• Lessons for Afghanistan: My Time in Iraq 10th Anniversary Edition

    April 18, 2019 // 2 Comments

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    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    I recently spoke with some college students. They were in fifth grade when I first got on a plane to Iraq, and now study that stuff in classes with names like “Opportunities and Errors: 21st Century America in the Middle East.” I realized about halfway through our conversation it’s coming up on ten years ago I first went to Iraq.

    I was a Foreign Service Officer then, a diplomat, embedded with the U.S. Army at a series of forward operating bases. I was in charge of a couple of reconstruction teams, small parts of a complex failure to rebuild the Iraq we wrecked. I ended up writing a book about it all, explaining in tragic-comic terms how we failed (those “Errors.”)

    The book was and wasn’t well-received; people laughed at the funny parts but my message — it didn’t work and here’s why — was largely dissipated by a cloud of government and media propaganda centered on The Surge, David Petraeus’ plan to pacify the Sunnis and push al Qaeda away while clearing, holding, and building across the country, apparently to make room for ISIS and the Iranians to move in. Meanwhile the new American president, elected in part based on his “no” vote to go to war in 2003, proclaimed it all a victory and started bringing the troops home even while I was still in Iraq. When I got home myself, my employer from not long after I was taking classes called “Opportunities and Errors: America in the Middle East Since WWII,” the U.S. Department of State, was unhappy with the book. Over a year-long process State eventually pushed me into early retirement. My career was history.

    People asked in line at Trader Joe’s and in interviews on semi-important TV shows “Was it all worth it to you?” and I always answered yes. I wasn’t important, I said, the story was. We’re making the same mistakes in Afghanistan, I ranted at cashiers and pundits, and there is time to change.

    See, my book wasn’t aimed at cataloguing the failure in Iraq per se, but in trying to make sure we didn’t do the same thing in Afghanistan. The initial title wasn’t the unwieldy We Meant Well: How I Lost the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People but Lessons for Afghanistan from the Reconstruction of Iraq. The early drafts were pretentious scholarly stuff, outlining our mistakes. Harvard Business School-like case studies. Maps. Footnotes. It would have sold maybe five copies, and so my editors instead encouraged me to write more funny parts. NPR’s Fresh Air actually added a laff track to my interview. They were all right, and I figured I’d get the lessons across with humor more effectively anyway. In such situations you have to think that way. You can’t believe what you went through didn’t matter and keep getting out of bed every morning checking if it was yet Judgement Day.

    I now know officially it did not matter. It was pointless. SIGAR shows I accomplished nothing.

    SIGAR is the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, a government oversight body that is supposed to prevent waste, fraud, and mismanagement of the billions of dollars being spent rebuilding Afghanistan but which has its hands full just recording a CVS-receipt length list of what’s wrong. Sounds familiar? SIGAR just released The 2019 High-Risk List which points out especially egregious things that will follow in the wake of any peace agreement in Afghanistan. Here are some highlights:

    — Without financial support from international donors, the government of Afghanistan cannot survive.  [Peace] will come at an additional price that only external donors can afford.
    — There are over 300,000 Afghans currently serving in the security forces, most of whom are armed.  If, because of a loss of financial support, their paychecks were to stop coming, this could pose a serious threat to Afghanistan’s stability.
    —  A failure to peacefully reintegrate as many as 60,000 heavily armed Taliban long-term would threaten any peace agreement as disaffected former Taliban who may have been expecting a peace dividend may return to violent and predatory behavior.

    — Effective policing will require a force that gives citizens the presumption of innocence, rather than anticipating and taking preemptive offensive operations against perceived threats… There is no comprehensive strategy for a competent civil police force backed by the rule of law.

    — Failure to effectively address systemic corruption means U.S. reconstruction programs, at best, will continue to be subverted and, at worst, will fail.

    — The lack of sustained institutional capacity at all levels of government undermines the country’s development and ability to address the production and sale of illegal drugs. The opium trade plays a significant role in the Afghan economy and it is difficult to see how a peace accord between the Afghan government and the insurgency would translate into the collapse or contraction of the illicit drug trade.

    — If the U.S. reduces its presence in Afghanistan but feels compelled to provide significant financial support for reconstruction, there may be little choice but to provide a greater proportion of funding as on-budget assistance. But if that road is taken and conditions are lacking, we may as well set the cash ablaze on the streets of Kabul for all the good it will do.

    That last line really got me; in my book I’d written “While a lot of the money was spent in big bites at high levels through the Embassy, or possibly just thrown into the river when no one could find a match to set it on fire…” Had SIGAR read what I’d written or was the joke just so obvious that we’d both come to the same punchline ten years and two countries apart?

    A former State Department colleague is on her fourth (or fifth?) tour in Afghanistan. She likes it over there, says Washington leaves her alone. Her job has something to do with liaising with the few NATO military officials still around. It’s pretty easy work, they’ve known each other for years.  She harbors no illusions, and in a sober moment would likely agree with SIGAR that after over 17 years of American effort, Afghanistan has almost no chance of survival except as a Taliban narcoland with financial support needed indefinitely to avoid whatever “worse” would be in that calculus.

    We all know but try not to talk too much about the over 6,900 U.S. service members, 7,800 contractors, and 110,00 uniformed Iraqi and Afghan “allies” who died for that, and its companion Iranian client state in Iraq. A tragically high percentage of veterans have also died since returning home of drug overdoses, car accidents (?) or suicide. Nobody really knows how many civilians died, or even how to count them. Bombs and bullets only? Hunger and cold? Abandoned kids and enslaved women? Do we count deaths in Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and wherever too?

    Iraq wrecked me, too, even though I initially somehow didn’t expect it to. I was foolish to think traveling to the other side of the world and spending a year seeing death and poverty, being in a war, learning how to be mortared at night and decide it doesn’t matter I might die before breakfast, wasn’t going to change me. In the military units I was embedded in three soldiers did not come home, all died at their own hands. Around us Iraqis blew themselves up alongside children. Everyone was a potential killer and a potential target, sides appearing to change depending on who was pointing the weapon even as we were all the same in the end. I did this once, at age 49, on antidepressants and with a good family waiting at home for me. I cannot imagine what it would have done to 18 year old me. And I had it easier than most, and much, much easier than many.

    The only way to even start to justify any of it was to think there was some meaning behind it all. It didn’t do anything for me but fill my soul with vodka but maybe it… helping someone? A buddy I saved? No, I didn’t save anyone. The Iraqis? Hah, not one was better off for my presence. Maybe America? Please.

    Around the same time as the SIGAR report, the Army War College released its official history of the Iraqi Surge, a quagmire of dense prose I’m only about halfway through, but so far no mention of the impact of reconstruction. The theme so far seems to be the Army had some good ideas but the politicians got in the way. Fair enough, but they often misspelled Vietnam as i-r-a-q all through the book. The Army seems committed to calling things like suicide bombing and Shiite militias running whole neighborhoods as crime syndicates “challenges” instead of the more vernacular “failures.” That answers all questions about whether anyone will be held responsible for their work.

    The post-9/11 wars spread across three presidencies so far. Pick the thing you detest most about Bush, Obama, and Trump, and complain how it was never investigated enough, and how there weren’t enough hearings, and how he got away with it. And then I’ll disagree, for most everything that happened and continues to happen in Iraq and Afghanistan has gone uninvestigated, unheard, and unpunished. It’s all ancient history.

    All those failures have had no consequences on the most significant decision makers. Bush is reborn as a cuddly old goof, Obama remembered as a Nobel peace prize winner. Trump is criticized bizarrely both as a war monger and for talking about reducing U.S. troops in Middle East. The State Department ambassadors and senior leaders responsible retired, many to sweet university teaching jobs or think tanks. The generals found similar hideouts in pseudo-academia or as consultants; some are still in the military. I’d like to hope they have trouble sleeping at night, but I doubt it, and that kind of thinking doesn’t do me any good anyway.

    Oh, and on April 8 four Americans were killed in a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan, including a New York City firefighter (9/11, Never Forget!) The incident occurred when an IED exploded in a vehicle near Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul. Taliban forces claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, which also wounded three additional U.S. servicemen.

    We all want to believe what we did, what we didn’t do, the moral injury, the PTSD, the fights with spouses, the kid at home we smacked too hard when she wouldn’t eat her green beans, all of what we saw and heard and smelled (oh yes, the smells, you know there’s a body in that rubble before you see him) mattered. You read that SIGAR report and tell me how. Because basically I’m history now.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Julian Assange Will Die Alongside Your 1st Amendment Rights

    April 11, 2019 // 26 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    (Reprinted from December 2018 following Assange’s arrest in London April 11, 2019)

    Accidentally disclosed information confirms the U.S. is actively planning to prosecute Julian Assange. What happens to Assange will almost certainly change what can be lawfully published in our democracy. This threat to our freedoms is being largely ignored because the Assange, once a progressive journalist, is now regarded as a hero-turned-zero. At stake? The ability of all journalists to inform the public of things the government specifically wants to withhold.

    A clerical error revealed the Justice Department secretly has filed criminal charges against Assange. Court papers in what appears to be an unrelated case used cut-and-pasted language from documents prepared previously against Assange.

    Though the new information makes clear prosecution is planned if Assange can be delivered to American custody, no further details are available. Assange is under scrutiny at a minimum for unauthorized possession of classified material going back to at least 2010, when Wikileaks burst on to the international stage with evidence of American war crimes in Iraq, and exposed years worth of classified State Department diplomatic cables. More recently, Assange has been accused of trying to manipulate the 2016 U.S. presidential election with his release of emails from the Democratic National Committee server. The emails, some believe, came to Wikileaks via hackers working for the Russian government (Assange denies this) and are deeply tied to the claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow otherwise known as “Russiagate.” Less publicized in the media but of critical concern inside the U.S. government is Wikileaks’ publication of the so-called Vault 7 materials, CIA hacking and malware tools, which revealed American technical intelligence skills and methods. Assange has hinted on at least one occasion he may have “Vault 8” materials as yet unreleased.

    When Assange is prosecuted, on trial with him will be a key question concerning the First Amendment: do journalists actually enjoy special protection against national security charges? Can they publish classified documents because the national interest creates a 1A shield to do so? Or only when the government allows it?

