Monthly Archives: March 2017

Inside Devin Nunes

One of the bizarre consequences of the Congressional investigation into the connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia is the media attention given to a banal Republican congressman, Devin Nunes.  As the chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Nunes has singlehandedly blocked the House investigation into the Trump-Russia affair.  He’s doing this because of political ambition.

43-year-old Nunes grew up on a dairy farm in Tulare, California, and earned a Master’s degree in Agriculture.  In 2001, Nunes entered politics when President Bush appointed him California State Director for the USDA’s Rural Development section.  In 2003, Nunes became Congressman for what is now California Congressional District 22, which includes Tulare.  By 2010, Nunes was recognized as a rising Republican star; Time Magazine (,28804,2023831_2023829_2025225,00.html) named him one of their “40 civic leaders under 40,” characterizing Nunes as an ambitious “farm boy.” Nunes admitted, “I like Agriculture,” adding that if left politics, “I would be making wine and cheese.”  (Nunes’ family owns a huge Tulare farm and Nunes lives nearby.)

Given his rural background, it’s remarkable how quickly Devin Nunes has risen up the Republican food chain.  Many attribute this to his book, “Restoring the Republic,” published in 2010 by WND Books.  In the 165 page polemic, Nunes staked out a far-right perspective, notably on environmental policy, describing Environmental lobbyists as “followers of neo-Marxist, socialist, Maoist or Communist ideals” and characterizing global-warming claims as “hysteria” spread by a “Doomsday cult.”

In 2010, when Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, Nunes became a member of the prestigious House Committees on Intelligence and Ways and Means.  In January of 2015, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asked Nunes to become chair of the Intelligence Committee.  (Nunes and Ryan are close friends.)

Many attribute Nunes rapid ascent to his connection to Joseph Farah, founder of the right-wing website WND (World Net Daily).  The Southern Poverty Law Center ( characterized WND as “devoted to manipulative fear-mongering and outright fabrications designed to further the paranoid, gay-hating, conspiratorial and apocalyptic visions of Farah and his hand-picked contributors from the fringes of the far-right and fundamentalist worlds.”  WND was a primary promoter of the “birther” cause: “Concerns whether President Obama is a ‘natural-born’ U.S. citizen, originally stirred up by WND columnist Jerome Corsi…. [who] was also the architect of the ‘Swift boating’ of John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign.”  (The WND bookstore features titles such as, “Stop the Islamization of America.”)

Before the Republican convention, Nunes became an “informal” Trump adviser on national-security issues.  After the presidential election, Nunes became a member of the Trump transition executive committee (, where he worked closely with NSA-designee Michael Flynn.  (Recently, The Washington Post quoted Nunes recalling that during the transition he was fielding calls from foreign leaders and ambassadors who were trying to reach Flynn.)

In May of 2016, Donald Trump held a fundraiser in Fresno, next to Nunes’ congressional district; in August Trump appeared at another fundraiser in Tulare, Nunes’ home town, and raised $1.3 million.  At the Fresno event, Trump claimed, “There is no [California] drought,” continuing, “We’re going to solve your water problem… It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea to save a certain kind of three-inch fish.” Trump’s comments were verbatim quotes from Nunes.  In fact, Trump seems to be echoing Nunes’ thoughts on environmental policy, in general.

Since the presidential election, Nunes has been an important member of Trump’s team.  On February 13, 2017, Congressman Nunes defended Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn (  “It just seems like there’s a lot of nothing there… There is no question that Flynn has been a change agent … which is why I believe Trump likes him.”  A few hours later, Flynn resigned.  Nunes responded by calling another press conference to promise that he would lead an investigation into had who leaked Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.

There are three reasons why Nunes defends Trump:

1. It’s what he was trained to do: Like his friend Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes has spend his adult life in politics. Instead of working in the family farming business, with his brothers Gerald and Anthony Junior, Devin became a professional Republican.  Early on, Nunes was groomed by Joseph Farah and other right-wing zealots.

2. He followed the money:  Nunes has been an unusually effective Republican fundraiser.  Open Secrets ( reports that in 2015-16, Nunes raise $2.4M and spent only $1.3M; at the end of 2016, his campaign committee had $3,177,900 on hand.  (Nunes’ fundraiser for Trump raised $1.3 million from 250 farmers.)

As a member of the House of Representatives, Devin Nunes makes $174,000 per year.  Nunes’ tax returns have not been made public but he claims to have a net worth of $51,000 ( including a $50,000 share in a winery and an undisclosed amount at WND books.  (Nunes did not declare his Tulare residence or his interest in the family farming business.)

