Of Applauses and Military Parades

On Tuesday, January 30, 2018, Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address in front of both houses of Congress. Of course, like the last time he addressed Congress, the media lauded at how he seemed to act presidential by reciting words off a teleprompter which you wouldn’t see in his Twitter feed. But that doesn’t change the fact he’s the hollow showman who’d rather pick fights than offer any remotely plausible solutions to any real problems. And that he shows absolutely no interest in governing or uniting the country. Nor does it change the fact he’s a narcissistic sociopath who’d sell out America and undermine established democratic norms in order to enrich himself, his Republican allies, and his 1% friends. Or how he has no respect for America, democratic principles, or the rule of law.

But what scares me most about Donald Trump is his authoritarian impulses. He sees himself above scrutiny and criticism. He sees himself entitled to countless praises from everyone without doing anything to deserve them. And as president, he thinks that anyone working in the federal government should be personally loyal to him above all else. In his mind, anyone who thinks less of him as this wonderful president who’d make America great again is an Un-American conspirator out to get him who should be crushed. Trump has called reporters who write unflattering articles about him as, “enemies of the people” and the media outlets they work for as “fake news.” He has called athletes who kneel during the national anthem to peacefully protest police brutality and racism as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the American flag. He has questioned the authority of federal judges who ruled against his policies. He has declared war on law enforcement officials and agencies investigating him whom he’s alleged as agents in some Democratic deep state conspiracy to bring him down. Despite that the key decisionmakers in the Russian inquiry are all Republicans, including his own hand-picked deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

On Monday, February 5, Donald Trump addressed a crowd in Cincinnati in which he decried how congressional Democrats didn’t stand and applaud for him during last week’s State of the Union. “They were like death and un-American,” he said. “Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.” Trump loyalist may dismiss this incendiary sentiment as nothing but a joke. After all, he didn’t say refusing to give him a standing ovation was treasonous. He just merely agreed with people who said it was. And like many things Trump says in his tweets, there’s a tendency to shrug it off.

But Donald Trump’s casual allegation of calling the Democrats’ behavior “treasonous” should be taken very seriously. Merriam Webster defines treason as “The offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family.” In Article III Constitution: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.” Of course, treason can be punished by life in prison or death. Joining an enemy army because you didn’t get the promotion you deserved is treason. Splitting off from your country so you can subjugate black people to forced labor is treason. Giving out secrets to the Russians after World War II is treason. Refusing to stand or applaud the State of the Union when a president thinks you should is neither treasonous nor Un-American. If it was, then you can easily say that congressional Republicans were treasonous whenever they sat on their hands while Barack Obama touted his accomplishments in office to the Democrats’ cheers. Same when it came to every president before him.

Nevertheless, when Donald Trump links a refusal for a standing ovation to a president during a State of the Union address as “treasonous,” he’s implying a far more unsettling message. What Trump really meant in Cincinnati is that dissent was traitorous and/or un-American. That if these non-clappers really loved their country, they’d be applauding when he touted how low black unemployment had dipped under his presidency. Despite that his touting of historically low black unemployment was a cherry-picked fact based off a single month’s economic report which totally lost relevance when the black unemployment numbers trickled up in January. Besides, even if he did reduce black unemployment to historic lows, that wouldn’t make any difference to the Democrats. Because Trump has pissed plenty of Democrats off through his divisive and incendiary rhetoric. Not to mention, his pandering to white supremacists as well as his assaults on healthcare, education, the environment, civil rights, workers, and the poor. Then there’s his disregard for democratic norms and the rule of law as well as his attacks on American institutions like law enforcement and the press.

Still, even the mere suggestion of criminalizing dissent should trouble any fan of democracy. The right to dissent without fear of retribution is at the heart of what differentiates the United States from authoritarian countries around the world. In fact, it’s even protected by the First Amendment of our constitution. As US Senator Tammy Duckworth tweeted, “We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy. I swore an oath—in the military and in the Senate—to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.” When a president floats the notion of no applause when it was appropriate, it sends a very powerful message to the nation about how we do (and should) deal with those disagreeing with us. Doesn’t matter if Donald Trump was joking or not. And whether you agree with President Pussygrabber or not, it sends a very terrible message. What the Democrats did during Trump’s State of the Union wasn’t unprecedented and was well within their rights. To say otherwise, is un-American and destructive.

Then there’s a recent report from the Washington Post, in which an anonymous military official claimed that Donald Trump requested that the Pentagon begin planning a military parade this year along the inaugural route between the US Capitol to the White House. According to the paper, Trump was inspired by a 2017 to France for Bastille Day which traditionally features one. “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” the official said. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.” Excuse me, but doesn’t there seem to be something a bit despotic about this? Because save for winning wars, holding military parades is what armed forces in dictatorships to show they’re not to be messed with like in Russia, China, and North Korea. Still, this isn’t a new interest of Trump’s since he wanted military equipment and a flyover for his 2017 inaugural parade. Of course, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the event in the works, “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe. He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.” Oh, what a load of shit. Trump is a man who dodged the draft thanks to his rich daddy, called POWs cowards, had disabled veterans chased off of Trump Tower, promised to donate $6 million to vets but didn’t, set up a fake veterans hotline, attacked a Gold Star family for being Muslim, and told a grieving serviceman’s widow that her husband, “knew what he signed up for.” The say that Trump wants a military parade to show honor America’s service members is ludicrous. He doesn’t give a shit about the brave men and women who’ve served this country other than as props in his displays of patriotic pageantry. But Trump is a president who’s openly praised a number of totalitarian leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He’s openly questioned his own Justice Department and FBI, suggesting there was a conspiracy at the highest levels wanting to weaken him. He’s worked tirelessly to disqualify the idea of an objective news media. He constantly says things that aren’t true and has an administration coining the term, “alternative facts.” Not to mention, he has a tremendous ego and perhaps to top the kind of military parade he saw in France. Because to him, might makes right and he with the biggest toys wins.

However, when the toys are tanks and missiles, no one’s really sure what “winning” looks like as the stakes go up. Donald Trump is either unaware or dismisses this concept. He also doesn’t seem to care about the kind of message a parade of tanks, guns, and other military playthings through the Washington D.C. streets sends to the rest of the world which will watch. Meaning we’ll probably get a military parade in Washington because Tiny Hands gets what he wants whether or not it’s good for the country. Our soldiers and weapons aren’t toys for Trump to parade around to compensate his fragile ego. Still, if there’s anything un-American it’s an unpopular president holding a military parade because other countries get to do it.

Nonetheless, if there’s anyone who’s betraying the nation, consider the guy who’d deliberately and systematically wreck the institutions guaranteeing the separation of powers and accountability of the Executive and Legislative branches. Think of the guy who’d subvert the rule of law to protect himself, his family, and his cronies from justice. If you’re looking for a man who’d betray the Founders’ glorious vision and our Constitution, look no further than the clown who heads this White House circus. I mean the very man who swore to uphold the Constitution and obey the laws of the land, but ignores them and attacks those who’d carry them out. Sure, there have been presidents who’ve failed, strayed, and fell to weakness. And we can remember presidents from both parties who no one could even imagine betraying the nation to a hostile foreign power. Not this man. And we don’t have to imagine it either. We can see it. Trump’s unashamed schmoozing with Vladimir Putin speaks for itself as he allows Russia attack our democracy, our Republic, and our institutions. Only Trump and his sycophants question Putin’s implacable hostility, aggression, and desire to divide and disrupt this country. That Putin wants to weaken our standing, diminish our power, and harm our interest in the world is stated Russian policy. When Congress sent Trump veto-proof legislation demanding he impose sanctions on Russia, he waited until the last second to impose, well, nothing. When Putin arrested campaign opponent Alexey Navalny on fake charges, His Hind-Ass remained silent. For some reason, Trump is determined to show he’d do anything, at any time, to please this Russian authoritarian. He’ll even tear down the United States government around him to hide from accountability, wreak alliances, compromise intelligence sources, and endanger our troops to please Putin. Let us strip away all the excuses and rationalizations and just call Trump’s actions on Russia, what they are: treason.

 

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The Snowflake Court Smears the FBI

Since Donald Trump became the GOP’s leader, there seems to be no limits to how far the Republicans will go to protect and defend him. Even if it means discrediting longstanding institutions trying to do their job. On Monday, January 29, 2018, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to release a memo painting the FBI and the Justice Department as being biased against Trump so much that people in both agencies have conjured up an investigation into his ties with Russia to take him down. Not surprisingly California Rep. Devin Nunes wrote the memo that reportedly frames Robert Mueller’s investigation as an FBI to hurt Trump as well as uses both Hillary Clinton and the infamous Steele dossier in establishing connections. Trump has until February 2, to declassify the report. But in the meantime, the hashtag #Release the Memo has started spreading on Twitter.

We should all know Devin Nunes is the last guy you’d want to lead any investigation into Trump’s Russian connections. And that any memo coming from him stating that the Trump-Russia investigation is a mere conspiracy by law enforcement to hurt Trump is a baseless narrative. He’s a longtime Trump ally and was on his transition team. He’s defended Michael Flynn when he was credibly accused of lying about his Russian contacts last February. As head of the House committee investigating the Trump-Russia connections, Nunes “seemed to go out his way to defend Trump.” The most noteworthy example was after Trump tweeted in March that President Barack Obama had “wiretapped” Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign. The heads of both the FBI and the NSA categorically denied such wiretapping took place. But Nunes quickly stood by Trump and held a press conference to proclaim that “the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition.” What this means is that some Trump personnel had been in contact with foreigners legally under surveillance, and their conversations were intercepted and collected as part of it. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t vindicate Trump’s claim of the Obama administration’s spying on his campaign headquarters. But the timing of Nunes’s press conference and the confusing way he presented made it seem he was trying to cover Trump’s ass. Then it turned out that the California congressman got his information from the Trump White House itself. National Security Council senior intelligence director Ezra Cohen-Watnick uncovered the info. White House attorney Michael Ellis who worked for Nunes prior to the Trump administration, personally delivered the information to him.

