Monthly Archives: December 2017

He’s Got Mail


Marched from jail for the last time, illustration by Howard Pyle published in Dulcibel: A Tale of Old Salem, circa 1907For months, I have been urging readers to have faith in Robert Mueller and his team as they pursue the truth about Russian interference in the 2016 election (documented) and possible, treasonous collaboration by the Trump campaign in this effort (growing evidence).  Yet, Donald Trump, his lawyer and his surrogates continue to accuse the special prosecutor’s office of being on a “witch hunt.”

In the counter-intuitive world of Deprogramming101, we like to give credit where credit is due (i.e. Senator Richard Shelby contributing to Doug Jones victory in Alabama).  So let’s, for argument sake, stipulate “witch hunt” is the correct analogy for the current investigation into electoral malfeasance.  This requires that we actually examine what happened in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.

According to, “More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 were killed during the hysteria.”  Of more importance, in terms of the Mueller investigation, are the options offered to the accused once charged with practicing the dark science.  Among them, again according to

… a confession was the single best way for the court to gain a conviction and an execution for charges of witchcraft. The irony is that none of the accused Salem witches who confessed were convicted or executed but all 19 people who refused to confess were found guilty and executed.

How did Salem prosecutors procure these confessions?  They would present suspects with “spectral evidence,” the appearance of accused’s shape or spirit in multiple locations, or incidents of physical afflictions–vomiting and muscle spasms–suffered by “bewitched” Salem residents (actually caused by fungus ergot in grains such as rye and wheat).  Suspected witches were asked to explain these evil feats.  Those who denied the “evidence” were found guilty and in some cases executed.  Those who pleaded guilty were spared.

Which brings us back to Mueller’s access to Trump transition emails, first reported by Axios correspondent Mike Allen on Saturday morning.  While this evidence in the Trump/Russian investigation is hardly fabricated, it is likely being used in a similar mode as that in the Salem witch trials.   Just imagine the interviews with members of the Trump inner circle such as Reince Priebus (October 13), Sean Spicer (October 17), Jared Kushner (November) and Hope Hicks (December).  During their interrogations, each, presented with specific emails, was probably asked, “Did you send or receive these emails?  And if so, how do you explain them?”  Like Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, confessing and an attendant plea deal leads to a slap on the wrist, or at worse, fines and minimal jail sentences.  Those who do not cooperate face further prosecution and possibly decades, if not a lifetime, of imprisonment.

In other words, it is not the prosecution which has the most to lose from a comparison to the Salem witch trials, but the accused who have the most to gain.  With one major exception.  They may actually be guilty of the crimes for which they are charged.  And confession not only spares them harsh punishment but actually helps Mueller and this team uncover the truth.


On Saturday, Politico reported Kory Langhofer, representing Trump for America, sent a seven-page letter to the House and Senate oversight committees charging Mueller with “unlawfully obtaining tens of thousands of private emails during its investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s president election.”  Once you stop laughing at the very idea of the people who urged Russians and WikiLeaks to share hacked emails using the term “unlawful,” you must ask whether there is any merit in this accusation.

Fortunately, several legal experts have already provided a strong clue this action is just one more case of Trump team obfuscation and misdirection.  If Trump’s legal advisors truly believed Mueller had acted improperly, their most effective course of action would have been to petition a judge for an injunction, prohibiting Muller from using the emails as evidence in his investigation.  They did not.  In other words, their choice of going to Congress is about building a political case against Mueller, not a legal one.

Late Saturday night, Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, issued the following statement.

When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to realize what Carr is communicating through this statement.  Both Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos have copped a guilty plea on at least one charge in return for their full cooperation.  Both were involved in the transition.  One as the future national security advisor and the other as the most powerful “coffee gofer” in political history.  You can bet the farm both gave written permission for Mueller to access their email accounts which includes both digital correspondence they sent and those they received from the likes of Jared Kushner, Donald Junior and possibly even Mike Pence who headed the transition.  Furthermore,  “appropriate criminal process” implies investigators obtained warrants which further undercuts charges in the Langhofer correspondence to Congress.

One last point.  The acting administrator of GSA at the time Mueller obtained the emails was Tim Horne, who was appointed to that position on January 20, 2017 by none other than Donald J. Trump.  This is significant for two reasons.  First, Horne would have had to sign off on the transfer of agency materials to the special prosecutor.  Therefore, blaming “deep state” operatives has no validity.  Second, and more importantly, it is clear Trump’s legal team was caught off-guard by the Axios story.  This means Horne did not report Mueller’s request for or the surrender of emails to the White House.  Either the court order forbid the agency from doing so, or Horne realized tipping off Trump or his legal team might result in his own legal jeopardy.

