The Week of Saturday, February 15 through Friday, February 21, 2020 [#31]
The Week’s Most Notable:
Is Trump conducting a purge or draining the swamp? The question encapsulates the national schizophrenia, perhaps better known as polarization. To somewhat more than half the public, who have heard about Trump’s firing and attacking his perceived enemies this week, it seems that he is conducting a purge; using his presidential powers to damage or remove his opposition while lending support and succor to his friends and loyalists. In short, he is conducting an authoritarian-style campaign that undermines the rule of law and democratic principles. The others, somewhat less than half of Americans, are cheering him on – especially the Fox News and talk radio sycophants – as the defender of law and democratic principles by following his righteous path given by the Constitution and God to remove and condemn un-American or traitorous people.
It’s easily noted that phrases frequently used by Democrats, such as “observing the rule of law,” and “defending the Constitution,” Trump/GOP repeat verbatim. This “propaganda mirroring” technique was perfected by the Russians decades ago, finding it easy (whatever your opponent says, just repeat it, only to your own benefit) and effective (because it introduces a confusing echo and requires often difficult counter arguments). The mirroring isn’t necessarily word for word. Keeping in mind that a mirror image is not a copy but a reversal, this week’s example might be the arguments made by Democrats against voter suppression, which Republicans turn around (mirror) by saying, “they are trying to rig the game with frivolous lawsuits that do nothing but create electoral chaos, waste taxpayer money, and distract election officials in an attempt to advance the Democrats’ voter suppression myth because they know they can’t beat President Trump at the ballot box.” Other examples, anything Kellyanne Conway says. We’re talking propaganda technique here, but it belies deep emotional commitment.
Saturday, February 15
[Coronavirus] Edging Toward Pandemic? – The outbreaks of coronavirus aboard cruise ships symbolize the potential for spreading the disease worldwide, a pandemic. For example, the U.S. was dealing with 356 new cases on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. New outbreaks in South Korea and Africa demonstrate the problem is active, if still statistically insignificant.
Sunday, February 16
[William Barr’s DOJ] Former DOJ Officials Call for Barr’s Resignation – A letter signed by 1,100 (eventually more than 2,000) Democratic and Republican former officials stated that the AG’s interference in the sentencing of Roger Stone was “in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the president’” The signers called for his resignation.
Monday, February 17
[Coronavirus] Apple Highlights Coronavirus Economic Impact – The coronavirus outbreak in China has caused Apple to announce that it is cutting sales expectations for this quarter. Most of Apple’s products are assembled in China. Parts shortages, transportation delays, just-in-time inventory practices, and other problems associated with people not working in China are rippling into economies around the world.
[Afghanistan] Taliban and U.S. Agree to Sign Agreement – The multistep agreement, scheduled to be signed by the end of this month, could eventually lead to peace in Afghanistan. It is not out of place to mention that such prior agreements do not have a good track record.
Tuesday, February 18
[Presidential Pardons] Trump Pardons Blagojevich, Milken, Kerick, and Eight Others – The collection of high-profile white-collar criminals granted clemency seems to represent a demonstration of presidential power establishing a new Trump/GOP meme: Corruption is no big deal; or, from that perspective, corruption is only a politicized label. (Broken laws? What laws?)
[William Barr’s DOJ] AG Barr Hints He Might Quit – Apparently miffed that Trump continues to tweet about ongoing DOJ cases, especially the Roger Stone sentencing, Barr complained that he couldn’t do his job. This should probably be taken as a PR expression, perhaps coordinated. Meanwhile, Trump pronounced himself, “the chief law enforcement officer of the country.” About that Barr said nothing.
[China Relations] U.S. Brands Chinese Media Companies as Government Outlets – This and other similarly oblique restrictions (threatening to stop shipment of GE jet engines to China, a flap over Wall Street Journal reporters) seem to signal a new round of trade conflict.
Wednesday, February 19
[Elections 2020] The Pre-Nevada Democratic Debate – The record audience, about 20 million, got what it came for – a good look at Bloomberg. It was his first debate appearance and the knives were out. [See Election Notes below.] It is unlikely this debate will have any effect on the caucuses but the purported reemergence of Warren and the damage done to Bloomberg may show up by Super Tuesday, March 3.
[National Intelligence] Trump Appoints Richard Grenell Acting Director of National Intelligence – Grenell will continue as Ambassador to Germany. He has no national intelligence experience and is a controversial and highly partisan hack. His appointment, supposedly only for a few weeks, highlights Trump’s sweep through the DOJ and intelligence community removing his perceived enemies. Trump also forced the resignation of John Rood, the Pentagon official who said withholding military aid from the Ukraine was probably illegal.
Thursday, February 20
[Mueller Investigation] Roger Stone Sentenced to 40 Months Prison Time – After all the brouhaha about Stone’s sentencing, the judge’s ruling fell about where many expected, a little over three years. That doesn’t mean Trump didn’t protest loudly or that Fox News isn’t calling for impeachment of the judge. Trump could also pardon Stone at any time; however, the ruling will be appealed.
[Election 2020] Russian Interference in 2020 Elections Causes Trump to Explode – It’s been known for some time that Russia is already interfering in the 2020 elections, much in the way they did in 2016. Now it’s been revealed that the intelligence services informed the House Intelligence Committee that not only are the Russians at it again for the presidential election but are also working on the Democratic primaries. This news apparently unleashed a tirade from Trump, not about Russia’s interference, but that someone told Congress, specifically Adam Schiff. The White House denies a linkage between the report to Congress and the removal of NIS director Maguire in favor of Trump loyalist Grenell.
Friday, February 21
[Election 2020] Russian Interference in Sanders Campaign – The FBI has informed Sanders that Russia was using information manipulation techniques (social media, fake ads, paid editorials, etc.) to help his campaign for the presidential nomination. Following reporting by the Washington Post, Senator Sanders issued written and verbal statements condemning the Russians and their efforts to influence the 2020 elections.
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Approves Moving Forward with Immigrant “Wealth Test” – In a typical 5-4 vote, the court removed the final judicial order blocking the wealth test for immigrants. This makes it easier to deny entry for anyone who might, at any time, depend upon public assistance. The conservative majority provided no explanation for the decision.
[Trump Purges] NIS Acting Director and Top Deputy Quit – As fallout from Trump’s naming of Grenell, the current Acting Director, Joseph Maguire, and his chief deputy, Andrew Hallman, both resign.
The Bloomberg apostasy. In this election Michael Bloomberg represents many things: white guy, old guy, former Republican, seasoned politician, but of course most of all, rich guy, very rich guy. His wealth, somewhere north of $60 billion, has already bought around $400 million worth of advertising/ propaganda for his campaign. There has been nothing like it in the history of American presidential campaigns. It’s buying an election, or at least a candidacy. Thing is, if he were a Republican throwing that kind of money around it would seem . . . natural. But he’s nominally a Democrat and Democrats don’t represent big money; in fact, Democrats usually represent the working-class revulsion to wealth and power. But there he was, rising in the polls, carried by an image created in PR studios. Were Democrats ready to shed their aversion to big money in the cause of defeating Trump? An apostasy, an abandonment or renunciation of a political belief?
Then came the debate in Las Vegas, of all places. The attacks by Sanders and Warren, reminding Democrats of why they oppose great wealth in politics, and Bloomberg’s own tone-deaf performance set a marker: Democrats don’t go there. Just when it looked like the Democrats had their knight in shining armor, he was dramatically lanced from the saddle. It was just one joust, but from all appearances Bloomberg is now perceived as just another flawed candidate; his untested momentum is gone and probably won’t come back. That leaves the Democrats with what? Bernie Sanders of course, and a possibly resurgent Elizabeth Warren with the other candidates hoping their star will shine in some primary. This, in a week where Trump’s star has been made to look ascendant.
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