Category Archives: Politics

It’s Mueller Timing

 

Related imageIn anticipation of the special counsel’s final report earlier this year, the most common meme was, “It’s Mueller Time!” However, as we now know, that brew turned out to have a shelf-life of less than two years and therefore was quite flat.  There were any number of explanations why the report, despite substantial references to contacts between Russians, Russian surrogates and the Trump campaign plus ten documented instance of obstruction of justice in the aftermath of the 2016  election, did not have a more devastating impact on Trump’s fate.  These included Attorney General Bob Barr’s mis-characterization of the findings, numerous redactions, Robert Mueller’s unwillingness to reach conclusions and his less than scintillating Congressional testimony.

In light of testimony during the first week of Roger Stone’s trial for trafficking in the hacked DNC emails, perjury (lying to the FBI) and witness tampering, it is clear that “Mueller Time” was more about “Mueller Timing.”  Already, some of the key witnesses have started to fill in the gaps behind the lines of black Magic Marker which mask critical passages in Mueller’s report.  For example:

  • Former Trump campaign manager and White House political advisor Steve Bannon has confirmed Stone bragged about his on-going communications with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
  • New York radio personality Randy Credico testified Stone pressured him to provide false information during the Mueller probe, even threatening to kill his service dog.
  • And just yesterday, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates confirms that he was with Trump while the then candidate was on the phone with Stone discussing a future release of more stolen DNC emails.  Gates said his account could be validated by the two secret service officers who were also in the car.

This third point is most damning as it counters Trump’s written answers to Mueller that he had no recollection of talking to Stone about WikiLeaks.  Of course, Trump can probably sidestep perjury charges as he couched his responses in the guilty defendent’s mantra of choice, “I do not recall…”

All this begs one, and only one, question.  Knowing that upcoming trials would give the Department of Justice a legitimate excuse to redact any information in the special counsel’s report which might bias the outcome of these trials, did Robert Mueller honestly believe it was more important to indict Stone than to make sure the public got the most complete version of his findings related to Russian interference in the 2016 election? I’m sorry, but this seems like a case of throwing out the baby to hold on to the bath water.

Roger Stone has been one of the most obnoxious and disgusting individuals on the American political scene for the past 50 years.  And I for one will not shed any tears if he goes to jail for the rest of his life.  But given the option, I would have sacrificed the pleasure of watching Stone squirm in front of a judge (which he has during the trial) if it meant the public would have earlier access to some of the most direct evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. (NOTE:  One can argue the release of a less redacted Mueller report might have deterred Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine just one day after Mueller’s Congressional testimony.)

Every one of the three witnesses referenced above were interviewed by the special counsel’s office.  Mueller was aware of every fact that is now being disclosed during Stone’s trial.  And consider the number of more important players he chose not to indict.  Donald Junior who is on record as welcoming Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton.  Paul Manafort for conspiracy.  Or Trump himself for obstruction of justice for personally drafting the false narrative about the July 2016 meeting with Russians or obstruction of justice when he refused to be interviewed by the special counsel or respond in writing to questions about previous obstruction of justice.  Mueller, if he so desired, could have challenged the non-binding Justice opinion related to criminal indictment of a sitting president which has never been tested in the courts.

Having spent two years with Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, Matt Whittaker and finally Bob Barr looking over his shoulder, Mueller should have known these Trump sycophants would use any opening to protect their leader.  And he gave them more than one.  We were told this was not surprising from someone who lived his life as “boy scout.”  If that’s the case, give me a so-so Samaritan with a better sense of judgment.

POSTSCRIPT: SPEAKING OF TIMING

For the past couple of days, Trump has talked about releasing the transcript of an earlier phone call when he reached out to Ukraine president-elect Volodimyr Zelensky to congratulate him on his victory.  As he always does, Trump is claiming this will vindicate him.

Of course, one’s first reaction is, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  But strangely, we really should believe Trump this time.  Here’s why.  The Zelensky call occurred on April 12, 2019.  What no one in the media has pointed out is the fact that Joe Biden was not a candidate for president at the time.  Biden officially jumps into the race on April 25, 2019.

So, actually, a clean phone call on April 12 is more damning than the “stable genius” in the White House could imagine.  If Trump does not raise the issue of Hunter Biden and Burisma Energy before the senior Biden is a candidate, the ONLY reason to raise it after April 25 is to seek foreign assistance in the 2020 election because Joe Biden is now a threat to Trump’s re-election.  So much for the latest GOP non-starter defense, Trump’s state of mind showed no criminal intent.  Then why would Trump wait until Biden was an official candidate before withholding the Congressionally appropriated support for Ukraine’s defense against further Russian incursion?  It’s so obvious, one can hope even Lindsey Graham will understand it.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Who’s Imitating Whom

 

In previous posts, I have made the case that sometimes life or politics imitates art, sports and too frequently movies.  And on a couple of rare occasions, I have suggested politics imitates business.  However, my current assignment teaching entrepreneurship in Milan has reminded me the relationship between leader and follower can be a two-way street.

