Gullible’s Travels Starring President Trump

If there’s a sucker born every minute, our commander-in-chief is clearly the man of the hour.

What’s fascinating about this president is how an expert con man (as he is) can so easily be conned.

In nearly every foray abroad, President Trump has exhibited either gullibility, complicity or a deliberate willingness to accept at face value the word of foreign dictators and autocrats. Of course, he does this while choosing to ignore the intelligence and counsel provided by his own expert advisers.

Trump has proven, once again, that he is a world-class chump.

After making a 14,000-mile trip to Vietnam and back for his much-heralded second round of “Deal or No Deal” with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un, the president returned empty-handed. Save one thing: Kim’s assurances that he had absolutely nothing to do with the death of 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, the Ohio college student taken hostage and murdered by the Kim regime.

While Kim may not have actively participated in the torture that led to Warmbier’s neurological injuries, subsequent coma and eventual death, nothing of any magnitude takes place in North Korea without his express knowledge or approval.

The 2016 arrest and incarceration of a foreign national – especially one holding American citizenship – would have certainly been brought to Kim’s attention. Warmbier was a bargaining chip for Kim then and remains so even after he has been laid to rest.

When questioned by a reporter as to whether he’d discussed Warmbier’s treatment during his meetings with Kim, the president said the dictator told him that “he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”

On yet another of Gullible’s Travels to Vietnam (for the 2017 APEC summit), Trump was asked whether he and Vladimir Putin had discussed Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Trump told reporters, “[Putin said] I didn’t do that. I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Maybe it’s something in the air in Vietnam or, perhaps, just jet lag that makes the president so susceptible to digesting disinformation when it’s being spoon-fed to him by foreign strongmen. Whatever the case, Trump’s reaction is a variation on a theme: “I will take him at his word”; “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

When asked last fall whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a hand in the execution of columnist Jamal Khashoggi of The Washington Post, the president said the prince told him he didn’t. Of the Saudis, Trump added, “I want to believe them. I really want to believe them.”

What the president really believes is that if he repeats the same refrain over and over, his dreams will come true. Some psychologists call this “magical thinking.” Others call it delusional.

There is nothing magical about cold-blooded murder. There is something pathetic, however, about a president who is quick to accept the assurances of world-class criminals.

Not so the family of Warmbier. When their son returned home shortly before his death last June, they expressed gratitude to President Trump’s administration for the “quiet diplomacy” that led to their son’s release. Gratitude, however, has its limits.

In response to the president’s assertion that the North Korean dictator was telling the truth when he said he had nothing to do with Warmbier’s murder, the young man’s family issued a statement that read, “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”

This president obsessively fixates on the media, branding them purveyors of “fake news” even when what’s reported is credibly sourced and documented. He ignores the findings of his hand-picked team of intelligence professionals. He bends truth and reality to suit his will. Yet, when it comes to leaders of enemy states and authoritarian regimes, he readily accepts and embraces outright lies and disinformation, allowing them to play him for a fool. Trump does so not just at his peril, but ours as well.

That is not only inexcusable. It’s dangerous.

Copyright 2019 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is an award-winning journalist and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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If Trump is Innocent, Why’s He Still Helping Russia?

Democrat and Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee recently announced that no direct evidence of a conspiracy between Russian intelligence operatives and Trump campaign officials has been uncovered by their investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Despite the president’s mistaken belief that he has been fully-exonerated (he hasn’t), the more pressing issue is whether he’ll finally accept the U.S. intelligence community’s well-documented conclusion that Russian operatives did everything in their power to shape American public opinion and exert influence over voters.

Based on newly-disclosed actions taken by his administration, it appears that he either doesn’t or (more likely) doesn’t want to. The Daily Beast reports that two teams of federal officials whose mandate was to fight foreign election interference are being dramatically downsized. This will leave the U.S. woefully unprepared to address election threats in 2020. Apparently, the president is quite pleased by the past work-product of his comrades in the Kremlin and expects them to deliver once more.

The U.S. Intelligence Community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment, presented to Congress a few weeks ago, states “we anticipate that all our adversaries and strategic competitors will increasingly build and integrate cyber espionage, attack, and influence capabilities into their efforts to influence U.S. policies and advance their own national security interests.”

