Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Company We Keep

It has often been said that we are known by the company we keep. Over the years I have begrudgingly come to recognize a measure of truth in this admonition. Granted, one’s circle of associates, and who she/he attracts into their orbit, is only one element of our overall assessment of a person’s judgment and character. But it is a valid criterion to consider, especially in the case of individuals who reach a position of great power and influence.

Donald Trump came into his presidency promising to bring “the best people” into his administration to effect his change agenda, and to “drain the swamp” of self-serving government employees and lobbyists (ex-politicians and otherwise) enriching themselves and their patrons. Yet two years in, the opposite result has occurred. Too many high level positions have been filled by persons with minimal experience or qualifications. Or by people hostile to the mission of the agency they are directing. Too often, appointees have exercised questionable ethical, self-enriching, or arrogant abuse of the privileges of their office.

One demonstration of Trump’s “company that he keeps” is the revolving door of people who have come into his Administration, and the record-setting turnover of these appointees. Such turnover reflects negatively not only on the individual, but quantitatively calls into question Trump’s judgment and processes for assessing people’s abilities and appropriateness for their job. Given that any new jobholder needs four to six months to begin to get their feet on the ground, Trump’s turnover record contributes to the level of chaos and amateurism we have seen. We need only to look at the track record to affirm this:

·        Secretary of Defense: Mattis (resigned in policy protest) → Shanahan+ (acting).
·     National Security Advisor: Flynn* → McMaster → Bolton.
·        Attorney General: Sessions → Whittaker* (acting) → Barr (nominated).
·         Director of FBI: Comey → Wray.
·        Secretary of State: Tillerson Pompeo.
·        United Nations Ambassador: Haley → Navert (nominated).
·        Director, CIA: Pompeo → Haspec.
·        Secretary of Interior: Zinke* → Bernhardt+ (acting).
·        EPA Head: Pruitt* → Wheeler+ (acting).
·        Secretary for Veteran’s Affairs: Shulkin → Wilkie.
·        Secretary of Health & Human Services: Price*   Azar+. 
·        White House Chief of Staff: Priebus Kelly → Mulvaney (acting; split job)
·        Director, Office of Management and Budget:  Mulvaney (concurrently, split job).
·        Director, Office of Consumer Financial Protection: Cordray → Mulvaney (acting; split job) → Kraninger
·        White House Counsel: McGhan → Cipollone.
·        Communications Director: Miller → Spicer (acting) → Dubkje → Scaramuchi → Hicks → Shine.
·        Press Secretary: Spicer Sanders.
·        Secretaries under the gun: Commerce: Ross*; Homeland Security: Nielsen; Treasury: Mnuchin*.

+Former lobbyist from industry now being supervised.
*Under ethics &/or criminal investigation for misuse of office &/or budgetary funds, by FBI, &/or Inspector General, &/or Congress, &/or state Attorney(s) General.

The second demonstration of Trump’s “company that he keeps” is the number of his associates outside of his administration appointments who are now mired in legal proceedings. It is a number that is continually expanding, driven by Congressional and Special Counsel investigations into Russian interference in our 2016 elections, and FBI and/or state investigations into sidebar criminal activities.

·        Donald Trump – obstruction of justice, potential collusion with foreign interests
·        Donald Trump – Emoluments Clause violations (NY and MD investigations)
·        Trump Foundation – dissolved for misuse; potential civil &/or criminal charges for Trump &/or children (NY investigation)
·        Trump New York real estate –illegal billings to evade family taxes (NY investigation)
·        Immigration fraud at Trump’s golf courses (state-level investigations)·        Mike Flynn – National Security Advisor (pleaded guilty; cooperating)
·        Bijan Kian and Kamil Alptekin – Flynn business associates (foreign agents for Turkey)
·        Roger Stone – long-time Trump friend, Republican “dirty trickster” (lying, obstruction)
·        Michael Cohen – Trump personal attorney (pleaded guilty: cooperating)
·        Paul Manafort – Trump Campaign Chairman (convicted; cooperation agreement cancelled)
·        Rick Gates – Deputy Trump Campaign Chairman (pleaded guilty)
·        Maria Buttina – Russian unregistered agent; infiltrated NRA (pleaded guilty; cooperating)
·        George Papadopolous – Trump Campaign foreign policy advisor  (pleaded guilty)
·        David Pecker – National Inquirer publisher facilitated hush money paid (granted immunity)
·        Matthew Whittaker  – Acting Attorney General; under FBI investigation – business fraud
·        Allen Wessilberg – Trump Business Organization – VP-Finance (granted immunity)
·        30+ Various Russian military / government / intelligence officials indicted

·        Potential indictments likely to come: Trump Inauguration Committee; Don Jr. / Eric / Ivanka Trump; Jarod Kushner; Jerome Corsi (Roger Stone deputy); Julian Assange (Wikileaks); Paul Erickson (Maria Buttina’s American boyfriend); the NRA (money laundering Russian Trump campaign donations).