In 2011, I researched and wrote a teaching case, I used to demonstrate how entrepreneurial behavior could be applied to virtually any discipline.  The case involved a decision by Bob Ortega, the owner of a regional Mexican food manufacturer, to expand his business nationally, competing against the two major players in the market.  The choice depended on several factors: product differentiation, raising the necessary capital to build the necessary national marketing and distribution infrastructure and whether he had the a support system willing to back his ambition.

The case opens with the following quote attributed to E. J. Dionne without identifying him as an opinion writer for the Washington Post.

A good entrepreneur triumphs by adapting to the times and taking advantage of opportunities as they come. A great entrepreneur anticipates openings others don’t see and creates possibilities that were not there before.

Once students finish discussing the case, I share my dirty, little secret.  There is no Bob Ortega.  The case is about Barack Obama’s decision to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president.  Dionne’s actual quote referred to politicians, not entrepreneurs.  Instead of market share expressed in dollars, the currency in the case is votes.

Related imageThis nexus between entrepreneurial and political decision making resurfaced last week while teaching a Harvard Business School case titled, “Starbucks Customer Service.”  The decision facing CEO Howard Shultz (yes, the same Howard Shultz of short-lived presidential ambition) is whether to invest up to $40 million in additional labor to address increasing consumer dissatisfaction.  The decline in customer gratification was the result of the company’s own success.  As a broader client base emerged, Starbucks faced competing needs between their original “sit and sip” patrons and the growing “grab and go” crowd.

The supporting documents which accompany this teaching case are data-heavy from which we can ascertain several facts.

  • Highly satisfied customers are more likely to drop in three more times per month than other customers.
  • Highly satisfied customers spend more per visit than other customers.
  • The increased revenue from highly satisfied customers over time more than justifies the additional investment in labor.

But that raised the most important question.  How many customers would you have to move from the “so-so” category to “highly satisfied” category to break even (i.e. cover the additional labor cost)?  The answer was 67 per store or just less than three percent of the  average annual per store clientele.  As Obama once said about calling out neo-Nazis as bad people, “How hard can that be?”

Which, as all things eventually do, brings us to the 2020 election.  Think of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania as Starbucks.  Democratic voters became increasingly disappointed with the level of customer service and decided to buy their coffee somewhere else.  Unfortunately, the new brewer-in-chief had no knowledge of what it takes to run a roastery.  So, as we approach 2020, the Democratic Party faces the exact same situation as Starbucks in 2002.  They have two very different customer categories.  Instead of “sit and sip” versus “grab and go,” they have left of center moderates and progressives wanting to lead a political revolution.

Shultz’ targeted investment in labor solved his business’ problem.   The extra person behind the counter meant baristas could still spend time schmoozing with the lingerers without holding up those who wanted their java NOW.  After laying out the numbers, here’s the bottom-line question I ask students.  “Is influencing 67 people doable?”  And the answer is, “Of course it’s doable.”

Folks, we’re not talking about three percent in these three battleground states.  In Michigan, we’re talking about 0.3 percent.  Pennsylvania, 1.2 percent.  And Wisconsin, 1.0 percent.  “How hard can that be?”  If the Democratic Party, in the age of Trump, regardless of the nominee cannot find a way to move such a small percentage of voters from the Republican to Democratic column, they have a bigger problem than voter suppression, foreign interference and social media.

Take a lesson from Starbucks.  Find solutions that address the legitimate customer service needs of both factions within the party.  When it comes to health care, talk about a public option which mirrors Medicare while allowing those who want to stay with their employer based coverage or private insurer to do so.  On gun control, you have a consensus on two issues, universal background checks and red flag laws.  The NRA will bitch and moan, but their own members overwhelming support these initiatives.  And you don’t have to promise free everything.  You just need to make a limited number of strategic investments.  For example, do you think climate change advocates would oppose investments to retrain coal workers to build solar panels and wind generators?

Maybe, instead of debating each other, the remaining Democratic candidates could sit down over a cup of coffee and figure this out.

