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Posts Tagged ‘UNITED STATES SENATE’

HOW HEALTHY ARE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES?

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on November 19, 2019 at 12:10 am

The United States Constitution mandates that candidates for the Presidency be at least 35. But it does not mandate an age-limit for such candidates.

In light of so many oldsters now clogging the highways and airways for this honor, it’s clearly time to establish one. 

Consider the ages of the major candidates for 2020:

  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – 77
  • Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders – 78
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden – 76
  • Massachusetts United States Senator Elizabeth Warren – 70
  • President Donald Trump – 73 

Of course, there have been past Presidential candidates who appeared better-suited for the rocker than the Oval Office:

  • Former California Governor Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was elected in 1980 and 73 when he was re-elected in 1984.
  • Kansas United States Senator Bob Dole was 73 when he unsuccessfully opposed Bill Clinton in 1996.
  • Arizona United States Senator John McCain was 72 when he ran in 2008 and lost to Barack Obama.
  • Former First Lady, United States Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was 68 when she ran in 2016 and lost to Donald Trump—who was 70.

And with advancing age come advancing health dangers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “About three-fourths of all deaths are among persons ages 65 and older. The majority of deaths are caused by chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

US CDC logo.svg

 

Running for any political office is one of the most stressful exercises anyone can undertake. In races for the House of Representatives, candidates are constantly on the move, shuttling from one event to the next.

Races for the Senate demand shuttling from city-to-city, eating large amounts of junk food, getting little sleep, giving hurried speeches before driving or flying off to the next meeting with potential constituents, having to readjust their approach to each new group of voters. (For example: Farmers have totally different concerns than doctors.)

And races for the White House demand even greater endurance. Candidates aren’t competing for voters within a single city or state, but within the entire country. There are 50 states comprising the United States of America. They are all different—and many of them have conflicting interests. California, for example, opposes offshore oil drilling—while Louisiana champions an increase in this.

And it can prove politically suicidal to write off appearing in states where the vote is “locked up.” Hillary Clinton refused to campaign in such “Rustbelt” states as Michigan and Pennsylvania because she “knew” they were hers for the taking. Voters there resented her refusing to visit them—and they got even by voting for Trump.

Even young candidates suffer the ravages that come from nonstop campaigning. New York United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy was 42 when he campaigned for President in 1968. His campaign lasted only 85 days before it was cut short by his assassination. Yet he was taking massive doses of vitamin B and medications for his voice damaged from non-stop speech making. 

Robert F. Kennedy

Some older Presidential candidates find themselves overwhelmed by the stress of nonstop campaigning.  

  • In October, Bernie Sanders, 78, was hospitalized with—according to his campaign—“chest discomfort,” It turned out to be a heart attack.
  • In September 2016, Hillary Clinton, then 68, was privately diagnosed with pneumonia. The campaign concealed the diagnosis until she was caught on camera fainting from dehydration.

Bernie Sanders in July 2019.

Bernie Sanders

Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Nor can Presidential candidates be relied on to tell the truth about the state of their health. 

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921 at the age of 39. He couldn’t stand or walk without support and was otherwise seated in a wheelchair. During his 12 years as President, he never used a wheelchair in public. Although suffering from hardening of the arteries and clearly a dying man, he kept this secret during his last Presidential campaign in 1944.

Franklin D. Roosevelt meeting with Winston Churchill

  • In 1960, Massachusetts United States Senator John F. Kennedy denied that he had Addison’s Disease, an insufficiency of the adrenal glands. In fact, he did suffer from this—and his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, had even stashed doses of cortisone in safe deposit boxes around the country in case he suffered a mishap.
  • Donald Trump’s doctor claimed: “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”  This despite his refusal to exercise and his indulging in fatty and cholesterol-heavy foods. 

Is there a way that Americans can be certain that the President they elect is truly physically fit for office? 

Admittedly, no proposed remedy is foolproof. Still, there is a clear need to stop taking candidates at their own self-serving word. 

Candidates for the office of the Presidency should be required to submit to a full physical examination conducted by an independent panel of board-certified physicians—and the results immediately made public. Any candidate who refuses to take part should be officially barred from running. 

Candidates for the United States Secret Service—which protects the President—are required to under rigorous physical and mental examinations before they are allowed anywhere near the Oval Office. 

Those who compete for control of the nation’s nuclear launch codes should be required to do the same.

REPUBLICANS: “I’D RATHER BE RUSSIAN–AND STAY ELECTED”–PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 5, 2019 at 12:10 am

From 1945 to 2015, it was unthinkable for a Republican Presidential candidate to pay tribute to a Soviet dictator.

But that utterly changed when Donald J. Trump, a “reality TV” host with longstanding financial ties to Russian oligarchs, ran for President of the United States.

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Donald Trump

The reason for the Trump-Putin bromance: Each had something to offer the other.

Putin wanted the United States to ditch the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, which had preserved Western Europe from Russian aggression since World War II. And Trump had often attacked America’s funding of NATO as a drain on the American economy.

And Trump wanted to be President. For this, Putin could supply Internet trolls to confuse voters with falsified news—and even the hacking of key voting centers. 

And monies. These Russian monies were officially classified as “campaign contributions,” not bribes.

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III Mueller spent almost two years uncovering links between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign.

On July 24, he addressed Congress on Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy,” Mueller declared to members of the House Judiciary Committee.