    Under the current “rules,” you get caught handing me a SECRET document, you go to jail. Meanwhile, I publish to millions, including any Russian intelligence officers with Internet access, and end up on Kimmel next to Taylor Swift. I whisper “I’m a freedom fighter, you know” into Taylor’s moist ear and she sighs.

    Ask Edward Snowden, in dark exile in Moscow. Talk to Chelsea Manning, who spent years in Leavenworth while journalists for the New York Times and the Washington Post won accolades for the stories they wrote based on the documents she leaked. See how many stories today cite sources and reports, almost all of which are based on leaked classified information, stuff the government doesn’t want published yet accepts as part of the way journalism and the 1A work.

    Yet despite widespread practice, there is no law rendering journalists immune from the same national security charges their sources go to jail for violating. There is no explicit protection against espionage charges written between the lines of the First Amendment. It is all based on at best an unspoken agreement to not prosecute journalists for revealing classified data, and it appears it is about to be thrown away to nail Julian Assange.

    In 1971 Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a classified history of the Vietnam War, to the New York Times. Reporters at the Times feared they would go to jail under the Espionage Act but published anyway, even as the Washington Post wimped out. The Nixon administration quickly found a court to order the Times to cease publication after initial excerpts were printed, the first time in U.S. history a federal judge censored a newspaper.

    The Supreme Court then handed down New York Times Company v. United States, a victory for the First Amendment which allowed the Papers to be published, but an opinion which sidestepped the larger question about whether the 1A protects journalists publishing classified in favor of simply affirming the government couldn’t censor the news in advance. The Court left the door open for the government to prosecute both the leakers (by dismissing Ellsberg’s leaker case on technical grounds and ignoring his public interest defense) and the journalists who publish them (by focusing narrowly on prior restraint.) The Justices avoided saying the 1A offered a specific shield to journalists in matters of national security.

    The Pentagon Papers case has governed everything about national security journalism from that day until the moment the U.S. government finally gets Julian Assange into an American courtroom.

    On the source side, the Obama administration was especially virulent in prosecuting leakers. Trump continued the policy by throwing the book at Reality Winner. Both administrations made clear there was nothing to distinguish between taking classified documents to inform the public and taking them say with the intent to hand over secrets to the Chinese. On the other side of the equation, the journalists, the government (including, to date, Trump despite all the noise about attacking the press) has chosen not to prosecute journalists for publishing what leakers hand over to them.

    The closest step toward throwing a journalist in jail over classified information came in 2014, when Obama Attorney General Eric Holder permitted subpoenaing New York Times reporter James Risen regarding a former CIA employee. After much legal muscle tussle, the Supreme Court turned down Risen’s appeal, siding with the government in a confrontation between a national security prosecution and infringement of press freedom. The Supreme Court refused to consider whether the First Amendment includes an unwritten “reporter’s privilege” in the free press clause. The Court instead upheld existing decisions finding the Constitution does not give journalists special protections. The door was w-a-y open to throwing Risen in jail.

    But instead of becoming the first president to jail a journalist for what he published, Obama punted. Happy with the decision affirming they could have prosecuted Risen, with no explanation prosecutors asked the U.S. District Court to simply leave Risen alone. Risen’s alleged source went to jail instead for leaking classified. The unspoken rules stayed intact.

    Unspoken rules are useful — they can be read to mean one thing when dealing with the chummy MSM who understands where the unspoken lines are even if they need the occasional brush back pitch like with Risen, and another when the desire is to deep-six a trouble-maker like Assange. Julian Assange poked the Deep State — he exposed the military as war criminals in Iraq (ironically in part for gunning down two Reuters journalists), the State Department as hypocrites, laid bare the CIA’s global hacking games in the Vault 7 disclosures, and showed everyone the Democratic primaries were rigged. None of those stories would have come to light under the MSM alone. And if Assange does know something about Russiagate (did he meet with Manafort?!?), what better place to silence him than a SuperMax.

    The government is likely to cite the clear precedent from the Obama years it damn well can prosecute journalists for revealing classified information, and keep the established media happy by offering enough thin exceptions (natsec journalism groupies have already started making lists) to appear to isolate Assange’s crucifixion from setting broad precedent. Say, start with the fact that he wasn’t covered by the 1A outside the U.S., that his sources were Russian hackers seeking to harm the U.S. instead of misguided chaps like Ellsberg and Manning. Assange had no national interest in mind, no sincere desire to inform the public. He, a foreigner no less, wanted to influence the 2016 election, maybe in collusion!

    Shamefully, those stuck in journalism’s cheap seats are unlikely to side with Assange, even though they wrote stories off what he published on Wikileaks. They’ll drift along with the government’s nod and wink this is all a one-off against Julian, and those who play by the government’s unspoken rules are still safe.

    They’ll self-righteously proclaim Assange going to jail a sad but unfortunately necessary thing, claiming he just took things too far dealing with the Russkies, ignoring while the door to prosecute a journalist for national security has always been carefully left open by administrations dating back to Nixon, it is only under their watch that it may be slammed on the hands of one of their own whom they refuse to see, now, for their own misguided self-preservation, as a journalist. The Daily Beast’s take on all this, for example, is headlined a TMZ-esque “Unkempt, Heavily Bearded Julian Assange No Longer Has Embassy Cat For Company.”

    They will miss where previous cases avoided delineating the precise balancing point between the government’s need to protect information, the right to expose information, and the media’s right to publish it, an Assange prosecution will indeed create a new precedents, weapons for the future for clever prosecutors. It will be one of those turning points journalists someday working under new press restrictions will cite when remembering the good old days.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Rachel Maddow is Russiagate’s Poster Child

    April 8, 2019 // 13 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

    “We start tonight’s show with an urgent warning: the nation is in danger, things are moving fast. Following some of the worst journalism since the McCarthy era during the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, we said we would not do it again. We not only did it again with Russiagate, but did it worse. I’m Rachel Maddow, and I’m responsible for much of it.”

     

    Though she doesn’t often bring it up these days, Rachael remembers the media abetted the Bush administration’s lies justifying the 2003 Iraq invasion. They spent months serving as stenographers for the push to war, reporting every carefully-timed leak without question. They pushed skeptics aside as disloyal, and spiked stories which would have raised questions about the narrative. When they got caught they pleaded never again.

    Yet with Rachel Maddow as their poster child (nominations were also considered for the entire staff at CNN, David Corn, Luke Harding, Chris Hayes, Ken Dilanian, and hundreds more) journalists over the last two years did everything wrong their predecessors did in 2003.

    They treated gossip as fact because it came from a “source” and said to trust them. They blurred the lines among first-hand knowledge, second/third-hand hearsay, and “people familiar with the matter” to build breaking news out of manure. They marginalized skeptics as “useful idiots” (Glenn Greenwald, who called bull on Russiagate from the beginning, says MSNBC banned him after he criticized Rachel Maddow. He’d been a regular during the Bush and Obama years.)

    They accepted negative information at face value and discarded information which did not fit their preconceived narrative of collusion (WaPo never ran a story about how its reporters came up dead empty after working for months to prove Michael Cohen met with Russian agents in Prague.) They went all-in with salacious headlines, every story a sugar high. They purposefully muddled the impact of an indictment versus an actual conviction, or even a prosecution. They conflated anyone from Russia with the Russian government. They never paused to ask why there weren’t “Sources: Trump is Innocent” stories that later needed to be walked back; the errors were all on one side of the story.

    They used each other as sources, creating info loops originating from nothing. A NYT article based on “persons with knowledge” appeared on some other outlet as “the NYT confirms…” Nothing became facts became evidence in their minds — Maddow turned a Politico report of a legal meeting with the Russian ambassador in “evidence of a quid pro quo” with Trump.

    Maddow was also not afraid to employ some Russiagate-related good old fashioned fear mongering. In response to fake reports of Russians hacking into the power grid, she said “And it is like -50 degrees in that Dakotas right now. What would happen if Russia killed the power in Fargo today? Alright. What would happen if all the natural gas lines that service Sioux Falls just poofed on the coldest in recent memory and it wasn’t in our power whether or not to turn them back on? What would you do if you lost heat indefinitely as the act of a foreign power on the same that the temperature matched the temperature in Antarctica? What would you and your family do?”

    Like followers of Insane Clown Posse, Maddow did also love her some pee tape. Despite no one on earth having actually seen the video, she knew how important it was, announcing to her viewers ““How Vladimir Putin stopped being just a KGB guy and got political power in the first place was by producing, at just the right time and in just the right way, just the right sex tape to use for political purposes.” She called Trump’s presidency “effectively, a Russian op.” If you need a refresher, here’s a neat video compilation.

    They became a machine as trustworthy as the politicians they relied on. In one critic’s words “In purely journalistic terms, this is an epic disaster.”

     

    Though the death toll across the Middle East the media helped midwife is beyond sin, the damage to journalism itself is far worse this time around with Russiagate. With Maddow in the lead, they went a step further than just shoddy reporting, instead proudly declaring their partisanship (once the cardinal sin of journalism) and placing themselves at the center of the story.

    So there was Maddow, night after night in front of her serial killer’s burlap board, Trump and Putin surrounded by blurry images of Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, running twine between pins so her viewers could keep up with her racing intellect. Anyone with a Russiany surname “had ties to Putin,” “connections to Russian intelligence,” or was at least an oligarch. She nurtured an unashamed crush on Deep State clowns the Rachel Maddow of a few years back would have smirked at — Brennan, Clapper, Comey — to feed her fake facts.

    She ignored or downplayed other news (Maddow devoted over 50% of her airtime to Russiagate alone. The Muslim visa ban got less than 6%.) She worked to convince Americans the cornerstone of justice was not “innocent until proven guilty” but “if there’s smoke there’s fire.” She lead journalists in knowingly publishing material whose veracity they doubted, centering on the Steele dossier. There’s gobs from every corner of the media. But it was Maddow who pressed the most extreme version of the Russiagate narrative.

    Maddow became Infowars. She moved beyond the simpleton advocacy journalism of Bush-lie peddling journo tools. Maddow was going to save the country. She sought to create a story out of whole cloth that matched her own political beliefs and then convince people it was true. And it was all justified because the fate of the Republic itself hung in the balance; any day Trump might peel off a rubber mask Scooby-do style to reveal he was Putin all along.