For what it’s worth.


The Expendables

 We are the shadows and the smoke, we rise. We are the ghosts that hide in the night.

~Barney Ross

Image result for the expendablesJust in case the name “Barney Ross” doesn’t ring a bell, he was the commander of a team of retired mercenaries hired to take down a South American dictator in the 2010 action film The Expendables.  I thought about Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his baby boomer band of brothers as I was reading an article in the December 13 issue of the Washington Post titled, “Fracking Sites May Raise the Risk of Underweight Babies, New Study Says.”

The referenced study was jointly conducted by Janet Currie (Princeton), Michael Greenstone (University of Chicago) and Katherine Meckel (UCLA). The analysis was based on data covering more than 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania between 2004 and 2013.  Their conclusion?  Babies born within one kilometer of active fracking sites had a 25 percent higher risk of poor birth outcomes including low-birth weight and other health issues.  Similar though less frequent maladies were reported within three kilometers of active sites.

Last weekend my wife and I visited family in the northern panhandle of West Virginia.  Evidence of fracking activity was apparent throughout the region.  There were multiple “pads (i.e. staging areas)” along every two-lane rural road.  Extended-stay motels have become home for out-of-state workers eager to take the relatively high paying jobs in the industry.

And then it hit me.  Not far from the pads was an abandoned coal mine where workers and residents were once exposed to equally severe environmental hazards.  The correct analogy for residents of Appalachian Pennsylvania and West Virginia is NOT The Expendables, but the sequel The Expendables 2, when the mercenaries are again recruited to face danger in the interest of national security.  Except in the case of fracking, the same residents who suffered black lung and other respiratory diseases to power the 20th century are again being put at risk for national ECONOMIC security.

The Post quotes Greenstone as saying the researchers’ goal was not to condemn fracking but to promote practices, such as converting from vertical to horizontal drilling, which would lessen the negative impacts.  But what about the children who are subject to physical ailments and the families who face financial distress from medical bills?  And there lies the major difference between Ross’ “ghosts that hide in the night” and the casualties of the battle for American energy independence.

In an exchange between Ross and Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the two haggle over how high the compensation needs to be for the latter to join the expedition.

Trench: Only an idiot would do this job.
Barney Ross: How much?
Trench: Like I said.

In the current situation, some families have received cash payments and/or royalties for transferring mineral rights to the oil and gas companies.  If the industry with government approval wants to continue fracking in the poorest regions of the country the least they could do is provide parents with the help they need to give their children the medical care they deserve.  And it’s not like they need to create a new state or federal program.  The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) already does that.

All Congress needs to do is renew it.  And it would happen tomorrow if the governors and state legislatures in fracking states threatened to shut down fracking activity until CHIP is reauthorized and fully funded.  The parade of oil and gas lobbyists from K Street to Capitol Hill would put Disney to shame.

It’s time pro-life advocates become pro-health care champions.  Especially for children.  They are NOT EXPENDABLE.

For what it’s worth.


Messages from Alabama


Craig Ferguson: Does This Need to Be Said? PosterOne of my favorite Craig Ferguson bits was the the theme of his 2011 comedy tour.  Explaining what he had learned from his two failed marriages, Ferguson sums it up as follows.

  • Does this need to be said?
  • Does this need to be said by ME?
  • Does this need to be said by me NOW?

If I were smart I would heed these words on the morning after Alabama Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by now Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.  One would think everything that needs to be said now has been voiced by someone else over the last 12 hours.  But, as has been my obsession, I keep looking for those messages that were omitted or not in the forefront of the punditry which followed the election outcome.

ONE Person CAN Make a Difference

This weekend that person was senior Alabama U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.  On  CNN State of the Union last Sunday, Shelby said his home state “deserves better than Moore,” and while he could not vote for the Democrat, he chose to write-in the name of “a prominent Alabama Republican.”

With 100 percent of the votes counted, Jones won by just shy of 21,000 votes.  The number of write-in ballots totaled 22,819.  Sometimes people need a role model.  Someone who gives them “permission” to go against tradition or long-standing loyalties.  Someone who comes up with a way to hold on to personal values yet still sleep at night.

One can only hope there are one or two Republican Senators (you know who you are)  who follow Shelby’s example and give their colleagues permission to stand in front of the runaway GOP tax cut locomotive which is a train-wreck waiting to happen.