“The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. As I said on May 29, this deserves the attention of every American.

“It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

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Robert Mueller

In his report, Mueller documented years of meddling in American politics by the Internet Research Agency, which runs the Kremlin’s online disinformation efforts from its headquarters in St. Petersburg. 

The Agency reached 126 million Americans through fake accounts on Facebook. Its messages communicated with unaware members of the Trump campaign, and even prompted real-life rallies that mobilized crowds of unwitting voters.

Hours later that same day, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) blocked the passage of three bills designed to tighten election security at the federal level. She claimed that Congress had already responded to election security needs for the 2020 Presidential election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) came to the Senate floor the next day to personally object to House-passed legislation backed by Democrats.

Nor is Trump the only Republican receiving “help” from Putin. A network of Russian oligarchs—all of them answerable to Putin—has been increasingly contributing to top Republicans. 

These Russian monies are officially classified as “campaign contributions,” not bribes—which, in fact, they are.

According to the Federal Election Commission:

One such major contributor is Len Blavatnik, who holds citizenship in both the United States and the United Kingdom. During the 2015-16 election cycle, he proved one of the largest donors to GOP Political Action Committees (PACs).  

Blavatnik’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion. Before 2016, he donated to both Democrats and Republicans in meager amounts. But in 2016, he gave $6.35 million to GOP PACs

Millions of dollars went to top Republican leaders—such as Senators Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), Marco Rubio (Florida) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina).

Specifically, he contributed:

  • A total of $1.5 million to PACs associated with Rubio.  
  • $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee
  • $41,000 to both Republicans and Democrats in 2017.
  • $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund.
  • $3.5 million to a PAC associated with McConnell
  • $1.1 million to Unintimidated PAC, associated with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. 
  • $200,000 to the Arizona Grassroots Action PAC, associated with the late Arizona Senator John McCain. 
  • $250,000 to New Day for America PAC, associated with Ohio Governor John Kasich
  • $800,000 to the Security is Strength PAC, associated with Senator Lindsey Graham

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Another Russian oligarch, Alexander Shustorovich, contributed $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.

Altogether, four Russian oligarchs—Blavatnik, Shustorovich, Andrew Intrater and Simon Kukescontributed $10.4 million from the start of the 2015-16 election cycle through September 2017. Of this, 99% went to Republicans.

As Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell participated in high-level intelligence briefings in 2016. From agencies such as the FBI, CIA and the code-cracking National Security Agency, he learned that the Russians were trying to subvert the electoral process. 

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In October, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a joint statement: The Russian government had directed the effort to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.

Two weeks later, McConnell’s PAC accepted a $1 million donation from Blavatnik.

On March 30, 2017, McConnell’s PAC accepted another $1 million from Blavatnik.

This is just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 election

So, what has changed in the Republican Party?  Essentially nothing.

Its enemies changed—from Russian Communists to American liberals. But its goal remains the same: The quest for absolute power.

When Americans feared Communism, Republicans depicted themselves as the only ones who could be trusted to protect the United States. Big contributions poured in from Right-wing billionaires like H.L. Hunt and Howard Hughes.

But then Republicans found they could enrich themselves and stay in power via Russian “campaign contributions.” So long as they did Putin’s bidding, the rubles would roll in.

So for a party of power-drunk would-be dictators, the decision was simple: Better Red than un-elected.

REPUBLICANS: “I’D RATHER BE RUSSIAN–AND STAY ELECTED”–PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 4, 2019 at 12:15 am

There was a time when Republicans saw—and portrayed—themselves as America’s foremost defenders against Communism. 

This was particularly true during the early 1950s. Case in point: Wisconsin United States Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. 

Elected to the Senate in 1946, he rose to national prominence on February 9, 1950, after giving a fiery speech in Wheeling, West Virginia: 

“The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.”

Joseph McCarthy

Americans were already growing increasingly fearful of Communism:

  • Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had not withdrawn the Red Army from the countries it had occupied in Eastern Europe during World War II.
  • In 1948, the Soviet Union developed—and demonstrated—its own atomic bomb, an achievement U.S. scientists had claimed would not happen for at least a decade.
  • In 1949, China fell to the triumphant armies of Mao Tse Tung.  Generalissimo Chaing Kai Shek was driven from mainland China to the tiny island of Taiwan.

Anti-communism as a lever to political advancement sharply accelerated following McCarthy’s speech. 

No American—no matter how prominent—was safe from the accusation of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer—”a Comsymp” or “fellow traveler” in the language of the era.

Among those accused:

  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who had overseen America’s strategy for defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
  • President Harry S. Truman.
  • Playwrights Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller.
  • Folksinger Pete Seeger.
  • Actors Charlie Chaplin, Zero Mostel, Lloyd Bridges, Howard Da Silva, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield.
  • Composers Arron Copland and Elmer Bernstein.
  • Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who presided over the creation of America’s atomic bomb, thus forcing Japan to surrender.
  • Actresses Lee Grant, Delores del Rio, Ruth Gordon and Lucille Ball.
  • Journalists Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer, who had chronicled the rise of Nazi Germany.
  • Writers Irwin Shaw, Howard Fast, John Steinbeck and Dashiell Hammett

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Even prominent Republicans became targets for slanderous attacks on their patriotism. The most prominent of these: President Dwight D. Eisenhower—was labeled ”a conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy” by Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society in 1958.