In sum, Devin Nunes released information in a way to make it seem like Trump’s claims of being persecuted by law enforcement were true and did so after secretly getting the details from the Trump White House. However, the situation became such an embarrassment that Nunes was forced to recuse himself from the intelligence committee’s investigation into Russia for 8 months during a House ethics investigation into his conduct. Apparently, these measures didn’t stick. Because when news broke out in mid-January that Nunes had been working on a secret memo on FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign, intelligence experts initially sensed a repeat of the wiretapping debacle where he misrepresented intelligence to support Trump’s political position. And in a way, it is.

But many of Nunes’s colleagues in the House saw the memo as damning proof of anti-Trump bias in the FBI. So they started the publicity campaign backed by conservative media to #ReleasetheMemo. This culminated in Monday intelligence committee vote to release it along party lines. That the Republicans would even speculate the FBI and the Justice Department being so against Donald Trump they’d set up an investigation into his Russian ties to specifically hurt him is ridiculous conspiracy nonsense. There are a lot of moving parts to what Nunes reports claiming versus what we already know. 

1.       A FISA court judge reviewed evidence and approved a warrant to wiretap a Trump associate.– In fall 2016, FBI investigators applied for a warrant with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to wiretap former Trump adviser Carter Page who has business ties to Russia and open sympathies with the Kremlin’s foreign policy. They presented evidence that he may be acting as a Russian agent and the judge approved the warrant.

2.       The Core of the Nunes Argument.– Those familiar with the Nunes memo, Devin Nunes believes that the case was primarily built on the Steele dossier which was funded partially funded on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. He then reportedly said that the investigators misled the judge by not saying they were relying on the Steele dossier. Therefore, the surveillance on Page was improperly authorized and potentially politically motivated.

In reality, the FBI got its evidence from several sources and FISA warrants generally require corroboration. Carter Page was known to have business ties to Russia and open sympathies with the Kremlin’s foreign policy. While advising the Trump campaign in July 2016, Page flew to Moscow and met with Russian officials, which raises suspicions among intelligence officials. Besides, Senator Diane Feinstein’s release of the Simpson testimony reveals that the FBI investigation into Trump’s Russia ties most likely began when a drunk George Papadopoulos bragged to an Australian diplomat that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Not to mention, the DNC email hacking right before the Democratic National Convention. Thus, the FBI had taken the Trump-Russian collusion question seriously for reasons that had nothing to do with the Steele dossier.

Furthermore, while Robert Mueller’s investigation hasn’t yet proven like the vast conspiracy the Steele dossier alleges, it certainly revealed real evidence of wrongdoing. George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty. Charges have been filed against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. We’ve also learned that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner were at least eager to possibly collaborate with the Russian government into revealing Clinton’s dirty laundry, instead of reporting the existence of an active Russian intelligence effort aimed at the United States. Then there’s the fact the Steele dossier’s less explosive allegations have so far proven to be true. The FBI might’ve relied on the former British agent’s findings since he’s a respected investigator. But if it’s true, it doesn’t necessarily discredit the application.

In addition, the memo’s claims are impossible to without seeing the underlying intelligence it was based on. Nunes could’ve highlighted the FBI’s Steele citation without mentioning other, more concrete sources the agency listed. As University of Texas professor Steve Vladeck said, “The memo won’t actually answer the underlying question, which is whether there was sufficient independent evidence to support the underlying FISA application. Only the application materials can conclusively shed a light on that.”

Then there’s the idea that FBI agents would act in such a way and a FISA judge would let them strikes plenty of legal experts as absurd. As civil libertarians have warned about for a long time, the FISA process can and has been abused. But this particular method of abuse requires an implausibly vast conspiracy. As former FBI agent and current Yale Law professor Asha Rangappa writes:

“The Nunes Memo reportedly alleges that at least a dozen FBI agents and DOJ prosecutors fabricated evidence, engaged in a criminal conspiracy to commit perjury, lucked out on being randomly assigned Judge Low Blood Sugar who looked the other way, and — coincidentally — ended up obtaining evidence that justified extending the initial FISA surveillance. …

“If Nunes has in fact singlehandedly uncovered this vast criminal enterprise, it’s hard to know what’s more astonishing: That a government bureaucracy managed to pull it off — or that Nunes has exposed it all in a scant four-page memo.”

3.       Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is dragged into this as well.– The Nunes memo reportedly says that Rosenstein knew and approved the application for the warrant knowing they were relying on the DNC-funded Steele dossier. Thus, it would imply that the deputy attorney general has an anti-Trump bias.

In late spring 2017, the FBI petitioned to renew its surveillance warrant on Carter Page. The New York Times claims that Rosenstein personally signed off on the renewal application. As the Times writes, the reason this matters is that, “Republicans could potentially use Mr. Rosenstein’s decision to approve the renewal to suggest that he failed to properly vet a highly sensitive application for a warrant to spy on Mr. Page.” But it’s deeper than that.

The memo apparently implies that the Russian investigation is a corrupt partisan hatchet job. Bring Rosenstein into it, it also indicts the guy currently in charge of it, suggesting he’s incompetent at best and corrupt at worst. Theoretically, this can lead Trump to dismiss Rosenstein. Because he can’t fire Mueller without the deputy attorney general’s say-so. Rosenstein had already said in December that there’s no “good cause” to fire him. If he were to fire the deputy attorney general, he probably could get to Mueller. And we all know Trump wanted to fire Mueller as early as June.

In reality, we forget that the firm behind the dossier was originally hired by the conservative Washington Free Beacon in 2015. Hillary Clinton and the DNC didn’t enlist the firm until Trump’s Republican nomination became more imminent. Besides, by the time Christopher Steele turned his dossier to the FBI, the bureau had already been getting reports that there was something shady going on in the Trump campaign. Not to mention, if the Steele dossier was a purely political document, then Steele wouldn’t have turned it in to the FBI out of his British allegiance.

4.       The conspiracy comes together.– So why is the Rosenstein angle important? Because if he, as a proxy for the Justice Department, can be seen as anti-Trump, then it means his hiring special counsel Robert Mueller had ulterior anti-Trump motives. Thus, meaning that the entire Trump-Russia investigation is happening because some “deep state” officials want to undermine Trump and take him down. So it’s not being conducted on its own merits.

However, if you think that Nunes’s theory relies on lots of incredible assumptions (some of which having already been disproven), you’re not alone. Assuming the New York Times’s description of the memo is accurate, there are good reasons to be skeptical. Even beyond Nunes’s personal history of misusing intelligence. 

Apparently, Republicans in the House have pushed to release the Nunes memo because they believe it outlines surveillance abuses Americans need to know about. As Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said on the House floor, “Let’s have a great debate about its consequences and the opportunity it presents to make things better, so these things never happen again.” However, FISA system experts and even civil libertarians critical of how law enforcement uses it, are skeptical. They clarify that Republicans aren’t proposing any changes to how FISA works or even suggesting that the system in general needs to reform to stop any future abuses. Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez noted, “There’s a conspicuous lack of interest in drawing any policy conclusions from what they purportedly consider a major institutional scandal.”

Instead, the motivation seems purely political as many of the #ReleasetheMemo supporters have also called for Donald Trump to fire Mueller. They may apparently genuinely believe that the Russia investigation is a partisan witch hunt targeting Trump. Or more likely think there is there’s some political advantage gained from championing an anti-FBI crusade near and dear to Trump’s and Fox News’s heart. Either way, experts claim the motivation behind the memo’s release is very clear as a way to wage war on the Russia investigation specifically and the FBI in general. Former Defense Department special counsel Ryan Goodman told Vox, “The release of the memo, and the fabrication of a set of ideas around the memo, empowers Trump to go after the FBI. The ultimate goal is undermining the Mueller investigation. There doesn’t seem to be another reason for the president to be so obsessed with Rod Rosenstein and to be gunning for him.”

Naturally the FBI and the Democrats don’t like the Nunes memo because they think it’s full of lies. The Democrats on the House intelligence committee compiled a 10-page memo of their own. It reportedly asserts two things. First, that the FBI didn’t abuse its FISA power when requesting the Page warrant. Second, that the Nunes memo is simply an effort to help the White House discredit the Mueller probe. On January 29, Rep. Mike Quigley asked Nunes if his staffers worked on this memo with the White House. The California Republican originally answered by saying, “as far as I know,” no one collaborated. But ultimately, he refused to reply, possibly suggesting collusion. Not to mention, the House Intelligence Committee voted not to make the Democratic memo public. On January 31, the FBI released a statement strongly signaling the agency’s worry on the memo’s accuracy:

“The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.

“With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

While it’s unclear whether Donald Trump will declassify the Nunes memo, he’s signaling he might. Though he has yet to see the memo, after his State of the Union address, he reportedly told Rep. Jeff Duncan that he’d “100 percent” make the memo public in the coming days. The next day, White House chief of staff John Kelly told Fox News that the memo, “will be released here pretty quick, I think, and the whole world can see it.” Of course, Trump’s reasons for releasing the memo are obvious. Since he’s publicly decried the Trump-Russia probe as a “witch hunt” perpetrated by rouge partisans within the FBI several times. As Cato’s Julian Sanchez told Vox, “Trump is shockingly overt about believing that the problem here is that the FBI is staffed by loyalists to the wrong person. He does, in fact, seem to think that the job of the DOJ, and the FBI, and the rest of the intelligence community is to protect the president and follow his orders — including going after his political enemies based on stuff he saw on Fox News, if that’s what he wants to do.” So Lord Cheetohead could just release the memo as an attempt to prove his suspicions correct. Yet, it can also backfire since it’s possible Nunes’s evidence presented in the memo is thin. Worse, the release fallout could lead to more leaks proving Nunes’s account wrong. That would not only hurt the conservative argument against the Russia probe but prove a self-inflicted wound.

But once the memo’s released, Devin Nunes needs to have a very good case to prove his argument, which he doesn’t. People will want to know his evidence to prove that the Mueller investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign was entirely based on the controversial Steele dossier. The FBI will have to back up its claims that it obtained the Page warrant based on information from a variety of sources showing a probable cause he may have acted as Russian government agent. This will lead to calls to release the FISA documents, which the FBI might find easy to do if the Trump-picked FBI Director Christopher Wray would approve it. Many conservatives are calling for the memo’s release and the FISA documents’ disclosure to show the information included in the warrant application presented to the federal court judge who approved Page’s surveillance. If it’s what conservatives claim, they can proclaim they’ve uncovered a conspiracy. But if the FBI documents show that the FBI told the truth which they most likely will, the Nunes-led narrative will fall apart.

