Thursday, February 15, 2018

Parades and Trump and Women

Now comes the mystery.
— Henry Ward Beecher, Last words

Herewith two riddles: one with an answer-one without. The riddle with the answer is solved, thanks to a story by Hannah Elliott, that appeared in Bloomberg News on May 4, 2017. The mystery was why Mr. Trump wanted to have a great big military parade like the one his friend, Emmanuel Macron took him to in France. That parade was so exciting for Mr. Trump, that he immediately decided there should be an even bigger military parade in this country. Mr. Trump said of the French parade: “It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen. It was two hours on the button, and it was military might, and I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France. We’re going to have to try to top it.” Plans have already begun. A military official who spoke with a reporter said: “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France. This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”

Not acknowledged in reports, is that there is another reason Mr. Trump wants a big parade. The reason is found in Ms. Elliott’s story. The headline says Mr. Trump misses driving and “So would you if you owned his cars.” She then offers a litany of all the magnificent vehicles that Mr. Trump has owned over the years, cars worth, collectively, many millions of dollars. They include a $270,000 Ferrari Coupe, a $460,000 1997 Lamborghini Diablo VT Roadster, a couple of Rolls Royces and other cars similarly valuable and fun to drive. As president, Mr. Trump cannot go for a joy ride in one of his cars because of concerns for his safety. There, is, however, one vehicle his protectors will let him drive and he will joyfully ride it in the parade. It is not as glamorous as his cars, but driving one of these vehicles will almost certainly fulfill the dreams of a little boy- a tank. This writer has it on very poor authority, that the military has promised Mr. Trump that he will be permitted to drive the lead tank in the parade. The parade will stop, from time to time, to permit Mr. Trump to open the hatch, stand up, and wave to the adoring crowd that will be in attendance. His golden hair will provide a stark and colorful contrast to the drab colors of the vehicles in the parade and their militarily clad drivers. When you watch the parade, and see Mr. Trump waving, remember that you first learned of it here.

Herewith the insoluble riddle. Mr. Trump is the president of the United States, the highest elective office in the country. Prior to his election he was accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct, misconduct that was documented in a lengthy article in Time Magazine last December. The article contains descriptions of his behavior by 19 women alleging improper conduct by Mr. Trump in encounters with them. Each woman’s description of the offensive conduct is accompanied by a rebuttal from Mr. Trump or one of his spokespeople denying that an improper conduct occurred. These 19 women were less fortunate than Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels. She described a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in an interview in 2011, another encounter Mr. Trump says never occurred. Nonetheless, his lawyer paid Ms. Clifford $130,000 a few weeks before the 2016 election in exchange for her agreement not talk about the non-existent encounter. (Herewith a riddle within a riddle: why was Stormy the only woman Mr. Trump denied having any contact with to receive $130,000? Were the 19 women mentioned above not entitled to similar payments?)

Because of his past behavior, Mr. Trump is well qualified to express opinions on accusations made against his friends and colleagues in the White House. A recent accusation involved staff secretary, Rob Porter. His former wives and a girlfriend accused him of abuse. When the details of the abuse were first reported, Mr. Trump joined his staff in professing complete ignorance of the allegations, and voiced unqualified support for Mr. Porter. When Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, said in a statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the agency had notified the White House as early as last March that it had concerns about Mr. Porter as a result of screening him for the security clearance he never received, it became obvious that the White House’s claims of ignorance were lies and that the allegations from the women were true. Mr. Porter resigned.

Lamenting Mr. Porter’s departure from the White House Mr. Trump emitted a tweet: “People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused-life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?”

Many of us wish that Mr. Trump’s tweeted assertion that there is “no recovery for someone falsely accused-life and career are gone” applied to him. It obviously did not, since he is now the president of the United States. The riddle is this: How and why did this happen? A possible answer (and there may be others) is that he was not falsely accused and, therefore, the accusations had no effect on his “life and career.” Whether or not that is the reason he is now president, be sure and wave to him as he drives by in his tank.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Nunes and the WSJ

Responsible journalism is journalism responsible, in the last analysis, to the editor’s own conviction of what, whether interesting or only important, is in the public interest.
— Walter Lippman, Address at the International Press Institute

We all make mistakes. As prestigious a publication as the Wall Street Journal has just proved it.