    Carrying the burden of being democracy’s Messiah was not Maddow’s alone. The Washington Post proclaimed “democracy dies in the darkness” and appointed itself the light. Marcy Wheeler, a once flawless analyst on national security, actually outed one of her sources to the FBI to blow the collusion story wide open, claiming along the way her life was in danger.

     

    The story was Trump could never have beaten Hillary fairly. Some Russians hacked the DNC and bought Facebook ads, and that must have been what caused her to lose. Ergo, Trump was working with the Russians! Starting from a conclusion allows all sorts of stupid leaps of illogic, and Maddow did not miss any of them. Trump wanted to build a hotel in Moscow so that had to involve Putin so Putin the chessmaster used the deal to manipulate Trump. Unless it was the pee tape, the kompromat (remember how many faux-Russian spy words Maddow employed?) And there was even a dossier (not a report) and super-cool spy code names like Crossfire Hurricane. Indictments and accusations were conflated with convictions, and every action, from firing Comey to some typo on Twitter could be repurposed into proof. She could trace it all back, like the singularity of the Big Bang (though the champion of that line of unreasoning is Jonathan Chait, who explained how Trump was recruited by the Russkies who were then still the Soviet Union in the 1980s.)

    Along the way pure fiction filled in the empty afternoons. Maddow briefed us the Russians had not just stolen the election, but our very government. “We are also starting to see what may be signs of continuing influence in our country,” she warned over something that no longer matters because it wasn’t true. “Basically signs of what could be a continuing operation.” How many times was our day interrupted by breaking news Mueller was going to be fired and we needed to take to the streets? How many reports speculated Trump would never leave the Oval Office voluntarily, that he would invoke a national emergency, use troops to retain power? The media gave unusual credence to what in any other era would have been termed nut jobs, people like psychiatrist Bandy Lee, who claims Trump is literally insane and a danger to himself and others? They fanned the flames of liberal fantasies such as using the 25th Amendment or the Emoluments Clause or Hamiltonian Magic Fairy Powder, anything, to end a presidency they did not want to happen. Maddow was there for every twist and turn; watching her show, one came away with the certainty everything in the past two years was a piece of the larger puzzle, and only she was able to see it all (Maddow said the same thing about Trump’s taxes; what the IRS has missed over the last four decades, she alone will parse out given the chance.)

     

    Held aloft over the years by the enchanted spell of “just wait for Mueller Time,” one day it all fell apart. The Mueller report summary was short, but answered the most important question ever asked about a president: Trump was not a Russian asset. There was no Russiagate. No conspiracy, collusion, cooperation, or indictments for any of that and none to come and none we don’t know about sitting around sealed, no treason or perjury charges over the Moscow hotel or the Trump Tower meeting or anything else. Those accusations were explicit. They. Did. Not Happen.

    The great progressive hope — America was run by a Russian stooge — was over and done. Maddow’s response? Break another cardinal rule of journalism, and bury the lede. OK, sure Barr says Mueller says no collusion if you wanna believe that, but what matters now is after Robert Mueller did not find evidence of obstruction he could charge, and the FBI before him did not find any, and after Bill Barr confirmed he did not find it, Maddow knows obstruction took place. And if only she can see the full Mueller report, she will explain it all to you (Maddow is promoting a “day of action” for Americans to take to the streets and demand the report.) It wasn’t the Russians; it was old man Barr in the drawing room with the candlestick after all!

    Maddow says the same thing about Trump’s taxes; what the IRS missed over the last four decades, she will parse out given the chance (even though she was mocked for a nothing reveal on Trump taxes in 2017). Like a compulsive gambler, she’s sure the next bet will pay off. Just you wait.

    In the interim while ticks tock Maddow hacks up little blobs of political phlegm — after waiting two years for Mueller, two weeks for Barr to release the report is unconscionable. But two days for Barr to write the summary was too fast, proof the fix was in. Trump threatens the rule of law, but when the system works according to the law and the Attorney General makes a decision, it’s all an insidejobcoverupcrisis.

     

    A big focus this week for Maddow was a foreign government-owned company resisting an old Mueller subpoena. The case is in front of a grand jury, so the public does not know what company it is, what government is involved, what the case itself concerns, or whether it has any connection to Trump, Russia, or the Spiders from Mars. But watching Maddow spin it all out it seems VERY BIG.

    Over the course of a recent evening she tied what she dubbed The Mystery Case into Watergate (the case being heard in the same court used in 1974 was about the only connection) and because the Watergate judge released some grand jury testimony to help drive Nixon from office this bodes ill for Trump keeping the dirt Rachael just knows is there secret. It could break this wide open!

    The whole thing was delivered Howard Beale-like in what seemed like one long breath, with the certainty of someone who sees ghosts and is frustrated you can’t see them too. It got so bad recently Maddow was being corrected by her own producers in real-time.

    More after this commercial break. And don’t go away, there’s too much at stake.

     

    It took the New York Times over a year after the Iraq war started to issue itself a mild “mistakes were made” kind of rebuke. At some point with Russiagate most people will come to understand there aren’t more questions than answers. They’ll abandon the straw man of waiting for prosecutors to issue a magic Certificate of Exoneration because they understand prosecutors end things by deciding not to prosecute.

    But it’s hard to see Maddow coming back into planet earth orbit. Instead of a reflective pause, she is spinning ever-more complex and nonsensical conspiracy tales, talking faster and faster to cover the gaps in logic. It is sad, but there are psychiatric terms for people who refuse to accept facts, and insist they alone understand a world you can’t even see. Delusional. Denial. Psychotic. Obsessive. Paranoid.

    Maddow is a sad story. Others playing the game never had her intellect, and just fed the rubes for clicks (looking at you, Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo.) They were weekend Vichy, showbiz grifters. But Maddow believed. Rachel Maddow’s goal was to end the Trump presidency on her own. And to do so she devolved from what Glenn Greenwald called “this really smart, independent thinker into this utterly scripted, intellectually dishonest, partisan hack.”

    There’s a difference between being wrong once in a while (and issuing corrections) and being wrong for two years on both the core point as well as the evidence. There is even more wrong with purposely manipulating information to drive a specific narrative, believing the end of personally saving democracy justifies the means.

    In journalism school, the first is called making a mistake. The second, Maddow’s offense, is called making propaganda.

     

     

     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Russiagate: “Why did this ever start in the first place?”

    March 30, 2019 // 20 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


     
     

    The end of the Special Counsel’s investigation into the non-existent conspiracy between Trump and the Russians has created an army of “Mueller Truthers,” demanding additional investigations. But Republicans are also demanding to know more, specifically how the FBI came to look into collusion, and what that tells us about the tension between America’s political and intelligence worlds. In Rudy Giuliani’s words “Why did this ever start in the first place?”

    The primordial ooze for all things Russia began in spring 2016 when the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee, through a company called Fusion GPS, hired former MI6 intelligence agent Christopher Steele to compile a report (“the dossier”) on whatever ties to Russia he could find for Donald Trump.

    Steele’s assignment was not to investigate impartially, but to gather dirt aggressively – opposition research, or oppo. He assembled second and third hand stories, then used anonymous sources and Internet chum to purported reveal Trump people roaming about Europe asking various Russians for help, promising sanctions relief, and trading influence for financial deals. Steele also claimed the existence of a “pee tape,” kompromat Putin used to control Trump.

    Creating the dossier was only half of Steele’s assignment. The real work was to insert the dossier into American media and intelligence organizations to prevent Trump from winning the election. While only a so-so fiction writer, Steele proved to be a master at running his information op against America.

    In July 2016 Steele met with over a dozen reporters to promote his dossier, with little success. It could not be corroborated. Steele succeeded mightily, however, in pushing his information deep into the FBI via three simultaneous channels, including the State Department, and via Senator John McCain, who was pitched by a former British ambassador retired to work now for Christopher Steele’s own firm.

    But the most productive channel into the FBI was Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr. Ohr’s wife Nellie worked for Fusion GPS, the front company for Steele, having previously done contract work for the CIA. Nellie passed the dossier to her husband, along with her own paid oppo research, so that he could use his credibility at DOJ to hand-carry the work into the FBI. Bruce Ohr, despite acknowledging it broke all rules of protocol and evidence handling, did just that on July 30, 2016. He stressed to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe the material was uncorroborated and had been compiled by Christopher Steele, who wanted it used to stop Trump.

    The dossier landed in welcoming hands. The FBI immediately opened an unprecedented investigation called Crossfire Hurricane into the Trump campaign. It sent agents to London to meet Australian ambassador Alexander Downer, who claimed to have evidence George Papadopoulos, one of Trump’s junior-level advisers, was talking to Russians about Hillary’s emails. The FBI’s timing of the new investigation into Trump – only days after they closed their investigation into Clinton’s email server – can be considered a coincidence by those of good heart.

    Peter Strzok, the senior FBI agent managing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, and Lisa Page, a lawyer on his team (the two were also lovers), purposefully kept investigation details from political appointees at DOJ to the extent that only five people actually knew the full measure of what was going on, ostensibly to prevent leaks.

    In fact, the point seems to have been to avoid oversight, given how weak the evidence was supporting something as grave as the Republican nominee committing treason. If you are looking behind the headlines for why Trump fired Andrew McCabe, besides his personal sympathies for Hillary, look there. Strzok and Page appear to have had an agenda of their own. In a text they wrote “Page: ‘[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Strzok: ‘No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.’”

    With a wave of a hand the dossier the FBI was warned was partisan bunk was transformed into evidence. Steele himself morphed from paid opposition researcher to paid clandestine source for the FBI, with the fact that he had recently retired from a foreign intelligence service, British or not, ignored. It was all just an excuse anyway to unleash the vast intelligence machine against Trump, the imagined Manchurian Candidate.

    Papadopoulos, the man in London, as a linchpin was also preposterous. He was a kid on the edges of the campaign, who “bumped into” a shady Russian professor who just happened to dangle the most explosive thing ever, Hillary’s emails. Papadopoulos then met the Aussie ambassador to Britain, Alex Downer. Papadopoulos gets drunk, tells the tale, which then falls whole into the FBI’s lap. Ambassador Downer, by the way, had previously arranged a $25 million donation to the Clinton Foundation. Papadopoulos was introduced to Downer by an Australian intelligence agent who knew him through her boyfriend, stationed at the Israeli embassy as a “political officer.”