However, we must understand that the Nunes memo is part of a much larger conservative effort to discredit the Mueller investigation. Once it’s released, it’ll serve as another data point in the growing anti-Mueller movement. But it can also be used as pretext for removing those responsible for the Mueller investigation. According to the Washington Post, Donald Trump told his close advisers that the memo could give the excuse he needs to either fire Rosenstein or force him to resign. He then replace the deputy attorney general with someone friendlier to his administration and more willing to constrain Mueller, which can hurt the probe in the long run. According to Rangappa, the new deputy attorney general can effectively cripple the Mueller investigation by rejecting the special counsel’s requests to investigate more people, obtain new evidence, or pursue charges against more people. Or the new appointee could just fire Mueller. Should the Nunes memo’s allegations prove true in the highly unlikely scenario, then that could potentially delegitimize the Mueller probe and lead to the special counsel’s dismissal. Nevertheless, this is more of a political game than a legal one. So the memo’s release will just take this fight into an all-out war between Republicans and the Trump administration who want Rosenstein fired and the Russia probe shut down, and the Democrats and FBI who don’t.

There are two broad ways this political war between the Snowflake King and the FBI can go. In the first, the FBI’s brought to a heel. Donald Trump fires Rod Rosenstein and other senior FBI executives and replaces them with more sycophantic appointees. The Mueller investigation is quashed while the bureau serves more like an arm to the Trump administration than a quasi-independent agency. Of course, the implications of this scenario on American democracy are simply terrifying to think about. For who knows what Trump would use the FBI for than to go after his critics and enemies. As Sanchez told Vox, “I shudder to think what the [2020] election looks like when you’ve got a guy who says, ‘I saw Fox & Friends this morning and my opponent is a crook’ … except now you’ve got an FBI and a DOJ that say, ‘Yes, sir.’” Let’s just say, such scenario would be a nightmare if you value American democratic values, particularly free speech. In the second scenario, the memo leads to a lot of FBI-Republican skirmishing but no actual showdown. Donald Trump doesn’t either fire Rosenstein or is somehow stopped from doing so, the Mueller investigation continues unhampered, and the FBI remains untainted by political influence. There are many factors that could make the difference between the two outcomes. Two of the key ones are congressional Republicans, particularly those in the Senate along with Trump’s own staff.

Senate Republicans have been notably quieter and more restrained in attacking the FBI than their peers in the House. They also have to confirm Donald Trump’s nominees to the Justice Department. They can make it clear that if he fires Mueller or Rosenstein and tries to appoint a crony in their place, they won’t confirm his picks. What Republican senators say and do after the memo’s release could indicate to Trump whether he has enough backing to take on the FBI.

But we must not forget that members of Donald Trump’s own White House have also blocked moves to interfere with the Mueller probe. The New York Times recently reported that in Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller. McGahn threatened to resign than do that and Trump backed off. He was, according to the Times, concerned that firing the special counsel would incite more questions about whether the White House was trying to obstruct the Russia investigation.” If McGahn and other voices of relative restraint in the White House succeed in backing Trump away from the memo fever that will soon play out all over conservative news, or even refuse to carry out his orders, then you might see the same thing again after the memo’s released.

Nonetheless, in regards to the current antagonism between the White House and FBI, there is no good historical precedent. Never has a US president attacked so publicly attacked the FBI. Nor have congressional committees with oversight responsibilities have also never attacked the agency this way. There have been tensions between the White House and the FBI over the years, but not so publicly. Russian President Vladimir Putin rightly thought there was a chance of an ally in the White House. And he sanctioned interference in the presidential election to further that goal. Donald Trump wants to be friends with Russia but suffers from a Putin-like hubris and has been hoist by his own petard in that he can’t be friends with friends with Russia without appearing part of Putin’s conspiracy. Still, the memo scandal is a move on the White House’s behalf to tarnish the FBI’s reputation and call the Mueller investigation’s motives in doubt. Even though the man who hired Mueller was one of Trump’s own appointees.

Framing investigative developments as partisan ploys is nothing new. But here, the charges aren’t simply that Mueller is an overzealous prosecutor. It’s that the FBI tried to help throw an entire election. And the House memo seems like it’ll suggest that the FBI was implicated in an attempted coup. The memo release’s long-term significance is that it may confirm some people’s suspicions of how few in government can be trusted to act independently and honestly. Trump and the GOP’s attack on the FBI puts its independence under siege. Bringing an independent judiciary and investigative branch under the executive’s domination is one of the first moves regimes who don’t respect the rule of law. Pinochet’s Chile. Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union. Putin’s Russia. And looking at Trump’s history, the lack of respect for the rule of law is very clear. Besides the military, the judiciary and law enforcement branches are the most powerful in a state. Control and politicization of that wing allows the ruler to criminalize his opponents, and label them as enemies of the state when the those so-called enemies are really defenders of a more viable, democratic nation. This is why the Nunes memo is a threat and I don’t think Trump is above wanting to use the FBI to go after his opponents, which scares the hell out of me. Now the White House seems pressuring the FBI, but it’s too soon to tell whether that leads to the FBI significantly losing its independence. Nevertheless, if Nixon’s debacle with Watergate has taught us, if a president has secrets he wants to keep, he shouldn’t mess with the FBI.

The Candidate and the Charlatan Historian

Back in the fall of 2017, it was found that Pennsylvania US Representative Tim Murphy not only had an affair, but also pressured his mistress to have an abortion during a pregnancy scare. Also, that he was a bastard to his staff that his office experienced a 100% turnover rate one year. So amid all the blatant hypocrisy and drama, Murphy resigned in October. Now a special election is set for March 13 for those in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. The candidates are Republican state legislator Rick Saccone and a former federal prosecutor named Connor Lamb. Naturally I throw my support for Lamb since he fits his district like a glove. He’s an ex-Marine and 33. And he at least tries to present himself as a viable candidate who campaigns on issues important to southwestern Pennsylvania like the opioid crisis, jobs and infrastructure, unions, student debt, affordable healthcare, protecting Medicare and Social Security, and modern energy development.

But most importantly, I support Connor Lamb for his bid to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th district is that he doesn’t endorse any fraudulent historians with theocratic ambitions. You can’t say the same about his opponent Rick Saccone. Saccone is a fan of the much-criticized Christian nationalist historian David Barton. He chose this man to introduce him at a rally in early 2017, signaling the state legislator’s wider political and religious views. For those following Saccone’s political career, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The state lawmaker’s rhetoric centers around Barton’s idea of America as a foundationally Christian nation. In fact, Saccone’s own book, God in Our Government, appears straight out of Barton’s playbook. In it, he argues that secularists have conspired to skew the United States’ Christian history. He’s advocated posting “In God We Trust” on public school walls. Longtime Christian nationalism critic, refers to Saccone on his blog as, “one of Pennsylvania’s biggest David Barton supporters.” This is not a man we should have representing Pennsylvanians in Congress.

As a practicing Catholic, I have nothing against Christianity or religion in general. But what I do take issue with is people using their beliefs to skew history to promote a certain agenda religious or otherwise. But this is exactly what David Barton does to American history. As a self-taught historian and activist who’s received little formal historical training, his sole credentialed degree is a bachelor’s in religious education from Oral Roberts University. Although he later claimed to have earned a doctorate from an officially unaccredited Life Christian University on the basis of his published works. He’s is best-known for a series of books including Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion, and The Jefferson Lies. Both books argue that America was founded by “orthodox, evangelical” Christians as a Christian nation, and that the Founding Fathers intended for America to be run on Christian principles. In 1987, he founded a company called Specialty Research Associates Inc., whose stated goal was to do historical research “relating to America’s constitutional, moral, and religious heritage.” This would morph into his multi-purpose propaganda machine, WallBuilders that sells a wide assortment of books and DVDs pushing for his fun-house vision of religious patriotism. He hosts a WallBuilders-linked nationally syndicated radio show where he describes himself as “America’s premier historian.” In 1998, Barton launched what he called the ProFamily Legislative Network to help “conservative, God-fearing legislators,” whose annual conference and regular updates still keep several hundred state and national legislators apprised of “pro-family” legislation with expert referrals and supporting research. This includes bills to ban abortion, prevent gay marriage, support religious expression in public schools and life, and resist gun control. Its conferences also offer media training and strategy sessions for far-right lawmakers on how to succeed in getting their legislative agenda through.

However, we shouldn’t see David Barton as an authority on American history. For one, the guy has less academic credentials in history than I have, a history major in college. Secondly, his historical narrative that paints America’s founding as a Christian nation is just plain wrong. Actual historians will tell you that Barton distorts quotes, cherry picks information, cites fraudulent sources, and straight up makes up history to serve his political goals. He’s argued that the Founders never intended for a separation of church and state, which he derided as a “liberal myth.” In his 2000, book Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion, he claimed that secular, liberal historians were involved in a conspiracy to cover up the “truth” about America’s Christian origins for their own nefarious goals. In reality, countless writings from the Founding Fathers make their intentions for a separation of church and state clear. Because since the 1600s, many colonists from various Christian denominations came to the US to worship as they please. And that not all Americans Christians practiced their faith the same way. As for the Founding Fathers, their religious views were more complicated, often blending Christian aspects with deism, an Enlightenment-era belief in an unknowable creator deity who didn’t operate in human form. In 2012, Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson recalled The Jefferson Lies, after it was revealed to contain major factual inaccuracies despite it making to the New York Times’ bestseller list. One of Barton’s dubious claims has Thomas Jefferson starting church services in the US Capitol. Still, it’s a hagiographic work arguing that Jefferson wasn’t a deist but an evangelical Christian who vigorously opposed slavery and racism. Not the Christian deist who owned slaves and endorsed a wall of separation between church and state, which he certainly was. A book containing as many gross factual mistakes like in The Jefferson Lies would’ve been a death knell for any real historian. To add insult to injury, historians, professors, and Christian scholars voted The Jefferson Lies, “the least credible history book in print.” As Warren Thockmorton and Michael Coulter stated, “David Barton claims he is setting the record straight with this book, but that claim is far from reality. Barton misrepresents and distorts a host of Jefferson’s ideas and actions, particularly his views and practices regarding religion, slavery and church-state relations. As Jefferson did with the Gospels, Barton chooses what he likes about Jefferson and leaves out the rest to create a result more in line with his ideology. In fact, there were so many problems with his book that we wrote an entire book in response.”