In the case of the WSJ it happened because (a) its editors did not have the time to read the excellent reporting of its own reporters as to events that led to the FBI and Justice Department asking FISA for a surveillance warrant to surveil Carter Page in 2016, and (b) they were unwilling to wait for Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to take the steps needed so that the Democratic response to the “Nunes Memorandum” could be released. Had they waited, they would have had a complete picture of the facts that led to the request to the FISA court by the FBI and the Justice Department.

The one-sided Republican memorandum known as the “Nunes Memorandum” after the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Nevin Nunes, was released by the White House on February 2, 2018. In less than 24 hours the WSJ had written a long editorial wallowing in enthusiastic support of what, to many observers other than the editors of the editorial page, was obviously a biased and incomplete memorandum explaining what led the FBI to ask the FISA court to permit it to monitor the activities of Carter Page. In addition to the obvious question of why the editorial page editors couldn’t wait to lavish praise on the report until they saw the Democrats’ response to it, (assuming it would be released by the Republicans on the Committee and the White House) the more salient question is why they couldn’t have at least read the work of their own reporters.

The editorial entitled: “A Reckoning for the FBI” appeared three days after a lengthy report by WSJ reporters, Rebecca Ballhaus and Byron Tau had been published. The reporting of those two individuals contradicted much of the “Reckoning for the FBI” editorial. The authors of the editorial based much of their criticism of the FBI and the Justice Department on the fact that those two agencies failed to disclose to the FISA Court what the Nunes Memorandum described as “essential information.” The essential information was, among other things, that the “dossier” that was prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, was paid for by the Clinton campaign. The editors cited other partisan examples that it extracted from the Nunes memorandum describing the reasons for the conclusions of the Republican members of the Intelligence Committee. Had the editors read the reporting of their own reporters, their editorial would have been quite different or, perhaps, not written at all.

Those two reporters carefully examined what was known about the Counterintelligence Agencies’ interest in Carter Page years before the controversial dossier that was relied by the Republicans had even come into existence. The FBI’s interest in Carter Page, as the reporters explained, went back to 2013. They reported that in seeking the surveillance warrant authorizing the Justice Department to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, the application to the FISA court included material that preceded Christopher Steele’s entry into the picture. Mr. Page, we were told, had been of interest to intelligence officials for at least three years before he became a member of the Trump campaign in 2016. Indeed, his dealings with Russia had taken place for more than 10 years before Mr. Trump ran for president. The article disclosed that Mr. Page met with Victor Podobnyy, a junior attaché at the Russian Consulate on more than one occasion, meetings that triggered the interest of FBI counterintelligence. Mr. Page was first interviewed by a U.S. counterintelligence official in June 2013. The official was trying to determine whether Mr. Podobnyy, with whom Mr. Page had had two meetings, was a Russian intelligence agent. According to the reporters, in the criminal complaint that was filed in 2015 by U.S. federal prosecutors, Mr. Podobnyy was charged with posing as a U.N. attaché while trying to recruit Mr. Page as a Russian intelligence source. The description of the activities of Messrs. Poddobnyy and his contacts with Mr. Page, provided more than ample evidence to help the FISA court, if not the editors at the WSJ, or the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, to understand why the order to monitor Mr. Page was sought. Had the WSJ editorial editors read their own reporters’ reporting or been willing to await the release of the Democrat’s response to the Nunes Memorandum, they would have been in a position to give voice to accuracy, instead of partisanship. They didn’t. As Mr. Trump would say, “Too bad.”

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Competing Performances

To compare great things with small.
— Milton, Paradise Lost

What a coincidence-the activities of two great performers in the very same week! Of course, the activity of one of the performers was, as all of his performances are, fake, whereas the activities of the other performer were completely genuine, although not as all-encompassing as when viewed in movies.