A VETERANS DAY POSTSCRIPT: 

The sacrifice our men and women make every day to keep us safe in an uncertain and dangerous world is normally something I would not joke about.  But this Veterans Day, I cannot pass up the chance to point out a synchronistic moment that could only occur in Trump World.  It began with release of an excerpt for Junior’s book Triggered, in which he shares his thoughts while watching his father lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In that moment, I also thought of all the attacks we’d already suffered as a family, and about all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed — voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off the office.

Junior much be taking Yiddish lessons from Jared because he certainly seems to know the meaning of the word CHUTZPAH.

Image result for baby trump balloon knifedBut then we had an angry Trumpster attack the inflated Baby Trump balloon with a knife at the Alabama-LSU football game Saturday.  When I saw this picture of the deflated caricature, I could not help but think, “Junior, now that’s what I call sacrifice.”  Baby Trump gave his life for the resistance.  And is more deserving of a purple heart than Junior’s father who accepted one from a veteran at a campaign rally without even stubbing a bone spur.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Castle of the King

In the era of Trump, commentators regularly draw on a chess metaphor to describe the tactics employed by the Trumpists and those eager to end this national nightmare.  How many times, following one of Donald Trump’s self-inflicted wounds, do we hear, “The Democrats are playing chess, while Trump is playing checkers.”  I wish it were that simply.  Especially when Trump claims Article II of the Constitution allows him to ANYTHING he wants.  Is that not the checkers equivalent of reaching the opponent’s side of the board and demanding, “King ME!”

However, now that the formal impeachment process is underway, there is no question both sides are playing chess.  So, let me set up the game before examining the two sides’ strategies.  On one side we have Trump who begins the game with a king (Trump) and 15 pawns, and I need not tell you these are the WHITE pieces.  On the opposing side is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (the queen) and Adam Schiff (the king), and at the moment, a traditional array of players (bishops, knights, etc.) with one exception.  The rooks are yet to be identified.

The match began with a classic move by one of the black knights, an anonymous whistleblower, who foreshadowed every subsequent move.  As expected, several of Trump’s pawns countered this opening claiming “deep state” and “hearsay.”  Yet one move and response does not a chess match make as the game is now in its fifth week.

To demonstrate how complex and tense play has become we need only look at the moves of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman and just retired National Security Advisor Tim Morrison.  Vindman is the second black knight, coming to the rescue by quashing Trumps’ first defensive move that every account of the July 25 phone call was hearsay.  Plus he provided the seemingly damaging testimony that the publicly released “transcript” of the July 25 conversation with Ukraine President Zelensky is less than exhaustive.

Three days later, Trumpists on the Intelligence Committee claimed Morrison had testified the phone summary was more complete than Vindman avowed, and while he questioned Trump’s ethics, he did not believe the withholding of arms for dirt on the Bidens was illegal.  By calling this witness, had the black king Schiff fallen into a trap set by Trump’s pawns?  Did he not see this coming?

Or, was this the move that sets up mate and checkmate?  Did Schiff know Morrison would contradict Vindman, and welcomed his testimony?  Here is one possibility.  Trumpists are using Morrison’s testimony to again call for a halt to further impeachment proceedings.  Have Schiff and Pelosi set a trap and are preparing to call their bluff?  Imagine Pelosi now challenging the Trumpists to either stand up or shut up.

Regardless of which side you may be on, the worst possible outcome is a draw.  The white king must either be exonerated or vanquished.  And here we now sit with two versions of the same story: one that the released summary of the July 25 call with Zelensky is incomplete and the other claiming it is substantially accurate.  Both cannot be true.  There is only one way to discover the truth.  Demand the white king release the actual transcript, the one we now know was inappropriately remanded to a code-word secured server.

If Morrison is correct we will agree to drop the impeachment inquiry.  If, however, the transcript goes beyond the summary, and further documents a quid pro quo, House and Senate Trumpists must agree to support an article of impeachment charging obstruction of justice. even if you do not agree Trump violated his oath of office or abused his power.

Now one might find this a bit risky.  I do not.  Vindman had no doubt the summary omitted key information.  He even detailed to whom and when he made the case to re-insert the deleted material.  In contrast, Morrison cloaked his testimony concerning the validity of the summary with the phrase, “I do not recall…”   As any defense lawyer will tell you, “I do not recall…” is a time-tested means to avoid a perjury charge, the equivalent of a get out of jail free card in Monopoly.  Remember, Trump’s shill Gordon Sondland used the same language during his original congressional deposition.  Until every subsequent witness contradicted his testimony.  And yesterday Sondland informed the intelligence committee his recollection of the events surrounding the Ukraine quid pro quo have magically improved with the aid of the statements by Vindman and others.