That appears to be confirmed in reports from multiple media outlets detailing attempts to use Facebook and Twitter to launch disinformation campaigns. According to Politico, Twitter recently removed 2,617 “malicious accounts” that may have originated in Iran. Facebook announced that it had suspended 783 Iranian pages and accounts on its platforms, including Instagram, for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

Twitter has suspended 418 accounts that appear to emanate from Russia for mimicking behavior similar to that exhibited by the Internet Research Agency – the Russian troll farm responsible for many of the propaganda campaigns that raged during the 2016 election. It also took down 2,000 accounts located in Venezuela that have engaged in a “state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic audiences.”

No reasonable (emphasis on reasonable) leader could possibly ignore ongoing assaults on the hearts and minds of the American people. Nor would he ignore the advice of his hand-picked intelligence chiefs. Yet, this leader does. Because his friends in the Motherland continue to employ cyber warfare as an ongoing offensive strategy, quite possibly designed to bolster his stranglehold on the White House. It should come as no surprise then that the Trump administration is taking steps to ensure that this barrage of disinformation continues to rain down on the American people unimpeded.

Not so within the Putin Regime. They’re very much afraid that outside forces will employ tactics like those used against, causing the Russian people to rise and challenge Putin’s leadership.

Legislation passed in 2015 by the Duma, the lower chamber in the Russian Parliament, requires that personal data of Russian citizens be stored on servers located in Russia. This should not by any means be construed as a measure designed to protect that country’s citizens. Instead, it is an attempt to circumvent external servers that power Facebook, Twitter and Google, allowing security officials to monitor dissident activities and deny the Russian people access to sites where the free-flow of information and speech might threaten those in control.

Officials at the highest levels of the Russian government and our own are in both instances taking steps to solidify their positions of power. In the case of Putin and company, attempts are being made to close the floodgates to information, while Team Trump is doing everything it can to leave them wide-open.

Clearly, the president fears that concerted efforts on the part of our intelligence community to prevent our adversaries from tampering with elections, sowing discord, and spreading disinformation might cause the Trumpian knot to unravel. And the legitimacy of his presidency to be called into question yet again.

Whether Trump directly engaged or conspired with outside forces to corrupt the results of the 2016 presidential election is still unclear. Results of both the Mueller investigation and a more vigorous investigation by the Democrat-controlled House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence may paint a more accurate picture once their work is finished.

Believing he has been vindicated by the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Trump continues to grow more emboldened. Which, to use one of his favorite expressions, is “sad.” And a mistake. Because his administration’s recent efforts to stymie future cyberattacks call into question whether there really is “No collusion.” And that will only cause government watchdogs to sniff around his administration more aggressively.

Copyright 2019 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is an award-winning journalist and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Donald Trump, the Teflon President

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, New York mob boss John Gotti earned the nickname the “Teflon Don.” Despite numerous attempts to nail him, criminal charges never managed to stick. Years of investigations and attempts to convict Gotti for a litany of organized crime activities mostly ended in failure. Witnesses were intimidated and tampered with, and no matter how hard or how often federal prosecutors tried, they couldn’t convict the Teflon Don.

J. Bruce Mouw, the FBI agent who led the special unit that ultimately helped convict Gotti, told the New York Times in 2002 that the mob boss “was the first media Don.” As opposed to “the first media Donald.”

Donald J. Trump is “The Teflon President.” No matter how much legal trouble he’s gotten himself into over the years, nothing ever seems to stick. So far, he’s been equally as elusive as Gotti. And while the president is not a mobster, he does talk and behave like one.

As acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker would have us believe, the Mueller Investigation is coming to its thrilling conclusion, and a report is being finalized. Once released to the public (or quietly delivered to the attorney general), the president may or may not be vindicated. If he remains in office, there exists a distinct possibility that Trump’s teflon armor will continue to deflect any legal muck being slung at him. Should that be the case, Trump may have a better-than-average shot at being re-elected.