One’s personal character lives within one’s mind and heart, demonstrated by one’s words and actions. That internal character in turn attracts people with their own character definitions. When a distinctive pattern emerges involving multiple associates attached to one powerful player, it behooves us to look closely at what portrait emerges. Others may not define us. But the people we attract, and the company we keep, can certainly reflect the substance of who we are for all to see.

©   2019   Randy Bell     

Monday, January 7, 2019

Immigration Standoff & Shutdown

Once and for all: virtually no American is in favor of allowing would-be immigrants to enter America illegally. To suggest that a political party or group believes otherwise is simply political rhetoric, a lie, intended to divide the country and build some form of political advantage.

All immigrants seeking entry into the United States should follow a clearly defined process of rules and standard procedures. Where Americans do disagree is what measures should be in place to stop illegal immigration; how such awaiting immigrants should be humanely treated in the best spirit and traditions of America; how to be responsive to legitimate needs for granting asylum to people who are truly at risk for their lives; and how to meet the real demand that immigrants can fulfill as badly needed workers in our economy.

The solution to illegal immigration ultimately requires a package of coordinated efforts. There is no 1-shot “silver bullet” to solve this. Engaging in political stunts accomplishes nothing substantive (e.g. sending thousands of American troops – at a cost of over $200M – to camp out in Tucson, AZ – 60 miles north of the Mexican border – to provide  “backup support” to Border Patrol agents). Denigrating the nature and character of the immigrants knocking at our door, and lying about their supposed affiliations and circumstances, is of no help either. We will never figure out how to respond to any problem when we do not fully and accurately know who and what the problem truly is.

Donald Trump’s proposed “beautiful Wall” is an ineffective, expensive, and ultimately wasteful solution to the problem at the border. The principal audience that the Wall will benefit is the contractors who will get the contracts to build it. History is littered with the fallacy of defensive walls. The Great Wall of China virtually bankrupted sequential Chinese emperors seeking to build and maintain it, even as it ultimately failed to keep out invaders as was intended. Similarly, the Maginot Line in France proved to be false security as it failed to keep the Nazis out at the beginning of World War II. Russia’s “Iron Curtain” failed to keep Eastern Europeans inside their borders, and also ultimately failed.

In 2016 Trump promised his voters that he would build a Wall to protect us from “illegal immigrant invaders,” and all the “murderers, rapists, and gang members” (and subsequently including “diseased) supposedly (but not proven) found among them. He also promised Americans that Mexico would pay for that Wall; it would cost the taxpayer nothing. It was a package deal, an interdependent, two-part promise. The currently requested $5B is only a down payment towards a projected $30B cost. When Trump now opts to put it all on our credit card rather than Mexico’s, we certainly have a right to rethink this deal and consider better uses for our hard-earned money. Since he has already broken his promise to taxpayers and made the Wall our expense, we should therefore let him off the hook for not building the Wall.

If we are to be outraged at Trump’s broken promises, it should be about his lying to us that Mexico would pay for building the Wall, rather than about the Wall not being built. Therefore, I refuse to follow the President into an endless black hole / money pit to fix only one half of his broken promise. It is not my job to pick up after him and clean up the mess of his own making.

Today we are mired in the continual political and racial finger-pointing of blame, falsely portraying the nature of the people sitting at the border (or in detention camps, with families broken up and scattered across the country), and shutting down many government operations while we argue over a fraction of our 2019 national budget – a budget already four months overdue. Donald Trump stated publicly that he would be “proud to shut down the government” over his Wall, and would “take full responsibility for [the shutdown] and not blame the Democrats.” True to form, within days he reversed course and now incessantly totally blames the Democrats for the shutdown. Meanwhile, Republican representatives and senators sit on the sidelines, trusting nothing Trump says, while waiting for him to genuinely commit to whatever deal he ultimately strikes.

Instead of this wasteful rhetoric, we need to spend our time, energy, and money on finding and adequately funding real comprehensive solutions to this continuing issue. Expanding the size of our Border Patrol force; providing a variety of technology tools to identify and stop illegal immigrants at the point of entry; hiring sufficient immigration lawyers and judges to process immigration applications quickly, effectively, while judicially appropriately; providing adequate humane and sanitary facilities to house those detained and in process; identifying those immigrants who can successfully contribute to American society and our economy, and facilitate their entry, relocation, and assimilation.

In the meantime, we can also still retain our compassion for why these people are at our doorstep in the first place. Many are seeking to escape lives whose circumstances we cannot begin to fathom, circumstances that have driven them to undertake an almost impossible mission of extraordinary hardship. Their situation does not give them a free pass, but being compassionate while still applying an orderly process does not have to be an either/or choice. We are better and more creative than that. Our American values and immigrant traditions demand that we make the extra effort on our part. We need not fear the danger of an eight year old child knocking on our door.

©   2019   Randy Bell