    Carter Page’s case was more of the same. Page, as a key actor in the Steele dossier, wold serve as an early excuse to get FISA surveillance eyes and ears on the Trump campaign. The FBI had a paid CIA asset, University of Cambridge professor and American citizen Stefan A. Halper, contact Page and dangle questions about access to Clinton emails.

    Halper had earlier been trying separately to entrap Papadopoulos (the professor offered the inexperienced campaign aide $3,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to London to write a white paper about energy), and also met with Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis in late August, offering his services as an adviser. Clovis declined. Ultimately both Papadopoulos and Page also rebuffed Halper, though both would later encounter a young woman in London claiming to be Halper’s assistant who tried to reinterest the boys.

    Though to obtain multiple FISA warrants the FBI characterized him as an “agent of a foreign power,” Carter Page was never charged with anything. Halper dropped off the media’s radar, but is almost certainly a U.S. intelligence asset. He had earlier worked with British intelligence to pay for Michael Flynn to visit the UK. Halper’s main U.S.-based funding source is an internal Pentagon think tank. The Washington Post reported Halper had in the past worked for CIA directly. Halper was implicated in a 1980s spying scandal in which CIA officials gave inside information on the Carter administration to the GOP. Halper also married into a senior CIA official’s family.

    It is clear the FBI was desperately trying to infiltrate Halper into the Trump campaign as part of a full-blown intel op, recruiting against Trump’s vulnerable junior staff. Even though the recruitment failed, the bits and pieces learned in the process were good enough for government work. At issue was that Steele’s dossier formed a key argument in favor of a FISA warrant to spy on Trump personnel. The dossier was corroborated in part in the warrant application by citing news reports that later turned out to be themselves based on the Steele dossier. In intelligence work, this is known as cross-contamination, a risky amateur error the FBI seems to have taken a chance on hoping the FISA judge would not know enough to question it. The gamble worked.

    The FBI needed something as backup, so their investigation into Trump, now focused on the FISA surveillance, could be said not to have rested entirely on the dubious Steele dossier. Surveillance, intended and incidental, would eventually include Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Richard Gates, Michael Cohen, and likely Trump himself.

    Had Hillary won the story would have ended there, in fact, likely would never have come to light. But with Trump’s victory, the dossier had one more job to do: prep the public for all to come.

    There has been no discussion as to why, in possession of information the FBI seemed to believe showed the Russians were running a global full-court press to themselves recruit inside Trump’s inner circle, Trump was never offered a defensive briefing. Such a warning – hey, you are in danger – is common inside government. But in Trump’s case it never happened. Instead, in echo of the dark Hoover years, the FBI used its information to try and take down Trump, not protect him.

    Though the dossier had already been widely shared inside the media, the State Department, and the intelligence community, it was only on January 6, 2017 Comey briefed it to president-elect Trump. No one really knows what was said in that meeting, but we do know after holding the dossier since summer 2016, only four days after the Trump-Comey meeting Buzzfeed published the document and the world learned about the pee tape. Many believe someone in the intel community gave “permission” to the media, signaling Brennan, Clapper, Hayden, et al, would begin making public statements the dossier “could be true.”

    John Brennan was a regular on television and other media claiming over two years there was evidence of contacts between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, pimping off his time as CIA director to suggest he had inside information. He went as far as testifying before Congress in May 2017 that there was evidence of contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign figures, though now says he might have been given “bad information.”

    After that, no item that could link the words Trump and Russia was too small to add to the pile of pseudo-evidence.

    It would be easy to dismiss all this as a wacky conspiracy theory if it wasn’t in fact the counter-explanation to the even wackier, disproved theory Donald Trump was a Russian asset. It is possible to see Russiagate as a political assassination attempt, using law enforcement as the weapon. Someone might do well to double-check if Christopher Steele was in Dealey Plaza during the Kennedy assassination.

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  • So Why Did Trump Fire Comey?

    March 27, 2019 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

     
     
    A media themelet is Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey because Comey would not let Michael Flynn off the hook. Flynn was caught in a perjury trap, lying about a legally-allowed meeting he held with the Russian ambassador. The FBI had the meet under surveillance and knew Flynn was not telling the truth later in an interview. Comey’s firing also forms a core tenet of the “obstruction truther” movement.

     

    We know a lot more about what was going on then now than we did then. Time for some thinking out loud.

    I think the Comey firing is tied to the Christopher Steele dossier. We may someday learn Trump fired Comey because the FBI acted on the dossier to surveil Trump’s team from July 2016 to January 2017 without giving Trump a defensive briefing the Russians might be inside his campaign, signaling the FBI wanted to take Trump down, not protect him or America. No president could have confidence in his FBI director after that.

    There has been no discussion as to why, in possession of information they seemed to believe showed the Russians were running a global full-court press to recruit inside Trump’s inner circle, Trump was never offered a defensive briefing by the FBI. Such a warning – hey, you may not know it, but here’s how you are in danger – is common inside government. But in Trump’s case it never happened and no one seems to want to formally ask (say at a Senate hearing) why.

    That the FBI withheld the dossier from Trump, did not provide him with a defensive warning, and then used the information to collect against him did happen, and Comey was in charge. It is a shameful episode that harkens back to the J. Edgar Hoover days of an FBI that used its power to manipulate government. While referring by name only to Comey’s equally shameful handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation(s), Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in his letter recommending Comey be fired wrote:

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation has long been regarded as our nation’s premier federal investigative agency. Over the past year, however, the FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the entire Department of Justice. That is deeply troubling to many Department employees and veterans, legislators and citizens.

    Donald Ayer, who served as Deputy Attorneys General under President HW Bush, along with former Justice Department officials, was “astonished and perplexed” by [Comey’s] decision to “break with longstanding practices followed by officials of both parties during past elections.” Ayer’s own letter noted, “Perhaps most troubling… is the precedent set by this departure from the Department’s widely-respected, non-partisan traditions.”

    Both men wrote only of Comey-Clinton, but one wonders if they did not have Comey-Steele-Trump in mind as well.

    On May 11, 2017, in an NBC News interview two days after firing Comey, Trump said perhaps more to the point of why he got rid of Comey “I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

    The media at the time was emphatic Trump was referring to firing Comey to end the investigation, when in hindsight another explanation is possible. Trump didn’t fire Comey to end the investigation; anyone would be aware the new FBI director or a Special Counsel would continue it. Trump may have fired Comey for his actions dating back to 2016.

     

    My guess is history will show by January 2017 the FBI likely knew there was nothing to the dossier (one of the first things to read for in the full Mueller report is a clue as to how early he came to understand there was no collusion.) It was only then Comey unveiled the dossier to then president-elect Trump in a 1:1 brief in Trump Tower. That was on January 6, 2017, some three months after using the dossier in part to obtain a FISA warrant against Trump aide Carter Page. Comey almost certainly mentioned while Trump may not have heard of it, the dossier had already been widely shared inside the media, the State Department, and the intelligence community.

    No one really knows what was said in that meeting, but we do know that after holding the dossier since summer 2016 four days after the Trump-Comey dossier meeting Buzzfeed published the whole document and the world learned about the pee tape and you had to explain what Golden Showers are to your mom. Many believe someone in the intel community gave “permission” to the media, signaling Brennan, Clapper, Hayden, Comey, et al, would be making supporting statements that the dossier “could be true.”

    It is possible Trump, paranoid, embarrassed, and defensive, saw Comey’s moves in their January 2017 meeting as a blackmail attempt. Or at least a show of force — look what the FBI can do if you make trouble. Comey’s firing may have had a lot more to do with the dossier than it did with Michael Flynn.

     

    That leaks about Flynn and the Russian ambassador, believed to be from the Obama White House after advisors Susan Rice and Samantha Powers unmasked the identities of various American persons inside intercepts collected incidentally, only added to a sense of paranoia.

    Jeff Sessions was similarly incidentally surveilled, as was former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose conversations were picked up as part of a FISA warrant issued against Trump associate Carter PagePaul Manafort and Richard Gates were also the subjects of FISA-warranted surveillance: they were surveilled in 2014, the case was dropped for lack of evidence, and then they were re-surveilled after they joined the Trump team and became more interesting to the state. We now know Michael Cohen, Trump’s own lawyer, was surveilled for years in an operation that walked very close to violating the once-sacrosanct attorney-client privilege. Until more FISA paperwork is released, we do not know the full extent the FBI penetrated the Trump campaign.

    Officials on the National Security Council revealed that Trump himself may also have been swept up in the surveillance of foreign targets. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, claims multiple communications by Trump transition staff were inadvertently picked up. Trump officials were monitored by British GCHQ with the information shared with their NSA partners.
     
    Trump’s March 2017 claims to have been “wiretapped” by Obama, ridiculed by the media at the time, take on new credibility. That surveillance was spearheaded by James Comey and Trump fired him for it.
     
    BONUS:
    A good guess is Mueller took over as Special Counsel already knowing the dossier itself was garbage, but that it had done its job(s) to inflame the media and of course secure the FISA warrants. On Day One Mueller had the intel take from those warrants, which showed no collusion, on his desk. Mueller is a careful guy, so my speculation is he needed a month or two to assure himself. I’ll call it summer 2017 when he had a pretty good idea he was not going to uncover any smoking gun.

      

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  • Media, Suck My Balls

    March 26, 2019 // 14 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy


     
    A short, personal note…
     
    Dozens of news sources — including The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Salon, The Washington Post, The Intercept, and, why not, Stormy Daniels’ ex-lawyer Michael Avenatti — all claimed Trump was the Manchurian Candidate, controlled by Putin.

    When we demanded evidence, you attacked us. You told us we were wrong. You said democracy was in peril, the Republic facing a clear and present danger. You kept us off your shows, wouldn’t print our skepticism.

    When we appeared on smaller stages, you tried to silence us claiming what we said was “hate speech” or was sowing discord or supporting white supremist nazis and should not be protected by the First Amendment. You purged us from your social media. The MSM blacklisted us in favor of Twitter stars (Abramson, Tribe, Steyer, Wheeler) and Deep State scum (Brennan, Clapper, Comey) making ever more outrageous claims with never anything but paranoia to corroborate them. Ever-more faux “fact checks” were deployed to make it seem we were the ones saying things which were untrue.

    When asking for proof is seen as disloyal, when demanding evidence after years of accusations is considered a Big Ask, when a clear answer somehow always needs additional time, there is more on the line in a democracy than the fate of one man.
      

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  • Mueller: End Game, Das Reckoning Gotterdammerung Fin Apocalypse

    March 25, 2019 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump


     

    The short version? Mueller is done. His report unambiguously states there was no collusion or obstruction. He was allowed to follow every lead unfettered in an investigation of breathtaking depth.
     
    It cannot be clearer. The report summary states “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election… the report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public.”

    Robert Mueller did not charge any Americans with collusion, coordination or criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. The special counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign “coordinated,” a much lower standard defined as an “agreement, tacit or express,” with Russian election interference activities. They did not.

    Everything – everything – else we have been told since the summer of 2016 falls, depending on your conscience and view of humanity, into the realm of lies, falsehoods, propaganda, exaggerations, political manipulation, stupid reporting, fake news, bad judgment, simple bull or in the best light, hasty conclusions.

    As with Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the proof of no collusion has always been with us. There was a guilty plea from Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, on one count of perjury unrelated to Russiagate. Flynn lied about a legal meeting with the Russian ambassador. Rick Gates, deputy campaign manager, plead guilty to conspiracy and false statements unrelated to Russiagate. George Papadopoulos, a ZZZ-level adviser, plead guilty to making false statements about legal contact with Russians. Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, plead guilty to lying to Congress about a legal Moscow real estate project. Paul Manafort, very briefly Trump’s campaign chair, plead guilty to conspiracy charges unrelated to Russiagate and which for the most part occurred before he even joined the campaign. Roger Stone, who never officially worked for Trump, awaits a trial that will happen long after Mueller turns the last lights off in his office.

    Mueller did indict some Russia citizens for hacking, indictments which in no way tied them to anything Trump, and which will never see trial. Joseph Mifsud, the Russian professor who supposedly told Papadopoulos Moscow had “thousands of Hillary’s emails” was never charged. Carter Page, subject of FISA surveillance and a key actor in the Steele dossier, was also never charged with anything. After hours of testimony about that infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting to discuss Hillary’s email, and other meeting around the Moscow hotel, no one was indicted for perjury.
     
    The short version of Russiagate? There was no Russiagate.
     
    What Will Happen Next is already happening. Democrats are throwing up smoke demanding the full Mueller report be made public “rushing to judgment” on Mueller’s black and white conclusions. Speaker Pelosi announced whatever AG Barr would release as a summary of the Mueller report would not be enough even before he released the summary. One Dem on CNN warned they would need the FBI agents’ actual handwritten field notes.

    Adam Schiff said “Congress is going to need the underlying evidence because some of that evidence may go to the compromise of the president or people around him that poses a real threat to our national security.” Schiff believes his committee is likely to discover things missed by Mueller, whose report indicates his team interviewed about 500 witnesses, obtained more than 2,800 subpoenas and warrants, executed 500 search warrants, obtained 230 orders for communications records, and made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence.

    Mueller may still be called to testify in front of Congress, as nothing will ever be enough for #TheResistance cosplayers now in charge. Overnight, Mueller’s findings, made by Mueller the folk hero, the dogged Javert, the Marine on his last patrol suddenly aren’t worth puppy poo unless we can all look over his shoulder and line-by-line second guess him. Joy Reid for her part has already accused Mueller of covering up the crime of the century.

    The New York Times headline “As Mueller Report Lands, Prosecutorial Focus Moves to New York” says the rest — we’re movin’ on! Whatever impeachment/indictment fantasies diehard Dem have left are being transferred from Mueller to the Southern District of New York. The SDNY’s powers, we are reminded with the tenacity of a bored child in the back seat, are outside of Trump’s control, the Wakanda of justice.
     
    The new holy land is called Obstruction of Justice, though pressing a case Trump obstructed justice in a process that ultimately exonerated him will be a tough sell. In a sentence likely to fuel discussion for months, the Attorney General quotes Mueller “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

    It sounds dramatic, but in fact means while taking no position on whether obstruction took place, Mueller concluded he did not find enough evidence to prosecute. Mueller in the report specifically turns any decision to pursue obstruction further over to the Attorney General; Attorney General Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein meanwhile have already determined the evidence does not support prosecution of the president for obstruction of justice.

    Mueller also specifically noted obstruction of justice requires proof of intent, and wrote since he found Trump, et al, did not conspire with Russia, there can be no intent to obstruct an investigation Trump knew could not lead to anything. The case is thus closed judicially (Mueller essentially telegraphed the defense strategy), though Democrats will likely Quixotically poke at pursuing it.
     

    This is developing as a major talking point among those seeking to dilute how clear this is. So, in simple language:

    — Mueller had to see if he had enough evidence to prosecute obstruction. He did not find sufficient evidence. The choices are sufficient to prosecute, sufficient to exonerate, or neither. He chose neither. That’s where his job ends. Insufficient to exonerate does not equal “guilty.”

    — At that point any future decisions go to the AG and DAG. They have already said there is not enough evidence to prosecute, the exact same decision Mueller made. They confirmed Mueller saying there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute.

    — Mueller then telegraphs the real point: Mueller found no collusion. Trump of course knew he did nothing wrong with Russia (dammit, that is proven now). So how can anyone show Trump intended to block an investigation he knew would find nothing wrong? You’re going to try and impeach him for supposedly trying to block an investigation he knew would find him innocent?

    –Since no intent, there can be no prosecution. The rest does not matter.

    — Ok, ok, even s l o w e r. Mueller makes clear the Trump campaign did not conspired, collude or coordinate with the Russians. It is impossible to show a corrupt motive to obstruct an investigation into a crime that did not occur.

    — Also, grownups charged, appointed and/or elected are doing their jobs. The Constitution does not require concurrence from Twitter, or for you to shout “Release the report!” that those people have already read so you can look over their shoulder and come to a conclusion based on your undergraduate degree in Spanish. The report should of course be released for historians and scholars, but not simply to second guess its conclusions on social media like dumbasses.

     

    That leaves corruption. Politico has already published a list of 25 “new” things to investigate about Trump, trying to restock the warehouse of broken impeachment dreams (secret: it’s filled with sealed indictments no one will ever see.) The pivot will be from treason to corruption; see the Cohen hearings as Exhibit One. Campaign finance minutia, real estate assessment questions, tax cheating from the 1980s, a failed Buffalo Bills purchase years ago… how much credibility will any of that now have with a public realizing it has been bamboozled on Russia?

    Will Dems really try to make the case maybe sorta fudging a loan application to a German bank years ago based on differing interpretations of “goodwill and brand value” before running for office is an impeachable offense in 2019? That is what the Founders had in mind when they wrote the rules for driving an elected president out of office?

    Then there’s the argument (which Mueller did not make) the investigation had to spare Trump because dang it, some nancyboy spoiled everything by saying a sitting president can’t be indicted. But one can’t conspire alone; even if Trump got a Get Out of Jail Free card, Mueller didn’t take down anyone around him. Same with all the perjury charges which weren’t filed over the Moscow Hotel or Stormy or any meeting(s) with Russians. If Mueller couldn’t indict Trump for the conspiracy so many insist still exists, why didn’t Mueller at least indict someone besides Trump for lying to cover it up?

    At some point even the Congresswoman with the most Twitter followers is going to have to admit there is no there, there. By digging the hole they are standing in even deeper Dems will only make it more obvious to everyone but Sam Bee’s interns they have nothing. Expect to hear “this is not the end, it is only the end of the beginning” more often most people check their phones, even as it sounds more needy than encouraging, like an ex- who doesn’t get it is over checking in to see if you want to meet for coffee.

    Someone at the DNC might also ask how this unabashed desire to see blood drawn from someone surnamed Trump will play out with potential 2020 purple voters. It is entirely possible voters are weary and would like to see somebody actually address immigration, healthcare, and economic inequality now that we’ve settled the Russian question.
     
    That is what is and likely will happen. What should happen is a reckoning.

    Even as the story fell apart over time like a cardboard box in the rain, a large number of Americans, and nearly all of the MSM, still believed the president of the United States was a Russia intelligence asset, in Clinton’s own words, “Putin’s puppet.” How did that happen?

    A mass media which bought the lies over non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then promised “never again!” did it again. The New York Times, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC, et al, reported falsehoods to drive a partisan narrative. They gleefully created a serial killer’s emptywheel-like bulletin board covered blurry photos of everyone in Russiagate connected by strands of yarn.

    Another generation of journalists soiled themselves. They elevated mongerers like Seth Abramson, Malcolm Nance, and Lawrence Tribe, who vomited nonsense all over Twitter each afternoon before appearing before millions on CNN. They institutionalized unsourced gossip as their ledes — how often were we told the walls were closing in? That it was Mueller time? How many times was the public put on red alert Trump/Sessions/Rosenstein/Whitaker/Barr was going to fire the special prosecutor? The mass media featured only stories which furthered the collusion tall tale and silenced those skeptical of the prevailing narrative, the core failure from the Iraq War.

    The short version: There were no WMDs in Iraq. That was a lie, the media promoted it shamelessly while silencing skeptical voices. Mueller indicted zero Americans for working with Russia to influence the election. Russiagate was a lie, the media promoted it shamelessly while silencing skeptical voices.

    Same for the politicians, alongside Hayden, Brennan, Clapper, and Comey, who told Americans the president they elected was a spy working against the United States. None of that was accidental or by mistake. It was a narrative they desperately wanted to be true so they could politically profit regardless of what it did to the nation. And today the whitewashing is already ongoing. Keep an eye out for Tweets containing the word “regardless” to trend.
     
    And someone should contact the ghost of Consortium News’ Robert Parry, one of the earliest and most consistent skeptics of Russiagate, and tell him he was right all along. That might be the most justice we see out of all this.

      

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  • Trying to Understand the Democratic/Media Argument…

    March 25, 2019 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

    I’m trying to understand the Democratic/Media argument:

    — There was no Russiagate, treason, conspiracy, etc, like we said for two years. I guess Putin doesn’t control us. Meh. Movin’ on!