Meanwhile, Democrats have a potential feeding frenzy on their hands, somewhat akin to the one experienced by the GOP in 2016. The race is already on for the fluctuating 25-30 plus candidates who have either officially declared or are contemplating a run for their party’s nomination. Not one has yet to demonstrate they have broad party appeal. Unlike their Republican counterparts, who tend to be reliably conservative – be that fiscally, socially, or a combination of the two – Democrats have a wide array of political ideologies and often appear unable to reach consensus.

Though they’d managed to stay united during the recent government shutdown, Democrats as a rule tend to eat their own – young and old. And the field of hopefuls certainly runs that gamut, with Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden at the upper end of the spectrum and Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend among those at the opposite.

Let’s not forget the plethora of liberals, a bevy of moderates, men and women of color, and more than a few eminently-qualified senators, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar. The individual strengths of these candidates could, however, be a collective weakness for their party, hindering the odds that any one of them might appeal to the electorate as a whole.

Further complicating matters is a potential independent run by former Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz, a billionaire who plans on self-funding his campaign should he choose to enter the race. That possibility has already met with disdain among some liberal voters. At a recent event to promote his new book, Schultz was heckled by one who shouted, “Don’t help elect Trump!”

Though it may sound heretical, Democrats who are truly concerned with the direction the country is heading might want to consider an alternate strategy for next year’s presidential election. Forget the White House. Instead, focus on securing the House seats recently won, add to that number, and concentrate time, effort, and treasure on taking control of the Senate. Not with the intent of making impeachment a reality, but to finally have a fully-functional – as opposed to the currently dysfunctional – legislative branch that will provide the checks, balances and oversight our founding fathers had originally intended.

In the end, the feds did manage to scrape away Teflon Don’s non-stick coating and secure a conviction on charges that included murder, tax evasion, obstruction of justice, and racketeering. He was sentenced to life in the Big House.

For Democrats hoping to cleanse away Teflon Donald’s stranglehold on the White House, a grassroots effort to wrest control of both Houses of Congress in 2020 could be the S.O.S. pad they need to do the trick.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is an award-winning journalist and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Donald J Trump: Master of Disaster

Donald J. Trump: Master of Disaster

Threats to withhold federal emergency relief funds to aid victims of the forest fires that recently ravaged California offer further evidence that Donald J. Trump knows how to harbor a grudge.

The president is not popular in California. Results of the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton garnered nearly 9 million votes and trounced Trump by a margin of almost 2-to-1, are the most obvious indicator. Although having his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame sporadically come under siege by paint and pick-ax wielding fans appears to be further confirmation.

No matter. Californians are just a bunch of losers anyway. Trump doesn’t like losers. Nor does he like to lose. And when he does, it’s inevitable someone else will be made to pay. Big league. In this instance, that might mean the 6,646 individuals who have already applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance to find temporary housing, pay for home repairs, or buy groceries, new clothes and furniture.

The men, women and children who have lost homes, friends, family members, pets, possessions and livelihoods to conflagrations in both the northern and southern parts of the state are already victims.Any actions on Trump’s part to keep them from gaining access to the nearly $50 million in FEMA aid that had already been earmarked would only further victimize them.

Then again, why should they be any different than the 800,000 federal employees who are now jobless as a result of the president’s intransigence over funding for his wall or steel picket fence or whatever he wants to call it? Or the 13,000 migrant children currently held in detention centers? Or the thousands of family farmers and small business owners whose livelihoods are threatened as a result of his ill-conceived and poorly executed trade wars?

Playing with the lives of working-class men and women is nothing more than a means to an end for Donald Trump. No matter the cost.

While the president’s declaration of Ventura, Los Angeles, and Butte counties as disaster areas was a momentarily presidential move, he couldn’t leave well-enough alone. It was quickly followed by his pronouncement that the devastation wreaked by wildfires in California was a result of “poor forest management.”

This analysis was part of a thoughtful, thoroughly-researched screed unleashed by the president via Twitter that went on to say, “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

What to do with those already-allocated funds? Here’s a great idea: take them back from people in need and use them to pay for the president’s steel slat monstrosity on the southern border. Better yet, how about clawing back disaster relief funds set aside for Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas as well? Why go to the trouble of declaring a national emergency when so much money is readily available? After all, those billions of dollars would be much better spent fulfilling ludicrous campaign promises rather than helping struggling U.S. citizens. And by throwing a few Republican bastions in the mix, no one could possibly accuse Trump of red-blue bias (that bias is limited to other colors in this president’s box of crayons).

