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Presidential Emergency Powers — Be Forewarned

Episode three of our podcast, Unconventional Threat, is entitled “Donald Trump has a Secret.” It focuses on Presidential Emergency Action Documents and the secret power of the president — any president — to declare martial law, among others things, and to seize virtual dictatorial control.

This is an important and chilling story, hosted by me and Jonathan Winer, with the aid of prominent current and former officials, legal scholars, an authoritative psychiatrist and more.

Check it out, give us a rating, and pass it on. Be Forewarned.

Unconventional Threat Podcast

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Rupert Murdoch’s assault on democracy. Inherited lies.

The good die first,/ And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust burn/ Burn to the socket’. William Wordsworth

Peter Eisner

Are we to be impressed now that Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born 89-year-old billionaire, may have turned on Donald Trump? I think not. Fox News, and The New York Post, and Murdoch himself are a long-standing danger to democracy. Note the recent publication of cooked Russian intelligence by The New York Post, facilitated by Rudy Giuliani and friends, despite warnings from the intelligence community.

Murdoch and his Fox megalopolis remain the amoral threat that flies under the protection of freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. The framers were not naïve, but over five decades, Murdoch has set a new standard in demagoguery, treachery and lies.

I gathered some quotes about Rupert Murdoch for a piece that was never published ten years ago.

 “The power that he has accumulated and employed
on behalf of his allies is awesome to their enemies.”
William Shawcross, his biographer.
       “Rupert Murdoch is no saint, he is to propriety what the
Marquis de Sade was to chastity. When it comes to money and power, he is carnivorous, all appetite, no taste.”
Bill Moyers.

The New York Post “has no business reason for being other than to prosecute political and business grudges and to entertain Murdoch himself.” Michael Wolff, another biographer.

“I think that what everyone has overlooked with Rupert is that he was a gambler…He has taken enormous risks and been lucky. They have all come off but it has been close on several occasions.” Phillip Knightly (1929-2016)/

Knightley offered those thoughts in a conversation I had with him in 2010. He worked for Murdoch at the Times of London. Knightly was author of the classic book on war reporting, The First Casualty.
      In The First casualty, Knightley described the ascent of Murdoch’s father, Sir Keith Murdoch, a questionable journalistic icon. The elder Murdoch (1885-1852) was acclaimed as a national hero in Australia after his exploits as a foreign correspondent included his presence in Gallipoli, Turkey during the first major joint Australian-New Zealand military campaign of World War I. Murdoch filed first person dispatches describing events that analysts said he apparently didn’t have time to witness. Sir Keith then wrote a letter to London officials that resulted in the firing of a general.

“It was an amazing document…a mixture of error, fact, exaggeration, prejudice and the most sentimental patriotism, which
made highly damaging charges against the British general staff and
[the general in charge, Sir Ian] Hamilton, many of them untrue.”
Keith, oddly, later served as Australia’s chief censor during World
War II.
    Knightly worked also with my friend Harold Evans (1928-2020). I asked Evans about Murdoch, who had fired him as editor of the Times of London in the early 1980s. Harry died in September.

Murdoch “shuffled, smiled and left sentences in mid-air….He seemed too diffident to be a tycoon and too inarticulate to be a journalist. This was as appealing as it was surprising.”

Evans compared Murdoch to Lucifer in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and described Murdoch as “the most interesting, impressive character…If Murdoch added journalistic integrity to his other qualities, he’d be most formidable.”

Perhaps the favorite quote I uncovered came from James Darling, Rupert’s headmaster at Geelong Grammar, a boarding school. Darling disliked Murdoch and the feeling was mutual. Once asked to describe Murdoch, Darling quoted from a popular Australian novel.  

Murdoch’s newspapers “have engaged in the degradation of the proper feelings of our people…[and] have done more to harm this country than any of its external enemies…I beg you will leave before my butler throws you down the steps.”

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Episode 2 – Unconventional Threat

Episode two of Unconventional Threat is now available online and via your favorite podcast app. This time we focus on voter suppression. Check it out, share the link with others and give us a rating.