    — We’re gonna nail Trump on obstruction into an investigation into something that wasn’t a crime, an investigation that concluded without fetters, and which proved he was telling the truth about no collusion all along. Yes, he tried to obstruct the investigation he knew would clear him!

    — We’ll forget Mueller could have recommended obstruction charges but did not. If Mueller found the evidence insufficient, he could have continued looking as long as he liked but instead voluntarily shut the investigation down.

    — We’ll forget Mueller, even if he could not charge the president, could have charged others around him with obstruction, perjury, conspiracy, etc. but did not, because the evidence did not exist.

    — We’ll ignore that in real life jurisprudence when the prosecution says the evidence isn’t there and declines to pursue the case, the defendant goes home a free man and the show is over. Courts do not issue some magic certificate of exoneration.

    — We’ll forget in the summer of 2016 we all said about Hillary that when the FBI did not indict her over her emails that meant officially she did nothing wrong and not speak again of hypocrisy.

    — We’ll ignore that AG Barr actually did little more than CONFIRM Mueller’s conclusion not to charge, indict, or continue. The two men agreed, coming to the same conclusion.

    — We who love the Rule of Law will ignore that it is indeed Barr’s Constitutional role to do this, and instead without evidence accuse him of favoritism because we lost this.

     
     

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  • Economics, POC, and Who You Should Support in 2020

    March 23, 2019 // 15 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Trump


     

    “See, in America we have this thing about ‘people of color.’ POC. I think you’re one.” I was explaining things American to a visitor. He was actually from Spain, so he was Spanish, not Hispanic. We were trying to figure out if he was a POC.
     

    This was not some sort of intellectual Sudoku to pass the time; core Democratic strategy is based on this POC idea. The U.S. is poised to become a non-majority nation (“minority white”) within 25 years, meaning about half of us will be POC. The Democratic party believes these POC will vote for their candidates, while the Republican party will wither away cherry picking voters from the dwindling cesspool of deplorable whites.

    My Spanish friend considered himself European. “So I guess I am white, yes?” he offered. But his skin was clearly a few shades darker than mine, though he pointed out that was only because my relatives came from the cold part of Europe and he came from the sunny part. But he spoke Spanish. At least in America my new friend qualified as a POC.

    His Seamless order arrived. He said gracias to the delivery guy and handed over a one dollar tip. “What do I have in common with him?” the Spaniard asked, “except the rudimentary ability to speak the same language, same as 560 million others.” I rolled my eyes at the delivery guy, a universal gesture of “people don’t tip, right?” solidarity.

    I noted to my friend as I pulled into traffic, headed back to his hotel, the Democrats in 2020 would likely have at least POC vice presidential candidate who “looked like him.” But the whole POC thing did not sit well. Why did Americans, he asked, want leaders who physically looked like them? “Didn’t it used to be wrong to judge people by the color of their skin,” he said. “Why is it OK to choose someone because they’re black but racist to choose someone because they aren’t?” I shared in 2019 a candidate named Richard who graduated from Columbia needed to go around saying “call me Beto” to lighten his whiteness.
     

    Things really got confusing when I explained the Democratic strategy of it’s-our-turn when white people drop below 50% seemed to be based on the idea that a newly arrived Chinese migrant and a 70-year-old Mexican-American CEO and people from Trinidad, Ghana, and the Bronx with three different levels of education all had something inherently in common. And something inherently not in common with everyone tainted various shades of pink.

    I mentioned reparations; until slavery was ended in the United States, human beings were legally considered capital, just like owning stocks and bonds today. But the Spaniard knew enough about history to wonder what reparations would be offered to the thousands of Chinese treated as animals to build the railroads, or the 8,000 Irish who died digging the New Basin Canal. Or the whole families of Jews living on the Lower East Side of New York who were forced to employ their children to make clothing for uptown “white” stores. Later in the same century, wages were “voluntarily” cut to the bone at factories in Ohio to save jobs which disappeared anyway after the owners wrung the last profits out.

    The more we talked, the more it all seemed to be about labor, low paid or never paid, and less about the C of the P doing the work. Inequality unequally distributed by race changes little about the base reality that for about 90% of us it is the controlling factor in our lives. It was like we were missing the thing behind the thing. Or someone was trying to hide it.

    “I think,” my friend said, “Americans spend so much time worried about race they miss what we Europeans understand in our bones. It is class which divide societies. Look at Britain, once nearly 100% white, yet a person just had to say a few words and you’d know who worked for who by the accent. Or India, where everyone is a POC as you Americans would say, and where they created a caste system that survived the departure of the white people.”

    It did seem silly to think a Caucasian on food stamps in West Virginia had more in common with a Caucasian in L.A. producing multi-million dollar movies than a black person on food stamps in say, West Virginia again. Blacks are lazy and get free welfare, whites don’t have to try because of free privilege. “No, your Democrats are drawing the lines the wrong way,” said the Spaniard. “It is about money not melanin.” We had to look up the last word from the Spanish melanina.

    We’d been driving for awhile, since right after the Seamless guy first met us. We’d arrived at The Plaza. My Spanish friend paid me for the ride through the Uber app, but with a generous cash tip. Privilege, I guess. I pocketed the $10.
     
    As I set off to my other job, it started to make more sense about money even as the idea of POC made less sense. Color masks the lines that really matter, and those lines are all colored green.

    Since 1980, incomes of the very rich (the .1%) grew faster than the economy, about a 400% cumulative increase. The upper middle class (the 9.9%) kept pace with the economy, while the other 90% fell behind. Race? You can be confident the .1% are mostly white, likely the 9.9%, too. But the other 90% of America is every color. Whether your housing is subsidized via a mortgage tax deduction or Section 8, you’re still on the spectrum of depending on the people really in charge to allow you a place to live.

    The birth lottery determines which of those three bands we’ll sink or swim together in, because there is precious little mobility. In that bottom band 81% face flat or falling net worth (40% of Americans make below $15/hour) and so aren’t going anywhere. Education, once a vehicle, is mostly a tool now for the reproduction of current status across generations and worth paying bribes for. Uplifted by virtue of a choking mortgage, the indentured servitude of college loans, credit cards, pay day loans, and the hope of lottery tickets, is still poor. Class is sticky.

    Money, not so much. Since the 9.9% have the most (at least the most the super wealthy do not yet have) they have the most to lose. At their peak in the mid-1980s the managers and technicians in this group held 35% of the nation’s wealth. Three decades later that fell 12%, exactly as much as the wealth of the 0.1% rose. A significant redistribution of wealth – upward — took place following the 2008 market collapse as bailouts, shorts, repossessions, and new laws helped the top end of the economy at cost to the bottom. What some label hardships are business opportunities to those above.

    See, the people at the top are throwing nails off the back of the truck to make sure no one can catch up with them; there is a strong zero sum element to all this. The goal is to eliminate the competition. They’ll have it all when society is down to two classes, the .1% and the 99.9% and at that point we are all effectively the same color. The CEO of JP Morgan called it a bifurcated economy. Historians will recognize the endstate as feudalism.
     
    You’d think someone would sound a global-climate-change level alarm about all this. Instead we divide people into tribes and make them afraid of each other by forcing competition for limited resources like healthcare. Identity politics sharpen the lines, recognizing increasingly smaller separations, like adding letters to LGBTQQIAAP.

    Failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, herself with presidential ambitions, is an example of the loud voices demanding more division. Contrast that with early model Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention pleading “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

    The divisions can always be jacked up. “My opponent is a white nationalist!” and so he doesn’t just think you’re lazy, he wants to kill you. Convince average Americans to vote against their own interests by manipulating them into opposing any program that might benefit black and brown equally or more than for themselves. Keep the groups fighting left and right and they’ll never notice the real discrimination is up and down, even as massive economic forces consume all equally. That consumption is literal as Americans die from alcohol, drugs, and suicide in record numbers.
     
    Meanwhile, no one has caught on identity politics is a marketing tool for votes, fruit flavored vape to bring in the kiddies. Keep that in mind as you listen to the opening shouts of the 2020 election. Listen for what’s missing in the speeches about inequality and injustice. The candidate who admits we created an apartheid of dollars for all deserves your support.

     
     

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  • State to Be First to Build Government-Funded Shanty Towns!

    March 15, 2019 // 13 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy


     
    It’s a Hooverville revival, now better with pretty sunsets and nearby beaches!
     
    With its homeless problem veering out of control, Hawaii has come up with the wave of the future crashing onto its beaches: build shanty towns on the outskirts of its better neighborhoods, warehousing the homeless in vast communities no one will ever have to see the inside of. Except homeless people! This urban feature is a third world mainstay, with rings of such “communities” around Nairobi, Manila, and Delhi. Now it will be All-American for the first time.

    Hawaii is experiencing a 12% growth in the number of unsheltered homeless. Owing to its year-round warm weather, general cool attitude toward overly aggressive enforcement, and plenty of park space, many unhomed people have created tent cities around the islands. Parks on the Windward side, near places like Waianae and Waimanalo are more or less unavailable to homed people just looking for a day in the sun. It can look like this:

     

    Many of these folks will not move into regular shelters. In addition to the crime in those shelters, they do no accommodate families, pets or the large amount of portable refuse many beach dwelling homeless prefer to tote around. In addition, many of the homeless suffer from untreated mental illness and/or serious drug and alcohol problems and don’t “fit in” to the shelter lifestyle.

    Hawaii’s answer is to build shanty communities. Sorry, no, not shanties, they will be “tiny houses” without toilets or kitchens. Those “amenities” will be communal, along with tidy gardens for the homeless to tend and meeting places for their book clubs. You can see the illustration, above.

    But best of all, according to delusional Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, these communities of up to 300 mentally ill homeless drug and alcohol addicts will be self-governing. “The communities would make their own rules,” said Green. “It will be accepting people whether they come with their dogs or if they are in a relationship or single.”

    There is no chance these communities could become loci for crime, disease, or sanitation problems. Hawaii has no rabies on the islands, so that’s cool. What could go wrong?
     
    The first community is expected to open in 2020. Next month, leaders from both the city and the state will meet to pick the parcels of land. No doubt the project will be popular enough that nearly ever city in Hawaii will be bidding on the chance to have 300 self-governing homeless people set up shop. Each village is expected to cost between $2 and $5 million which could not possibly be spent better anywhere else.

