.  The Senate will not pass Ryan's bill.  And the government will shutdown.
     Incoming House Speaker Pelosi can't wait until Jan 3rd to retake the gavel!  Once the 116th Congress is in session, Pelosi, Schumer and McConnell might negotiate and reach a settlement, but I doubt that it will contain the billions of dollars Trump demands to build his wall.  Sooner or later, McConnell will have to stand up to Trump.  And I believe the majority of Republicans in the Senate will follow his lead. 
     In the House, I believe House Speaker Pelosi will be able to pass a CR or budget bill.  And when Trump vetoes the bill, I believe Pelosi will be able to convince 53 of the remaining 198 Republicans to override Trump's veto.
Schumer and McConnell will have the necessary votes to override Trump's veto as well. Wishful thinking? Maybe.... Let governance begin!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Fifth Risk

The Fifth Risk is the fourth political book about Donald Trump that I have read and reviewed this year.  The first book was Michael Wolf's Fire and Fury about the infighting in Trump's White House.  The second book was Craig Unger's House of Trump, House of Putin about Trump's business dealings with the Russian Mafia.  The third book was Bob Woodward's  Fear:  Trump in the White House in which Woodward gives the reasons why Americans have to fear while Trump is still in the White House.  The fourth book, The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, is the scariest one of them all.  This book is all about the transition of power from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration––or specifically, the lack of transition.

One of the people Lewis interviewed for his book was John MacWilliams, Chief Risk Officer at the Department of Energy (DOE).  MacWilliams had made a list of the biggest risks in the DOE that the incoming Trump Administration would face.  And he was prepared to spend weeks briefing them to make sure they were aware of the biggest risks. But nobody showed up to be briefed.  Lewis quotes MacWilliams:  "There are things you want to know that would keep you up at night.  And I never talked to anyone about them."

MacWilliams informed Lewis of the five biggest risks within the Department of Energy:

A Broken Arrow, the term for an accident with nuclear weapons, is on the top of the list.  We have had nuclear accidents before, but so far safety mechanisms have prevented disaster.

North Korea.  MacWilliams said that there were signs that the risk of an attack from North Korea was increasing, and not necessarily a nuclear attack at that; it could be a chemical attack.

Iran is somewhere in the top five of the biggest risks.  The Iran deal approved under Obama was designed by scientists in such a way that, with absolute certainty, prevented Iran from building a nuclear weapon without our knowledge.  MacWilliams emphasized that Iran building a nuclear weapon was not the risk.  The risk was that "the President of the United States would not understand his nuclear scientists' reasoning about the unlikelihood of the Iranians obtaining a weapon, and that he would have the United States back away foolishly from the deal." And that is what happened!

The Electrical Grid.  MacWilliams said that the safety of the nation's electrical grid was high on the list of risks since the electrical grid was extremely vulnerable.  He placed electricity on the necessity scale as equal to food and water.

The Fifth Risk:  Lewis and MacWilliams discussed  risks in general and then agreed that the risk we should most fear is not the risk that we can easily imagine.  It is the risk that we don't.  And when Lewis asked MacWilliams what the fifth risk was, all MacWilliams said was "Project management."

The blurb on the flap of the dustjacket of The Fifth Risk begins with a question that says it all:  "What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?  Compound that risk by the fact that nobody seemed to care.  They would run the government like a business!

Donald Trump did not feel he needed to have a transition team.  And he certainly did not want to spend any money funding it!  He even said to Chris Christie,  who volunteered to be Transition Chief, "Chris, you and I are so smart that we can leave the victory party two hours early and do the transition ourselves."  But that did not happen.  What did happen was Christie was fired as Transition Chief, reportedly by Jared Kushner.  Moreover, Christie's entire transition team of 300 people were dismissed as well.

Outgoing President Barack Obama was very pleased with the orderly transition that President George Bush had arranged for all the government departments.
And he planned on giving incoming President Donald Trump an orderly transition as well.  That did not happen.  Obama's people were ready and waiting to give Trump's people detailed briefings. But hardly anyone showed up for the transition briefings at any of the departments.  Where Obama had sent 30 people to the  DOE to receive briefings from Bush's people, Trump sent only one person to the DOE,  Thomas Pyle, a former lobbyist who wrote "editorials attacking the DOE's attempts to reduce the dependence of the American economy on carbon."  Pyle spent one hour in a meeting with outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and several other DOE officials, asked no questions, took no notes, and never asked to see anyone in Obama's administration again.  And according to Lewis, the Secretary of the DOE, Rick Perry, had never been briefed on a single DOE program a year after Trump had taken office.

One thing the Trump Administration did do before the Inauguration was to rid all the departments of Obama appointees, 137 of them in the DOE alone, replacing them with Trump loyalists. Lewis notes that the woman who ran Obama's energy policy analysis unit was replaced by Eric Trump's brother-in-law.