Questions of the legality of the president’s use of funds apportioned for disaster relief, as well as bipartisan antipathy toward the proposal, have resulted in some of the president’s more lucid advisers walking back his more outrageous suggestions. Still, the president’s transactional approach to governance is disturbing and should serve as a clarion call no matter what one’s political beliefs or place of residence are.

True national emergencies arise. At any given time, any one of us could fall victim to fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake or volcanic eruption. Catastrophic events happen. And insurance doesn’t always provide a solution to the problems that ensue.

Americans need to trust that petty partisanship will in no way interfere with our health, safety and well-being. We should feel confident that our leaders will have our backs regardless of whether one lives in a state that did or did not vote for the president. Left to his own devices, that appears unlikely so long as Donald Trump continues to occupy the White House and dominate members of the Republican Party.

Sadly, the trail of destruction left in the wake of this administration and the toll it’s taking on all of us may one day rival any natural disaster yet to befall this nation.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is an award-winning journalist and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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When Being Liberal Isn’t Liberal Enough

As the 116th Congress convenes in Washington this week, one of the more interesting spectacles to take place will be the seating of Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Much has been made of Ocasio-Cortez’s rhetoric and political philosophy since her defeat last year of former Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York’s 14th Congressional District, one of the most powerful Democrats in the House and a close ally of Nancy Pelosi.

In the wake of her primary victory over Crowley, Ocasio-Cortez told CNN, “We won because, I think, we had a very clear winning message, and we took that message to doors that had never been knocked on before.”

Ocasio-Cortez faced an incumbent who had grown complacent and disenfranchised from those he was elected to serve. She campaigned on a platform that promised to address issues that affected voters in her district including affordable housing, increased income inequality and poverty. Ocasio-Cortez called for Medicare for all, a federal jobs program, and has been quite vocal about abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Before taking her oath of office, Ocasio-Cortez targeted Pelosi intimate Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., leader of the House Democratic Caucus – a high-profile position a few notches below Pelosi’s own in the party hierarchy. Jeffries represents a district adjacent to that of Ocasio-Cortez. It appears she’d like a new neighbor. Preferably one she has hand-picked (or anointed) and who shares her own brand of progressivism, which Jeffries does not.

Therein lies a problem for the Democratic Party and their Blue Wave. How far to the left must a believer in more traditional liberal policies veer in order to satisfy those who believe party “elites” like Pelosi, Crowley, and Jeffries have failed average Americans?

Conservatives rarely (okay, mostly never) agree with Nancy Pelosi, but now a new breed of Democrat – or Democratic Socialist in the case of Ocasio-Cortez – poses an even greater challenge.In their eyes, Pelosi’s brand of liberal isn’t liberal enough. While that may be a fair assessment from their perspective, it would be somewhat self-destructive to arrive in Washington intent, as Ocasio-Cortez seems to be, on waging internecine warfare, status quo be damned.

During her campaign, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promised she would be responsive first and foremost to her constituents. She was critical of her predecessor, who focused more on building a political power base in D.C. than on the folks in the neighborhoods back home. It cost him his seat in the House. Yet, by her earliest rumblings, Ocasio-Cortez could suffer a similar fate two years hence should she not keep her word with those in the Bronx and Queens who put her in office.

In a recent New Yorker profile on Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., former New York Congressman Steve Israel recalled that when he and Schiff first came to Washington in 2000, they were told during their orientation that there were three kinds of members of Congress – “the ‘pothole member,’ who concentrates on district issues, the ‘political member,’ who works on moving up the ladder, and the ‘policy member,’ who digs down in specific policy areas and becomes the expert on the floor of the House.”

Most newly-elected members being seated this week are there for one reason. And it wasn’t Donald Trump. It was because voters at home believed they would be more responsive to “pothole issues” like healthcare than were their opponents.Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected on that basis, yet she increasingly presents as though she is more intent on becoming a “political member” than she’d initially led her constituents to believe. As she well knows, it doesn’t take much to remind voters when a politician isn’t listening and doesn’t keep their word.