In 1953, McCarthy attacked the leadership of the United States Army as “a hotbed of traitors” and convened an inquiry through the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

But the hearings exposed McCarthy as a bullying demagogue. A Senate committee condemned his behavior for “bring[ing] the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.” Shunned in disgrace by his onetime colleagues, McCarthy drowned his sorrows in alcohol, dying in 1957.

But even without McCarthy, Republicans rode the issue of anti-Communism to victory from 1948 to 1992. “Respectable” anti-Communists—like Richard M. Nixon—depicted themselves as the only ones who could be trusted to safeguard America.

Republicans held the White House for eight years under Dwight D. Eisenhower, then lost it in 1960 to John F. Kennedy and again in 1964 to Lyndon B. Johnson.

By 1968, with the nation mired in Vietnam and convulsed by antiwar demonstrations and race riots, Americans elected Richard Nixon, who preyed upon their fears and hates of blacks and “the Communist menace.”

The same strategy re-elected him in 1972.

Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976 and lost it in 1980 to Ronald Reagan. And Republicans held the White House until 1992.  

Upon taking office as President in 1981, Ronald Reagan decided to end the “stalemate” of “containing” Communism. He intended to “roll it back.”

American proxies fought Soviet proxies in Afghanistan and Central America, but the world escaped nuclear holocaust.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Republicans continued to accuse Democrats of being devious agents—or at least unwitting pawns—of “the Communist conspiracy.”

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush and the Republican establishment charged that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton might be a KGB plant.

George H.W. Bush

Their “evidence”: During his tenure at Oxford University in 1969-70, Clinton had briefly visited Moscow. 

After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Republicans found that accusing Democrats of being “Commies” didn’t carry the same weight.

So they turned to “domestic enemies” to rail—and run—against: Liberals, blacks, Hispanics, “uppity” women, war protesters, lesbians, gays, and—after 9/11—Muslims.

From 1945 to 2015, it was unthinkable for a Republican Presidential candidate to pay tribute to a Soviet dictator.

But that utterly changed when Donald J. Trump, a “reality TV” host with longstanding financial ties to Russian oligarchs, ran for President of the United States.

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Donald Trump

Trump lavishly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin—and even invited him to directly interfere in the 2016 Presidential race.

The reason for the Trump-Putin bromance: Each had something to offer the other.

Putin wanted the United States to ditch the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, which had preserved Western Europe from Russian aggression since World War II. And Trump had often attacked America’s funding of NATO as a drain on the American economy.

And Trump wanted to be President. For this, Putin could supply monies, Internet trolls to confuse voters with falsified news—and even the hacking of key voting centers.

LIKE FUHRER, LIKE PRESIDENT: “PROTECT ME!”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 23, 2019 at 12:06 am

On January 27, 1944, Adolf Hitler—Nazi Germany’s Fuhrer—called an assembly of his principal generals from the Russian front.   

The war he had started on September 1, 1939, was not going well for the Fatherland. 

Germany faced the two-front war that Hitler himself had warned against in Mein Kampf: With the Americans and British closing in from the West, and the Russians inexorably closing in from the East.

Rows of generals sat before Hitler in the dining room of a converted inn, near his Wolf’s Lair military headquarters, near the East Prussian town of Rastenburg,

Hitler and his generals

Hitler spoke about the crucial role war played in the life of nations, and how important dynamic leadership and racial purity were to a nation’s morale.  He boasted that powerful new weapons would soon be available for turning the tide of the conflict: New radar equipment, new submarines, new torpedoes. 

Victory would emerge after May, 1944. Meanwhile, his armies must hold out.

And then he threw down a challenge: 

“If the worst comes to the worst and I am ever abandoned as Supreme Commander by my people, I must still expect my entire officer corps to muster around me with daggers drawn—just as every field marshal or the commander of an army, corps, division or regiment expects his subordinates to stand by him in the hour of crisis.”

Suddenly, the unbelievable happened: For the first time since he had taken command of Germany almost 11 years earlier, he was loudly interrupted. 

“And so it will be, Mein Fuhrer!”

The voice belonged to Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, the military genius who had crafted the successful conquest of France in June, 1940.

Erich von Manstein

Hitler hoped that Manstein had meant to reassure him of the generals’ loyalty.

But Martin Bormann, his toadying chief secretary, cautioned otherwise: The generals had interpreted the outburst to mean that the worst would indeed come to the worst.

As indeed it did. 

Seventy-five years later, another powerful dictator, fighting for his life, issued a similar challenge to members of his political party. 

President Donald Trump faced an impeachment inquiry from Democrats in the House of Representatives. And he believed that his fellow Republicans in the United States Senate and House were not supporting him vigorously enough. 

So, on October 21, 2019, he lectured them during a meeting of his Cabinet. The two things they [Democrats] have: They’re vicious and they stick together.  They don’t have Mitt Romney in their midst. They don’t have people like that.” 

Romney, the United States Senator from Utah, is the only Republican who has said he might be open to impeaching Trump. He has also called Trump’s calls for Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, “appalling.”

Joe Biden is a potential White House rival for Trump in 2020.  

“I watched a couple of people on television today,” continued Trump. “They were talking about what a phony deal it is. What a phony investigation it is.

“And Republicans have to get tougher and fight. We have some that are great fighters, but they have to get tougher and fight because the Democrats are trying to hurt the Republican party for the election, which is coming up, where we’re doing very well.”