3. He wants to run for Senate in 2018.  In California, it’s an open secret that Devin Nunes plans to run for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat in the midterm election.

Improbably, Devin Nunes, a small-town farm boy has become a national political player.  But in doing so, he has tied his career to that of Donald Trump.  Therefore, whatever scandal hits Trump will certainly impact Nunes.  Like most Congressional Republicans, Nunes doesn’t care about what’s in the national interest, he’s only interested in furthering his career.

Trump’s Huge Failure


After promising to “repeal and replace Obamacare on day one [of his presidency]”, Donald Trump suffered an ignominious rejection on day 64.

True to form, Trump took no responsibility for the defeat of the Republican plan (the American Health Care Act)  but, instead, blamed Democrats. Trump had attempted a “full-court press” to secure passage of his plan but was not successful winning over Tea-Party Republicans and, at the end, moderate Republicans who objected to last minute changes to the bill.

What have we learned?

1.The Resistance Works: 64 days ago, when Trump lumbered into the White House, it was unthinkable that he and his exuberant Republican allies would not succeed repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Then Democrats built a grass-roots resistance.  They put aside whatever differences lingered from the stinging November 8th defeat and began to work together in every congressional district.

It’s true that at the end, congressional Democrats stood united against the Trump-Ryan legislation, but the resistance pushed them to do this.  Think of the millions of phone calls that were made to members of Congress — supposedly 48:1 opposed to Trump’s bill.  Think of the all the citizens who showed up at congressional town hall meetings.

On the March 24th, Rachel Maddow show, Rachel detailed how the resistance in Morris County, New Jersey, (NJ 11) convinced hard-line Republican congressman, Rodney Freylinghuysen to vote against Trump’s plan.

The resistance works and it is just getting started.

2.  Trump’s entire legislative agenda went into the toilet.  The Trump Administration had planned on a big healthcare win to facilitate a massive tax reform — big cuts for the wealthy — and to follow this with a jobs bill — faux infrastructure construction.  Now it’s “back to the drawing board.”

Trump’s problem is that he can’t draw and has no “drawing board.”  (“There’s no there, there.”)  What he has is a collection of tired campaign one-liners, such as “we’re going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something terrific.”  The substance in the Republican plan came not from the Trump White House — which has a tiny policy group — but from the Republican Congressional leadership (and the network of conservative think tanks that support them).

Repealing the Affordable Care Act was the linchpin of the Trump legislative “agenda.”  Trump’s huge loss has jeopardized Republican chances in the 2018 midterm elections.

The re-election cycle has gotten very long and, therefore, political observers says that any substantial Congressional legislation has to be accomplished in the first 200 days.  We’re a third of the way through these 200 days and it look like 115th Republican-controlled Congress is a bust.

The 237 Republican representatives, who are up for re-election in 2018, have a huge problem.

3. Trump’s approval ratings will get worse.  Failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act might mean nothing to the Trump Administration if “the Donald” had high approval ratings, but he doesn’t.  His latest favorability ratings show him “underwater” by 20 points and headed down; even his support among Republican stalwarts has slipped — and will slip further after March 24.

The longer Trump goes on with no significant legislative accomplishments, the more his ratings will decline.  The more Trump’s approval ratings decline, the less likely Republicans in Congress will be to defer to him. (And the less likely that Trump will get any significant legislation passed.)   Before Labor Day, most Republican Congressmen will crank up their reelection campaign without Trump.

What happens next?  The next focus of the resistance should be opposition to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.  As was the case with defense of the ACA, Americans should call, fax, and text their Senators.  They should demand to see them to express their disapproval of this nomination.

Meanwhile the investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia stumbles through the Washington jungle.  If it bogs down, the resistance needs to demand a special prosecutor.

Trump has failed.  Hugely.  But Trump is like a wounded predator thrashing around in pain; he’s capable of inflicting enormous damage if he’s not constrained.  The resistance needs to keep the pressure on in order to prevent further damage to American Democracy.


Two Months of Trump: “There are no neutrals here”

After two months of Trump, there are clear winners and losers:


1.The Resistance:  Individual resistance groups are springing up throughout America.  (90 days after the publication of the Indivisible guide there are now more than 6000 Indivisible units; 1000 in California.)  Traditional progressive issue advocacy groups — such as ACLU and Sierra Club — have grown fangs and are organizing direction action.  Regardless of how they voted (or didn’t vote) on November 8th, progressives are setting aside their differences and uniting in opposition to the Trump Administration.