Which brings us back to the case of the missing black rooks.  These pieces have a unique role in chess through a move called “castling,” during which the king moves to the corner of the board and is protected on his flank by one of the rooks.  In the coming days, expect a rook to emerge in the form of a Trump insider who forever dispels the narrative that impeachment is a left-wing conspiracy which Schiff has choreographed.

To some extent, Sondland’s amending his previous testimony serves this purpose.  But we should not be surprised if more people audition for the part as the legal jeopardy in which Trump operatives find themselves becomes apparent.  In other words, in this 2019 version of chess, white pawns can easily be transformed into black rooks.

Forget Fischer versus Spassky.  Or IBM’s Big Blue versus Kasparov.  By the end of the year, there may be a new grand master.  And as any chess expert will tell you, it is hard to win a match when all you have left are pawns.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

The Toxic Avenger

 

Related imageIf there were not a 1984 (coincidence?) b-movie called “The Toxic Avenger,” I would risk trademark infringement to use it for the title of my latest screenplay about the state of the vox populi in 2019.  The IMDB description would read, “A highly unpopular political leader wins reelection vanquishing his toxic opponent.”

Dr. ESP, what are you trying to tell us?  Looking back at 2016, are you suggesting Donald Trump was in the lead role with Hillary Clinton as the opponent?  Or is it a warning that a far left candidate like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren could usher in a repeat of 2016?

None of the above.  In fact, the movie is not even about the United States.  Instead, my goal is to get Americans to pay more attention to the upcoming Parliamentary election in Great Britain.  If you want to know what November, 2020, might look like, we are being given not just a trailer, but a complete sneak preview.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to call an early general election (don’t we wish!) when he failed to reach an agreement on Brexit terms from either Parliament or the European Union (EU).  Despite this inability to deliver on a promise, his Conservative Party remains the odds-on favorite to retain control of the House of Commons and for Johnson to continue his push for Great Britain to leave the EU.

All this, despite the latest polling on Brexit found, given a chance to re-vote, 49 percent of British citizens would choose to remain in the EU, compared to 40 percent who favor a divoce from their continental neighbors.  Likewise, when YouGov.com polled Brits concerning the prime minister’s job approval, 54 percent disapproved of his performance while only 38 percent approved.  (Do those numbers sound familiar?)  Yet, yesterday’s YouGov.com poll of voter sentiment suggests the Conservative Party would win by 12 percentage points if the election was held now.

That makes as much sense as Trump with a 54.4 disapproval rating (FiveThirtyEight average) having an even chance of re-election.  But it does when you look at Johnson’s toxic opponent, leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn.  According to a September MORI poll, Corbyn has a disapproval rating of 75 percent, including a 41 percent negative rating by citizens who self-identify as members of the Labour Party.  Imagine if Trump had that lack of Republican support.  Moscow Mitch would offer to pay for the moving van.

One constituency which has contributed to Corbyn’s high negatives is the Jewish community or as the London-based Times of Israel calls it “the kosher vote.”  British Jews are worried about an increase in anti-Semitism and see the Corbyn-led Labour Party as soft on the issue.  This should be a red alert for members of the Labour party who relied on overwhelming Jewish support for Tony Blair to reverse decades of Conservative Party rule.  This is not about ideology.  As the Times of Israel reports:

There are signs, however, that Jewish support for the Tories rests more on antipathy to Labour than affection for Johnson’s party. Last week’s Jewish Chronicle poll showed that 42% of Jews — a figure which rose to 57% among 18-34 year-olds — said they would consider voting Labour if Corbyn wasn’t leader.

The major difference between Britain and American is the existence of third parties.  Disaffection with Labour has not translated into higher Tory membership.  Instead the trend has been a dramatic increase in support for the center-left, anti-Brexit Liberal Democratic Party.  And initial election polls suggest the Liberal Democrats have a chance of winning seats in Parliament currently held by both Conservative and Labour candidates.

So, pay attention Americans.  One toxic candidate can shift support in a single election as was the case when Teresa May defeated Corbyn in the last British general election.  Two toxic candidates can accelerate the rise of a third party foreshadowing the third time this century the chief executive of the United States fails to win a plurality, much less a majority, of the popular vote.  Something to consider as primary voting begins in Iowa three months from this Sunday.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Judy, Judy, Judy

 

DISCLAIMER:  The events described at the end of this post are parody.  There is no evidence Donald Trump or others said anything attributed to them.  I offer this declaimer because the White House and Trump supporters do not appear to understand the difference between parody and citation.