Authenticity Trumps Expediency (Pun Intended)

Before Jones finally took the lead in the ballot count around 9:45 pm EST, one MSNBC panelist was asked, “Do you think this would have been easier for Jones if he had not been so forthcoming about his pro-life stance early in the campaign?”  This question was based on the conventional wisdom many Republicans who held their noses and stuck with Moore were culture warriors.  And it was a mistake for Jones not to skirt such a divisive issue.

The panelist replied, “That’s not who Doug Jones is.  He delivers the same message regardless of the audience.”  I need not remind you how that compares to the flip-flopper-in-chief.  (Oops, I guess I just did.)

Walk THEN Talk

Another contributing factor to the Jones victory was the 29 percent turnout among African-Americans.  While this seems low it equaled the percentage who came to the polls in 2008 to vote for the first African-American candidate for president and surpassed the numbers for Hillary Clinton in 2016.  The explanation is simple.

Many politicians talk about justice equality.  While many Democrats have voiced disapproval of the lack of accountability by police for what appears to be excessive and unnecessary force in dealing with people of color, Doug Jones has a record of demanding accountability including the successful prosecution of four Klan members responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing which resulted in the murder of four young girls.

White politicians who want the respect and votes of African-American citizens, like Jones, need to “walk the walk” BEFORE they “talk the talk.”  Demonstrate your commitment to justice equality through action, not promises.

Now Comes the Hard Part

In the all-time classic political drama The Candidate, on election night the newly anointed U.S. Senator for California Bill McKay (Robert Redford) pulls his campaign manager Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) away from the press and cheering supporters.  Alone in a hotel room, McKay sits on the bed and delivers the film’s last line asking Lucas, “What do we do now?”

On November 24, in a post I called “BASE Ball,” I chastised Doug Jones for running an anti-Moore ad instead of talking about why he was the RIGHT choice for Alabama.  And the opportunity in this special election was NOT that a Democrat could beat an accused pedophile, but rather a Democrat could effectively represent the interests of Alabamans in the U.S. Senate.  To do this Jones needs to focus on “bread and butter” issues.  And he set the tone in his acceptance speech when he called on his future colleagues not to wait for him to arrive in D.C., but to act now on a issue that matters to thousands of his new constituents.

Take this election — take this election where the people of Alabama said we want to get something done, we want you to find common ground, we want you to talk. Take this opportunity in light of this election and go ahead and fund that ChIP program before I get up there. Put it aside and let’s do it for those million kids and 150,000 here in Birmingham, Alabama.

It is this kind of leadership and attention to issues which really matter to voters that could make Jones more than a one-term anomaly.  I hope the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate takes note.  Remind the American people that politics is a means to an end.  The end is good governance.

For what it’s worth.


All Deliberate Speed


The late Ben Bradlee has recently become a posthumous rock star.  He is the subject of a new HBO documentary.  And he is portrayed by Tom Hanks in The Post, a movie about the decision to print the Pentagon Papers which exposed the lies being told to the American people about the Vietnam War effort.  Dear readers, you may remember I too looked to Bradlee for guidance on inauguration day 2017.  At the time, I was concerned the press was playing into Donald Trump’s tiny hands every time they erred in reporting the news.  Nothing bolsters Trump’s constant cries of “fake news” like occasional inaccurate reporting.

In what should have been the culmination of the best week for the resistance, the mainstream media has done something unimaginable. Three times in five days, they have buttressed the liar-in-chief’s charge the press will do anything, including make up stories, to take him down.

  • ABC correspondent Brian Ross inaccurately reported Trump had directed Michael Flynn to make contact with the Russians about lifting Obama imposed sanctions during the transition.
  • CNN inaccurately reported an email to Donald Junior with the location and password for accessing Wikileaks’ stolen DNC and John Podesta emails was sent on September 4, the same date Junior tweeted this information to his followers.  To their credit, the Washington Post pointed out the email was actually dated 10 days later.  But the later date undermined the time line CNN and others were using to build a case for collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.
  • Until today, no media outlet independently checked the veracity of the high school yearbook inscription from Republican senate candidate Roy Moore to Beverly Young Nelson. Although Nelson says she only added the date and location to Moore’s message, not divulging this information at the outset damages her credibility.  In a close race, any misstep can turn the tide.

In the first two cases, ABC and CNN preceded their scoops with the word “exclusive.”  In an effort to post a story before the competition, the only exclusive thing about their reporting is how exclusively irresponsible they are.