Out here on the Left Coast, long-term activists cannot remember when there was so much activist energy.  While non-Trump voters continue to be pissed off and depressed, the majority are ready to move out of the doldrums and into the streets.

2. Rachel Maddow: After the election, many progressives quit watching and reading the news.  Fortunately, outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post kept doing their jobs and we managed to learn about the subterranean infrastructure that swept Trump into power.  Then Rachel Maddow rose to the occasion.

Rachel avoided (what has passed for) mainstream news — Trump’s latest tweet, discussion of whether Kellyanne  Conway has lost her marbles —  and focused on the really big story: Trump’s ties to Russia.  As a consequence she’s become enormously popular; Politico reported that her ratings are growing three times as fast as those for Fox News (  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

3. The Stock Market.  Legend has it that on August 24, 410, while the Visigoths sacked Rome, the Roman stock market hit an all-time high due to a surge in demand for fire insurance and private-security services.

Since the beginning of 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 5.8 percent.  While there are multiple reasons for this, it’s safe to say that Wall Street assumes Trump will provide a “business-friendly environment” with fewer regulations and lower taxes.  (Bank stocks are up because the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates.)

Nonetheless, there are those who urge caution, noting that Trump may not deliver on his promises.  In addition, Barrons Magazine observed that the S&P 500 companies currently have an average price-earnings ratio of 24.7; adding, “We don’t believe that a 2% growth environment justifies that valuation.”

Look!  Over there!  Isn’t that a Visigoth?

4. Trump’s favorite Oligarchs.  Shortly after the election, I observed that Trump prevailed because he had enlisted the support of American oligarchs such as Robert Mercer  (  I predicted that Trump would adopt the platform espoused by unsuccessful GOP candidate Ted Cruz including a massive reduction of discretionary spending.  “Cruz called for the elimination of the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, plus the Internal Revenue Service.  Trump seems open to these changes and has called for the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency.”  The only way to justify the appointment of dimwits such as Betty DeVos, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, and Scott Pruitt is that they are part of Trump’s plan to devastate certain aspects of the Federal  government, pretty much everything except DOD.


5. The Republican Party.  Two months into the Trump regime, he’s already turned on the Republican leadership — apparently stepping away from Paul Ryan’s healthcare legislation.  Republicans find themselves in the position of the woman in the fable who took in a wounded snake, nursed it back to health, and then was fatally bitten.  The dying woman gasped, “Why did you bite me?” and the snake answered, “You knew I was a snake when you took me in.”

Republicans knew that Trump was a snake but imagined that when he entered the White House, Trump would change.  Hah!

Trump’s favorability ratings are underwater (, but  Republican ratings are worse.

6. The Democratic Party.  Given two months of the Trump disaster, one might think that Americans would be fleeing into the arms of the Democratic Party.  But that’s not the case.  Democrats are only marginally more popular than Republicans.  (63 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.)

The current political climate is: “A pox on both their houses.”

7. Non-political Americans.  After California’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Bay Area residents suffered from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder: we couldn’t trust our relationship with “terra firma.”  That’s similar to what most Americans are now experiencing: the ground of our political reality is shifting beneath our feet.

This malaise is particularly disorienting for non-political Americans.  Trump voters can, at least, hold onto their belief that Trump is going to “blow up” Washington — he’s doing that but (I suspect) not in the fashion they anticipated.  Progressives can take comfort in the resistance.  But where do “innocent bystanders” find refuge?

A political earthquake has rolled over America.  There is no safe footing.  As a consequence there are no neutrals.  Only the active and the passive.

In 1931, Kentucky union organizers sang “Which Side Are You On?” with the refrain: “They say in Harlan County, there are no neutrals there; you’ll either be a union man, or a thug for J.H. Blair.”  This is the song of the resistance: “They say in the U.S. of A., there are no neutrals there; you’ll either be a resistance fighter, or a thug for Donald Trump.”  Or swept away by the wrath of Trump.

Indivisible: Social Action Startup

Some of the most exciting days of my life occurred in the late 80’s when I was involved in a technology startup, Cisco Systems.  29 years later I’m involved in another exciting startup, Indivisible.  There are fascinating similarities between my experience at Cisco and Indivisible.