Cary Grant never said, “Judy, Judy, Judy,” in any of his movies although it became a favorite meme for Grant impersonators.  In Only Angels Have Wings, his female co-star’s character was named Judy, and the closest he came to uttering the triple moniker was, “Yes, Judy.”  And in Bringing Up Baby, he once agonized over Katherine Hepburn’s interference in his somewhat stable existence, saying, “Susan, Susan, Susan.”

But the Judy of this post is Judge Judy Sheindlin of television fame.  One of her favorite admonishments to the parties in her courtroom is, “If it does not make sense, it’s probably not true.”  I thought about Judge Judy as I watched clips from Trump’s 50+ minute announcement, press conference or whatever associated with the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The number of inaccuracies and inappropriate comments spewed by a commander-in-chief who thinks his green lighting the assault puts him in the same category as those who risked their lives executing the mission have already been documented by the media, with one exception.  Yes, reports from others involved in Syria and in DC suggest there was no way Trump knew Baghdadi’s state of mind immediately prior to his death.  So, the question is, if Trump was going to make up a story, why this one and equally important, why one that does not make sense?

My credentials as a psychoanalyst end with my barely passing an Intro to Psychology class at the University of Virginia.  But minimum knowledge of the discipline is enough to recognize projection when I see it.  Trump accuses everyone of corruption because he is corrupt. Trump wants you to believe Hunter Biden is taking advantage of his father’s name because he knows his own children’s sole qualification for their current careers is the fact they are Trumps.

So when Trump described Baghdadi’s demise, saying  “he died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering, crying, and screaming all the way,” was the projecter-in-chief giving us a preview of what to expect when he is forced to leave the White House following Senate conviction of high crimes and misdemeanors or defeat next November?  We already know the answer.  For three and a half years, we have watched him whimper and scream following each revelation of corruption, abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

Which brings me back to a more logical explanation of what happened last weekend in Syria.  I preface the following by saying it is a good thing that Baghdadi is gone.  The world is a better place without him.  But to believe Baghdadi is the coward Trump made him out to be, you have to ignore the following.

  • Baghdadi did not surrender.
  • He was wearing a vest filled with explosives.
  • He chose to die on his own terms rather than at the hands of the perceived infidels.
  • He did not give U.S. forces the opportunity to photograph his in tact body as was the case with Bin Laden.
  • Nor did he want Americans to handle his burial, even if it was done in accordance with Islamic law and tradition.

These are not the actions of a sniveling coward.  They better represent the characteristics of someone who chooses to die as a martyr for a cause, regardless of how irrational or evil that cause may be.  But what about his decision to make his three children die with him?  I do not understand why anyone would make such a choice even if  Baghdadi misguidedly believed he was acting in his children’s best interests.  It is not important what I think.  It is more reasonable to assume Baghdadi felt he could not let his children become a possession of his sworn enemy.  Compare that to Trump’s narrative and imagine what Judge Judy would say.  Right. “If it doesn’t make sense…”

Donald Trump has never been chased down a tunnel by armed adversaries.  However, throughout his life, he has found himself trapped at the end of figurative underground passages.  He has been pursued by creditors and surrendered through bankruptcy.  He has wrongly accused the innocent and never manned up to his errors.  And now he is cornered by the evidence and witnesses who are building a ever-growing case about his abuse of power and unfitness as chief executive of the United States.

So, sometime in the not too distant future, imagine the following scene at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mick Mulvaney: Mr. President, there are several Republican senators demanding to see you.

Trump:  Did they knock on the door like normal people and ask, “May we come in?”

Mulvaney: Sorry, sir, but they seem determined enough to blow a hole in the Oval Office to get to you.

Trump:  Maybe we should retreat to the situation room.  Call Melania, Ivanka and Jared and tell them to meet me there.  And get me my vest.  You know, the one with built-in paper shredder.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone see what was really going on here.

Mulvaney:  Sorry, sir.  Ivanka and Jared said they’re busy.  But they did wish you luck.  Melania just laughed.

Trump:  Then, I guess it’s just the two of us.

Mulvaney:  What do you mean “us”, kimosabe?

[Trump seeks asylum in the situation room only to be followed by the Senate delegation.  They find him sitting on the floor in a far corner, crying and screaming.]

Mitch McConnell:  Mr. President.  It’s over.  You have to leave now.

Trump:  Can I at least make one phone call?

McConnell:  Of course, sir.

[Trump picks up the phone and punches in a number.]

Trump:  Hello?  Vladimir?

Hopefully, T. S. Eliot was right.  This is how the Trump era ends.  Not with a bang but a whimper.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP