Coal Miners’ Daughters by Penny Smith – 12/4/2019

What is it about some coal miners daughters that occasionally yields such admirable flintiness? 

I confess to developing a fondness in my early 20s, while living in Texas, for classic C&W music. It was probably motivated by an affinity for Willie Nelson, longneck Lone Stars, hill country domino parlors and county quarter horse races. Yes, I have two-stepped and drunk beer in Luckenbach, Texas. (For now C&W fans, that’s a song reference.) Or, maybe it was those lazy summer weekends at my Maryland grandparents watching 1950s Grand Ole Opry that kicked in over time. (I actually had an aunt named after Gene Autry.)

But it was in North Carolina in the 1970s that I saw Loretta Lynn on stage, wonderfully overdressed in what was 1950s C&W chic. I read her first autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter when it came out and later dragged Margaret, never a rabid C&W fan, to the movie. Lynn personifies the rags to riches American story that sometimes befalls individuals of talent.

However, it’s not success that suddenly rains down from the heavens. Lynn was married at 16. Four of her six children were born before she was 22. She was a grandmother by age 34. And her husband, a drinker and cheater, was not exactly a grand partner, either economically or as a parent. But in the midst of all that laundry and those teetering toddlers, Lynn taught herself to play the guitar. In the 1950s she started her own band and cut her first record in 1960. She and husband Mooney traveled back roads personally dropping off copies at radio stations. Lynn had two  qualities that transcend initial social status: persistence and resilience. She might have lacked formal education, but she was smart. 

One of the surprises of her rise to stardom was not that she did it with songs she wrote, although she did, but that the songs she wrote were about topics that blue collar women could identify, as could their men. “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind) asserts an almost feminist independence. “Rated X” addresses the stigma of divorce that falls unfairly on women. “One’s on the Way” acknowledges the hectic life of most women with young children. “Fist City” is a very different take on standing by your man. And, although hard for today’s generation to believe, “The Pill,” a song in support of birth control, was controversial when it came out in 1975.

A critic of educated feminists, Lynn once said: “I’m not a big fan of women’s liberation, but maybe it will help women stand up for the respect they’re due.” And Lynn never doubted the equality they were due. She has generally stayed out of politics, believing that music is nonpartisan, although she acknowledges being a fan of both Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and Donald Trump, a Republican who must remind her somewhat of Mooney.

But her legacy is not so much political as social. At a time when women took a metaphorical and actual backseat in working class households, she held out for something else. At a time when certain women were supposed to stay either in the kitchen or in the bedroom, Lynn spoke of alternatives to submissiveness. You’ve got to admire that.

In much the same way, you have to admire Fiona Hill. Hill’s career trajectory goes in another direction, but she begins life, like Lynn, near the mines. The difference — her mines are in England. In her Impeachment Hearings testimony on November 23 she started her opening statement with a brief autobiography. The men in her “father’s family were coal miners whose family has always struggled with poverty.” In talking about the opportunities afforded her with a move to the United States, Hill noted that “I grew up poor with a very distinctive working class accent. In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement.”

Because, at that time, we were somewhat more welcoming to the stranger and because, at that time, we were less riven by economic and social inequality, Hill came, studied, and prospered. She eventually opted to become a naturalized citizen.

Professionally, Hill was and is a nonpartisan national security expert, specializing in Europe and Eurasia. She has written a book on Vladimir Putin, whom she sees as an international threat. In 2017 she was asked to join the Trump National Security Council, with Russia as part of her portfolio. She did so in part because she thought we needed a reset in our relations with Russia, but also believed any improvement in relations should not come at the expense of recognizing the challenge it posed.

Hill doesn’t write songs, but her summary of the effects of Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections illustrates that she wields a mighty pen:

The impacts of the successful Russian campaign remain evident today. Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career Foreign Service is being undermined. US support for Ukraine, which continues to face Russian aggression, has been politicized … I say this not as an alarmist, but as a realist … We’re running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interest.

And what are those falsehoods? Well, a major one is that the Ukrainians were responsible for interfering in that 2016 election, not the Russians.

Hill, in her testimony, nails what was going on in Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland and the other two Amigos were “involved in a domestic political errand and we were … involved in national-security foreign policy, and those two things just diverged.” Hill told Sondland that the diverged paths would “blow up.” She concluded her testimony to the committee hearing impeachment fact witnesses with an “I told you so” statement: “And here we are.”

Her demeanor, her direct responses to questions, and her unwillingness to paint a pretty picture that would appeal to her former employers testify to flintiness. There were reasons she was the final witness on the final day of this first round of public testimony.* If you haven’t heard or read her observations, you can find them on line – and you should look at them, particularly if you think our President did nothing wrong. 

Texas has a bumper sticker distributed by their tourist bureau that you sometimes see even here in North Carolina: “Don’t Mess with Texas.” Jim Croce’s song “Don’t Mess with Jim” has the following refrain:

You don’t tug on superman’s cape

You don’t spit into the wind

You don’t pull the mask off that old lone ranger

And you don’t mess around with Jim.

Then an upstart outsider hoodwinked by Jim comes to town.  That last chorus line, following the stranger wining an ensuing fight, is changed from Jim, the original big bad man in town, to Slim, that outsider. I suspect there’s a little Slim in both Lynn and Hill. You simply shouldn’t mess with some coal miners’ daughters.

* Yes, I will eventually be commenting here or on our local Democratic Party web page about round two in the public hearings, currently playing this week on a television set near you.

Impeachment 103, by Penny Smith 11/26/2019

This is the third in a series of observations about the current impeachment hearings against Donald Trump. You can find the others at this site (see Impeachment 101 and Impeachment 102).

What do the Democrats say the President did wrong?

At the moment there are no formal charges against the President. The House of Representatives is looking into whether conduct related to Ukraine and arms sales could constitute an impeachment recommendation.

Specifically, the House is investigating whether the President of the United States directed subordinates to pressure the new leader of Ukraine to issue a statement saying he and his country’s judicial establishment are investigating (1) Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma (Hunter Biden was on their Board of Directors) and (2) Joe Biden’s involvement in promoting corruption within Ukraine while he was Vice President. 

More specifically, the President contends that the Clinton campaign hacked its own computers using servers in Ukraine, thereby “proving” that the Russians had nothing to do with the election of 2016. In other words, it was the Democrats who were behind seeking aid from foreign powers and not Trump or any of his friends.

The pressure that was applied, according to the Democrats, was the withholding of already approved financial aid (money to purchase weapons) and a visit to the White House until the Ukrainians released a satisfactory declaration about Burisma, Bidens, and corruption.

Almost as soon as an investigation was initiated as a result of the whistleblower’s report becoming public that aid flowed – but barely four days before it would have run up against a time deadline.

What’s the Republican response to the process and potential charges?

Republicans have been dealt a pretty bad fact hand. So, they have resorted primarily to slandering witnesses and complaining about the process.

Among their objections:

  • most of these witnesses are “Anti-Trumpers.” That’s incorrect. Most of these witnesses are Trump or his administration’s appointees. Or they are career public service employees who have a responsibility to maintain political neutrality. The GOP has not produced one ounce of evidence that they are politically biased.
  • all of the evidence is hearsay. That’s incorrect. Some of the evidence is hearsay and some of it relies on first-person “I was there” accounts. What the GOP is not telling you is that hearsay evidence is sometimes all you can obtain, but is sufficient for informed inferences. Another thing the GOP is not telling you is that there is plenty of first source evidence, but the President and his cronies have blocked access to it or to the people who witnessed something directly. What the law often does is construe that concealed evidence is usually “Yes, I did it” evidence. In other words, if going directly to Pompeo or Bolton or Perry or any number of other people with firsthand knowledge of events would demonstrate definitively that nothing happened, then why aren’t they talking under oath?
  • there’s no quid pro quo. That’s incorrect. There’s plenty of evidence to indicate that Trump wanted something of value for his personal use (a declaration of an investigation of Joe Biden and his son) and that he would have gotten it if the entire scheme were not uncovered.
  • well, the Ukrainians got their aid eventually, so no harm, no foul, no real reason for impeachment. That’s incorrect. True, they did get their aid eventually, but their position vis-à-vis Russia has been compromised and our role as an honest broker has also been compromised. Moreover, you don’t have to succeed at a crime for it to be a crime – what, after all, is attempted robbery or attempted murder or, in this case, attempted bribery?
  • well, it’s not really all that big a deal when you get down to it. It doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense. That’s incorrect and a gross example of hypocrisy, since the GOP impeached Clinton for lying about what was an insignificant, in terms of national interest, embarrassing affair. This is a matter of national security – we jeopardized an ally and fledgling democracy so our President could get some personal campaign information. We also diminished our standing internationally, assisted Putin, and harmed Ukraine in a number of ways. Much of the evidence points to attempts by the President and his friends to blame someone other than Russia for interfering in our 2016 elections – one of the many errands of Rudy Giuliani.
  • the witnesses are all rogue actors or bad people. That’s incorrect. Indeed, if we were doing a character scan of the witnesses and the President and his defenders, it would not even be close.
  • there is no due process in the proceedings; it’s a coup, an attempt to overturn an election. That’s partially true, since impeachment by its very nature overturns the result of an election. However, it was the checks and balances safety mechanism that our founders put into place for situations like this one. We should be applauding its existence rather than condemning it.
  • well, none of this is as bad as the corruption of Vice President Biden and his son in Ukraine. That’s incorrect. First of all, whatever the Bidens might have done, it’s irrelevant to the matter at hand. In other words, it doesn’t excuse bribery by our President. However, everyone who has objectively looked into such accusations affirms that Biden, in his official capacity, did nothing untoward; rather he worked to advance the goals of our national agenda. 

Burisma, the company on whose Board of Directors Hunter Biden sat, probably was involved in some corrupt practices, but they were not due to Biden’s position or influence. Yet there is ample evidence that both Energy Secretary Perry and Rudy Giuliani were engaged in influencing, perhaps unethically, business within and among energy companies in Ukraine.

  • Trump was justifiably interested in the potential of a nation with a history of corruption misusing the dollars of hard-working American tax payers and he wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen. That’s incorrect. If it were true, Trump would also be trying to remove Saudi Arabia corruption and wrong-doing before selling them arms and he hasn’t. Additionally, Ukraine had already been cleared through the normal channels of investigation for the release of the money. In other words, they had already demonstrated that they were working to reduce corruption and it was unlikely to be part of the arms deal.
  • Ukraine actively worked against the Trump election and some Ukrainians said bad things about him. That’s partially true. Some Ukrainians did say bad things about him, probably because he declared that it was fine with him if Russia kept Crimea and that Crimea really belonged to Russia anyway. That’s a little like saying that, should Mexico invade and take part of Texas, it would be understandable, since it was once part of Mexico anyway. And those individuals were speaking as individuals, not on behalf of the Ukrainian government. In addition, many individuals in many countries said unpleasant things about Trump during the election and he hasn’t set off on a vendetta against them.
  • other nations aren’t helping Ukraine or paying their fair share and President Trump is only trying to ensure that Americans aren’t played for suckers. That’s false. Other allies are supporting the Ukrainian government in its fight with Russia.
  • the Ukrainian President hasn’t complained about the bribe and says he felt no pressure from President Trump to investigate the Bidens. That’s probably false. It is true that he has said he didn’t feel pressured, but what else could he say and have a chance at getting the support he needs for his country? After all, Trump may be President for up to five more years. And, it doesn’t really matter what he says; Trump still tried to make the deal and attempted extortion is still a crime.

What do we know so far?

This is a partial summary of what we know now:

  • Trump obstructed justice in plain sight by refusing to cooperate with the Ukrainian inquiry and refusing to respond to Congressional subpoenas.
  • Trump obstructed justice multiple times during the Mueller investigation and those incidents are plainly outlined in the Mueller Report.
  • Trump threatened witnesses, again in plain sight, by demonstrating the tweet storms and trolls he will inflict on them if they appear, even under subpoena, at the hearings (witness tampering is a serious crime). Note, for example, his attacks on the former ambassador of Ukraine.
  • Trump tried to trade a visit to the White House and release of already appropriated money for a personal favor – a televised announcement of an investigation into the Bidens. At the time Joe Biden appeared to be the odds-on favorite as Democratic candidate for President and Trump wanted to begin to sully his reputation. In other words he was willing to sacrifice what was in our national interest: standing up to Russian aggression and supporting an ally. 
  • Trump engaged with his co-conspirators to cover up many of his dubious actions; that is obstruction of justice.
  • Trump has said publicly that he would accept aid from a foreign government in his re-election campaign, asked Russia to help in 2016 and invited China to help later. It is against the law to request aid from foreign countries in American elections. (Trump has said he “was only kidding.”)
  • Trump has enriched himself while in the office of President; in other words, he has run afoul of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. Trump has spent nearly one-third of his time as President visiting his own properties and, with each visit, our tax dollars go to the family business. As of October 22, 2019, he had been in office 1,037 days, spent 313 of those in residence at a Trump property and 237 more days playing golf at one of his properties. 

An example of the cost of such trips is that the four he made to Mar-a-Lago from February 3 – March 5, 2017 cost approximately $13.6 million. One can also make a good case that Trump’s insistence on Vice President Pence’s stay at one of his European properties while on an official visit, the publicity that flows from any official use of his properties, the multiple rentals at his Washington DC and New York City properties by foreign governments, and the proximity of his business stakeholders (his children) to the Oval Office all constitute clear conflicts of interest.

  • Trump probably broke multiple campaign laws, including payment to a porn star with whom he had a brief fling, in the run-up to the 2016 election. He is likely Individual 1; Michael Cohen went to jail for carrying out Individual 1’s directions.
  • Trump’s actions outlined above are all substantially proven and many of them individually constitute grounds for impeachment. Taken as a whole, they make impeachment imperative – Trump has shown time and again he is willing to trade what’s in our national interest for what’s in the Trump family’s interest. There are other things that flow from Trump behaviors, such as his chronic lying, hyperbole and slander that I personally think should be considered impeachable. For example:
  1. he lowered our standing in the world; no country knows whether they can believe what we say anymore;
  2. he diminished trust in our government and federal institutions, thereby jeopardizing our democracy;
  3. he demeaned his office by engaging in conduct that is unbecoming of a commander in chief and that would have gotten him drummed out of the military had he engaged in such actions as an ordinary member of the armed services;
  4. he promoted racist, xenophobic and misogynist violence through his tweets, his public statements and his rallies;
  5. he collapsed the morale in our national intelligence and foreign services, making us much more vulnerable to foreign cyber attacks (many high level people have left the service rather than work under political hacks);
  6. he has expanded and deepened “the swamp,” not drained it; 
  7. he banished science from policy consideration, thereby allowing regulation interpretations at odds with reality;
  8. he ran afoul of international norms for armed conflict in such actions as pardoning convicted war criminals;
  9. he weakened many of the international agreements forged in the wake of the second world war, again making us more vulnerable to foreign attack and other countries more likely to resort to armed confrontation rather than diplomacy;
  10. he demonstrated that we are an untrustworthy ally (note Kurd withdrawal);
  11. he spread false conspiracy theories, furthering the ideological and political divides in our country;
  12. he engaged in nepotism and allowed access to secret documents to individuals whose behaviors raised questions about whether they qualified for such security clearances;
  13. he promoted unconscionable acts, often contrary to international norms, such as the treatment of asylum seekers and children at our southern borders;
  14. he threatened the freedom of our press and parroted language about the media that could have come out of George Orwell’s 1984; and
  15. on the grandest stage in the world, he behaved and continues to behave like an immature bully, setting the kind of example few of us would want to exhibit for our children.  (I could go on, but I’ll spare you.)

How do we know that?

We know it from the Mueller Report, investigation, and subsequent trials; the Cohen trial and several other investigations conducted by the federal attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York; the President’s tweets, press conferences, interviews and rallies; the Intelligence Committee’s recent public hearings and the evidence from witnesses and released depositions; the Judiciary Committee’s various hearings; multiple investigative reports in various national newspapers and magazines; and various investigations carried out by reporters working for online organizations.

So what happens next?

Currently, the Intelligence Committee is writing a report of its findings with regard to Ukraine and, after a committee vote, will send it to the Judiciary Committee. It will be the duty of the Judiciary Committee to draft any impeachment charges. If it decides that behaviors merit impeachment, it will draft such charges and vote to send them to the floor of the House of Representatives. A majority vote in the House will then “impeach” the President – that is formally charge him with wrongdoing. Subsequent action would then move to the Senate.

Stay tuned for Impeachment 104.

Why I Think Trump Should Be Impeached, by Penny Smith: 10/28/2019

Number 1 in a Series (stay tuned for more)

Based on the Mueller Report, which I have read, including all those footnotes, it’s obvious that President Trump obstructed justice multiple times. Based on the Michael Cohen convictions, it’s likewise obvious that Trump probably violated campaign finance laws. Based on his on-going use of his properties for personal vacations and public business, it’s obvious that Trump violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution. Based on the opening statements by witnesses before the three committees looking into abuse of power concerning Ukraine, it’s obvious that Trump believes it’s fine to coerce a country for personal political gain. All those Trump behaviors are probably reasons for impeaching him, but they are not the primary one to me.

“High crimes and misdemeanors” as referenced in the Constitution refers not to crimes we associate with the criminal code, as many members of Congress would wish, but to actions that misappropriate public trust. If the President fails to uphold his oath of office, he needs to be impeached. And that oath is fairly simple: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Generally, when we look at the words “faithfully execute,” we mean that our President ensures that laws are put into effect. For that reason, it’s sometimes called the “take care clause.” The President is charged with taking care that the laws are executed, even if he disagrees with them. 

But I think of “faithfully execute” as more than simply putting a law into effect; I think of it as requiring some measure of being faithful, of being true to the meaning of laws. Being “faithful” suggests steadfastness, conscientiousness, and truthfulness. For example, there are facts to which we must be faithful. I think the President should be impeached, because he does nothing faithfully. He is a constant and often mean-spirited liar, whose language abuses the public trust in both certain individuals and our institutions.

He lies so often that there are now multiple Internet sites that keep a running total. He came into the Presidency as a serial liar, but the oath he took demanded another standard when he became our symbolic First Citizen. Before taking office he certainly lied about his fortune, his marriages, his affairs, his authorship of multiple books, and his predecessor, Barack Obama. He even lied periodically about lying.

On his first day in office he lied about the size of his inauguration crowd and sent his minions to the media to repeat those lies. He lied about voter fraud to cover his popular vote loss to Hilary Clinton. He lied about Mexico paying for the wall that is, as yet, not built. He lied about the nature of people seeking asylum, about Muslims, about separating families at the border, about hurricanes, about Puerto Rico deaths and recovery efforts, about climate change.

He lied about the nature of the Mueller investigation, calling it “a witch hunt.” He is currently calling House oversight a “coup.” If you are James Comey, once a registered Republican whom Trump loved when Comey criticized Hillary Clinton, you become “a terrible director” and “crooked,” when you fail the President’s loyalty test. If you are Robert Mueller, another registered Republican, you become “highly conflicted” and have a “gang of Democrat thugs” destroying people. However, your report is “beautiful,” since it found “no collusion” and “no obstruction,” neither of which is a fair reading of what Mueller found.

Trump, according to himself, is “the most transparent President in history.” He doesn’t “do cover-ups.” His daughter “has created millions of jobs.” He has “perfect” telephone conversations. The mainstream media publish “fake news;” only Fox is a beacon of truth, except, of course, when it isn’t. And it isn’t when it criticizes Trump. Democrats are committing “treason.” 

During the 2016 campaign he bragged about being able to become the most Presidential of all Presidents; his mean-spirited fabrications were simply electioneering tools. Yet once in office he made ad hominem attacks on everyone he believes is against him, even individuals he praised months earlier. Pelosi is “a very sick person.” Mattis is the “world’s most over-rated general,” except, of course, when Trump appointed him Secretary of Defense. Warren is “Pocahontas.” Biden is “a loser” and “a dummy.”

He believes Putin, not our intelligence officers. He thinks Kim Jong-un writes him such “beautiful letters” that they “fell in love.” He tells us that China is paying our tariffs, that the economy is the best it’s ever been for everybody, NATO is ripping us off, the United Nations is irrelevant, and the Kurds are happy. And, making all of the hyperbole and lies ever more dangerous, he is surrounded by people who applaud what he says and who repeat it on Sunday talk shows.

Public trust in the institutions of our government and in the people who work in those institutions is dependent on truth-telling and facts. Once that public trust is gone, so, too, will those institutions and non-partisan officials be gone. What Donald Trump has done, starting even before his run for the Presidency, is deal in conspiracy theories designed to erode trust. He’s gone from birth certificates to trading arms for political dirt, from promising to drain the swamp to making it the swampiest it has ever been.

Donald Trump is a peerless grifter, a con man, a snake oil salesman who doesn’t care if the snake oil makes blind the losers who buy it. A P.T. Barnum for our time, whose penchant for exaggeration, misspoken lines, and lies would be amusing were they not so perilous.

Benjamin Franklin argued that honesty is the best policy. The Bible commands us not to bear false witness. Shakespeare wrote, “no legacy is so rich as honesty.” Are there parents that willfully teach their children to lie to them? Yet we now have a President that lies to all of us on a daily basis, consciously, I fear, using those lies to sow discontent, division and derision.

Everyone misspeaks sometimes. Everyone gets something wrong now and then. But most of us strive to be truth-tellers and believe there exists a common set of facts. I’d impeach him for those lies; they are more a danger to our national honor, our politics, and our democracy than most of the other crimes he has committed.