    Protip: in the real third world, most shanty towns are located near the city dump for convenient scavenging. Keep that in mind, Hawaii.

    The idea of these government-build shanty towns has come up in Seattle, but it looks like Hawaii is going to implement it first. The shanty idea may or may not be better than something tried in the past, literally flying homeless people out of Hawaii and dumping them on the mainland U.S. of A. Or a 2015 plan to build “tiny homes” out of old shipping containers on an island off Oahu and export the homeless there. Maybe the next idea will be a two-fer: require each already hated AirBNB owner to house a homeless person one week a year as a kind of tax.
     
    So pay attention, America. As the distribution of wealth continues to strangle 99.9% of us, the need for the super-wealthy to get us out of the way will only grow. We’re currently only allowed to live sort of near them as a source of cheap labor and perhaps soylent green. But someday soon enough AI will take care of that and we’ll all be mentally ill and sucking the pipe on a beach somewhere. It’s nice to know they have plans for us.

    Aloha!
     
    BONUS: For those unfamiliar with the term, a Hooverville was a shanty town built during the Great Depression by the homeless in the United States (below.) They were named after then-president Herbert Hoover. There were dang near hundreds of Hoovervilles across the country during the 1930s and hundreds of thousands of people lived in these slums. In Steinbeck’s famous The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family briefly settles into a Hooverville in California. So bringing the idea back in modern times is a neat olde timey thing, like Colonial Williamsburg.

      

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  • Who Said This? Fun Quiz!

    March 13, 2019 // 14 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq


     

    Fun quiz! Who said the following on TV this week? (The answer is below and will surprise you!)

    “Nature abhors a vacuum, and if we are not involved in international conflicts, or trying to quell international conflicts, certainly the Russians and the Chinese will fill that vacuum. And we will step away from the world stage in a significant way that might destabilize the world, because the United States, however flawed, is a force for good in the world in my opinion.”

    Answer: Stephen Colbert, who supposedly is a comedian with a silly late night show, but instead ends up reading neocon talking points to millenials.
     

    The ever-sharp Caitlan Johnstone has the whole story here; Colbert was in the process of tearing apart Tulsi Gabbard for daring oppose American interventions.

    The correct answer is reading what Gabbard said:

    “The United States should not be intervening to overthrow these dictators and these regimes that we don’t like, like Assad, like Saddam Hussein, like Gaddafi, and like Kim Jong Un. There are bad people in the world, but history has shown us that every time the United States goes in and topples these dictators we don’t like, trying to end up like the world’s police, we end up increasing the suffering of the people in these countries. We end up increasing the loss of life, but American lives and the lives of people in these countries. We end up undermining our own security, what to speak of the trillions of dollars of taxpayer money that’s spent on these wars that we need to be using right here at home.”

     
     

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  • Paul Manafort is the End of Act I. What’s Next?

    March 11, 2019 // 10 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


     

    No one weeps for Paul Manafort. He goes to jail for Donald Trump’s sins. The irony is his sad but uneventful end of a life lived as a parasite of a corrupt political system would not have mattered a jot if special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t think he could bring down the president alongside Manafort. That Trump is still standing means we need to prepare for Act II, what happens post-Mueller.
     
    But first the eulogy for what might have been. Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation in 2014, centered on sleazy consulting work for Ukraine’s former ruling party. The surveillance was discontinued that same year and the FBI dropped the matter for lack of evidence. Manafort’s less then three month tenure as Trump campaign chairman provided the good-enough-for-government-work hook as the FBI went fishing for ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives.

    In the end Mueller was only able to convict Manafort on eight counts (he failed on ten other counts) involving false income taxes, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud, all revolving around Manafort’s lobbying work and almost all prior to his work for Trump. The goal of repurposing the old surveillance data was to pressure Manafort into somehow tying Trump into the ambiguous collusion narrative. But via a combination of little having happened and Manafort’s lying even about that, the Mueller ploy came up dry. Oh there was all sorts of noise — Manafort handed over campaign polling data (not a crime) to someone and some of the people Manafort knew knew some of the people who knew Putin (also not a crime.) It was all as sleazy as you want it to be, just not so useful when you have to go to court and actually prove stuff to someone other than Rachel Maddow. In sentencing Manafort, the judge noted specifically there was nothing “to do with colluding with the Russian government.”

    To drive home the non-point, the judge sentenced Manafort to only 47 months, with credit for nine months already served, which means maybe two years and change after time off and parole. This was well below even the minimum recommendations for his crimes, and a far cry from the “rest of his life” the media had been braying for. The Daily Beast took it personally, saying the light sentence “felt like a slap in the face for many watching the Russia probe.” Rick Wilson went on at length over his joy in seeing Manafort’s physical deterioration while in custody, concluding “karma is a magnificent b*tch.” Summing up ‘Merica 2019, a common theme across Twitter is hoping Manafort, now age 69, dies in prison.

    Though you would be forgiven for thinking of this as blood sport, Manafort’s crimes were just white collar tax stuff that at worst forms the basis of one of those lurid backpage “how the mighty have fallen” stories. There is still another round of sentencing to go on Wednesday for Manafort with a supposedly vindictive judge (this round was the easy judge, but Google “concurrent sentences” before popping the champagne) and CNN tells us the superheroes of the Southern District of New York will someday prosecute Manafort separately (Google “double jeopardy” and put the bubbly back on the shelf) so he can’t be pardoned by Trump.

    Of course any pardon will come either at the very end of Trump’s only term, or inside his second term, and will not matter much more than Scooter Libby did in the grand scheme of politics. Further down the road, no newly elected Democratic president is going to start their administration off seeking revenge on the previous guys; it’ll all be about healing and coming together. Like Obama, who excused torture, never mind tax crimes: time to move forward, not look backward. Trump could also just leave Manafort to rot; he isn’t very important.

    UPDATE: Manafort was sentenced for his final convictions March 13, 2019. He received 73 months, with 30 concurrent with his previous sentence. That sentence was 47 months with 9 off for time served. The total by my count is: 81 months, almost seven years. With good behavior, out in about five+ maybe?

    So, so much for all that.

    Bottom Line: history books ten years from now will read “Paul Manafort’s lavish lifestyle, funded by corruption, came to an end in prison. He had nothing to do with Russiagate. He was just standing too close to Trump when he got caught.” So think of Manafort (and maybe Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Gates) as the weak curtain closer to Act I. Up next is Michael Cohen, the hoped for peppy tune that brings the audience back inside the theatre for Act II.
     
    It is increasingly clear Mueller has no bombshell (hear much good about the Steele dossier lately? Just that Steele was being paid simultaenously by the FBI, the DNC, and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was owed money by Paul Manafort and wanted to out Manafort to the feds), even as his long-overdue freshman term paper is now dragging into junior year. #Russiagate, in reality always more a hashtag than a caper, has devolved into a placeholder, a way to prep the public for the new plan, two years of Benghazi-like hearings looking for a crime.

    Scratch that — the Benghazi hearings will look orderly and dull in comparison. This is going to be two years of bread and circuses, with Elijah Cummings playing the calm but angry Morgan Freeman role (one kept waiting to hear him say “Now easy, young blood…” to one of his freshman representatives at the Cohen hearing) while AOC and her posse own, scold, hot take, slay, tear down, slam, and crush, for the cameras. Insurance fraud! Real estate devaluation! A Trump golf course she has to drive past everyday! Something about taxes! It’s a lot of capitalism and AOC knows from college that’s bad, right? At least until a week later, when it all comes up empty in the harsh light of sobriety. A signed check with no tie to any crime but a convict’s word is the smoking gun of impeachment? The gold standard on these things is a semen-crusted blue dress.

    It’s like watching Wiley E. Coyote try something new each time but never catch the Roadrunner. Beep! Beep!

    The everlasting gobsmacker of a problem remains. Ever watch Law & Order? Most episodes begin with a body on the ground. Watergate started with a break-in at Democratic National Headquarters by people quickly revealed to have direct ties to the Republicans. All things Trump began with the disbelief he won the election fairly. Everything — everything — since that has flowed from the search for a crime to reverse November 2016.

    The media is chock-a-block with articles which while they take for granted the House will soon begin impeachment proceedings, offer no clear statements on exactly what the grounds for impeachment will be. Corruption is popular though the specifics are vague. Or maybe obstruction, a process crime like Mueller’s well-worn perjury traps created out of the ashes of an investigation of nothing of substance. It really doesn’t matter. Impeachment is the goal, someone will just have to find a reason sooner or later because Trump must be guilty. The problem is this is all an investigation in search of a crime. That sounded better three years ago when it all began. Watching the pivot from Russiagate to generic corruption as the main driver just exposes how empty the process is. What was supposed to be the end, Mueller, is now being characterized as only “the end of the beginning.”

    NBC is more straightforward in outlining the “reasons” for impeachment than most: “The lines of investigation run from Trump’s campaign and White House operations all the way to his tax records and business dealings, and some Democrats are convinced they will ultimately be able to use their findings to tell the story of a president who has committed offenses for which he should be removed from office.”

    Representative Rashida “Impeach the Mother F*cker” Tlaib is the unofficial spokesperson for the “he’s guilty, now find me the crime” line. Tlaib will introduce a resolution calling on the House Judiciary Committee “to formally move on investigating grounds for impeachment.”

    The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Green seems to have figured out the situation, writing “Unlike the Nixon impeachment inquiry, the current impeachment drive did not commence against the backdrop of identifiable events that took place after Nixon was elected, or which resonated beyond the partisan divide. Here, there was no Watergate break-in or Saturday Night Massacre. Instead, impeachment feels like a cumulative punishment for ‘modern presidential,’ Trump’s ceaseless effort to define deviancy, and decency, down.”

     
    A developing nasty truth about many of the accusations accumulating around the new Democratic House like snow drifts is the loop between what the Dems are doing and the media. The goal is to ever-widen the circle of things to be investigated in hopes of finding something. It works like this. An article will appear, based of course on anonymous sources, saying for example Trump tried to block a merger for political gain. Mere days later, citing the article as new evidence, House Judiciary Committee Democrats announce they need to look into the merger. Next up, a Democratic senator demands the Attorney General launch his own investigation. Often an editorial or Op-Ed will then complete the circle praising Congress for trying to get to the bottom of things.