Even before the Jefferson book debacle, some of Barton’s claims seem to stem from simple ignorance. But others have been exposed as flagrant omissions and distortions which conform reality to his own fact-free vision of American history. He’s said that Ronald Reagan opposed gun control even after surviving an assassination attempt. Except that after being shot in 1981, Reagan wrote a New York Times op-ed clearly supporting the Brady gun control bill. He’s repeatedly claimed that John Adams supported religious control of the US government, quoting the passage, “There is no authority, civil or religious — there can be no legitimate government — but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it — all without it is rebellion and perdition or, in more orthodox words, damnation.” But Barton conveniently omits the quote’s next part in which Adams clearly mocks those with this belief. As the liberal People for the American Way said on its website, “He has deliberately, clearly and completely transformed Adams’ actual meaning.” Some of his other claims can be more mindboggling to even a child. For instance, according to Barton, the founding fathers, “already had the entire debate on creation and evolution,” and chose creationism. Except that Charles Darwin didn’t publish his theory of evolution in The Origin of the Species in 1859, a time when most of them were long dead. He’s also asserted that the American Revolution was fought to free slaves, which is ridiculous. Since many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners, acknowledged slavery in the constitution they wrote, and the British Empire outlawed slavery 30 years before the United States did. Also, we fought a major war over slavery in the 1860s which Barton doesn’t seem to remember for some reason. In 2010, Barton joined the battle to bowdlerize a Texas social studies curriculum for public schools and supported efforts to excise Martin Luther King Jr. and 1960s farm worker activist Caesar Chavez from textbooks. Because Barton said King didn’t deserve inclusion for advancing minority rights because “only majorities can expand political rights.” Despite that if King didn’t pressure politicians to enact civil rights legislation, much of the country could still be living with legally sanctioned Jim Crow. It’s basically his way of saying that “only white people matter.” Oh, and he thinks that Joe McCarthy was right about everything even though he wasn’t.

David Barton’s revisionist American history is about blending his brand of Christianity with a very specific form of American (usually white) nationalism. Figures like Barton blend the idea that America is a “Christian country” with the idea that the only critiques of the Founding Fathers that mention them owning slaves or contributing to racial inequality come from “politically correct” historians seeking to discredit America’s great history for political ends. Because the Founding Fathers have to be hero-saints in Barton’s view. But central to the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation is the notion that America was founded unproblematically (it wasn’t). And that only a return to this mythologized past will somehow solve perceived problems of structural inequality (it won’t). Thus, “real” America in his view, is above criticism. As Messiah College professor John Fea remarked, “Barton is not interested in seeing historical actors as flawed human beings. Instead, the founders seem to occupy some kind of exalted position. They are not quite angels, but they are not quite ordinary human beings either. They have been somehow immune to sin, which the last time I checked was an important part of the Christian understanding of what it means to be a human being.”

Nevertheless, David Barton’s deeply skewed perspective on American history has been used by several Republican politicians to promote the false narrative of America as a historically Christian nation. Barton remains a prominent figure in evangelical and dominionist circles and a regular on conservative conference circuits. Though since his 2011 fall from grace, fewer and fewer politicians publicly cited him, making Saccone’s choice to feature him at an early rally striking. But despite this, his influence is such that some on the right take his particular narrative as gospel, mostly from the most extreme and uneducated segments of the Christian right. Since the 1990s, Barton and his ideas have made inroads in the political sphere. From 1997-2004, he served as the Texas Republican Party vice chair and was a Republican National Committee counselor in the 2004 presidential election, helping to court evangelicals. In 2005, Time Magazine named him as among the nation’s 25 most influential evangelical Christians. In fact, he’s become the go-to man for tips on conservative Christian voter outreach, advising Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee. But more generally, some within the Republican Party more widely have adopted Barton’s narrative of American history while his work has been regularly championed by the Christian and broader political right. Outgoing Kansas Governor Sam Brownback referred to the fake historian as providing, “the philosophical underpinning for a lot of the Republican effort in the country today.” He’s also said that Barton is “one of my big heroes,” for his preservation of America’s “beautiful heritage.” In 2010, Glenn Beck called him, “the most important man in America.” In 2011, TV news pundit and former politician Mike Huckabee told attendees at a Rediscovering God in America conference, “I don’t know anyone in America who is a more effective communicator. I just wish that every single young person in America would be able to be under his tutelage and understand something about who we really are as a nation. I almost wish that there would be something like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced — at gunpoint no less — to listen to every David Barton message.”

One major reason for David Barton’s prominence in the Christian and political right is that many political figures like Ted Cruz and Roy Moore have embraced a form of Christian nationalism or Dominionism. Now Dominionism is based on the idea that the American government should run on Christian principles. Therefore, its ultimate goal should be a Christian theocratic state necessary to properly usher in the apocalyptic End Times. It takes many forms from R.J. Rushdoony’s “hard dominionism,” advocating pure theocracy to the “softer” Seven Mountains movement, which encourages Christians to take over the “seven mountains” of culture as a whole, from arts to education to government. But the fundamental principle is that same that Christians must work toward a theocratic state in which Christians are in control. Or, as Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone said in an interview last year with Pastors Network of America, God wants Christians, “who will rule with the fear of God in them, to rule over us.”

David Barton’s focus gives Dominionism legitimacy through perpetuating a cycle. By creating a deeply unbalanced history of America’s foundations, he can legitimize the Christianized state he’d like to promote. And as an (at least ostensible) historian, he can partner with Republican lawmakers to cast a veneer of academic respectability over a thoroughly anti-academic message. That Barton has continued to nurture a reputation as a credible historian and activist says a lot in which some politicians on the religious right feel the need to construct a façade of legitimacy to support their political ends. To create a mythical and simplistic version of the past in which America was founded as a clear-cut theocratic state is to provide an easy, useful narrative. Because the true narrative of America’s actual founding by a nation of Christians, deists, and other post-Enlightenment thinkers working out a complicated project of nationhood doesn’t fit their vision. In the Barton narrative, the United States is supposed to be a Christian nation and thus, any means taken to make the country more theocratic is automatically viewed legitimate.

Of course, considering that historians are human beings, all historical accounts can also be propaganda in a sense. Any narrative of America’s foundation will be mediated by a teller’s specific biases and concerns. National myths have always been about who we want to be as who we really were. And that’s all the reason to promote a wide variety of voices from all sides of the political aisle within the realm of academic history. But what David Barton and his political allies do is worse than that. Like Washington DC’s new Museum of the Bible, Barton uses the appearance of academic inquiry without any of its meticulousness to promote a Christian dominionist approach to governments that ideologues like Saccone are all too happy to accept without question. Still, Christian dominionist concerns are ultimately focused not on America’s history but the apocalyptic End Times a Christian nation is supposed to usher in, according to certain evangelical belief strains. And as Barton’s history centers more on his apocalyptic vision than the actual past, Americans are becoming more ill-informed for it.

Still, we must understand that David Barton is neither brilliant nor a historian. In fact, he’s a right-wing bigot with his own extremist profile at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Aside from all his dominionist nonsense, Barton inhibits very extreme views even by conservative Christian standards. He thinks gays should be sent to prison and thinks they die “decades earlier” than others as well as have more than 500 partners in their lifetimes. He has promoted the anti-immigrant cause and engaged in Muslim-bashing. He opposes immigration reform, saying God established national borders and ignoring American expansionism to the West which involved the US taking a bunch of land in Mexico, including his home state of Texas. He has appeared on hard-line nativist William Gheen’s radio show. And he has cited infamous white supremacist Richard Spencer in attacking US Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman. In 2012, he claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the government at all levels. He insists, based on nothing but his own highly unusual biblical reading, that environmentalism, the graduated income tax, the minimum wage, deficit spending, unions, and measures to battle global warming are all opposed by God.

No one’s saying that David Barton can’t make whatever reckless and false claims he wants. The First Amendment protects him as much as any of us. Yet, that doesn’t mean he should be taken seriously, given a podium, or boosted as a must-read “historian.” Instead, let’s consign Barton’s baseless propaganda to the dumpster of false and obnoxious ideas where it belongs. As a historian, Barton is a fraud, a conman who conveys a false rendering of American history to promote a toxic religious agenda and make money. His vision of American history should never be legitimized by any politician, church group, or anyone else. Since Rick Saccone endorses this historic flim flam man with extremist views, he shouldn’t be elected to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th district.

All the Snowflake King’s Men

On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, California US Senator Dianne Feinstein released a full transcript of Fusion GPS Glenn Simpson’s extensive 21-hour testimony before 3 Congressional committees. According to her, “The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.” The move follows a decision by Republican Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham, who after months of testimony, issued a criminal referral for Steele, alleging the committee had reason to believe the former spy has lied to the authorities about his conversations with the press regarding the dossier. His spokesman, Taylor Foy called it, “confounding” that Feinstein released the transcript “unilaterally” over the Republican majority’s objections. Well, of course, she did because she knew the Republicans were cover up that testimony to protect Trump’s ass. But according to Foy, “Feinstein’s unilateral decision was made as the committee is still trying to secure testimony from other witnesses, including Jared Kushner. Her action undermines the integrity of the committee’s oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses.” By releasing the transcripts against objections from Republican colleagues, Feinstein didn’t cause much harm. She broke no law. Though Simpson testified in a closed session, he wasn’t a government official. Nor did he discuss classified information or anything about anyone’s private life. Besides, Simpson had already called for his testimony’s full release. What Feinstein violated was the normal rules of Senate decorum, which Republicans had been using to cover up a key point that debunks some of their own talking points about this matter.