In these precarious times, it shouldn’t matter whether our leaders are conservative enough or liberal enough. What should matter is that they do the job they were elected to do, which is representing those of us back home. Squandering the opportunity to do so in exchange for building one’s own personal political brand is a betrayal of a constituent’s trust. Hopefully, the newest members of the 116th Congress will keep that in mind as they settle in to begin the business of governing.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is an award-winning journalist and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The Fix Is In

“I alone can fix it.”

That’s what the current occupant of the Oval Office told cheering delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention.

He pointed to “war and destruction abroad” as one of the most critical challenges facing the United States. And he told the American people that he alone could “fix” it.

Unfortunately, the only thing Donald J. Trump appears capable of fixing is the 2016 election that put him in office.

Despite denials and repeated lies that he took no part in violating federal election laws, the Justice Department has clearly identified him in court documents as an unindicted co-conspirator.

More criminal is Trump’s unilateral decision to pull 2,000 American troops out of Syria, thus ending a critical mission that supported rebels intent on ending the authoritarian regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The move places at risk our longtime allies, the Kurds, stymies the progress we’ve made against ongoing threats posed by ISIS, provides solace and assistance to Russian troops and the Iranian military, and could lead to a terrorist staging ground for Hezbollah.

In addition, Trump’s misguided actions have compromised the security of our chief ally in the Middle East – the State of Israel.

In Trump’s perverse world view, making nice with murderous heads of state in Saudi Arabia is far more constructive to maintaining stability in the region than taking them to task and expressing outrage over the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Responsibility for the murder has been placed squarely at the doorstep of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by the president’s own intelligence advisers. The same prince whose government is committing ongoing war crimes against the people of Yemen. With the full support of this president.

At the outset of the Trump presidency, many in Washington were comforted when Trump surrounded himself with experienced, competent advisers like Chief of Staff John Kelly, whose feet are now halfway out the door of the Oval Office. Also among that group: National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster – gone. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – gone. And, now, Defense Secretary James Mattis – gone.

Syria was the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for Mattis, prompting this much-decorated Marine Corps general with forty years of experience leading our nation’s most elite troops to sever his ties with the Trump administration.

In Mattis’s letter of resignation, the defense secretary wrote, “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.”

Contrast Mattis’s decades engaged in helping to formulate the strategic military and defense goals of the nation (as well as combat experience in various theaters of war) versus Trump’s boyhood time served in a military school due to incorrigible behavior and two years of diplomatic, military, and economic chaos while occupying the White House.

Mattis went on to say, “I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nation’s economic, diplomatic, and security decisions to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors.”

And there lies the rub, plain and simple: Russia. Remember, “No collusion?” Why then, within hours of the commander-in-chief’s move to withdraw troops from Syria, did Russian President Vladimir Putin laud Trump’s action? And why did Putin take it one step further and question when we would be withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, only to have Trump acquiesce hours later by ordering the draw-down of half our forces now based there? No collusion, indeed.

Under this administration, our country has been on life support. We are nearing a Constitutional breaking point and in danger of forfeiting our place as the shining light and spirit of free democratic societies throughout the world.

What is most frightening is that the true leaders Americans had counted on to guide us through the Trumpian debacle have either thrown up their hands in disgust and resigned, or have been unceremoniously kicked out the door of the Oval Office like rusty tin cans.

Not to worry, though. The “fix” is in. Because as long as Trump is in the White House and he has allies like Vladimir Putin to guide him, our nation’s position in the world will be forever secure.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is an award-winning journalist and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Republicans Give Trump a Get Out of Jail Pass

President Trump had it right when he claimed, “the system is rigged.” It was a popular refrain of his leading up to the 2016 presidential election. What Trump didn’t say was that he, his advisers, and members of his campaign staff were intimately engaged in activities meant to undermine – or “rig” – the eventual outcome at the polls.

With the sentencing of President Trump’s one-time attorney Michael Cohen to three years in federal prison for a series of felonies, including violations of federal election laws directed by then-candidate Trump, a new level of presidential malfeasance has been confirmed.

Court documents filed by prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York effectively named the president, identified as “Individual 1,” as an unindicted co-conspirator in the commission of these crimes.