Unconventional Threat Podcast

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Trump in the Time Of COVID

Peter Eisner

“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall….“  [The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe]

What was the State of the Union and the state of the presidency of the United States on October 3, 2020, the first full day of Donald J. Trump’s internment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center? Not so different from other days. Chaotic and on the edge.

Millions of Americans had already voted by mail or by drop box, a record number of them not waiting for election day itself, November 3, 2020, roughly 730 hours or 44,000 minutes from this writing. [Click here for the countdown.]

With Trump in the hospital being treated to the extent anyone could be treated for COVID-19, the trappings of the presidency carried on in many ways not so different from any other day of the three-year, 256 day Trump presidency. [counting that too.] On a non COVID-19-challenged day, Saturday would be a day off. One wag suggested on the internet that Vice President Michael Richard Pence had taken over for Trump by heading to the Trump National Golf Course at Bedminster, New Jersey. [Trump reportedly has gone to Bedminster 80 times during his presidency.]

It was not difficult to imagine how the wheels of government were turning as Trump lay in repose at Walter Reed – not so differently in many ways. With most of the adults in the room fired by now (Kelly, Mattis, Sessions, even Bolton], the Trump presidency had the quality of the French court of Versailles just before the French Revolution. Power centers with discreet missions, pretenders to the throne, family members, charlatans, all working behind the scenes and trying not to disturb the monarch unduly.

Among those with Trump at the traveling White House was his chief of staff, Mark Meadows. He was clearly one of the chief advisers, but the most important members of the presidential team might not have been there often. They worked behind the scenes with unprecedented power: a Ivanka Trump, her husband, Jared Kushner, and Stephen Miller. All had been in physical proximity to the president, and would have been worried about contracting COVID-19 themselves. One other person who normally would be close by was Hope Hicks, but she was the first person among them reported to have contracted the disease.

Beyond the presidential entourage there were other power centers whose specific goals centered around keeping Trump in office. Pence iwas primary among these—for all those days of the presidency, Pence had flown around the country, under the radar at times, shoring up support, speaking to local leaders and local media in conservative strongholds. Part of his message was to provide a veneer of dependability with his placid contrast to Trump, expressing at every stop the faux humility personified long ago by Charles Dickens’s Uriah Heep.

Pence remained important. He was second in line, and reassured the members of the Trump cult who included evangelicals and harbored a need to believe—and Pence believes. Pence was also a liaison to the Federalist Society, which helped choose federal judges – including Supreme Court justices, most recently Amy Coney Barrett. Whatever was written on the mask of propriety sometimes worn for public niceties, Barrett, along with justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were there for the Federalists and for Pence to fulfill their mission, in Pence’s words, “to consign abortion” legalized under Rove v. Wade “to the ash heap of history.”

Therein is the marriage of convenience among Trump, who could care less about Roe v Wade or any of their goals, and the evangelicals. It is also where Pence centered his connection with the surviving Koch brother, Charles Koch, who once again was spending tens of millions of dollars to keep Trump and the Republicans in office. Throw the abortion bone to the religious types, said Koch and the libertarians, and they would use their religion to maintain power. That was also where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held sway—whatever maintained power was good enough for him. Koch money meant power and McConnell wielded power and money diabolically in Washington.

And tied in with all the above was an aligned but independent actor, Attorney General William Barr, one of the most devious men of all the devious men who had ever held power in Washington. Yes, tied to the Federalist Society, yes related in turn with Opus Dei, the ultraright-wing Catholic Organization, and yes fulfilling his paternal command – strengthen the unitary presidency and destroy liberalism in all forms.

These were the actors, the president’s family and hangers on, who risked criminal prosecution if Trump lost the presidency; the vice president, who stood in waiting, certain that he was on a mission from God; the rest of the Republicans, holding onto power was greater than our 244-year-old experiment in democracy; and William Barr, twisted by hatred. They fulfilled their roles and would do everything to shield Trump, hide Trump, keep Trump and his presidency alive.

But COVID-19 was the equalizer, knowing not party nor prejudice; it slipped in, past blind ambition and stupidity, unmoved by imperial aspirations. COVID was now a presence among those of the palace and the time approached. “It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade,” wrote Edgar Allan Poe. “And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock.”

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Mike Pence: “Stay the Course”

Peter Eisner

Two more defectors joined the ranks of anti-Trump Republicans who warn America against the continued misguided governance of Donald John Trump. One of the departures is Vice President Mike Pence’s former adviser on the COVID-19 task force, Olivia Troye. The other is Josh Venable, chief of staff to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Predictably, both of these life-long Republicans were swiftly knocked down by the establishment they had served—not really central, they said, side-line players, they said, and, then came the kicker, predictably, from Mike Pence: “disgruntled.” But Pence, the chief apologist for the president, could not have had it more wrong.

No, when these two dissenters cast their lot with Joe Biden, and joined a new anti-Trump group, The Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform, they were “gruntled” for the first time in a long time. (You can look it up: “gruntled,” Oxford Languages defines it, is “pleased, satisfied, and contented.”)

Troye, in particular, had reached the decision to break with the White House after nightly soul searching when she came home from work. She did so with fear, knowing that she was sabotaging her short-term career at least, if not putting herself in danger. But conscience won out.

“I put my heart and soul into this role every single day,” she said in an online statement. “But at some points I would come home at night, I would look myself in the mirror and say, are you really making a difference? Because no matter how hard you work or what you do, the president is going to do something detrimental to keeping Americans safe.”

When did Mike Pence take a courageous stance based on conscience and principle? Long-time colleagues and friends say he has enough functioning mental capacity to know that in Donald Trump he is serving a, what, bad dude, nutjob, fraud? A telling passage in Bob Woodward’s book, Rage, describes an interaction between Pence and Marsha Coats, the wife of Dan Coats, a fellow long-time Indiana Republican who was at the time the conscience-torn director of national intelligence. At a White House party, she approached Pence.

“I just looked at him, like, how are you stomaching this?” Marsha Coats said, according to Woodward. “I just looked at him like, this is horrible. I mean, we made eye contact. I think he understood. And he just whispered in my ear, ‘Stay the course.’ ”

Stay the Course, Mike! Your hallmark. When you first ran for Congress, you employed dirty tricks against your Democratic opponent, using fake ads and fake Arabs in TV ads to smear him. In Congress, you supported Big Tobacco by saying that cigarettes don’t cause cancer. As governor of Indiana, you fiddled for months while bipartisan warnings sounded out over a deadly HIV epidemic in your state; you disregarded the pleas for clemency for a black man who your own people said was innocent of any crime; you avoided helping a mini-Flint, Michigan groundwater poisoning, because what—it was in a minority, Democratic part of the state?

And now, three years into office, you spout every lie and garbage-ridden conspiracy theory babbled by the president in hopes he will not notice that you like the rest of us know he is incompetent.  “Stay the Course,” Mike, in hopes you will be president one day, with desolation and deceit on the road behind you.

People, don’t give Michael Richard Pence a pass because he isn’t Donald Trump. Miserable as Trump is, Pence is worse in one way. He can see exactly what we can see: just as in the Hans Christian Andersen version told long ago, a person who knew the Trumps of this world: “He hasn’t got anything on.”

Neither do you, Mike Pence.

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A disaster foretold…if only someone had spoken up.

Peter Eisner

An open memo to retired generals James N. Mattis and John F. Kelly and every person who ever worked for Donald John Trump.

On the evening of January 25, 1990, Avianca Airlines Flight 52, bound from Bogota, Colombia, to Kennedy Airport crashed in the woods in Cove Neck, Long Island, killing 73 of the 159 people on board.

For most of an hour, the pilot and co-pilot knew they would not have enough fuel to land the airplane. (A memorable story for me. I worked at Newsday on Long Island at the time, and was frequently flying south to report from Colombia.)

“”Did you tell them we have an emergency?” the pilot asked his co-pilot, who was handling communications with the controllers. 

”I told them we’re low on fuel,” he answered.  

Moments later, both the pilot and the co-pilot were dead. First responders and local residents scrambled and saved 85 souls aboard. The plane was stone dry when it smashed into the ground and broke to pieces. No fire. Fully preventable.

 It was a failure to communicate.

Thirty years later, in Washington, we have all the information we need.

A pandemic was already in progress at the start of 2020. Trump was warned on January 28 by his national security advisor: “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.” 

Publicly, two days later, Trump said the opposite. “We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five” are dead from the virus. 

A few days after that, on February 7, Bob Woodward was already interviewing Trump, who said: “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed…This is deadly stuff.”

All the president’s men knew. General Mattis, then the secretary of defense, to Dan Coats, then the director of national intelligence:  “There may come a time when we have to take collective action, [Trump is] dangerous. He’s unfit.”

Coats appears to be a source for Woodward. In Rage, Woodward’s upcoming book, his wife, Marsha, confronted Michael Richard Pence, the vice president of the United States  at a White House dinner with an obvious question. “How are you stomaching this?” Marsha Coats said. “I just looked at him like, this is horrible. I mean, we made eye contact. I think he understood. And he just whispered in my ear, ‘Stay the course.’ ”

As of September 9, 2020, more than 191,000 Americans had died from COVID-19.

Air to ground: Emergency, emergency, current course is disaster. The pilot is unfit, the co-pilot is an idiot. We may not be able to land this thing. But we should try.


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Pence is caught in Trump’s Ukraine Scandal

By Peter Eisner

(CNN)To be fair to Mike Pence, he probably never dealt with someone like Donald Drumpf before 2016. Now Pence is hearing Drumpf’s critics compare the president to an organized crime boss. Whether or not he agrees, thanks to the movies, everyone knows how the game works and so the vice president surely had an inkling about President Drumpf’s modus operandi.


In fact, he had more than a hint of what was to come.  MORE


Pence’s ambition was stronger than any possible concerns about the character of the man he would have to support, and wavered but did not back out even after the Access Hollywood tape was published in October 2016. Pence and his wife had already prayed for guidance—and decided he had a purpose and a mission, from God, to serve the country as vice president… MORE


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The Damned Dam is Leaking

   Something finally has triggered the Intel community to start releasing information about the treachery that began even before the man now at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue took office.
   Now, not only the whistle blower report on Ukraine, but also one tiny little mention in the report is bearing fruit.

“According to White House officials, this was not ‘the first time’ under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive—rather than national security sensistive—information.”

(If you haven’t read the whistleblower complaint:  complaint)
    Word is leaking out about Trump’s conversations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak back in 2017 a day after he fired FBI Director Comey–that he was not concerned that Russia interfered in the election, since “we” do it too.
   Next, I’m betting, there will be word in which Trump tells Mohammed bin Salman that killing Khasshogi wasn’t such a big deal (after all, he was from the lying Washington Post). That should do it. And the White House staff will continue to leak and look for lawyers.
   Trump, finding himself immune, has publicly implicated Pence in the cover-up. Barr as well. Giuliani, no need to mention.
   Word this weekend on the wire so far is a recommendation to White House staff: ask for immunity, or expect six-figure legal bills.
   So the system may finally be working. But expect more danger to come.

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Odds on the Whistleblower: it may get worse

Peter Eisner

No surprise that we are in increasingly dangerous and shocking territory with the man in the Oval Office. It will get worse and he will continue to push the envelope – he does think he could get away with murder on Fifth Avenue.

Trump’s feedback so far has been what it has been throughout his life – he lies, he charges opponents with his very own crimes and he skates through. Throughout his life, the stakes have grown increasingly higher, the bunco game ever more dangerous. Trump thrives on it. The United States is already too small a platform — why not drive the entire world mad?

He is worried though. Speaking outside the White House yesterday with the Australian prime minister, some of the orange had worn off by his right ear, cheek high, actual pale white skin showing beneath. Will Trump forgive his makeup artist — full-time deception is required for the job.

It shouldn’t be a problem — Trump has lots of servants willing to help in whatever cover-up.

The odds have to be in Trump’s favor–that he can slide through the whistle blower event. Trump wants to use the bogus Biden story as a refrain in his disjointed Mussolini act as he hits the road for 2020. It is maniacal and it may be successful.

Though maybe not. The Intelligence Community is more organized and has better game players than Trump can conjure up in his fractured consciousness.

The timing of Trump’s recent contacts with foreign leaders, including Zelensky of Ukraine and Putin himself, and the timing of the departures of Dan Coats and John Bolton are not a coincidence.