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Donald Trump

The following day, October 22, Trump doubled down on the unfairness of the impeachment inquiry he was facing.

Reaching out to his fanatical base, he took to Twitter: “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights.

“All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

By comparing a Constitutionally-sanctioned process to an illegal “lynching,” Trump hoped to strip the impeachment inquiry of its legitimacy.

Trump’s slander came on the same day that William Taylor, the former ambassador to Ukraine, testified before House lawmakers behind closed doors for more than nine hours.

Reading a 15-page statement, Taylor said that he had grown increasingly alarmed as American officials tried to coerce Ukraine into investigating Joe and Hunter Biden.  And he laid out a series of events that directly tied Trump to a quid pro quo with Ukraine.  

Specifically:

  • Trump insisted that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.”  
  • Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union told Taylor that “everything was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.”

Trump’s White House secretary, Stephanie Graham, responded with more slanders:

“President Trump has done nothing wrong—this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution. There was no quid pro quo.

“Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically-motivated, closed door, secretive hearings….

“President Trump is leading the way for the American people by delivering a safer, stronger and more secure country. The do-nothing Democrats should consider doing the same.” 

Adolf Hitler’s demands for loyalty-unto-death by his generals didn’t save him from final destruction.

There’s an increasing chance that Trump’s similar demands on Republicans may not save him, either.

DONALD TRUMP AS HOWARD BEALE

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on September 23, 2019 at 12:04 am

Donald Trump has been compared to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Gaius Caligula. But perhaps his counterpart lies not in history but in fiction. 

Specifically, the fictional news anchor Howard Beale in Network, the 1976 satire written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. It starred Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall Peter Finch and Beatrice Straight.

Network (1976 poster).png

Howard Beale (Finch) the longtime anchor of the UBS Evening News, is about to be fired because of declining ratings. 

So he announces on live television that he will commit suicide on next Tuesday’s broadcast.

UBS fires him, but then agrees to let Beale appear one more time to leave with dignity.

But once Beale is back on the air, he launches into a rant that contains the most famous—and most often-quoted—line in the film:

“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter….

“We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat….

“So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'”

Network12.jpg

Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network

Beale is clearly losing it. But his outburst causes the newscast’s ratings to spike. Instead of pulling him off the air, the top brass of UBS decide to exploit Beale’s antics.

Soon he’s hosting a new program called The Howard Beale Show, where he’s billed as “the mad prophet of the airwaves.” Ultimately, the show becomes the most highly rated program on television.

But then Beale’s ratings slide as audiences find his sermons on the dehumanization of society depressing.

To rid themselves of Beale and boost their season-opener ratings, the network’s top executives hire a band of terrorists called the Ecumenical Liberation Army to assassinate Beale—on the air!

Forty years after Network, Right-wing voters sent “reality show” host and real estate mogul Donald Trump to the White House. 

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Donald Trump

Republicans have reveled in his antics and enthusiastically supported his most heinous acts, which have included:

  • Repeatedly and viciously attacking the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Repeatedly “hinting” that he wants to be “President-for-Life.”  
  • Allowing predatory corporations to subvert Federal regulatory protections for consumers and the environment. 
  • Repeatedly and viciously attacking American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—for unanimously agreeing that Russia interfered with the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Shutting down the Federal Government for more than a month on December 22, 2018, because Democrats refused to fund his “border wall” between the United States and Mexico.
  • Pressuring  Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to provide “dirt” on Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic Presidential candidate Joseph Biden—and threatening to withhold military aid if Zelensky refused.

The greed-obsessed honchos of the fictional UBS Network believed they could parley Howard Beale’s madness into greater profits.

Similarly, power-obsessed Republicans in the House and Senate believe they can parley Donald Trump’s tyrannical and unstable nature into lifetime tenure for themselves.

They have silently watched—or given their enthusiastic support—as he has attacked one cherished American institution after another:

  • A free press
  • An incorruptible Justice Department
  • An independent judiciary.

Yet, like the executives at UBS, Congressional Republicans may soon be forced to turn on their most poisonous creation.

Right-wing Fox News Network gave its enthusiastic support to Trump during the 2016 Presidential race. And it has continued to do so throughout his almost three-year Presidency.

But on September 21, its website reported the following:

“Fifty-nine percent of voters are extremely interested in the 2020 presidential election. That’s a number typically only seen right before an election.

“In addition, more Democrats (65 percent) than Republicans (60 percent) are extremely interested in the election and more Democrats (69 percent) than Republicans (63 percent) are extremely motivated about voting in 2020.  That helps Democratic candidates top President Donald Trump in potential head-to-head matchups.”

And in a September 22 story, Fox News declared: “Many voters are frustrated with how the federal government is working and a growing number are nervous about the economy….

“Fifty-one percent say the economy is in only fair or poor shape.

“His job ratings on every other issue tested are underwater: national security (45 approve-48 disapprove), immigration (42-54), international trade (38-53), foreign policy (36-54), guns (35-56), health care (34-56), and Afghanistan (31-49).

“Currently, 45 percent approve of the overall job the president’s doing, while 54 percent disapprove.

“About two-thirds (64 percent) think many people — if not nearly all people — in government are corrupt, and almost half (46 percent) say the Trump administration is more corrupt than previous ones.”

Republicans may soon be forced to face the following dilemma:

  1. Can I hold onto my power—and privileges—by supporting Trump?  Or: 
  2. Can I hold onto my power—and privileges—by deserting him?