At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley asserted that “Each of these crimes is a serious offense against the United States.” Making the president even more offensive than he already has proven himself to be.

Somehow, this doesn’t appear to phase Republican leaders like outgoing Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who told reporters, “I don’t care. All I can say is he’s doing a great job as president.” And an even better job of polarizing the country and wreaking havoc on the Constitution he swore to uphold.

Hatch – a former Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee – doesn’t care about breaking the law. So long as the person holding the highest office in the land is pushing forward the agenda of his party.

Hatch didn’t seem to feel the same way in 1999 when he said of then-President Bill Clinton, “This nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes. But it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up.”

Candidates from both parties sometimes unknowingly or unwittingly make mistakes in violation of federal campaign finance laws. They’re oftentimes filing errors or a result of not ticking all the right boxes when presenting data required by the Federal Election Commission. They are rarely criminal in intent. Typically, their campaigns pay a fine.

The actions of Michael Cohen and President Trump, however, were no mere mistakes. Cohen’s efforts, directed by then-candidate Trump, were deliberate, calculated and corrupt.

Corrupt or questionable election practices have long been employed by operatives on both ends of the political spectrum at either the behest or with the tacit approval of some, but not all, candidates. While this is not the norm, it would be naive to assert these activities don’t take place. Yet the level at which members of the Republican Party engaged in dishonest or unethical behavior during the most recent election cycle is astounding.

Republican secretaries of state in Georgia and Missouri who were running for governor actively sought to suppress minority voters from casting ballots to better the odds of their being elected. This action was apparently successful in Georgia, where the Republican candidate won by a scant margin over his Democrat opponent.

Lame-duck legislation approved by Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin was enacted to weaken the powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general; and placed limits on early voting, which generally favors Democrats.

Reports of early voting data being improperly leaked – to the advantage of Republican candidates – by the election board of Bladen County in North Carolina have emerged. Allegations of absentee ballot fraud are being investigated in the same county, where Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris’s victory over Democrat Dan McCready may eventually be rendered invalid by the state board of elections.

This past summer, a three-judge district court panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found that congressional districts were drawn (gerrymandered) with improper goals favorable to Republican candidates. Again, in North Carolina.

Shortly after taking office, President Trump chartered a Commission on Election Integrity to investigate his claim that millions of voters, including illegal immigrants, voted illegally in 2016. To date, no evidence exists to support this. Then again, it’s difficult to accept at face value the assertions of a man with little personal or professional integrity and absolutely no scruples, especially in light of the SDNY’s revelation that he was intimately involved in acts that might have helped him illegally obtain office.

Through all of this, one fundamental question remains: how much more is the Republican Party willing to swallow before the corrupt actions of this administration swallow them up out of the swamp and permanently down the drain?

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is an award-winning journalist and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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National Climate Assessment a Political Hot Potato

Timing is everything. Take for example the Trump administration’s decision to release the latest National Climate Assessment during last month’s Thanksgiving holiday. No shocker. The president and his team consistently dump unwelcome information at times they believe no one is paying attention.

Publication of the climate assessment is mandated by Congress. It has been released every four years since the requirement to do so was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. That’s right, Bush 41, whose recent passing we as a nation are still mourning. Again, timing is everything. In this instance, it’s the perfect time to pause and consider the significance of this piece of legislation.

The elder President Bush understood the disastrous consequences of climate change. According to Monica Medina, a former principal deputy undersecretary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bush 41 knew that global warming posed “a risk to our health, to our prosperity, and to our national security.”

President Bush’s commitment to the environment is in stark contrast to opinions expressed by the current occupant of the Oval Office. When questioned about the climate report’s validity, President Trump reacted dismissively and said, “I don’t believe it.”

Climate change deniers like President Trump and many of his party’s leadership in Congress choose to pooh-pooh the findings of the climate assessment because it is contrary to “evidence” proffered by fossil fuel industry-affiliated experts and the special interests funding their careers. Their views are not predicated on potential environmental hazards or the health concerns of ordinary Americans. They are rooted in increased profits; the public be damned.

The consequences of the administration’s recent actions and inactions relating to environmental regulation and its withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement are a far greater matter of national security than the attempts of undocumented immigrants to “invade” our southern border. They just don’t play as well with the Trump base.