Lewis methodically presents more of the same for the other departments as well.  The Fifth Risk:  Project Management, the scariest risk of them all.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Sermon on the Mount of Trump

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.  From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.  Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.  We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.  Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength....

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.  The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”  We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.

There should be no fear––we are protected, and will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God....

Donald Trump, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Matthew 7:15

Monday, October 8, 2018

Ford v Kavanaugh: Veritas Valebit

Having exaggerated his nervous and voluntary tension to the pitch of abuse, almost to vice, it is impossible that the American should amuse himself as we Latins do, who hardly conceive of pleasure without a certain relaxation of the senses, mingled with softness and luxury . . . [The Americans'] pleasures seem, in fact, to imply, like their ideas and their labors, something unrestrained and immoderate, a very vigorous excitement, always bordering on violence, or, rather on roughness and restlessness.  Even in his diversions, the American is too active and too self-willed.  Unlike the Latin, who amuses himself by relaxation,  he amuses himself by intensity, and this is the case whatever be the nature of his amusements, for he has very coarse and very refined ones.  But a few sketches from nature will explain better than all the theories that kind of nervousness, and, as it were, fitful sharpness in amusement, if we can use that word which is synonymous with two of the least American things in the world, –– unrestraint and repose.
                         A Fearful Game by Paul Bourget (1893)

 These words were written by the French author Paul Bourget (1852-1935) during his tour of America in 1893. These words are the first paragraph of an article that described how Americans played a game of football at Harvard on November 30, 1893.  But these very words could have been written in 1982 as well.  And they could have pertained to any game an American male played, including the game of sexual conquest.

Bourget's essay, "A Fearful Game," was included in a series of articles first published in the New York Herald, and then in a book, Outre-Mer:  Impressions of America in 1895.  William Bentinck-Smith included Bourget's essay in the 1955 edition of The Harvard Book:  Selections From Three Centuries.

My copy of The Harvard Book is a Prize Book that was awarded by the local Harvard alumni to a student at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, California who displayed "excellence in scholarship and high character, combined with achievements in other fields."  On the front cover is the old Harvard seal, "Ve Ri Tas" (Truth) in three books, surrounded by "Christo Et Ecclesiae,"  (For Christ and the Church).   The word, Veritas, soon stood alone on the seal, thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote a poem by that title in 1880, the last line of which was "let thy earliest symbol be thy last."

There is an excellent article about the history of Harvard's seal in the May 14, 2015 issue of the Harvard Gazette.  And the title of the article was "Seal of Approval."

Bret Kavanaugh no longer has the seal of approval from Harvard Law School; he can no longer teach there.  And more than 2400 law professors across the country, including a retired dean of Harvard Law School, signed a letter opposing Kavanaugh's confirmation.   Yet, the United States Senate confirmed Judge Kavanaugh to take a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

Bret Kavanaugh appeared on Fox one night before the last confirmation hearing, and presented a choir boy image of his life in high school and college.  His yearbook says different, as do witnesses who have yet to be interviewed by the FBI, including some of his Harvard classmates.  And when confronted during the hearing, Kavanaugh testified under oath that "devil's triangle" was a drinking game, and "boofed" pertained to farting.  As for the sexual accusations, he followed Trump's defense: deny, deny, deny.

The FBI had its hands tied in the interview of witnesses regarding the accusations of sexual assault against Bret Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford and then Deborah Ramirez.  But sooner than later––after the midterms–– Veritas Valebit: truth will prevail.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward is the third book about Donald Trump that I have read this year.  Fire and Fury was an account of the infighting inside the Trump White House during Trump's first 100 days.   House of Putin, House of Trump was a roadmap of Trump's business ties with the Russian Mafia going back 40 years.  Fear is a record of events and conversations that confirm that Americans have reason to fear while Donald Trump is still in the White House.

Woodward figured he would be writing a book about President Hillary Clinton.  But two weeks before the election, he gave a speech in Fort Worth, Texas to 400 mostly white executives of a software company who were from all over the country.  Woodward asked for a show of hands for whom they would vote for in the Presidential election: ten pairs of hands went up for Hillary; over 200 pairs of hands went up for Donald Trump.  Woodward didn't know why, but he figured the polls had to be skewed.  Two weeks later, Donald Trump was elected the President of the United States of America.

"Real Power is––I don't even want to use the word––fear."  Donald Trump made that statement to Bob Woodward and Bob Costa in an interview on March 31, 2016.  Woodward uses Trump's statement as the epigraph of this book.  And he uses it again as a Trump quote on the back cover, with an image of Trump doing a fist pump.  Moreover, Woodward uses Trump's words, "Real power is fear," on three different occasions in the book.