I moved from IBM to Cisco.  I left a secure position where I managed several hundred folks to run a ten-person engineering team.  Obviously there were incentives — stock options — but the primary reason I left IBM was my belief that their perspective on technology had become obsolete.

In the eighties, IBM was by far the world’s biggest Information Technology (IT) company.  It had 400,000 employees and income of $70 billion.  Although it had several product lines, IBM executives held tight to the belief the mainframe computer was the center of the IT universe.

I became a nonbeliever, a heretic in an social system where orthodox belief was valued and rewarded.  I was convinced that there had been an irrevocable shift in the IT world and the network was now the center of the universe, the Internet.  That shift didn’t mean that mainframe computers would go away but that they would lose status, take a smaller role in information processing, stand along side workstations and personal computers and other intelligent devices.  One might characterize the IT shift as moving from an oligarchy to a democracy.

Now, there’s been a comparable shift in the political world.  The cognoscenti continue to believe that Washington DC is the center of the US political universe; that everything important happens in DC, whether it’s Trump’s latest Tweet or congressional action on healthcare or the organization of the Democratic Party.  But out here in the real world we don’t agree because we think the system is broken.  At the moment, that’s the belief that unites Republicans and Democrats and Independents and disgusted non-voters: the system is broken and DC doesn’t get it.

IBM is to DC what Cisco is to Indivisible.  Cisco represented a fundamental shift from orthodoxy.  Indivisible represents a similar seismic shift.

Individual Indivisible — that’s a mouth full — groups are inherently decentralized.  (Fun facts: there 990 Indivisible units in California; at least two in each congressional district; 10 in Berkeley.)  In my area there are Indivisible units that are study groups, others that make phone calls, and mine — Indivisible Berkeley — that functions as a clearing house for direct action.

Imagine these Indivisible group as cells in a vast progressive network that includes more than 6000 Indivisible chapters plus MoveOn, OFA, Resistance.Org, as well as Sierra Club, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Immigrant rights organizations, AFSC, and on and on.

In the eighties, Cisco never took a position on which network traffic was most important; our routers didn’t prioritize data from mainframes over data from work stations or whatever.  We didn’t prioritize data for any reason.  Our job was to make sure that messages got delivered by the fastest route possible; and that devices that spoke different (network) languages could communicate across the Internet.

The new progressive network doesn’t prioritize one organization or issue over another.  We are united resisting Emperor Trump.

Because we are united by this resistance, plus the values of inclusivity and nonviolence, we exchange information and expertise.  We’re democratic with a 21st century flair.

In the eighties, when IBM reigned supreme, the technology press didn’t understand that the IT world was undergoing a radical shift.  They continued to glorify the dinosaurs: “They’re so big and powerful!  They will rule forever.”  Meanwhile, down on the ground, technologically advanced campuses were building local-area networks, plugging work stations into them, and linking campus to campus with the Internet.  (When we did the IPO road show for Cisco, we had to explain what the Internet was to the money guys.  When we added that Cisco built an essential component, the multi-protocol router, a typical question was, “Is this like the router in my home workshop?”)

Now, the mainstream media doesn’t understand that US politics is undergoing a radical shift.  The cable TV shows continue to interview the same tired Washington faces.  Meanwhile, out here in the real world we are organizing.  We are talking to our members of congress — when they show up –  and letting them know how feel about the ACA and the rights of undocumented aliens and so forth.  In purple districts, we are registering voters and preparing for the midterm election — 605 days away.  We are communicating with the other cells on the network and raising money.  And, professional politicians aren’t involved.

In retrospect, the IT shift — that happened in the eighties — was for the best.  The Internet is more flexible and affordable than the mainframe model ever was.  (Even though there are problems such as hacking and pornographic websites.)

I believe the shift in US politics will also be for the best.  Most of the country feels that the current system is broken and US democracy is slipping into oligarchy.  If Washington DC is part of the problem, then the solution has to be grassroots activism in the form of Indivisible and similar groups.

I’m excited.  Democracy is starting up.


Trump’s Kremlin Konnection

In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare wrote, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  What fun Shakespeare would have with Donald Trump!  Imagine a play where Trump, the character, tries to dismiss his ties with Russia, and Shakespeare responds, “The scoundrel protests too much.”

Although Trump and his lackeys keep trying to discredit the various rumors about his dealings with Russia, the press and the US national security bureaucracy won’t let them go.  There are at least four threads that connect Trump to the Kremlin.

1.Trump’s business dealings with Russia.  We do not fully understand Trump’s Russian business connections because Trump has never released his tax returns.  On February 28, 2016, Senator Ted Cruz said, “There have been multiple media reports about Donald’s business dealings with the mob, with the mafia. Maybe his [tax returns] show those business dealings are a lot more extensive than has been reported.” (  At the time, Politifact noted, “Cruz’s statement is accurate. Media reports have linked Trump to mafia bosses and mob-connected business associates for decades.”  Time magazine (, and other sources, have tied Trump to Russian oligarchs.

Writing in the March 17th New Yorker Magazine (, Evan Osnos, David Remnick and Joshua Yaffa observed: “Two weeks before the Inauguration, intelligence officers briefed both Obama and Trump about a dossier of unverified allegations compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. The thirty-five-page dossier, which included claims about Trump’s behavior during a 2013 trip to Moscow, … concluded that Russia had personal and financial material on Trump that could be used as blackmail.”

Of course, the dossier and the other rumors may be false.  Nonetheless, Trump has an obligation to the American people to have his tax returns examined by a bipartisan set of experts so that rumors about his financial affairs can be dealt with responsibly.  (After all, it is a national security issue.)

2. Russia’s Interference in the 2016 Election. A separate thread has to do with nefarious deeds committed by (supposed) Russian hackers during the election.  17 US intelligence agencies believe Russian hackers helped the Trump campaign by hacking DNC emails, as well as those of Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta, and giving them to WikiLeaks.  Recently, NBC News ( reported the CIA believes Russian operators wanted Trump to win.

Writing for PBS (, David Bush reported that on January 6th, “The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified version of its report to Obama on Russia’s role in the election. The report concluded with ‘high confidence’ — intelligence community speak for virtual certainty — that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking operation in an effort to hurt Clinton’s campaign and help elect Trump. The report also found that the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, gave the information it obtained from the DNC and Clinton campaign’s emails to WikiLeaks.”

Of course, in the past, the Director of National intelligence has been wrong — for example, about Saddam Hussein possessing “weapons of mass destruction.”  Nonetheless, Congress has an obligation to the American people to evaluate reports that Russia interfered in the election.

3. Team Trump contacts with Russia.  A separate thread has to do with a variety of contacts between Trump associates and Russian authorities. On February 15th the New York Times ( revealed that the FBI is investigating links between Russian intelligence and four members of the Trump team: Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone. (And, more recently, Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner.)  On February 25th, the Guardian ( reported that the White House has tried to interfere with the FBI investigation.  (Writing for Bill Moyers, Michael Winship [] reported on the Russian response: “Since the US election, there has been an unprecedented, and perhaps still continuing shakeup of top officials in Putin’s main security agency, the FSB, and a top former intelligence official in Putin’s entourage died recently in suspicious circumstances.”)

Connected with this is the conduct of General Michael Flynn, who up until February 13th was Trump’s National Security Adviser.  Apparently, after then President Obama leveled sanctions against Russia, Flynn called Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the US, and said words to the effect that Russia shouldn’t worry the sanctions as Trump would reverse them.  What’s extraordinary is that these conversations were wiretapped; and Flynn, given his extensive intelligence background should have been aware of this.

Once again, Congress has an obligation to investigate the Trump team connections to Russia.

4. Putin’s intentions.  Finally, there’s the thorny question of what Vladimir Putin wants.  There’s been a rush to say that he desires a close relationship with Trump.  There are similarities.  Both are thugs.  Both have little regard for democracy and prefer the company of oligarchs.  Both used the same tactics to gain power: disinformation, nationalism, xenophobia, racism…

Nonetheless, there are significant differences between the two men.  Their relationship is asymmetric: Putin is a strong leader of a weak state; Trump is a weak leader of a strong state.  Putin is a former KGB agent; Trump a former reality TV star.  Putin knows when to keep his mouth shut…

What’s most likely is that when Trump showed up, Putin saw an opportunity to strengthen his hand by derailing the Clinton campaign.  The authors of the excellent New Yorker article, Osnos, Remnick and Yaffa, conclude that Putin regarded Trump’s election as a way to weaken America’s standing in the world and Putin believed this would elevate Russia’s power: “Putin’s Russia has to come up with ways to make up for its economic and geopolitical weakness.”

So far, Putin’s strategy has worked: Trump’s election has weakened America’s standing in the world (and jeopardized our alliances, such as NATO).  What remains to be seen is whether our loss is Russia’s gain.