But here’s the good news.  The only people who really matter in this national horror story are Robert Mueller and his team.  So  I again remind all of you who keep asking how long are they going to take, the answer has and always will be, “As long as necessary to get it right.”  Despite claims by Paul Manafort’s attorneys Mueller has misinterpreted the facts in their client’s indictment, no one, and I repeat NO ONE, has argued any of the facts are wrong.

The term “all deliberate speed” was first introduced in the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas which ended the “separate but equal” doctrine contained in the previous Plessy v. Ferguson decision.  Sadly, segregationists used the word “deliberate” to claim they were taking their time to make sure it was done correctly.  However, in this case, all deliberate speed is EXACTLY what we need.

As Ben Bradlee reminded Carl Bernstein and  Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men:

We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. 

Where is the next Ben Bradlee when he/she is so badly needed?

For what it’s worth.


Peter Principle Reconsidered


Related imageIt has been nearly a half-century since the publication of Lawrence J. Peter’s (1919-1990) management opus The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong.  The main thesis of the best-selling book, according to Wikipedia, is:

…the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence”.

Most of the text focuses on the negative impacts on the organization or system in which the now under-qualified manager is employed.  For example, the best sales person in a business is elevated to the position of vice-president for sales, a job which is not about managing assigned customer accounts but scaling the company’s entire sales infrastructure  The company now suffers because their best salesperson has been pulled off the street and the overall sales effort deteriorates because the new VP has never been responsible for identifying, recruiting and training talent.

Peter spent minimal time trying to understand the impact on the individuals who now might as well have a “Scarlet I (for incompetence)” sewn on their business attire.  One can imagine the whispers among employees, not just those under the new VP’s supervision, but everyone whose livelihoods depends on the success of the sales department.  After all, that is where the revenues originate.  Put yourself in the the shoes of the VP.  Sleepless nights?  Self-isolation?  Denial?  Not willing to seek help for fear of being viewed as weak?

This private hell violates every cannon of good business management.  Numerous business gurus have written the happiest and most successful members of an organization are those in positions when they feel both capable and challenged.  But fortunately, it is a PRIVATE hell.  Corporate managers, except in the instance of major failure or scandal, are not covered by the media.  And rarely are they the butts of late night humor.  Yet even in cases when those with knowledge of a manager’s shortcomings is a relatively small circle, the deterioration of the principal’s physical and mental state soon becomes apparent.  In short, the negative impact, when someone rises to their level of incompetence, can be equally destructive for that individual as it is for the organization.

This is why successful organizations develop career ladders with incremental promotions.  In the above case, no salesperson would immediately be promoted to VP for sales.  Instead, they may first be given responsibility for a regional team of company representatives.  And, under the tutelage of the VP for sales, learn what it means to motivate others, present and explain company directives and fill vacancies when they occur.

Now imagine a different scenario where the sales VP’s every decision, action, words and memos were shared openly.  And immediately become fodder for every news outlet — broadcast, digital and print.  And are fodder for writers of the opening monologues of every late night talk show.  That PRIVATE hell has now gone PUBLIC.  And not to make matters worse, the newly anointed manager has multiple skeletons in his/her closet which, if exposed, would ruin both the individual’s career and personal life.

Welcome to Donald J. Trump’s PUBLIC hell.  He is that VP with one major exception.  No individual or board of directors appointed him to his current position.  He was the one who decided to take over the sales department.  And then spent his first year bringing in middle managers who also did not understand the task or worse felt the company did not need a sales department.  He disparaged those who had devoted their careers making sure the unit was a success.  And finally, he is cooking the books to make stockholders believe he is the “greatest VP of sales” in the company’s long history.

I make this comparison for one reason only.  Not to reiterate Trump’s lack of knowledge about his responsibilities or to explain what appears to be his spiraling decline into irrationality or worse.  Others have taken up that mantle.  It is time to focus attention on those who are watching this debacle and doing nothing.  At the head of the list is the so-called “donor class” who will soon become the primary beneficiary of the emerging tax scam.  They would NEVER tolerate this situation in their own organizations.  They know the effect such a rotten apple will have on the entire barrel of fruit.  And they would immediately pull the contaminated product off the shelves.

Yet they have no qualms about putting the country and the rest of us at risk by continuing to underwrite a dangerous product.  And they wonder why an increasing number of young Americans question the value of capitalism.  Strangely, in this case, an NRA analogy is most appropriate. “It is not the theory or system that is killing capitalism, it is the people who are misusing and abusing the system for their own purposes.”

For what it’s worth.