On page 175, Trump was giving advice to a friend who had admitted bad behavior towards women.  Real power is fear.  Trump told him that it was all about strength.  Never show weakness.  Never admit.  "You've got to deny, deny, deny and push back hard on these women."

On pages 274 and 275, Woodward provided an insight into Trump's philosophy regarding tariffs and trade deals.  Trump wanted to impose a 25 percent steel tariff and Gary Cohn was trying to talk him out of it.  Trump said,"we'll try it.  If it doesn't work, we'll undo it."  Cohn said "You do something when you're 100 percent certain it will work, and then you pray like hell that you're right.  You don't do 50/50s with the U.S. economy."

Still on pages 274 and 275,  Woodward said that Trump wanted to blow up the NAFTA deal and renegotiate it.  Trump's philosophy was "to get yes, you first had to say no."  Cohn warned that it was too risky: "That either works or you go bankrupt."  To Trump, Cohn thought, bankruptcy was just another business strategy.  And Trump had gone bankrupt six times. Real power is fear.

On page 300  Woodward wrote about Trump's foreign policy, which Trump believed he was winning.  Iran was under intense pressure, Pakistan was afraid that it might lose our aid, and South Korea was going to bow to Trump's demands for new trade talks.  Then there was North Korea.  Woodward writes that Trump's tweets about who had the biggest Button "may have come close to starting a war with North Korea in 2018."  Woodward continues, "The public never learned the full story of the risks that Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took as they engaged in a public battle of words."  Real power is fear.  

On the next page, Woodward repeats a tweet from Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant secretary of defense under President Obama:
Folks aren't freaking out about a literal button.  They are freaking out about the mental instability of a man who can kill millions without permission from anybody.
Throughout the book, Woodward matter of factly reports certain actions the White House staff took to prevent Trump from causing  harm to our country.   And Woodward repeats their opinions of what they think of Trump, from calling him an idiot, to having the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader.

Woodward ends the book with Trump's lawyer John Dowd still believing that Trump did not collude with the Russians or obstruct justice, but resigning because Trump would not follow his legal advice about talking to Mueller.  The last paragraph of Woodward's book is worth repeating:
But in the man and his presidency Dowd had seen the tragic flaw.  In the political back-and-forth, the evasions, the denials, the tweeting, the obscuring, crying "Fake News," the indignation, Trump had one overriding problem that Dowd knew  but could not bring himself to say to the president:  "You're a fucking liar."

Yes, real power is fear.  And I am afraid.
                        Jerry Morris

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia

House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia by Craig Unger is the second of three books about Donald Trump that I have acquired this year.  It is a hard read in that the author is methodical in investigating and tracing forty years of Donald Trump's business relationships with the Russians, many of whom are members of the Russian Mafia.

Unger's book begins with a congratulatory announcement that Deputy Vyacheslev Nikonov, Molotov's grandson, made to the Russian State Duma, the equivalent of our House of Representatives, on election day, November 9, 2016:
"Dear friends, respected colleagues!" Nikonov said.  "Three minutes ago Hillary Clinton admitted her defeat in US presidential elections and a second ago Trump started his speech as an elected president of the United States of America and I congratulate you on this."
If that isn't an acknowledgement of Russian interference in our elections, I don't know what is.

Ten days before his inauguration, Donald Trump tweeted, "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me.  I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!"

In the first few pages of his book, Unger declared that Trump had everything to do with Russia.  Unger promised that his book would show:

     That Trump allowed his Trump-branded real estate to be used  by the Russians for money laundering.

     That Trump was $4 billion in debt when Russian money bailed him out, revived his business career, and helped launch his venture into politics.

     That Trump provided a home in Trump Tower for members of the Russian Mafia and that they worked out of Trump Tower.

     That Trump was the subject of one or more Soviet intelligence operations that likely produced kompromat (compromising material) regarding his sexual activities.

     That in James Clapper's words, Trump is a "Russian asset" serving Vladimir Putin.

Trump has repeatedly said that he has had nothing to do with Russia.  But at the end of his book, Unger identifies fifty-nine Trump connections to Russia. And Unger details the actions of these Russian connections throughout the book.

After reading this book, and reviewing the sources and documentation cited, I  have to wonder why Trump was never charged with anything in his forty years of doing business with the Russians––money laundering for sure; a likely reason why he refuses to release his tax returns.  I am astounded by Trump's brazenness: that he believes anything he does or has done is above the law.  I am confident, however, that all will be revealed when Mueller completes his investigation, and Donald Trump will finally pay the piper.


Here's my review of the first of the three books about Trump that I acquired this year,  Fire and Fury:  Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff.