Since the last climate assessment was released four years ago, states in the west and southwest have increasingly been subjected to devastating droughts. Dwindling water supplies have affected the livelihood of farmers. Uncontrollable wildfires have taken a human toll, causing loss of life, property, and natural resources.

Coastal flooding and erosion, which is attributed to a decrease in sea ice, have impacted Alaskans as well as Americans in offshore territories of the U.S., like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Hotter temperatures are life-threatening to both elderly and young Americans.

Scientists who contributed to the National Climate Assessment note that by 2050 those higher temperatures and dramatic changes in rainfall will also reduce agricultural productivity and impact the health of livestock.

The report further notes that extreme weather events driven by global warming are “virtually certain to increasingly affect U.S. trade and economy, including import and export prices and businesses with overseas operations and supply chains.” We may expect shuttering of factories and a resultant hardship for American workers at home.

It’s quite possible that climate change will eventually have a greater negative impact on businesses large and small than the administration’s ill-conceived tariffs on imports, and its “America First” trade policies.

During the administration’s first two years, the wholesale elimination of regulations enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency and other government institutions have removed safeguards meant to keep Americans healthy and secure. The economic health of American workers – not their employers – is often cited as the motivating factor behind these changes.

To varying degrees, all administrations pander to those whose financial support helped put and keep them in office. The Trump administration is no different. Yet fixes that favor short-term corporate interests over those of ordinary Americans who voted for the president will inevitably yield economic consequences that affect the bottom-line and well-being of us all.

Global warming and the environment need not be a political hot potato. As the late President Bush told an audience thirty years ago, “Those who think we’re powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the White House effect.” In the wake of the latest National Climate Assessment, it is in everyone’s interests for the current occupant of that house to retake his temperature and reconsider his position on climate change.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is an award-winning journalist and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Shame is on Life-Support

Unlike most of his staged presidential moments, Donald J. Trump’s arrival in Pittsburgh earlier this week was a somber affair. The tenor was not solely due to the nature of his visit, which was ostensibly to pay his respects to the eleven Jewish worshippers massacred at the Tree of Life Synagogue over the previous weekend. It was the mere fact that he had traveled to Pittsburgh at all.

Rather than being greeted at the airport by civic leaders, as is customary when the president of the United States comes to town, Trump’s arrival was decidedly low key. He was effectively alone on the tarmac, surrounded by family members and aides. And not by choice.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and other government officials specifically asked the president not to come. They exhibited true leadership, putting the needs of their constituents ahead of participating in a presidential photo opportunity. Trump had asked members of the congressional leadership of both parties to join him. They declined. Relatives of at least one of the victims chose not to accept an invitation to meet with him.

The senseless murders committed in Pittsburgh and the attempted assassinations of more than a dozen other “enemies of the state” (including former presidents, government officials, members of the media, and others who don’t share the Trumpian vision of America) over the last few weeks, as well as the increase in white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, and nativism, all underscore a brutal reality.

Our collective sense of shame is on life-support and barely breathing. We are daily bearing witness to its slow, painful death and Trump, through his actions, words, and deeds, is partially responsible for its untimely demise.

The president spent thirteen minutes visiting the Tree of Life Synagogue, followed by a visit to a hospital where some of the wounded first responders and victims remained. Then, it was off to the airport for the flight back to Washington, where preparations were already underway for campaign rallies throughout the country. Normally verbose, Trump boarded Air Force One stony-faced and silent; whether a result of the solemnity his visit required or disappointment over his underwhelming reception is unclear.

One day after his visit – with many of the dead yet to be buried – the president was back on the campaign trail, his spirits invariably lifted as orchestrated throngs cheered him upon his arrival in other cities and towns throughout this divided nation.

From calls for the arrest and incarceration of political opponents, attacks upon the free press, blatant support for extremist groups, flouting of ethics and societal norms, disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law, violations of human rights and so much more, Trump is using words as weapons. The American ideal of democracy is under fire and may be his ultimate victim.

When an emboldened serial bomber composes a hit list of individuals the president has targeted, Trump bears a measure of responsibility. When his description of oppressed people as “invaders” finds its way into the social media screeds of racists and is used as motivation for the taking of innocent lives, he shares some degree of blame. When a Southwest Airlines passenger gropes a woman aboard a flight and tells federal agents he did so because “the president of the United States said it’s okay to grab women by their private parts,” Trump needs to reassess the impact his words have.

Rather than unite us as a country, the president is growing increasingly emboldened and divisive. He is tapping into the worst in us rather than lifting us up as a nation united. It’s time he casts the politics of personality aside. If he is capable of doing so.

Donald J. Trump is an intelligent man; far from book smart, more street smart. He may be ignorant of the nuances of governance, the Constitution, and the role of the president. He may not understand the concept of moral leadership or basic human decency. But make no mistake. He is cunning and has his finger on the pulse of an unwavering third of the electorate. He is tapped into a culture of hate that has been percolating beneath the surface of our country for quite some time. And he readily, repeatedly and shamelessly exploits those who share his sentiments to advance his own agenda.

There is still time to resuscitate our fundamental sense of shame. We can only hope the president attempts to revive his own.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is an award-winning journalist and columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Trump Betrayed

Hell hath no fury – or fire – like a president scorned.

After weeks of equivocating, President Trump has finally blasted the Saudi government for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and its subsequent cover-up. The president did so not out of a sense of moral outrage, but of a feeling more personal in nature – a sense that he has been betrayed by those whose loyalty he believed he commanded.

By their actions, members of the Saudi royal family have now joined the ranks of Steve Bannon, Michael Cohen, Omarosa, and a litany of others in Trump’s universe.

One almost feels sorry for the president. He’s notoriously thin-skinned and easily injured by those who do him wrong. In the wake of Khashoggi’s assassination, he’s now set his sights on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – MBS to his friends – angered both by the prince’s perceived betrayal and the humiliating shadow MBS cast upon the Trump presidency.

Before meeting with allies whose interests are more aligned with our own, the president chose instead to go sword dancing in the desert. One explanation might be that the House of Saud has more in common with the House of Trump than do member nations of NATO or fellow signatories of NAFTA, even though theirs is a nation where the lines drawn between state assets and personal wealth are often blurred. I, of course, mean the Saudis. Not the Trumps.

In a region where the United States is still viewed by many as the Great Satan, the president chose to dance with a different kind of devil. One whose kingdom is rife with corruption and oppressive of its citizens. A land where loyalties are as fluid as the oil beneath its surface.

By placing his hands upon a glowing orb in Riyadh last year alongside those of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Saudi King Salman, the president believed he had effectively sealed a deal of historic proportions. But then, in his eyes any deal he makes is one of great historical import. They’re always bigger, better, bolder than any made by his predecessors.

Temptation was hard to resist. A questionable $110 billion-dollar arms deal. Access to cheap oil. A partner in combating Iranian aggression. A willing participant in resolving conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. All loomed on the horizon, though they now appear to be nothing more than a mirage.

Trump isn’t the only world leader to tolerate the indiscriminate atrocities and human rights violations sanctioned by the House of Saud over the years. Americans have long engaged with the royal family since the modern kingdom’s founding and the discovery of immense oil reserves there eighty years ago. Governments that do business with the Saudis have always been aware of the monarchy’s ruthlessness, yet its role as a strategic partner has long required them to turn a blind eye to its internal affairs.

Current and former officials from across the political spectrum recognize that it’s in everyone’s best interests to maintain good relations with the Saudis. This is realpolitik, where diplomacy is governed by circumstances and practicalities, irrespective of moral and ethical suppositions. Mr. Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle know this. It’s the cold cost of doing business. And while disengagement may not be the answer, the blatant murder of Jamal Khashoggi – among many other ongoing Saudi atrocities in the region – can’t be condoned or accepted as politics as usual and can’t go unanswered. By not forcefully confronting the Saudis’ latest treachery we only accelerate the deterioration of our own values.

President Trump’s late acknowledgement of the role MBS and the Saudi royal family played in Jamal Khashoggi’s slaying is of little comfort. It is unfortunate that it took him so long. Even more so that it is borne of his own hurt feelings rather than a sense of righteous anger.

Copyright 2018 Blair Bess distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at [email protected]

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