This is how Republicans define morality today.

BUMS AND GUNS: AN UPDATE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 26, 2019 at 12:19 am

In 2018, Brian Ellison was a Libertarian candidate for United States Senator from Michigan. And unlike other political candidates, he had a unique position on homelessness.

Some politicians want to outlaw homeless encampments. Others want to spend billions on low-cost housing for this population.

Ellison, instead, wanted to arm bums with guns. Specifically, with pump-action shotguns. 

“Get us a group of 20 homeless people that we could train, help them understand how the shotgun works, how to maintain it, how to fire it,” Ellison told Newsweek. “And equip them with a shotgun, a sling and some shells so they can protect themselves.” 

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Brian Ellison

Actually, the shotgun was not Ellison’s first choice of weaponry for his intended beneficiaries.

“Frankly I think the ideal weapon would be a pistol,” he told The Guardian, “but due to the licensing requirements in the state we’re going to have a hard enough time getting homeless people shotguns as it is. 

“Getting them pistols is probably next to impossible. The pistols need to be registered, people have to have addresses.” 

But “open-carrying a long gun is completely legal. So we thought that pump-action shotguns were a suitable alternative to a pistol.”

 Winchester Model 1912-gauge pump-action shotgun

Ellison is a former Army soldier who served in Iraq.

Apparently that experience didn’t teach him that when too many people have guns, no one is safe.

Ellison also wanted to abolish the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Transportation Security Administration, and localize the Department of Education. 

“I’m basically entirely opposed to any government program,” said Ellison. 

Unless it’s a government program to arm bums with guns.

This population can be roughly divided into four categories:

  • Druggies
  • Drunks
  • Mental cases and
  • Bums.

The homeless are “constantly victims of violent crime,” said Ellison, who believes that giving them firearms would provide a deterrent.

It would also provide a real incentive for tax-paying citizens to hand over their money the moment a shotgun-carrying DDMB confronts them on the street. 

But Ellison had an answer for this: “Pre-qualify” DDMBs as suitable candidates to own firearms:

“The first thing that we’re gonna do is ask them if they think this is something that would benefit them. We’re certainly not trying to force anything on anybody.” 

Except, of course, on those citizens being hit on daily—sometimes hourly—by DDMBs for money.

Naturally, ammunition would be provided—at state expense—for the shotguns. This would come in five- or six-shell magazines.

Ellison said that more shells would be provided if the owners legitimately used their guns to defend themselves.

But if they used their ammo for “shooting cans in somebody’s private property” then they would not be given more shells.

 A potential beneficiary of Ellison’s “guns for bums” program  

Ellison wasn’t worried that his intended beneficiaries might use the guns for murder or robbery: “Well, are you worried about the police being armed with military weapons?  I am.  

“The world we live in is a scary world, where the police who used to dress in short-sleeved shirts and carry a revolver now have long rifles with scopes and bulletproof vests and armored vehicles.

“And quite frankly that scares me much more than a homeless person trying to defend themselves with a shotgun.” 

This, of course, ignores the fact that police are pre-qualified with firearms—and every shooting by officers in a big-city police department is thoroughly investigated.

Their firearms are turned in for investigation. And the officers who used them can be disciplined and even prosecuted if a police chief and/or prosecutor believes the shooting was improper or illegal.

And who would make such lethal weaponry available to street people?  

“There are a lot of charities out there that help to provide the homeless with food, housing, job training, all kinds of stuff,” said Ellison. “There’s not a charity out there that helps them learn how to protect themselves. What’s going to drive this is popular support.” 

Just how many DDMBs could receive Ellison’s special gift?  In Michigan, there are more than 56,000 of them.

Ellison remarked that the population is “constantly victims of violent crime” in his state.

His website page opened with: “LIBERTARIANISM MEANS ALL OF YOUR FREEDOMS ALL OF THE TIME.” And it outlined his core beliefs: 

“We as a people must admit that the many laws, regulations, and policies established over the years in an effort  to ‘promote social welfare’ have failed in their stated purpose. These laws and regulations now represent the greatest threat to our natural rights, and must be repealed.

“Abroad, we must change how we engage the rest of the world, leading by example, not force of arms….Imperialism was not the intent of our founders nor is it the desire of the majority of Americans.”

“In order to move forward in these beliefs,” said his website, “we must remember that while our ideology is our core, we must also be practical and reasonable in their implementation.” 

Apparently, many voters decided that arming bums with guns wasn’t “practical and reasonable.” Ellison’s opponent, Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow, defeated him in the general election on November 6, 2018. 

REPUBLICANS: LOVING AMERICA LESS–AND THEIR JOBS MORE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 16, 2019 at 12:04 am

“Just another week in Caligula’s Rome.”

That was how conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks summed up President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C. for the week of February 24 to March 1, 2019.

It could serve as the epitaph for the history of the Trump administration.

Every Friday Books faces off with liberal syndicated columnist Mark Shields on The PBS Newshour. And on the program for March 1, the two men found common cause in sizing up the appearance of Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee two days earlier.

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David Brooks and Mark Shields on “The PBS Newshour”

During that hearing, Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer:

  • Condemned his former boss as “a racist, a conman [and] a cheat.”
  • Confirmed that Trump had instructed him to pay $130,000 in hush money to porn “star” Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence during the 2016 Presidential campaign.
  • Provided the committee with a copy of a check Trump wrote from his personal bank account—after he became President—“to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made.”
  • Produced “copies of letters I wrote at Mr. Trump’s direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores.”