One of the performances took place on January 26, 2018, in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum. It was there that D.J. Trump, known professionally as “President Trump,” distinguished himself by not making a fool of himself or embarrassing the country he came to represent. He reaffirmed that America was great, letting the attendees know that he has been successful in making America “great again,” while saying, in response to a shouted question that “everyone’s great.”

The other performance took place four days earlier in Greenville, South Carolina, at The Trophy Club, where Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as “Stormy Daniels,” staged her own performance. Her performance was the beginning of a tour that was not in furtherance of making America Great Again. It was a tour that was called: “Make America Horny Again.” It was a somewhat different performance from the one given by Mr. Trump, although the performance revealed Ms. Clifford’s attributes that not only caused her and Mr. Trump to become friends, but demonstrated what qualities she possessed that had contributed to her success in the world of adult entertainment. There were a number of similarities in the presence and presentations of the two celebrities in their respective venues.

According to reports, Mr. Trump was the hottest ticket in Davos at an event attended by luminaries from around the world. One viewer said Mr. Trump was very successful in presenting his accomplishments. Another commentator said the speech had a very strong domestic focus. Like Mr. Trump, Ms. Clifford was very successful in presenting her successes to those in attendance at The Trophy Club, and, of course, her presence reminded viewers that her encounters with Mr. Trump had a strong domestic focus, having taken place while his wife was at home caring for their youngest who had been born a few short months before Mr. Trump’s tryst with Ms. Clifford took place.

Unlike Mr. Trump’s performance, Ms. Clifford’s performance was not marked by a crowd of distinguished diplomats and people of great wealth. It had a folksier appeal. According to one description of those attending Ms. Clifford’s performance, the attendees were “large men with small bills.” Attendees at Davos were people who all had large bills. Many of the men in attendance at Ms. Clifford’s performance wanted to have their pictures taken with her, and she gladly acquiesced. She even graciously removed her top and permitted the man standing next to her to “grab her front,” as the New York Times reporter in attendance delicately put it. She permitted other men to nestle their heads between what were described as her basketball-sized breasts. Those wanting to have their pictures taken with Mr. Trump were not afforded the same courtesy, even if they presented him with large bills.

The cost of attending the two events was markedly different. Davos, when the home of the Economic Forum, is a place only the very wealthy can afford to attend. The Trophy Club upped its prices to take advantage of the appearance of Ms. Clifford. The cover charge went from $10 to $20. Although that was a 100% increase over the normal rate, Jay Levy, who owns the Trophy Club said: “I’ve got to take care of my people. I’ll take advantage of the situation, but not my people.”

The performance at the Trophy Club by Ms. Clifford, was somewhat different from the performance given by Mr. Trump in Davos. Although Mr. Trump strolled imperiously among the guests bestowing occasional, but supercilious smiles and gestures on observers, and ending his appearance with a speech attended by a full house, Ms. Clifford’s appearance, while more revealing, was less imperious. It let the world see what it was that had attracted Mr. Trump to her. In addition to her exposures, she also gave two five-minute burlesque shows. Those shows were, of course, shorter than Mr. Trump’s performance, though probably more entertaining since they were real, whereas descriptions of Mr. Trump’s speech said he mixed fact and fiction. There was no fiction (other than perhaps the cause of the oversized breasts) in Ms. Clifford’s performance.

Running for political office is something Mr. Trump did, and something Ms. Clifford considered. A report in the New York Post that described Ms. Clifford’s appearance at The Trophy Club, concluded with the news that Ms. Clifford had considered running for the Senate against Louisiana’s David Vitter. The campaign slogan she considered was quite different from the “Make America Great Again” slogan used by Mr. Trump. Hers was very straightforward: “Stormy Daniels: Screwing people honestly.” Had Mr. Trump thought of it, with one minor modification, that slogan would have worked for him, too. The only change that would have been required was dropping the last word.