Simpson’s testimony contains many revelations. He touches upon how the Trump Organization handles taxes saying, Donald Trump’s relationship with gangster Felix Sater, how his country clubs aren’t making any money and that someone might’ve been killed as a result of the dossier. But most importantly, his testimony revealed that the FBI was already investigating potential links between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government before they even heard anything about Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier on the matter. During the hearing, Simpson stated when Steele spoke to the FBI about his findings, the bureau, “believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump Organization.” That along with a report from the New York Times suggests that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos who during a night of heavy drinking in May 2016, accidentally kicked off the Trump-Russia investigation by telling an Australian diplomat that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

We must not forget that Feinstein released this transcript over her Republican colleagues’ objections. Recently, conservatives had been pushing a theory that the basis for the FBI investigation was an opposition document compiled at the Clinton campaign’s behest. On January 3, key House conservative Rep. Jim Jordan rolled out a tweetstorm of 18 questions about the FBI and Russia, many of which centered on the Steele dossier. Along with another leading House conservative Rep. Mark Meadows, Jordan is calling for Trump to fire Jeff Sessions and put in a new attorney general to oversee and possibly quash the Russia investigation. This is part of a broader effort to discredit the Robert Mueller investigation which in turn is part of the conservative counternarrative on the whole Russian scandal. The dossier plays a key role in this conspiracy theory. By putting the dossier on trial, they have tried to impeach the basic case that people in Trump’s circle may have coordinated with the Russians who attacked the election. Trump allies have also used the dossier to go on offense against the FBI and the Justice Department, charging that “biased” federal investigators used what Republicans call partisan, Democratic-funded propaganda as the basis for the whole Russian investigation. However, the reality is that while intelligence circles hold Steele in high regard, there’s no evidence that the FBI has ever used his work as the basis of its Russia investigation. Besides, the case for collusion goes beyond the dossier and includes outreach by Russian agents to the Trump campaign as well as meetings between Trump associates and Russians.

Now who is this Glenn Simpson and what is Fusion GPS? Simpson is one of the co-founders of Fusion GPS which is a “strategic influence” firm first hired by the conservative publication called the Washington Free Beacon in 2015 to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee contracted the firm once Trump’s Republican nomination became more imminent. In turn, Fusion hired former MI-6 Russian specialist Christopher Steele to specifically look at Trump and Russia. The former British agent used his Russian contacts to compile a dossier describing efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cultivate a relationship with Trump and his entourage and to gather material to blackmail the candidate if necessary. He did not pay sources for the information. His investigation ended with a several allegations including that Russian security services are blackmailing Trump with a recording of him paying prostitutes to pee on his bed at the Moscow Ritz Carlton presidential suite. And that Trump’s campaign was the beneficiary of a multifaceted Kremlin plot to interfere in the 2016 US election. Obviously, Steele felt his findings went beyond political campaign fodder and made him worry that there was a genuine threat to US national security. So he took the info to the FBI who was already getting tips and reports something was going on. Steele’s information just confirmed the seriousness of the situation. Buzzfeed published Steele’s dossier in January 2017 which set off a firestorm of controversy and intrigue which neither man intended to happen. But in recent months, it had taken new life as the centerpiece of a conservative counter-conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies cooked up the whole Trump-Russia investigation. Simpson’s testimony primarily debunks the conservative narrative placing the infamous dossier at the center of the story and confirms the Times account of a drunk Papadopoulos kickstarting the Trump-Russian investigation.

But how could a drunk Papadopoulos be the start of the Trump-Russian investigation? Let’s just say that it all boils Papadopoulos having a drunk conversation with Australia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Downer about Russia having dirt on Hillary Clinton. Downer, of course, shared the details with other Australian officials who ultimately passed word of it to their American counterparts once the hacking of Democratic email accounts became a big deal. And thus the FBI investigation ensued that July. All because Papadopoulos said the wrong thing to the wrong guy while under the influence. They listened to Steele because they already had an investigation into the Trump-Russia question underway. While the investigation hasn’t yet proven the existence of anything like the vast conspiracy Steele alleges, it certainly has uncovered a real evidence of wrongdoing. This consists of a Papadopoulos guilty plea along with serious criminal charges against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. We’ve also learned that key Trumpworld figures like Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. were at least eager to potentially collaborate with the Russian government into revealing anti-Clinton “dirt.” Rather than taking a cue from Downer in alerting the authorities to the existence of the of an active Russian intelligence effort aimed at the United States. There also continues to be an ongoing investigation that might yet reveal other criminal activity. Or it might not. Either way, Simpson’s testimony is more evidence that law enforcement took the Trump-Russian collusion question seriously for reasons that had nothing to do with the Steele dossier.

Steele may have overreacted as well as got things wrong. Yet, fundamentally, it doesn’t matter since the investigation doesn’t rise or fall on his credibility. Even so, he turned the dossier to the FBI for no obvious reason other than his allegiance to our closest ally. Despite what the Republicans think, the Steele dossier was not a purely political document paid for by Democrats to hurt Donald Trump. Else Steele wouldn’t have reported such information to the FBI. In fact, the Democrats hardly made a concerted effort to hit Trump where it hurts during the 2016 election and they didn’t need a dossier suggesting treason to do it. For Trump’s history of corruption of dubious business practices is simply mindboggling. Also, he’s a narcissistic sociopath who has consistently abused any position of power he’s had to enrich himself. Besides, allegations of collusion with a foreign power to interfere in an election are far more serious than the traditional political punches.

While Republicans decry that Feinstein’s decision to make the Simpson testimony public undermines the congressional investigations, it was the their own efforts to obstruct inquiries that prompted to her to release the documents in the first place. Because they’d rather stick with Trump for their own selfish interests despite the damage he’s done to this country, how many norms he’s violated, and how he’s enriching himself. In an op-ed Fritsch and Simpson write, “We suggested investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump’s businesses. Congress appears uninterested in that tip: Reportedly, ours are the only bank records the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed. [We] found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.” The House committee investigating Trump’s Russian connections was an utter joke while led by Rep. Devin Nunes who was on Trump’s transition team! Last year, the California Republican betrayed his oath of office on behalf of a faction within the Trump administration. Hell, he practically went to and from the White House telling Trump and his allies the House committee’s activities. In siding with Trump, Republicans have put their party over nation and principles. In essence, instead of pursuing what Fusion GPS found out about Trump, they’ve become enablers to a possible traitor who has no love for the country he’s supposed to lead, no respect for the democratic values he’s supposed to protect and promote, and no affinity for the rule of law he’s supposed to abide.

Nevertheless, the fact Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans didn’t want the Simpson testimony released to the public speaks volumes about their motives. As Simpson and Fusion GPS co-founder Peter Fritsch wrote in an op-ed that the committees have “known for months” of credible collusion allegations but have chosen instead to “chase rabbits.” And yet, Republicans tried pushing a conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies created the dossier to defame him and launch an FBI witch hunt. It’s clear conservatives in Congress have been misleading people about the origins of the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia with hopes in discrediting it. We all know that Republicans want to hold on to their power to enact policy they want no matter how unpopular it is. We know they’re willing to support Donald Trump so they can get their way. It is one thing for a major political party to unite behind a corrupt president. But it’s a very serious concern when the GOP unites behind a campaign of willful disinformation at the country’s expense. As Joshua Marshall wrote in Talking Points Memo, “What’s happened is that we’ve had a year tarnishing the reputation of a man who did right by the United States for no obvious reason other than his allegiance is to our closest ally and creating a comic, degenerate alternate reality in which the people who alerted us to the problems and those who first sought to understand them are the malefactors rather than the people who were at a minimum cozying up to a foreign power. It is actually quite like the cliched story of the whistleblower who speaks up and then becomes the scapegoat in the cover-up of the bad acts he was trying to bring to light. In fact that’s exactly what it is.” Now that Republicans have chosen to protect their Snowflake King, we must remember how their selfishness at Capitol Hill has disgraced the nation.

The Madness of the Snowflake King

In this winter of our discontent, there is a term flying around conservative circles called “snowflake” used to describe liberal extremists who get offended by every statement and/or belief that doesn’t exactly match their own. To them, these individuals think they’re just unique as “snowflakes” when they really just have fragile feelings. To be fair, I do believe there are some liberal snowflakes who do exist. But when it comes to fragile feelings and offense by every statement and/or belief not aligning theirs, I think the “snowflake” label describes conservatives much more. For one, conservatives have an entire media ecosystem to insulate them from uncomfortable mainstream truths and assure them their views are perfectly reasonable. I mean when other networks air rather damning stuff on Donald Trump, Fox News runs stupid shit and peddles conspiracy theories. Secondly, conservatives go absolutely apeshit over race related issues such as Black Lives Matter calling attention to police brutality, NFL players taking a knee, and removing Confederate monuments. Third, those so-called “snowflakes” conservatives refer to have had to deal with all kinds of offenses and systematic injustices against them for perhaps their whole lives.

But in the United States, there is no bigger snowflake in the country than Snowflake King Donald Trump. Even before he ran for president and disastrously ended up in the White House, we all know that this guy has a massively inflated ego and self-delusions of grandeur. He sees himself as a successful and brilliant businessman despite being an outright fraud who’s shamelessly engaged in unethical practices and corruption that have ruined hundreds of people’s lives. His presidency will become legend for his incompetence, his Twitter tantrums, his lack of regard for the law, democratic principles, and norms, and his corrupt administration that’s loaded with sycophants. Still, Trump is known to burst over the slightest insult that he’s referred the mainstream media as “fake news” whenever they run a negative story about him. For a president, to discredit the media over the negative stuff about him whether it be his unethical business practices, his flagrant disregard for democratic norms, his lack of respect of democratic values, openly racist tirades, his Twitter tantrums, his incompetence and mental instability, and pathological dishonesty. Even before he became president, Trump was known to at least threatening to sue those who dare challenge him or at least said stuff about him he didn’t like. Sometimes this has resulted in real life consequences. In 1990, he threatened to sue Janney Montgomery Scott unless they fired their securities analyst Mark Roffman. His crime? Issuing a negative forecast for Trump Taj Mahal which was later proved correct. Nevertheless, Roffman lost his job and spent the next few years in a living hell. A year later, Trump threatened to sue any broadcaster or distributor who’d show an 80 minute documentary about him called Trump: What’s the Deal?, which powerfully and disturbingly portrayed him as the fraud he actually is. His effort to suppress the film proved successful.