I am currently reading Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward.  It was no accident that Fear was published on the anniversary of 9/11.  Americans do need to be afraid (here's my review of Fear...)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Fair Dinkum Down Under News About Donald Trump

Say what you want about the Free Press in the United States -aka Fake News - and how it treats Donald Trump.  But from Down Under, you get the fair dinkum Aussie News about Donald Trump.

If FOX News says it, why it must be fair dinkum!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Cursory Remarks About Congressional Oversight & Oversile

Dictionaries define "oversight" as "watchful care," and this approach has proven to be one of the most effective techniques that Congress has adopted to influence the executive branch.  Congressional oversight prevents waste and fraud; protects civil liberties and individual rights; ensures executive compliance with the law; gathers information for making laws and educating the public; and evaluates executive performance.  It applies to cabinet departments, executive agencies, regulatory commissions, and the presidency.

               Source: U.S. Dept. of State 

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives two definitions for the word oversight, which are completely different from each other.

1.  The action of overseeing or overlooking; supervision, superintendence, inspection, charge care, management, control.

2.  The act of passing over without seeing; omission or failure to see or notice, inadvertence.

The first definition of oversight defines how Congress should oversee the actions of the executive branch.

The second definition of oversight defines how Congress is actually overseeing the executive branch.  It has cast a blind eye to the recent actions of the executive branch.  In essence, Congress has abdicated its responsibility to use its oversight powers to protect civil liberties and to ensure that the executive branch is complying with the law.

The forced separation of immigrant families comes to mind.  What is Congress doing about it?

Then there are the tariffs Trump has placed on Canada and other countries for "security reasons," a flagrant stretch of the laws concerning Trade.  Has Congress abdicated its responsibilities to regulate Trade as well?

There is no definition of oversight to describe the actions of the House of Representatives to interfere in an ongoing investigation, namely to smear the Mueller Probe.   But there is a word that fits the situation.  And it is the very next word in the OED after the word oversight.  That word is oversile.

The OED provides three definitions for the word oversile, an obsolete Scottish word used before the 1700s, that rhymes with the word beguile:

1.  To cover over; to conceal, hide. 

2.  To obscure or dim the physical or mental sight; hence, to blind mentally, delude, beguile.

3.  To overtop, exceed, surpass.

Here are the definitions of the word oversile as expressed in an older Scottish tongue. The third definition says it all:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

How Paul Fussell and Samuel Johnson Helped Me Write a Review of Michael Wolff's Book, Fire and Fury

When I review a book, the words sometimes seem to flow onto the page directly from my mind.  That was not the case with Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury:  Inside the Trump White House.  The words for my review of this book literally came to me from the writings of Paul Fussell and Samuel Johnson.

The original idea of Michael Wolff's book was to provide an account of the first one hundred days of the Trump Presidency, as seen through the eyes of the people closest to Trump.  And Wolff had open access to the White House––in his words, "something quite close to a fly on the wall."  The events Wolff describes are based on conversations he reportedly had with members of Trump's family and his White House staff.  Wolff himself readily admits that some of the accounts of what happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with each other.  But Wolff reasoned that he would let the readers judge for themselves.

When I finished reading Wolff's book, I sat in front of my computer, and contemplated what to say in my review about the book.  Believe me, I believed every word that was written!  But, at the moment, I was at a temporary loss of words to emphasize that the dastardly things "he said-she said" really could have happened in the White House of the United States of America.  So I put Fire and Fury aside for the time being.

A few days later, I was researching the web on some unrelated matter and came across Paul Fussell's January 1982 Harper's Magazine article, My War:  How I got irony in the infantry –– I will wait here if you want to read his article now; or you can read it later...

After reading his article, I wanted to read more by Paul Fussell.  So I went to Abebooks.  And that's when I discovered that Paul Fussell wrote a book about Samuel Johnson:  Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing.  Being a Samuel Johnson collector, I immediately ordered a copy of Fussell's book.

And when I received it, and got to page 12 of the book, the idea of the review of Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury, was staring at me smack in the face.  Fussell was talking about Johnson's writing and was referring to Samuel Johnson's Preface to Father Jerome Lobo's Voyage to Abyssinia, first published in 1735Johnson translated this book from the French.  But both Fussell and Johnson could have been talking about Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury:  Inside the Trump White House.

That first marked sentence is all the more relevant and powerful when it is written in its entirety––as it was first written by Samuel Johnson in 1735:

The Portuguese traveler, contrary to the general vein of his countrymen, has amused his readers with no romantic absurdities or incredible fictions; whatever he relates, whether true or not, is at least probable; and he who tells nothing exceeding the bounds of probability has a right to demand that they believe him who cannot contradict him.

Judging by the leaks that came out almost daily from the White House,  Micheal Wolff's account of what went on in the White House is all the more believable....