Fire and Fury

The maelstrom of comment around the new book by Michael Wolf is interesting for two reasons.

Firstly, the apparent amazement surrounding what it says about President Trump and those around him. What in the book is a surprise? Anyone who has followed Mr Trump’s presidency with half an eye or indeed his election campaign can hardly be surprised with the picture that emerges from the book. A boorish narcissist with the attention span of a gnat, wholly incapable of high office.

A child for whom the word “no” has not occurred sufficiently often in his life. Someone for whom instant gratification is the norm, more, a basic requirement, as, if it is not achieved, he simply moves on without a backward glance to the next demand. Someone who wakes anew every day, his mind a tabula rasa for Fox news and innate prejudice to write upon.

The best that you can say is that it is a testament to the respect in which the democratic process is held that many people continue to try and translate his actions and comments into something coherent and sensible. Whilst he promotes a neoliberal agenda there are those who will have an interest in pretending he is something he is not. However, there are probably still some who cling to the hope that democracy cannot have gone so badly wrong.

As to the views of those working for President Trump about their boss these have been leaked frequently over the past 12 months. Back in October comments by Rex Tillerson about him being a moron were widely reported.

The second interesting thing about the book is how it got written. Mr Wolf is a well known journalist in the States’ whose metier is not journalism of the sober pedantic type. He is to political journalism what the bodice bodice ripper is to novels. President Trump now says he was was never interviewed by him and denigrates the man as a gutter scandal monger.

That may all be true but you have to wonder on what basis this man manages to secure access to the West Wing of the White House,… for a year? You would have thought any journalist given such privileged access for such a long period of time would a) have been thoroughly vetted and b) chaperoned 24/7.

The fact that this man was allowed to wonder around, at will, in what should be one of the most secure locations on the planet says something about President Trump but also those around him. It is a failure of security and judgement which would be inexcusable in any corporate entity but in the White House it is almost unbelievable.

Is Mr Wolf’s account accurate? As to detail, who knows. As to tone and substance it rings awfully true. In “Fire and Fury” President Trump’s first year in office seems to have secured the account it deserves.


The Case for Impeachment

It is a sad but unsurprising comment on the Trump Presidency that in April this year (2017), less than three months into his term of office, an American professor of history, Allen J Lichtman, should think it worthwhile publishing a work entitled “The Case for Impeachment”. The book considers Trump’s behaviour generally and specifically in his first few weeks in office to present the “… foundation for building a case for his impeachment”.

He makes the point that impeachment proceedings are not confined to the actions of a President in office. Politically unlikely, but constitutionally possible is the impeachment of Trump for actions which were committed before he became President. More likely such actions may be considered as evidence of his character and propensity to behave in particular ways as part of an impeachment hearing for things related to his campaign for the Presidency and his time in office.

Professor Lichtman summarises a whole series of areas which he believes provide grounds for action to impeach Trump. A key one is his attitude to the law. He summarises the various laws that Trump has broken over the years: racial discrimination in housing; illegal use of charitable funds; failure to pay taxes; sexual discrimination against female  employees in his casinos; establishing a fraudulent “University” (one which offered no course credits, conferred no degrees, did not grade students and did not submit to outside review); and, perhaps most ironically, the exploitation of undocumented immigrants in the construction of Trump Tower in 1980.

Whilst impeachment may not be instituted because of any of the above transgressions they provide evidence of his attitude towards the law. Details of the above cases betray an attitude which sees it as a tool to gag and intimidate people who oppose him but to be ignored or subverted where it stands in the way of what he wants to do. His modus operandi is to spend his way out of trouble by, for instance, paying $25m to settle the case relating to his bogus university whilst at the same time claiming this as a victory. He has certainly had plenty of practice finessing the law it being reported he has been plaintiff in 1,900 legal actions, defendant in 1,450, and involved in bankruptcy or third-party suits 150 times.

The book catalogues the various and multiple conflicts of interest created by Trump’s ongoing business interests around the world and makes the point that the high level of debt many of his companies rely upon creates real leverage for the holders of that debt if something goes wrong and his businesses cannot repay their loans. The only way to avoid these conflicts and risks would be by selling all his assets, liquidating his debt and putting the proceeds into a blind Trust operated by a third part not reporting to the President. He has refused to do this rather handing over control of his business empire to his two sons!

Trumps propensity to see the truth as whatever serves his purpose is considered. The independent fact-checker PolitiFact reviewed all the presidential candidates at the end of the nomination process and found Trump had more “Pants on Fire” ratings than all twenty-one other candidates… combined! The point is made that lying under oath about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky was a key driver of the impeachment of Bill Clinton. A series of outstanding lawsuits against Trump could result in his having to testify under oath and create a similar risk for him if he failed to tell the truth.