Recently, a book has been recently published called Fire and Fury: Inside the White House which has been dominating the political cycle this January. Written by longtime New York columnist Michael Wolff, media outlets have run excerpts from it which has resulted in a furious response from Donald Trump. In fact, his lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to the book’s publisher, demanding to stop publication. Not surprisingly, it has become a bestseller as copies fly off the shelves. Still, while Fire and Fury isn’t the most factually accurate account of Trump in the White House, it nonetheless confirms a lot of the dysfunction and disorganization that has characterized the administration. Specifically, Wolff’s book depicts a deeply unprepared, incurious president surrounded by toadying advisers concerned about his ability to do his job. Knowing how willfully ignorant Trump is about how government works during the 2016 Election campaign, this isn’t surprising at all. His lack of knowledge of the US political system was a source of constant criticism. One big instance of that on display was when he promised to pick a Supreme Court Justice who’d “look very seriously” at Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. However, the Supreme Court tries laws, not people. In a primary debate in Houston, Trump referred to federal judges “signing bills” a task the president does in a federal system. As Wolff recalled in his book on how some of Trump’s closest aides spoke of him behind closed doors: “This—insulting Donald Trump’s intelligence—was both the thing you could not do and the thing—drawing there-but-for-the-grace-of-God guffaws across the senior staff—that everybody was guilty of. Everyone, in his or her own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care, and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes. There was now a fair amount of back-of-the-classroom giggling about who had called Trump what. For Steve Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, he was an “idiot.” For Gary Cohn, he was “dumb as shit.” For H. R. McMaster he was a “dope.” The list went on.”

Now we all know that Donald Trump doesn’t like to read which is a very terrible sign. Because on any given day, a president is expected to read about as much as a college student cramming for a big exam. Thus, as Cracked reports, intelligence agencies have to keep their reports 25% shorter than Obama’s and allow no space for dissenting opinions. Policy papers are trimmed from 3-6 pages down to a single page with lots of graphics and maps. The National Security Council has taken things a step further by “strategically” including Trump’s name as often as possible since he usually keeps reading if he sees it mentioned. But a bigger problem than these oversimplified briefings is that Trump apparently doesn’t even bother to read them. This can lead Lord Cheetohead to embarrass himself in talks with foreign leaders, drafting woefully inept executive orders, or signing off on documents he doesn’t even understand. As Wolff recalls: “Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: he didn’t process information in any conventional sense — or, in a way, he didn’t process it at all. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate.” He even quotes Gary Cohn stating, “It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”

Furthermore, Wolff notes how Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand the kind of responsibility being a president entails. Most Americans are familiar with the idea as of the president as a political and institutional concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety. Well, Trump isn’t most Americans since he’s prone to his ongoing Twitter tantrums over stuff that pisses him off. As Wolff writes, “Here was another peculiar Trump attribute: an inability to see his actions the way most others saw them. Or to fully appreciate how people expected him to behave. The notion of the presidency as an institutional and political concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety and semiotic messaging — statesmanship — was quite beyond him.”

Wolff also describes him as anti-intellectual as he noted, “For anything that smacked of a classroom or of being lectured to — “professor” was one of his bad words, and he was proud of never going to class, never buying a textbook, never taking a note — he got up and left the room. This was a problem in multiple respects — indeed, in almost all the prescribed functions of the presidency.” Such conduct is very unbecoming of a vast array of occupations, especially if they require a college degree. But if you’re the President of the United States, it’s incredibly unforgivable. Though we know that Trump’s brand contains a very anti-intellectual streak, eschews the advice of experts, doesn’t sponsor any cultural events, and doesn’t express any form of curiosity in anything. He sees no value in science, history, or education. And his campaign might be responsible for why more Republicans might have more negative opinions about colleges and professors they see as liberal elites in their ivory tower. If Trump should call himself a “stable genius” then he’d probably buckle up in the Oval Office, listen to criticism, and take notes. Despite that academics might seem to be in their own little worlds at times, a politician advocating anti-intellectualism is a very terrible thing since it encourages willful ignorance and disinterest in learning and education. And Trump’s willful ignorance and disinterest in anything but his own vanity and enrichment is rooted into his own narcissism and sociopathy since he worships no god by himself and he has no faith than in the almighty dollar.

Nor does Donald Trump seem to have the proper temperament or understand his role to lead a nation. As Wolff recalls, “What was, to many of the people who knew Trump well, much more confounding was that he had managed to win this election, and arrive at this ultimate accomplishment, wholly lacking what in some obvious sense must be the main requirement of the job, what neuroscientists would call executive function. He had somehow won the race for president, but his brain seemed incapable of performing what would be essential tasks in his new job. He had no ability to plan and organize and pay attention and switch focus; he had never been able to tailor his behavior to what the goals at hand reasonably required. On the most basic level, he simply could not link cause and effect.” Cracked has reported that American agencies are withholding an unusual amount of information from Trump. Though Trump has expressed scorn for the intelligence community (particularly when it comes to Russia). However, a bigger concern for them might be his habit of casually announcing classified information to rival governments. In May 2017, during a meeting with Russian officials, Trump reportedly boasted about the quality of intelligence he received every day. He also revealed details of a terrorist plot he’d recently been informed of. The problem with that is that revealing you know something can let someone guess fairly quickly how much you know it which can compromise the original intelligence source who may not have wanted the Russians to know about it. Though America doesn’t need to be hostile with Russia anymore, we know it has very different goals and ambitions than we do. Meaning that we need to exercise a degree of caution when dealing with them. But Trump’s carelessness with intelligence can be more than a one-time problem since in the wake of this story, an unnamed European country warned that they may stop sharing intelligence with the United States because they don’t like Trump compromising sources while trying to impress people.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior has often compelled about his mental state long before Fire and Fury. Just last week, he unleashed a series of tweets which culminated in a nuclear threat of nuclear war with North Korea. On January 2, 2018, he tweeted, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” In fact, the book’s very title came from a Trump speech back in 2017 over North Korea when he said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” This at an event that was supposed to focus on opioids. Such statement terrified North Korean experts who worried about Trump provoking a war with another nuclear-armed power. Yet, Wolff noted such words also scared the bejesus out of Trump’s staff as they spent the next week trying to get him to stop talking about it. As Wolff wrote, “North Korea, a situation the president had consistently been advised to downplay, now became the central subject of the rest of the week — with most senior staff occupied not so much by the topic itself but by how to respond to the president, who was threatening to ‘blow’ again. Charlottesville was a mere distraction, and indeed, the staff’s goal was to keep him off North Korea.” To use Charlottesville to distract Trump from North Korea just makes me cringe. This is one of many examples illustrating that Trump is incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions. When Trump does something like fire James Comey, bomb Syria, or threaten North Korea, he does so without any sense of how human beings might be affected. As Wolff writes, “One of Trump’s deficiencies — a constant in the campaign and, so far, in the presidency — was his uncertain grasp of cause and effect. Everyone [in the White House], in his or own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes.”

But while the White House tries to write off Fire and Fury as “trashy tabloid fiction,” its fallout suggests otherwise. Already, Donald Trump has treated its revelations as gospel truth has launched a blood feud with his former strategist and campaign CEO Steve Bannon. Because on January 3, 2018, the Guardian posted excerpts from Wolff’s quoting Bannon saying some remarkable things about the Trump family. In these excerpts, Bannon called Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower “treasonous,” speculated that Trump might’ve been involved as well, and asserts that Jared Kushner is involved in some “greasy” business that could expose him to money laundering charges. These revelations not only cut into Trump’s denial of wrongdoing in the Russian scandal but also insulted his family members as well. Neither of which will put you in Trump’s good graces. Interestingly, Bannon’s Brietbart website reproduced some quotes sometime later without disputing them, giving a seeming impression of accuracy. Furious at the Bannon revelations, Trump released an infuriating statement reading, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.” Except that Bannon’s Brietbart website is called “the platform of the Alt-Right” who mostly comprise of white supremacists which number among Trump’s most ardent supporters. Anyway, Trump goes on to minimize Bannon’s role in his 2016 victory and complain that he helped cost Republicans a Senate seat in Alabama by endorsing Roy Moore. Look, we all know that Bannon played a pivotal role in the Trump campaign or otherwise the alt-right wouldn’t be a thing. Furthermore, he also accused Bannon of constantly, leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was” since it “is the only thing he does well.” Now Bannon is even out at Brietbart over the Trump book controversy over his comments.

It’s not hard to imagine that Donald Trump’s staff never thought he should be president. Nor is it difficult to think that Trump never wanted to be president in the first place. As Wolff frames it, “The Trump campaign had, perhaps less than inadvertently, replicated the scheme from Mel Brooks’s The Producers. In that classic, Brooks’s larcenous and dopey heroes, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, set out to sell more than 100 percent of the ownership stakes in the Broadway show they are producing. Since they will be found out only if the show is a hit, everything about the show is premised on its being a flop. Accordingly, they create a show so outlandish that it actually succeeds, thus dooming our heroes.” Though at least Bialystock and Bloom ended up in prison and didn’t doom a whole country. Still, Wolff believes that the Trump administration’s problems currently lie at the concept that even his staff didn’t think he’d win. Why release your tax returns if he’s going to lose? What’s the harm in sucking up to Russia’s government if he’s likelier to build a hotel in Moscow than occupy the White House? Why bother with educating the candidate on major policy issues or build a real platform when he’ll never govern? Or why worry about conflicts of interests or business entanglements if they’re never going to matter? This might explain so much. Yet, even if he was just running for president, those things will still matter.

Still, Fire and Fury paints a picture of Donald Trump through his own tweets, speeches, comments, and actions as well as the constant on- and off-the record statements from his staff. It’s similar to what reporters have heard from top staff at the White House. And similar to what I and much of the American public have long suspected. Trump is not cognitively up to the job of the presidency. He’s not just someone who doesn’t know much about policy or foreign affairs. It’s that he’s someone who doesn’t want to know about policy or foreign affairs. And he dislikes the methods by which you actually could learn about policy and foreign affairs. Thus, Trump’s ignorance isn’t an absence of knowledge. It’s closer to a personality trait and possibly even an ideology, which is even worse.

Naturally, when a man so unqualified for the presidency that his campaign wants him to lose unexpectedly wins the White House, chaos ensues. Suppose you work for Donald Trump at the White House. How would you please, placate, manage, constrain and inform a raging child king? Though the answer is embarrassing. But it’s one Trump’s staff and any foreign government wanting America’s favor know all too well: flattery and sycophancy. Trump’s staff tries to keep their boss from social media with constant praise and putting lots of media in front of him. Also, his staff worry about leaving him alone for hours at a time because he watches too much TV, gets annoyed with what he sees, and throws a Twitter tantrum. Other techniques for keeping Trump happy include hanging a map displaying his electoral victory in the West Wing, planting supporters and planting supporters in crowds as he gives a speech. One instance of the latter had him being passionately cheered while he gave a speech at the CIA headquarters by non-CIA supporters in the front rows for that specific purpose. This pissed off the CIA who consider themselves apolitical and don’t appreciate being herded into a meeting to listen to someone complain about how hard or unfair their job is. He thinks that no politician has been treated more unfairly than him despite that the TV news media has treated him much better than he deserves to be.