Have you noticed that James Clapper and John Brennan were not among the on-air pundits in the immediate aftermath of the Ukraine? Why would that be? Neither has John Bolton been seen on Fox News, though he is always so happy to bloviate on call on any subject. They may finally agree that it is time to acknowledge the obvious–Trump has gone over the slippery slope.

Lordie, repeating Comey’s line yet again, I hope there are tapes. If there are tapes, we will hear more than an earful. Then the Vichy Republicans will be forced to really choose.

And yet, Trump may still survive – and democracy will be even more tenuous in a land founded on the quaint old principle that decent people of goodwill would serve the public good.

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Drumpf Dynasty, Season 3, no spoilers


Peter Eisner

I would have thought by now, well into the third season of the dystopic fantasy drama, Drumpf Dynasty, we would have seen the emergence of a true antagonist to the antic leading man in this improbable story of power run amok.

Season one, subtitled “This American Carnage Will End,” operated as any drama must – introducing us to the danger, then drawing out unsuspected story lines and introducing ephemeral characters. For a time, one suspected that the show would have a precipitous ending after one season when the larger than life chief investigator, Big Jim, is fired and then prepares to tell all. All the while, the script was preparing us exactly for that letdown – not so much the work of the madcap leader, but the people around him would never speak the words of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale: “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”

The ironic and confounding title for season two, Razdelyay i Vlastvuy – Russian for “Divide and Conquer” – gave us a further hint. The emperor was not the boss of all bosses — there were other powers more in control and the debt had to be paid. Personally, I saw season two as a bit of a snooze. We got a comprehensive view of the madcap palace and the people coming and going, mostly going. All the while, you expected something to happen, but nothing did happen.

Now as the third season winds down, there are more tantalizing elements. We learn that the emperor is isolating himself, his self-control is evaporating and his elemental cruelty and indecency are increasingly evident to even the people who have embraced his fantasies for so long. The story has been improbable all along – you keep believing that someone, anyone with a modicum of star power will take the simple step of pulling at the right thread, which will quickly unravel and level the emperor standing there, fat and naked, for the world to see.

Personally, I thought that season three, “This is the end of my presidency,” really would be the end of the series – that they wouldn’t renew – especially after Craggy Bob delivered the goods for all the world to see. I expected Craggy Bob to be a more solid character, but Robert DeNiro apparently wasn’t available and the role fell to a lesser actor. That reminds us once more – the original idea of emperor is supposedly more important than the reality of any fool who happens to be seated on the throne. Now, I’m not so sure that the writers have found a way to write the finale, even when they give you more clues.

The most recent surprising element comes from General Jack, the retired military man who could blow the whole story sky high. Jack lets us know that he has seen the emperor as he really is: “a man of limited cognitive ability, dubious behavior,” a danger to our allies, a menace to the idea of democracy. That is one step away from doing it, but then General Jack tells us that he believes in “devoir de reserve.” That’s French, not Russian. It means “the duty of silence.”

I was really confused by this episode. It points to a season four, and maybe beyond—none of which are needed. It tells us that General Jack knows the emperor is butt-neked, and that we all know this is true – all of us, blue team, red meanies and the people who claim to be chartreuse. But General Jack says that the time isn’t right – he knows that the emperor is not his own man, is not always fully “Being There,” is trading on his power for the future, is a coward, and his inner child will destroy anything in his path. But General Jack tells us this just isn’t the time.

What I learned and everyone should know from ancient times, through vaudeville and sitcoms, is that there is a “rule of three.” Audiences are attuned to it and they get exhausted afterward. “Veni, vidi, vici,” said Caesar. “I came, I saw, I conquered,” check, the emperor has done that. Aristotle described the three elements as dramatic unity of time, place and action. Check, season three is for action. “Meet me at camera three,” Jon Stewart used to say. This bullshit has gone on long enough.

I have a question for General Jack and everyone else who could pull the plug on a show that has captured the stage and is now eating up the scenery: we are exhausted and driven mad with the emperor’s antics. Enough is enough. My compulsion to watch Drumpf Dynasty has dissolved away. I’m sick of it. If not now, when?





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