Of course the big issue is the Russia connection and the book provides a summary of the nature of the pro-Trump Russian intervention in the election and the many links Trump has to Russia, and oligarchs close to Putin. It charts the pro-Russia interventions made by the Trump administration and the links going back to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant which Trump took to Moscow. It also mentions the fact that, at the time, Trump had tweeted “Trump Tower Moscow is next.” Since the book was published in April evidence has emerged that Trump Tower Moscow was more than a vague dream. It appears, despite statements to the contrary, that Trump Tower Moscow is a live project. Indeed in 2016 Mr Trump signed a letter of intent about the project.

Given what we know about the actions of Trump since the election the question arises, why has he not been impeached already. The cold reality according to Prof. Lichtman is that the Republican Party has a programme of change they want to see through. It involves, tax reform, de-regulation, eviscerating climate change laws, repeal of the affordable care act, shifting investment towards the military away from social programmes, and generally reducing the role of the state. Whilst it is judged Trump is capable of delivering on this the Republicans will not move against him and their control of the House and Senate means therefore impeachment would not succeed.

Given Trump’s spectacular failure to deliver pretty much anything since he came into office the GOP may well be starting to think about plan B. If they were to impeach Trump then, theoretically, Mike Pence, as Vice President, should take over which may have looked an attractive option at some point. However, this may not be so appealing if there is a risk that the investigations of special counsel Bob Mueller finds that Mr Pence has, in some way, colluded in the Russia connection or, even worse, the cover up of the same.

It is difficult to see how President Trump can survive to the end of his first term. His propensity to dig  when he is in a hole is spectacular. Whilst it is a comment on the times a book could be published 4 months into his Presidency making the case for impeachment it is even more instructive that 6 months later the book looks significantly out of date as to the weight of evidence mounting and pressure building on this presidency.

There is a sense President Trump has created a new standard for shock. He has set the bar much higher for outrage. However, in the background the prosaic investigations of the Mueller inquiry grind on. The President may find at some point the civilised standards of ordinary people reassert themselves and that no one is above the rule of law. If he does not – God help America.

The Case For Impeachment. A J Lichtman. Harper Colllins 2017


Plot to oust Theresa May breaks into the open

Plot to oust Theresa May breaks into the openEx-Tory chairman Grant Shapps emerges as ringleader of rebellion against prime minister

Source: Plot to oust Theresa May breaks into the open

After Diem Horribilis Grant Shapps claims leadership of backbench challenge to her leadership Mrs May must have though things could not get any worse. Then up pops Michael Gove on the Today programme offering his complete support. She must see her days are numbered.


Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘red lines’ undermine Theresa May

Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘red lines’ undermine Theresa MayIntervention on eve of Tory conference scuppers premier’s plan to reassert controlRead nextLabour’s galvanising conference in Brighton4 HOURS AGOTheresa May with other EU heads of government at a summit in Tallinn on Friday © EPAShare on Twitter (opens new window)Share on Facebook (opens new window)Share on LinkedIn (opens new window)Email162 Save to myFT8 HOURS AGO by Robert Wright and George ParkerBoris Johnson issued a direct challenge to Theresa May over her Brexit strategy last night, undermining the prime minister as she tries to reassert her authority at the Conservative conference that starts on Sunday.The foreign secretary used an interview to stake out his four “red lines” for Brexit, which go beyond the carefully agreed cabinet position set out by Mrs May in her speech in Florence last week.

Source: Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘red lines’ undermine Theresa May

The Tory leadership campaign is likely to be long and bitter. Europe has always had the potential to tear the party apart and the process of getting rid of Mrs May may be the catalyst which is why she remains Prime Minister.

Telling the truth in politics has never been a moral commitment. Rather a practical imperative not to be found to lie has tempered political rhetoric. That seems now to have gone. Boris lied in the Brexit campaign and he is lying again. It will be interesting to see if this carries any weight with MP’s and party members when a leadership challenge is mounted.

One thing which might undermine his campaign is his open disloyalty to the leader. Many Conservatives think it is a sin to undermine the leader publicly whatever you might do privately. Given that lying, and being found out is not necessarily a disbar from the role of leader it may be possible for an unplaced runner to come in late. Someone like Grant Shapps for instance. He certainly has the brass neck for the job.

On the other hand, time is the friend of the wounded. The longer Mrs May is in power the longer politics has the opportunity to throw up something that might help her. A week is a long time… but months and years is even longer. Mrs May is in power because the party fears the alternative. The longer they fear this the more difficult it will be to replace her. Given the poisonous challenge of Europe is quite possible they will fear it though to 2022.

Mrs May’s strength may be holding the ring on this potentially fatal issue. The next week is strewn with banana skins but if she gets through it it will be an important milestone in her Premiership. She may well see this government though, however whether it lasts to 2022 is a whole different issue.



Theresa May to champion free market in Bank of England speech | Business | The Guardian

A strong and properly regulated free-market economy is the only way to guarantee higher living standards, Theresa May will say on Thursday as she contrasts her economic approach with the call for more state control made by Labour at this week’s conference.

Source: Theresa May to champion free market in Bank of England speech | Business | The Guardian

Prime Minister May’s defence of the free market is not a critiques of Jeremy Corbyn. I did not hear him say he wants to do away with the free market at any point nor did he talk about the overthrow of capitalism. His target is a particular version of actually existing capitalism structured by the principles of neo-liberalism. A view of the world which bifurcates it very much as was done in Animal Farm i.e. “State Bad Market Good”.

Such a position is not coherent. In the reporting above Mrs May calls for a “properly regulated” free market but opposes Mr Cobyn’s call for more state control. Who does she think is going to “properly regulate” the market if not the state?

Mr Corbyn is correct in suggesting that the centre ground of British politics has moved. Mrs May herself appreciates this and proposed quite radical ideas about workers on Boards when she first came into power. She is constantly tacking back to where she thinks the bedrock of her support is. She lacks to courage of her convictions. Mr Corbyn does not.


That Fight is Ours Too…

Politics in the United States is not the obvious place to look for inspiration at the moment however Senator Elizabeth Warren’s book “This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save Working People” is like a shaft of light in  a dark cave. Ms Warren is the senior US senator for Massachusetts and a Democrat. Her book provides an analysis of how the US has been transformed over the past four decades from a nation characterised by a stable and growing middle class optimistic about its future to a society riven with insecurity and fear.

She is a genuine patriot, particularly proud of the amazing growth of the middle class in the states following the Great Depression driven by FD Roosevelt’s government which took on the multi-millionaires of the time. Promoting trade unions, breaking monopolistic practices, regulating competition, investing in education for all and creating a nascent welfare state.

Warren BookAll of this meant that over the period from 1935 to 1980 some 70% of all the income growth went to the bottom 90% of the population and 30% went to the top 10%. It meant that an enormous middle class was created whose experience was of steady employment, with good pensions to look forward to and a faith their children would be able to build on the foundations they had laid and gain a better future through education and their own efforts.

Do not think Ms Warren looks back through rose tinted spectacles however, at “the good old days”. Her personal experience as a child of how precarious existence could be when her father had a heart attack and could not work prevents that. When her mother became the only breadwinner in the house and got a minimum wage job at Sears things were tight, however, in the mid 1960’s, that one minimum wage kept a family of three afloat paying the mortgage and keeping food on the table.

It is not that everything back then was perfect, it was just that there was a sense the arc of history was bending in the right direction. Since then however the arc of history has been pushed in a different direction. Whilst the cost of living has increased significantly the value of the minimum wage has plummeted in real terms and the idea that a single minimum wage, could keep a family of three afloat is laughable. The current Federal minimum being $7.25 although in many states higher rates are paid up to $15 (£9) per hour. Worse, median wages have stagnated so that over a thirty year period working Americans have seen virtually no real increase in their pay. Why is this?

One of the reasons is that in the period since 1980 to 2015 the income growth of the country mentioned above got shared out differently. The amount received by the bottom 90% was a large round number – zero. And for those who struggle with maths this means the top 10% have taken 100% of the growth. How could that happen?

Well not by accident. Back in those crazy communist days of the 1960’s the 10% started to become discontent with the mere 30% of the wealth they received. This discontent was channelled in 1971 by a confidential memo written by a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell which was essentially a call to the rich to transform themselves in to the rich and powerful.

To do this they were encouraged to invest their wealth in gaining control of the political agenda. Whilst this included funding supportive politicians in increasingly costly election campaigns it was more insidiously about capturing the realm of ideas. To do this they should fund research, think tanks, media shows, anything which promoted their ideas. Ideas which could be boiled down to low taxes for the rich and an ever reduced role for the state in the provision of services, regulation and, worst of all, transfer payments.

Ms Warren draws on her own experience and that of a number of individuals to illustrate what that process has done to people and their life chances. She talks about Gina, the woman whose family income has halved over the past 20 years from $70k to $35k. “No crisis. No Accident. No tale of woe. Juts the grinding wear and tear of an economy that doesn’t work for families like Gina’s”

She talks about Kai a young woman who worked hard through school and wanted to work in design. She paid to go to a private University but after the first year could not afford the fees so decided to return to her home state and complete her degree there only to find the credits from the Private University were not recognised so had to repeat a year. The upshot is she now has $90k of the $1.4 trillion US student loan debt and is repaying it out of her job as a waitress.

Finally, Michael who worked hard at his job at DHL for 16 years securing a house with  a mortgage and what he though was a solid middle class life ahead. Then 2008, DHL eliminated 14,900 jobs including Michael’s. He then got a call asking if he wanted his old job back. Not his full time job with benefits though, a part time job with no guaranteed hours and no benefits. He had to take on two jobs but even then he could not pay the penalous mortgage he had been mis-sold so lost his home.

Even then he did not give up but just kept on eking out jobs here and there until he got work in a Nabisco factory putting the cream in Oreos. Just when he thought he was getting back on his feet the factory was closed and production relocated to Mexico.

The real life stories of individuals trying to live up to the myth that hard work is all that is needed to secure a reasonable living are heartbreaking. They translate debates about trade deals, de-regulation and labour rights into a increasingly depressing reality for millions of American. As “the economy” and Wall Street does well and the stock market booms the 90% get left further and further behind.

Ms Warren is under no illusion about the implications for working people of a Trump presidency backed by a Republican Congress. However she draws strength from the millions of Americans who want to stand up against bigotry, for a fairer economy and most of all for Democracy. Her battle for Democracy has implications far beyond the States. Democracy there has been infected most by the “greenback virus” but it is happening in many other places including the UK where election expense rules are starting to be challenged by being ignored. We have a common interest in Ms Warrens fight.

If this book is a kite being flown to test support for a 2020 campaign run it gets my vote. Ms Warren comes across as intelligent, incisive, authentic but most of all humane. If voters want a choice of opposites in the 2020 election she would provide it.


Elizabeth Warren. This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save Working People. Harper Collins. 2017.


Trumping Democracy

Right now in Washington DC there is a battle in progress for the soul of American democracy. An increasingly embattled President Trump is making comments and exploring actions which, if followed through, would undermine one of the pillars of any democratic society, respect for the rule of law and the independent administration of justice.

The President gave an interview to The New York Times earlier this week in which he criticised the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, both of whom he appointed, and threatened to sack Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is investigating the links between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

In relation to the Attorney General, his sin was that he recused himself from anything to do with the investigation into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia. As head of  the Department of Justice his recusal from anything to do with the investigation was inevitable given his previous role as a top advisor to Mr Trump’s campaign. Who could not understand this…? President Trump. He argued if Mr Sessions had told him he would recuse himself from the Russia investigation he would not have appointed him to the post of Attorney General.  The only inference you can draw from this is the President wanted someone as head of the Department of Justice who would do his bidding, thus transforming the rule of law into the rule of the Executive!

In normal circumstances the kind of comments made by the President would have led to the automatic resignation of the Attorney General. It is testament to how far we are from normal times that two days later and their has been no resignation. The President can, however, fire the Attorney General and he may do just that in order to clear the way for him to get at Robert Mueller who is appointed by and sackable by… the  head of the Department of Justice, or when he has recused himself from issues Russia, his Deputy Rod Rosenstein.

Mr Mueller’s sin is that he is investigating the links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s attack on the 2016 election focused on securing a Trump win. But worse than this it is thought he may have extended his investigation into the Trump family finances including those of the President. If this is the case is it this just a prurient desire on the part of Mr Mueller to know about the business dealings of a billionaire? Or is it perhaps, given the increasing evidence of Trump/Russia links, that it is a reasonable suspicion there may be some material business connection here which creates a security risk for the United States.

Will President Trump sack Attorney General Sessions? Who knows, but it is far from inconceivable, which is where it should be. Would he then go on and get a more compliant Attorney General to sack Robert Mueller? One suspects there is little point in taking all the heat that would arise from the former without going on and doing the latter.

The architecture of government established by the founding fathers with its separation of powers and the norms of democratic behaviour evolved over 200 years are currently wrestling with a President who is using all the power and authority accrued to his office over generations to destroy the very foundations upon which it stands. The bureaucrats in the front line of this battle should be recognised for the vital job they are doing.  There should be no misunderstanding  about the gravity of the situation. The fact Trump is a buffoon and a boor should not distract from his naked exploitation of power in office for personal interest.

President Trump and his family seem incapable of seeing any distinction between their interests and those of the office of President. What’s good for Trump is good for the USA might be their credo. It seems they are genuinely incapable of seeing the issues and conflicts their behaviour generates. The recent revelations about Trump Junior and his meeting with Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya is typical of what has happened throughout the past 6 months. A meeting initially described as with four or five people about the process of adoption becomes, over time, a meeting about Russian hacked data of Hilary Clinton’s, with 6 then 7 and now 8 people. One a “former” agent of Russian Military Intelligence.  Another suspected of having links with Russian intelligence and one with self confessed links to Yuri Chaika, the Supreme Russian Prosecuter.

Perhaps, if President Trump does start to scythe through the Justice department, the partisan anchors within the Republican party will start to be pulled up and the Legislative arm of the government would at last take action against what, it is increasingly clear, is a rogue President. If they do not then there is a genuine threat to democracy in the United States and that is a matter of global concern.