But for Brooks, far more was at stake than the individual accusations:

“To me, it was more of a moral occasion, more than anything else. What it illustrates is a President and, frankly, Michael Cohen who long ago decided that celebrity and wealth is more important than being a good person. And they have dragged us all down there with us.

“And the people they have dragged most effectively are the House Republicans, a lot of them on that committee, who decided that they were completely incurious about whether Donald Trump was a good guy or a bad guy or a really awful guy, that—their own leader, they didn’t seem to care about that, but they were going to rip the skin off Michael Cohen.

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Michael Cohen testifying before Congress

“And so they attacked him. And what struck me is how moral corrosion happens, that you decide you’re going to defend or ignore Trump. And then to do that, you have to morally distance yourself from him. And then you have to morally distance yourself from him every day.

“And, eventually, you just get numb to everything. And so [Ohio Republican Representative] Jim Jordan and other people on the committee were saying, oh, we all knew this, like, it’s all unremarkable. And so that’s—that’s how moral corrosion happens.”  

During the hearing, California Representative Jackie Speier asked Cohen: How many times did Trump ask you to intimidate creditors?

Cohen estimated the number at 500. 

For Shields, this counted as especially despicable behavior: “And—but the thing about it is, when he stiffed those small business—the plumbers and the electricians who did the work in the Trump projects, and he came back, and Donald Trump loved to hear about it, I mean, reveled in it.

“Now, I mean, at what point do you say that there’s no honor here? I mean, there’s nothing to admire.” 

Shields was equally appalled by the refusal of Trump’s Republican committee defenders to condemn his moral depravity—as a businessman or President.

“If you can’t deal with the message, you shoot the messenger. And that’s what their whole strategy was.

“The very fact that not a single member of the Republican committee defended Donald Trump or what he was charged or alleged to have done, to me, was revealing. They just decided to go after Michael Cohen.”

So why have Republicans aligned themselves with such a man? 

Republicans don’t fear that Trump will trash the institutions that Americans have cherished for more than 200 years. Institutions like an independent judiciary, a free press, and an incorruptible Justice Department.

He has already attacked all of these—and Republicans have either said nothing or rushed to his defense.

What Republicans truly fear about Donald Trump is that he will finally cross one line too many. And that the national outrage following this will force them to launch impeachment proceedings against him.

But it isn’t even Trump they fear will be destroyed.

What they most fear losing is their own hold on nearly absolute power in Congress and the White House. And the riches that go with it.

If Trump is impeached and possibly indicted, he will become a man no one any longer fears. He will be a figure held up to ridicule and condemnation. 

Like Adolf Hitler.

Like Richard Nixon. 

And his supporters will be branded as losers along with him.

Republicans vividly remember what happened after Nixon was forced to resign on August 9, 1974: Democrats, riding a wave of reform fever, swept Republicans out of the House and Senate—and Jimmy Carter into the White House. 

House and Senate Republicans can imagine a future without Trump—but not one where they disappear.

If they are conflicted—whether to continue supporting Trump or desert him—the reason is the same: How can I hold onto my power and all the privileges that go with it?  

REPUBLICANS: “BETTER RED THAN UN-ELECTED”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 31, 2019 at 12:25 am

Upon taking office as President in 1981, Ronald Reagan decided to end the “stalemate” of “containing” Communism. He intended to “roll it back.”

American proxies fought Soviet proxies in Afghanistan and Central America, but the world escaped nuclear holocaust.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Republicans continued to accuse Democrats of being devious agents—or at least unwitting pawns—of “the Communist conspiracy.”

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush and the Republican establishment charged that Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton might be a KGB plant.

George H.W. Bush

Their “evidence”: During his tenure at Oxford University in 1969-70, Clinton had briefly visited Moscow. 

After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Republicans found that accusing Democrats of being “Commies” didn’t carry the same weight.

So they turned to “domestic enemies” to rail—and run—against: Liberals, blacks, Hispanics, “uppity” women, war protesters, lesbians, gays, and—after 9/11—Muslims.

From 1945 to 2015, it was unthinkable for a Republican Presidential candidate to pay tribute to a Soviet dictator.

But that utterly changed when Donald J. Trump, a “reality TV” host with longstanding financial ties to Russian oligarchs, ran for President of the United States.

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Donald Trump

Trump lavishly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin—and even invited him to directly interfere in the 2016 Presidential race.

The reason for the Trump-Putin bromance: Each had something to offer the other.

Putin wanted the United States to ditch the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, which had preserved Western Europe from Russian aggression since World War II. And Trump had often attacked America’s funding of NATO as a drain on the American economy.

And Trump wanted to be President. For this, Putin could supply Internet trolls to confuse voters with falsified news—and even the hacking of key voting centers.

And monies. These Russian monies were officially classified as “campaign contributions,” not bribes.

On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Early reports traced the leak to Russian hackers.

On July 27, Trump said at a press conference in Doral, Florida: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing [from Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s computer]. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Hours later, the Main Intelligence Directorate in Moscow targeted Clinton’s personal office and hit more than 70 other Clinton campaign accounts.

This is treason—calling upon a foreign power, hostile to the United States, to interfere in its Presidential election.

Nor is Trump the only Republican receiving “help” from Putin. A network of Russian oligarchs—all of them answerable to Putin—has been increasingly contributing to top Republicans. 

According to the Federal Election Commission:

One such major contributor is Len Blavatnik, who holds citizenship in both the United States and the United Kingdom. During the 2015-16 election cycle, he proved one of the largest donors to GOP Political Action Committees (PACs).  

Blavatnik’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion. Before 2016, he donated to both Democrats and Republicans in meager amounts. But in 2016, he gave $6.35 million to GOP PACs

Millions of dollars went to top Republican leaders—such as Senators Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), Marco Rubio (Florida) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina).

Specifically, he contributed:

  • A total of $1.5 million to PACs associated with Rubio.  
  • $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee
  • $41,000 to both Republicans and Democrats in 2017.
  • $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund.
  • $3.5 million to a PAC associated with McConnell
  • $1.1 million to Unintimidated PAC, associated with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. 
  • $200,000 to the Arizona Grassroots Action PAC, associated with the late Arizona Senator John McCain. 
  • $250,000 to New Day for America PAC, associated with Ohio Governor John Kasich
  • $800,000 to the Security is Strength PAC, associated with Senator Lindsey Graham

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Another Russian oligarch, Alexander Shustorovich, contributed $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.

Altogether, four Russian oligarchs—Blavatnik, Shustorovich, Andrew Intrater and Simon Kukescontributed $10.4 million from the start of the 2015-16 election cycle through September 2017. Of this, 99% went to Republicans.

As Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell participated in high-level intelligence briefings in 2016. From agencies such as the FBI, CIA and the code-cracking National Security Agency, he learned that the Russians were trying to subvert the electoral process. 

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In October, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a joint statement: The Russian government had directed the effort to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.

Two weeks later, McConnell’s PAC accepted a $1 million donation from Blavatnik.

On March 30, 2017, McConnell’s PAC accepted another $1 million from Blavatnik.

This is just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 election

So, what has changed in the Republican Party?  Essentially nothing.

Its enemies changed—from Russian Communists to American liberals—but its goal remains the same: The quest for absolute power.

When Americans feared Communism, Republicans depicted themselves as the only ones who could be trusted to protect the United States. Big contributions poured in from Right-wing billionaires like H.L. Hunt and Howard Hughes.

But when Republicans found they could enrich themselves and stay in power via Russian “campaign contributions,” they decided: Better Red than un-elected.

REPUBLICANS: “BETTER RED THAN UN-ELECTED”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 30, 2019 at 12:17 am

On July 24, former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III finally addressed Congress on Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.

Mueller had spent almost two years uncovering links between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy,” Mueller declared to members of the House Judiciary Committee. “The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. As I said on May 29, this deserves the attention of every American.

“Many more countries are developing the capability to replicate what the Russians have done.

“It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

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Robert Mueller

In his report, Mueller documented years of meddling in American politics by the Internet Research Agency, which runs the Kremlin’s online disinformation efforts from its headquarters in St. Petersburg. 

The Agency reached 126 million Americans through fake accounts on Facebook. Its messages communicated with unaware members of the Trump campaign, and even prompted real-life rallies that mobilized crowds of unwitting voters.

Hours later that same day, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) blocked the passage of three bills designed to tighten election security at the federal level. She claimed that Congress had already responded to election security needs for the 2020 Presidential election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) came to the Senate floor the next day to personally object to House-passed legislation backed by Democrats.

There was a time when Republicans saw—and portrayed—themselves as America’s foremost defenders against Communism. 

This was particularly true during the early 1950s. Case in point: Wisconsin United States Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. 

Elected to the Senate in 1946, he rose to national prominence on February 9, 1950, after giving a fiery speech in Wheeling, West Virginia: 

“The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.”

Joseph McCarthy

Americans were already growing increasingly fearful of Communism:

  • Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had not withdrawn the Red Army from the countries it had occupied in Eastern Europe during World War II.
  • In 1948, the Soviet Union developed—and demonstrated—its own atomic bomb, an achievement U.S. scientists had claimed would not happen for at least a decade.
  • In 1949, China fell to the triumphant armies of Mao Tse Tung.  Generalissimo Chaing Kai Shek was driven from mainland China to the tiny island of Taiwan.

Anti-communism as a lever to political advancement sharply accelerated following McCarthy’s speech. 

No American—no matter how prominent—was safe from the accusation of being a Communist or a Communist sympathizer—”a Comsymp” or “fellow traveler” in the language of the era.

Among those accused:

  • Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who had overseen America’s strategy for defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
  • President Harry S. Truman.
  • Playwrights Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller.
  • Actors Charlie Chaplin, Zero Mostel, Lloyd Bridges, Howard Da Silva, Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield.
  • Composers Arron Copland and Elmer Bernstein.
  • Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who presided over the creation of America’s atomic bomb.
  • Actresses Lee Grant, Delores del Rio, Ruth Gordon and Lucille Ball.
  • Journalists Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer, who had chronicled the rise of Nazi Germany.
  • Folksinger Pete Seeger.
  • Writers Irwin Shaw, Howard Fast, John Steinbeck and Dashiell Hammett

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Even “untouchable” Republicans became targets for such slander.

The most prominent of these: President Dwight D. Eisenhower—labeled ”a conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy” by Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society in 1958.

In 1953, McCarthy attacked the leadership of the United States Army as “a hotbed of traitors” and convened an inquiry through the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

But the hearings backfired, exposing McCarthy as a bullying demagogue. A Senate committee condemned his behavior as acting “contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.”

Yet even without McCarthy, Republicans rode the issue of anti-Communism to victory from 1948 to 1992. “Respectable” anti-Communists—like Richard M. Nixon—depicted themselves as the only ones who could be trusted to safeguard America.

Republicans held the White House for eight years under Dwight D. Eisenhower, then lost it in 1960 to John F. Kennedy and again in 1964 to Lyndon B. Johnson.

By 1968, with the nation mired in Vietnam and convulsed by antiwar demonstrations and race riots, Americans turned once more to those who preyed upon their fears and hates.

They elected Richard Nixon, who promised to end the Vietnam war and attack “uppity” blacks and antiwar demonstrators—and, above all, “the Communist menace.”

The same strategy re-elected him in 1972.

Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976 and lost it in 1980 to Ronald Reagan. And Republicans held the White House until 1992.

THE INDISPENSABLE MAN: ROBERT MUELLER—PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 17, 2019 at 12:06 am

On November 8, 2016, millions of racist, hate-filled Americans took “revenge” on the nation’s first black President—by deliberately voting a Russian-backed egomaniac and would-be dictator into the White House. 

By doing so, they set in motion events that would lead Robert S. Mueller to assume the consequences—and burdens—of their brutal, Fascistic desires.

On April 27, 2018, the House Intelligence Committee, after a sham “investigation,” concluded there had been “no collusion” between Russian Intelligence agents and members of the Trump Presidential campaign.

Among the evidence ignored: The now-infamous meeting at Trump Tower, in June, 2016, between Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, with Russian Intelligence agents.

The reason for the meeting: The Russians claimed to have dirt to offer on Hillary Clinton.

The “no collusion” verdict was inevitable, since the committee was chaired by California’s Republican Representative Devin Nunes, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Trump. Nunes had even improperly shared “secret” committee documents with the President. 

Devin Nunes.jpg

Devin Nunes

The Senate Intelligence Committee, on the other hand, agreed with the conclusions previously reached by the American Intelligence community (CIA, FBI, National Security Agency): The Russians had worked to subvert the American political process and elect Trump over Clinton.

March 17, 2018, marked one year since Special Counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation to uncover “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

By October, 2018, Mueller had:

  • Indicted 31 people—including 26 Russian nationals and four former Trump campaign advisers.
  • Indicted three Russian companies. 
  • Obtained six guilty pleas.
  • Unveiled Russians’ determination to elect Trump over Hillary Clinton.
  • Revealed that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed removing sanctions against Russia with then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period. 
  • Discovered that Trump associates knew about Russian outreach efforts during the campaign.

By contrast:

  • Republicans spent four years investigating the 2012 attack on the United States embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Their goal: To derail the presumed 2016 Presidential candidacy of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But no indictments followed.
  • Republicans spent two years investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State. Again, no indictments followed.

* * * * *

It’s past time for Republicans to remember the lesson taught by High Noon, the classic 1952 Western starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.

Town marshal Will Kane (Cooper) has just married Amy Fowler (Kelly) a Quaker. It should be the happiest day of his life. But shortly after the ceremony, word comes that Frank Miller—a notorious murderer Kane once sent to prison—has been released. 

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Even worse, Miller—joined by three other killers—is coming into town on the noon train to kill Kane.

Kane’s first instinct is to flee: He and his wife get into a buggy and dash out of town. But then his sense of duty takes over. He returns to town, intending to recruit a posse.

But this proves impossible—everyone is scared to death of Miller and his gang. And everyone Kane approaches has a reason for not backing him up.

Even Amy—a fervent believer in non-violence—threatens to leave him if he stands up to Miller. She will be on the noon train leaving town—with or without him.

When the clock strikes noon, the train arrives, and Kane—alone—faces his enemies. He shoots and kills two of them.

Then, as he’s pinned down by the third, he gets some unexpected help—from his wife: Amy shoots the would-be killer in the back—only to be taken hostage by Miller himself.

Miller tells Kane to leave his concealed position or he’ll kill Amy. Kane steps into the open—and Amy claws at Miller’s face, buying Kane the time he needs to shoot Miller down.

The townspeople rush to embrace Kane and congratulate him. But he’s disgusted with their cowardice and holds them in total contempt.

Saying nothing, he drops the marshal’s star into the dirt. He and Amy then get into a buggy and leave town.

Fred Zinnemann, the film’s director, intended the movie as an attack on those frightened into silence by Joseph McCarthy, the infamous Red-baiting Senator from Wisconsin.

Will Kane fought to protect himself and his town from a gang of murderous outlaws.

Robert Mueller fought to discover the truth behind Russian subversion of the American political system.

Kane’s fight ended—with a good man defeating evil men.

Mueller survived—professionally and personally—to deliver his report. It isn’t yet know if Congress will ultimately triumph over his—and America’s—mortal enemies. 

Robert Mueller—as a soldier, prosecutor, FBI director and now Special Counsel—took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” 

So did Donald Trump when he was inaugurated President. And so did every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

The difference between Robert Mueller, and the overwhelming majority of Republican Congressional members who continue to support Trump, is this: Mueller, like a compass always pointing True North, has always stayed faithful to that oath. 

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