And how do you harness the remarkable opportunity you’ve been given to actually build something of value? The central struggle of Trump’s early months was between chief strategist Steve Bannon, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and chief son-in-law Jared Kushner. All of them in their proximity to power, saw the potential to build a presidency they could be proud of or at least less disgraced by. As Wolff recalled: “Each man saw the president as something of a blank page — or a scrambled one. And each, Walsh came to appreciate with increasing incredulity, had a radically different idea of how to fill or remake that page. Bannon was the alt-right militant. Kushner was the New York Democrat. And Priebus was the establishment Republican. “Steve wants to force a million people out of the country and repeal the nation’s health law and lay on a bunch of tariffs that will completely decimate how we trade, and Jared wants to deal with human trafficking and protecting Planned Parenthood.” And Priebus wanted Donald Trump to be another kind of Republican altogether … As Walsh saw it, Steve Bannon was running the Steve Bannon White House, Jared Kushner was running the Michael Bloomberg White House, and Reince Priebus was running the Paul Ryan White House.” This struggle was hardly a civil conflict ideal as Wolff records the tree factions’ endless squabbles comprising of leaks, schemes, backbiting, and the outside heavies brought in to change Trump’s mind at the last minute. But the conflict was so immense because Trump is incapable of and uninterested in resolving. Trump never gave a damn about Trumpism since he’s not sufficiently interested in policy, ideology, or ideas to direct his own presidency’s course. Thus, the course will be directed by the most firmly established interests around him like his family the congressional GOP.

Nonetheless, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury contains a mystery it never resolves. As he wrote, “It was obvious to everyone that if [Trump] had a north star, it was just to be liked. He was ever uncomprehending about why everyone did not like him, or why it should be so difficult to get everyone to like him.” However, it would be easy enough for Donald Trump to run a presidency that left him better-liked. He could work with the Democrats, ease up the culture war, and give some gentler speeches. There has never been a president for whom the bar is lower than for Trump. It would be so easy to clear it and he’d have people around him happily acting as guides and cheerleaders. But he didn’t do any of that and Wolff’s book doesn’t provide a satisfying answer since it’s a portrait of a man undone by the very forces he unleashed. Because Donald Trump doesn’t care about policy, politics, ideology, or coalitions. All he cares about is Trump. He wanted to put his name on buildings and in tabloids. Now he has his name on the most important building on the planet and on the front page of most every newspaper in the world. Yet, outside a few conservative outlets, the coverage he receives is horrible, the worst of any president in memory. He can’t perform his job well enough to be liked or respected. But he only wanted the job in the first place because it would force the whole world to like or respect him (except it people still don’t like or respect him, including me). And he’s driven to rage and paranoia by the resulting dissonance, disappointment, and hurt. Mostly because he doesn’t understand that running for the most powerful office in the land will not get people to like and respect you. You have to do something to earn that adoration and respect. Sure he might be a rich businessman, but his career and life have been marked by unethical business practices, baffling corruption, inflammatory statements, and other dubious deeds. Trump wants the adoration and respect for doing nothing besides being a rich businessman and TV star.

This wasn’t what Donald Trump wanted and it’s not clear whether it’s something he can bear. A more capable, competent, and stable person would by now, have either changed their behavior to receive more of the response they crave or just given up on getting that kind of attention. Yet, Trump exists in an unhappy middle ground, starting his day with morning rage tweets, spending weekends retreating to one of his golf clubs, searching for validation he craves in his Twitter feed and on Fox and Friends but never getting it from the elite taskmasters he’s always sought to impress. The pressures of the presidency are enough to break almost anyone but Trump is less suited for the work and backlash than most. The strain’s already showing as his workday’s reportedly shrunk to 11am to 6pm. Yet, the bulk of his first term remains to the detriment of us all and it can include his financial secrets being revealed to the world, his family being indicted, and a crisis he mishandles exploding into a catastrophe (like that didn’t happen already in Puerto Rico). The question now is whether Trump’s staff can keep governing around him and whether a dysfunctional president can have a semi-functional White House. And so far, I don’t really know if that’s possible with a narcissistic sociopath like Donald Trump. Because he’s a man who cares nothing about America, has no respect for democratic values, and doesn’t think the rule of law applies to him. A man like him only inspires more chaos and internal stripe which won’t end until he’s out.

Touchdown with These Super Bowl Sunday Party Treats (Fourth Edition)

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Now that we’re in the first days of 2018, it’s now time for NFL playoff season. During this time, the best NFL teams play each other to determine who will compete in the Super Bowl in February. Now for those who don’t live in the United States, the Super Bowl is an incredibly significant time of year in this country. There is no sporting event that receives more buzz or TV ratings than this game. Though I usually don’t watch the Super Bowl unless the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing in it. Mostly because as a resident of the Greater Pittsburgh area, I basically have to since everyone else mostly does where I live. Though if the Steeler face the New England Patriots, let’s hope a bad ref call doesn’t lead to them losing. Anyway, it’s quite common for people to hold Super Bowl parties with all kinds of food which is where I come in. So for your reading pleasure, I give you yet another assortment of Super Bowl treats. Enjoy.

  1. Nothing makes the New Olreans Saints go marching in like these cookies.

Okay, maybe not. But these are certainly professionally made. Consist of a helmet, jersey, fleur de lis, football field, and football.

2. Your Super Bowl guests will delight in these football brownie bites.

Well, these bites are shaped like a football. Or closest thing you can get to a football via brownie bites.

3. Make your tailgate buffet complete with these football French fries.

Surprised why we don’t serve these during the regular season. Then again, regular french fries are usually a football staple anyway.

4. Nobody can resist a peanut butter football.

It’s even covered with sprinkles with icing for the lines. Comes with vanilla wafers and meant for a dessert platter.

5. Care for some football Oreos?

If you’re not into party planning, these are the perfect Super Bowl treats to make. Just put the stitches on the Oreos.

6. These snackadium has all the goodies.

This was for the 2012 Super Bowl XLVI which had the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. Giants won by the way.

7. This snackadium contains plenty of buns.

Yes, I put a lot of these snackadiums on my Super Bowl treat posts. And yes, the can be quite elaborate.

8. Instead of an appetizer platter, how about snack tray cookies?

There basically tailgate snacks in sugar cookie form. But unlike the real items, they all taste the same.

9. Spice up your big game party with these jalepeno cornbread footballs.

Not sure if I’d want to eat one of these. Might set my mouth on fire.

10. No Packers party can do without some guacamole.

This one has multiple layers. And in true Green Bay fashion, it’s covered with cheese.

11. Celebrate the Carolina Panthers with a Cam Newton cake.

Yes, this was for a birthday. Still, we all know that last time they were in the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos beat them.

12. Chocolate football pretzels make a great game day treat.

Yes, they’re supposed to resemble little footballs. But they all have a chocolate frame and white stitches.

13. Treat yourself to some Dallas Cowboys strawberries.

Hey, they beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl during the 1990s. And they tend to be contenders in the playoffs. So it’s only fair.

14. Packers fans would surely want a cheese cake on their dessert platter.

Well, a cake that resembles cheese. Since Packers fans call themselves Cheeseheads.

15. You’ll find these brownies on the 50 yard line.

Since they’re 50 Yard Line brownies. And yes, they’re covered in green sprinkles.

16. It’s no New Orleans Saints party without these cookies.

Yes, these are another batch of Saints cookies. But they did win a Super Bowl sometime in the 2000s. So it’s fair.

17. A big Steeler football game should always have a cake like this.

It’s a Steeler football cake. And yes, it’s decked in black and gold.

18. For healthy options, you might want this helmet fruit salad.

The fruit is stored in these watermelon helmets and a tray. Perfect for any Super Bowl party.

19. Perhaps you might want a stadium with sandwiches.

Well, this is a small scale snackadium as you see. Yet, the field is made out of guacamole.

20. You’ll score a touchdown with this fruit salad.

This is a fruit salad with a watermelon field. Consists of a football and goal posts, by the way.

21. There’s no better Super Bowl snack than chocolate football potato chips.

Okay, I think cover potato chips covered in chocolate is disgusting. But, hey, to each his own.

22. Nobody could resist these Rice Krispie treats in Arizona.

Well, these are undoubtedly professionally made. But Cardinals fans will sure chirp for them.

23. This Denver Broncos cake is a Super Bowl sensation.

Well, if Denver does make the Super Bowl. But this cake is quite spectacular.

24. No Super Bowl party is complete without a Pepsi snackadium.

Though I never drink Pepsi or any kind of pop. Still, you’ll find all the goodies in the stands.

25. Use these football buns for your game day burger.

Surprised that you don’t see these buns too often. Then again, regular buns work just as well.

26. This Saints cake makes a fine addition to any New Orleans dessert platter.

And if they don’t make the Super Bowl, you can use this cake for Mardi Gras. Since it’s a huge thing in that area.

27. Help yourself to these football hoagies.

These all have cheese for the stitches on top. But they contain whatever you expect for a sandwich.

28. A San Francisco 49ers snackadium should always contain gummy bears.

Though these contain vodka. so they’re definitely not for anyone under 21. Just warning you.

29. Care for a ref shirt cake on your game day dessert platter?

Not sure if this is a popular choice giving refs’ reputations. But yes, this does exist.

30. No one in Washington state should go without these Seattle Seahawks cookies.

All these depict the green Seahawk eyes. However, we all know the team ripped off their logo from Pacific Northwest Coast Native American totem art.

31. A football crepe cake should always be a seven layer dip.

Though how people eat this, I have no idea. Cause this is between a dip, a cake, and a sandwich.

32. A football snack platter should always include pretzels.

Well, flattened pretzel chips, anyway. But you still have the pepperoni pigskin and cheese.

33. Sit back for the big game with these Atlanta Falcons jello shots.

Because if they contain alcohol, then these will come in handy if your team loses to the Patriots within the final moments of the Super Bowl game. Like last year.

34. Support your Pittsburgh Steelers with this black and gold cake.

This is kind of shaped like a football. But it’s decked in black and gold stripes.

35. Care for some Seattle Seahawks jello shots?

Well, these are in Seahawks colors. Though always ask the host whether they contain alcohol before your kids get a hold of them.

36. You’d have to be mad not to like these football brownies.

The footballs are chocolate while the turf is icing. So I guess the brownie is dirt.

37. These football potatoes come stuffed with guacamole and veggies.

Not necessarily potatoes I’d eat. But they’ll probably be a hit at most Super Bowl parties.

38. Feel free to try some carrots on this football veggie tree.

This one has pea pods for football stitching. Yet, go ahead to try some baby carrots on this pigskin.

39. This snackadium comes with paper plates on the side.

Well, at least they come with stuff you can put the food on and wipe your face. Still, the stands have plenty of food.

40. These football pizzas can always use a bit more pizzazz.

So that’s why they have veggies on them. Make sense. Still, at least the stitching is made of cheese.

41. Might want to know how the game’s going between the baby carrots and cherry tomatoes.

Well, this is a stadium veggie tray. It’s like a snackadium but with healthier food.

42. These football brownies contain a Reese’s pieces surprise.

Not sure how they can be cooked into the brownies intact. But they sure look delicious.

43. Perhaps an empty guacamole field may suit you.

This one mostly consists of a guac dip field and Cheez-Its. Perfect for any platter at the big game.

44. I’m sure no one in San Francisco can resist these cupcakes.

Since these are 49ers football cupcakes. All have red icing and a gold football on top. Though the chocolate ones may take a knee against police brutality(okay, that turned out wrong).

45. These helmet taco treats come bite size.

Not sure how they make these. But if I wanted a taco, I’ll just take a taco.

46. Cowboys fans would adore this Dallas star cake.

Though a Patriot-Cowboy Super Bowl would fill my dad with dread. Since he hates both of these teams the most.

47. You’ll find plenty of cupcakes inside this snackadium.

This one was for the Steelers-Packers game back in 2011. Sure the Steelers lost, but whatever. Wasn’t like they were against Dallas.

48. There are no bad calls from these ref peanut cookies.

Well, at least they’re filled with peanut buttery goodness. So even if they rule out a game winning touchdown, you can eat them.

49. Try these cheeseburger cupcakes on any game day dessert platter.

These contain a chocolate cookie as a burger. The other toppings are pure icing.

50. A Seahawks cake like this can be a Super Bowl spectacle.

Yes, it has the Vince Lombardi trophy on top. Still, save it for the after party if the Seahawks make it that far.

51. Bet you didn’t expect a chocolate surprise from this football cake.

These have egg candies in them since they resemble footballs. Not sure how they pull that off.

52. Perhaps you might want to serve food in a wooden stadium.

Well, at least you can resuse this every year and on multiple occasions. Still, you have to wonder how much of the food gets wasted.

53. You can’t have a Super Bowl party without these pizzas.

These are from DiGiorno by the way. And each has a football theme for your party.

54. Care for some football toast?

This just consists of pumpernickel footballs with cheese and pepper slices on it. Simple as that.

55. You’d find a cheesy pigskin on this snack platter.

These are all arranged on layers in a football with the cheese stitches on top. The goal post is the dip tray, by the way.

56. Check out the plays on these brownies.

Well, they sure look like plays. Yet, you can’t really tell that these are food save by the Hungry Happenings caption.

57. Nothing makes a Super Bowl lunch like these pigskn paninis.

It’s just a sandwich on football shaped pumpernickel bread. Not my cup of tea, but I’m sure someone would enjoy it.

58. No snack tray should be complete without some toasted footballs.

Because they always go well with veggies and ranch dip. And your guests would love them, too.

59. Your guests will be impressed with these small hotdog rolls.

Well, these are rather small rolls with more bread on them than hotdog. But that’s beside the point. Still, the middle has mustard stitching.

60. Feel the Pittsburgh steel with these Steelers lemon bars.

Not a fan of lemon, thank you very much. But these still have the Steeler spirit on them.

61. Get a load of these slider cakes.

Yes, these are cheeseburger cakes. But they nonetheless look as tasty as the real things.

62. Always use green and yellow bell peppers for Green Bay.

I bet this is a supermarket display. But it’s nonetheless quite clever. Someone must be starving for customers.

63. Apparently, this cake doesn’t have much air.

Yes, it’s another deflate cake. Nevertheless, as long as Tom Brady’s a Patriot, I always have to include one of these.

64. Treat yourself to the big game with these football Rice Krispie Treats.

These have chocolate and icing on top to resemble footballs. Guaranteed to melt in your mouth.

65. You can’t go wrong with a Baltimore Ravens cake for the big game.

Though while the Ravens have one 2 Super Bowls, they’re not known for their players’ upstanding conduct. In fact, Ray Lewis has as many Super Bowl rings and murder indictments.

66. A Packers fan would certainly rave about this helmet cake.

Sure it doesn’t exactly resemble a helmet. But if it’s tastes good, it shouldn’t matter much.

67. Your guests would adore these Baltimore Ravens jersey cookies.

Includes jerseys of Ray Rice and Ray Lewis. You know the guy who was caught on camera beating his wife and the guy accused of killing two people.

68. This Dallas Cowboy star cake comes with plenty of football strawberries.

Still, the Dallas Cowboys are as beloved in the US as they are hated. But America’s football team, they are not.

69. You can feel the black and gold with this Steeler snackadium.

Well, this doesn’t seem to take much time and effort. Great a smaller party.

70. These New England Patriot cookies come well stamped.

Well, I had to put the Patriots in somewhere. Still, they’re a bunch of cheaters and shouldn’t have one against the Steelers. I mean it was a touchdown.

A Plea for Saving the Children’s Health Insurance Program

In 1993, the late Governor Robert P. Casey Sr. signed the first Children’s Health Insurance Program into law in Pennsylvania, which later served as a model for the federal program Congress would enact a few years later. Westmoreland County’s then State Senator Allen Kukovich was instrumental in enacting this state program that he’s considered its founding father. Since 1997, the Children’s Health Insurance Program has provided matching funds to states for health insurance to children from families who can’t afford marketplace or employer insurance but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Sponsored by the late Senator Ted Kennedy in partnership with Senator Orrin Hatch and supported by then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, it was the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded health insurance coverage for children in the United States President Lyndon B. Johnson established Medicaid in 1968. Today CHIP is a critical government program providing health insurance for nearly 9 million low-income kids as well as remains one of our nation’s most vitally important and widely supported programs. Thanks to CHIP, the United States enjoys has the highest rate of insured children in our nation’s history at over 95%.

On September 30, 2017, CHIP expired when lawmakers couldn’t agree on a 5-year reauthorization of the program. This puts millions of kids at risk of becoming uninsured, and in some cases, being denied the critical care they need to survive and thrive. Though states have remaining funds to keep their programs running for varying lengths of time, it’s an administrative nightmare for states that can’t plan ahead. But they may have to prepare for a possible shutdown of their CHIP programs well before they run out of money. As Alabama CHIP director noted, “This whole situation is causing chaos. We are causing confusion to families, stress and turmoil.” On December 15, Alabama officials were forced to announce that they’d stop taking new enrollees on New Year’s Day and the 84,000 kids (1/8 of the state’s children) currently in the program could lose coverage February 1. In my home state of Pennsylvania, the families of 174,000 children currently enrolled in CHIP are about to receive notices informing them that their insurance may be canceled while Colorado already has sent a letter back in September that their CHIP coverage will be canceled by the end of January. Utah has already submitted a request to the federal government to freeze their program’s enrollment. Some states such as Nevada, already have laws that force officials to freeze enrollment if federal funds decrease at all. By the start of 2018, more than half the states are projected to have used up their available funding. Across the country, families depending on CHIP are running out of time.

On December 21, 2017, Congress passed short-term legislation to fund CHIP until the end of March, which is said to cover an estimated 1.9 million children across 24 states and Washington D.C. which stood to lose coverage care like doctor visits and hospitalizations in January. But this temporary relief still leaves CHIP and the families who rely on it in uncertainty since as of December of 2017, there is no long-term fix in sight. As George Washington University professor Sara Rosenbaum told Bloomberg, “You can’t run an insurance program this way.” Essentially, lawmakers are forcing health officials running the program, “to go month-to-month.” Still, even with these short-term fixes, “there will be relief that the funding has been extended, but it will be combined with a lot of anxiety,” as Kaiser Family Foundation executive vice president Diane Rowland claimed.

Health coverage is critical for children to get a healthy start in life and high coverage rates mean more children have an opportunity to meet their potential. It is well understood that covering kids is an investment in our future since a child’s health, school performance, and future success are all linked. So it goes without saying that unhealthy children are at higher risk for school problems, failing, or dropping out. Children who have health insurance through CHIP or Medicaid have better access to healthcare and do better in school than their uninsured counterparts. And better school performance provides a foundation for future success in life. Thus, investing in children’s coverage programs means investing in not only children’s health, but also academic success and success later in life. CHIP is especially important to children with special health needs, children of color, children in working families, and children in rural communities. Without CHIP, there would be more uninsured children, increased healthcare costs and less access for kids with insurance, and great financial devastation for families with special needs kids. At any rate, losing CHIP will devastating to millions of families, which will mean uncertainty surrounding their children’s health, much higher healthcare costs and added financial burdens, for some, a complete loss in their children’s coverage.

There is no question that Congress must vote to continue funding CHIP or else coverage for the 9 million kids whose families depend on CHIP will be in jeopardy. Should federal CHIP funding end, states would need to adjust their budgets, either ending or significantly cutting back on existing CHIP programs. Options available to a state may depend on whether it operates a separate CHIP program or has CHIP as an expanded Medicaid one. Either way, children’s health coverage will suffer. Nevertheless, failing to fund CHIP will undo 20 years of progress as well as undermine our nation’s values. If we want our children to live and succeed in this country, then funding CHIP should be a top priority. As Americans, we have a moral, ethical obligation to take care of our children. But if we can’t protect children’s health insurance, what does it say about our values?