    The same thing happened after a New York Times article, based in part on those anonymous sources, triggered calls to investigate Jared Kushner’s security clearance.

    The use of anonymous sources (and who knows, perhaps those “sources” are connected to the Democrats themselves) to cue the growing number of investigations up is very transparent. Concerns Trump and Fox work together are too narrow a focus on what is really going on, as mainstream outlets shift from mere partisan reporting to serving as political operatives. Donna Brazile leaking a few questions in advance to Hillary Clinton will seem quaint in retrospect.
     
    That seems to be the game plan for the next two years. What remains are two big questions: will it work, and will it end.

    Assuming something is found worth opening impeachment hearings over, the Republican majority in the Senate is still unlikely to convict. Trump will thus run for reelection in 2020. Will public opinion, empathy, following impeachment proceedings help him as it ultimately did Bill Clinton? How many voters will see through this politicization of the Constitutional process and turn away from the Dems? How many Democrats who want real things to happen on healthcare and immigration will see this all as just a waste of time?

    Then the last question: will this all end in 2020? Because if the endless investigation tactic seems to work this time around, you can bet when the next Democrat takes the White House, they will wake up the day after their inauguration to find a special prosecutor and Congressional hearings waiting. Ten years of taxes? How about we start with twenty and see where that goes? Now, Madam President, about this handwritten note in your junior high school yearbook…
      

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  • New York Reverting to 19th Century Housing Standards, for the Poors!

    March 6, 2019 // 10 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy

     
    Certain basement apartments in East New York (for you out-of-towners, that’s code for “da’ po’ parts o’ town”) will be able to become legal under a city pilot program intended to provide affordable form of housing.

    new law to authorize the pilot Basement Apartment Conversion Pilot Program (BACPP) was signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday. The legislation creates a three-year initiative overseen by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development during which low- to middle-income homeowners in East New York and Cypress Hills can apply for low or no-interest loans to convert their basements and cellars into legal dwellings.

    Budding Fred Trumps, take note: homeowners outside of those crappy neighborhoods may also seek legalization on their own, albeit without city funding. The areas where the city plans to pay for the experiment with human beings living in basements previously considered uninhabitable are largely black and hispanic. East New York’s rate of violent crimes per capita is greater than the city as a whole, as is the incarceration rate. So the place has that going for it to attract tourism if this basement things doesn’t work out.

    The new law amends things like minimum ceiling heights, the requirement to have windows in all bedrooms, and some fire safety rules such as multiple ways to get out of the building. It is a real pain in the neck to have only one front window to escape through when the fire is in that room, you know.

    Converting basements into sweatshop look-a-likes is not cheap. The city will allocate $12 million to cover program staffing costs, implement, and manage the program, along with loan amounts for the construction of 40 homes. The maximum loan per homeowner is $120,000. So, math: about $7 million in administrative costs to fund less than $5 million in loans. And the loans will be low or no-interest, or “possibly forgivable” to help create new slum lords. Seems socialism-y enough for me!
     

    According to the city, it is all supposed to look like this, with bright colored graphics substituting for actual daylight:

    But the best part of all this is that the laws NYC is seeking to change to allow for these basement apartments were enacted in large part around the turn of the century to prevent the abuses of tenement housing shown, for example, in Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives — lack of light and air, no windows in bedrooms, etc.

    One of the reforms of the last time we barked about having a Progressive Era, the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901, was also one of the first laws to ban the construction of the dark, poorly ventilated apartments occupied then primarily by immigrants we did not care about. The law required new buildings to have among other things exterior windows in every room and ceilings of a minimal height. Indoor toilets were also mandated, and for now at least New York does not seem to be pulling back that part of the law. Do standby for the measles epidemic, last seen in these parts in the early 20th century, as anti-vaxx cosplayers seek to keep up with these new city standards.
     
    To claim to create affordable housing, New York is literally reverting to some of the 19th century standards it was shamed into fixing once upon a time. Those charting the course of capitalism, make a note of it!

     
     

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  • Is Michael Cohen Impeachment’s Smoking Gun?

    March 1, 2019 // 11 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


    While 8000 miles away in Vietnam the president of the United States practices nuclear diplomacy, Americans at home watched former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen stand up on his hind legs to beg for a reduced jail sentence.

    Cohen, testifying on February 27 before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform (he testified behind closed doors on Tuesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he will go back behind closed doors Thursday with the House Intelligence Committee), told Americans who think they already know what they think exactly what they wanted to hear: Trump is a vulgar conman, a racist, and a cheat. None of that is impeachable or criminal. Also, water is wet.

    The media is burying the lede: Michael Cohen did not provide any evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, nor did he provide any evidence of collusion, active coordination or conspiracy with Wikileaks. Cohen’s accusation of a Trump crime while in office is at best an evidence-free rendering of an unclear violation of a campaign finance law usually settled with a fine. Any action going forward using Cohen’s testimony requires one to simply believe the words of Michael Cohen. That’s a big ask.

    Building a criminal case, or impeachment, around the uncorroborated testimony of a disbarred, convicted felon violating attorney-client privilege to beg for a shorter sentence seems weak. Absent corroborating evidence it is hard to see Cohen’s testimony leading to impeachment or criminal charges. It all sounds very dramatic and will be played as such by the media, but in the end is another faux smoking gun. There’s just not much meat on these bones.

     

    On Russian collusion, Cohen stated “Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions.” Cohen went on to claim he saw Don, Jr. tell his father some meeting had been set. “I concluded that Don, Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on Hillary with the Russian representative when he walked behind his dad’s desk that day.” Cohen presented no evidence the meeting Don, Jr. referred to was with the Russians, or maybe was with the guy redoing Trump’s kitchen. A defense lawyer would be laughing as she labeled Cohen’s “conclusion” speculation and uncorroborated supposition.

    The best the Democratic questioners drag out of Cohen over the course of over seven hours was “Mr. Trump’s desire to win would have him work with anyone,” when asked directly if Trump worked with Russia. Cohen did later deny the existence of the pee tape and anything else that could be used as blackmail. Not much to work with. Russiagate comes down to some Trump people noodling around in Moscow about a hotel that was never built, talking about meetings with Putin that never took place? Your big takeaway is Trump was asking about that inside his own organization until June instead of giving up following the progress earlier? That’s what you want to take to the American people as a case for impeachment, with Michael Cohen in an orange jumpsuit on a prison pass as your key witness?

     

    On business in Russia, Cohen claims Trump was “lying to the American people” during his campaign about negotiations to build a hotel in Moscow. Leaving aside there is nothing illegal about negotiating to build a hotel, and that neither Cohen nor anyone else has shown any evidence of all the Putin connections the media keeps insisting must exist. A review of Trump’s statements show what Cohen claims are “lies to the American people” about whether or not Trump had “business” in Russia would be seen by a defense lawyer as careful parsing of words; Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley concludes after his own parsing at worst Trump mislead by omission and even that requires one to dig into tweets where Trump used the present tense and not the past tense to describe things.

     

    On Stormy Daniels, Cohen showed a check for $35,000 from Trump to him, which was supposedly part of the total $130k paid to her to keep quiet about Trump and Stormy’s affair. The check does not show what the payment was for. The check does not have Stormy’s name on it. Cohen said it was part of the reimbursement for “illegal hush money I paid on his behalf.” A defense lawyer would chuckle at the idea that was “evidence.” It is a receipt for a crime only because Cohen now says it is. Under direct questioning, Cohen claimed there was no corroborating evidence beyond the 11 checks. He said he sent invoices to Trump for “legal retainer fees,” so don’t bother with the invoices as evidence because Cohen now says he lied on them claiming it was a retainer fee. Those 11 checks will total over $400k, because supposedly Trump rolled Cohen’s fee and bonus into the amount, so we just have to take his word for it that some of that money was for Stormy. Cohen said some of the checks were signed by Don, Jr. and the Trump Organization’s CFO. Apparently the checks are going to be used to implicate personally a person who did not sign the checks.

    Paying money as part of a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) is not illegal. If Trump had been just a businessperson who had an affair, there would be nothing to discuss. People legally pay other people to be quiet all the time. Legal services such as Cohen otherwise provided are a standing campaign cost (lawyers regularly obtaining discreet resolutions of issues that threaten the interests of their clients.) The alleged illegality comes from the supposition by Cohen that he can speak to Trump’s intent, that the NDA was not, say, to spare Trump’s marriage from new embarrassment, but in the text of the law “for the principal purpose of influencing an election” amid everyone already knowing Trump was a serial philanderer. Campaign finance laws require proof a person was willfully violating the law. Cohen’s testimony does not prove Trump knew the payments he was making were illegal. Prosecutors would have to prove that willingness somehow if they wanted to charge the president.

    Even then, that would make Trump at worst a conspirator to a contested interpretation of the Federal Election Campaign Act. At worst it is a de minimis legal violation the serious business of impeachment isn’t concerned with. It is hard to imagine impeachment hearings bogging down looking into intricacies of federal election law that otherwise confound second year law students.

     

    On Trump ordering Cohen to lie to Congress, Cohen said “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates. In conversations… he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie.” Cohen later referred to some sort of Trump “code” that was used to order him to lie.

     

    On Wikileaks, Cohen stated “In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” Someone will need NSA intercepts to prove this true because Stone and Wikileaks deny it, and Cohen says there were no others present to corroborate.

    The question left aside is so what. In the larger picture, it represents limited passive knowledge on Trump’s part the emails will leak, as Cohen said Stone had no details on the upcoming content. It does not say the Russians did anything, it does not say Trump worked with Wikileaks. Stone, of course, is habitually full of crap. He had previously lied about having dinner with Assange. Even if the call was made, it remains a real likelihood Stone was overselling his access to Wikileaks. Julian Assange is a hard guy to get on the phone and would have no incentive to tip off a partisan hack like Stone and risk soiling his claims to non-partisanship. Even the New York Times has questioned how trustworthy Stone is.

    Cohen said the phone call took place July 18 or 19. Trump could have read on Twitter July 7 that Wikileaks had pending releases. Earlier, the Guardian on June 12, 2016, where Assange announced he’d be releasing more Clinton emails. The newspaper stated the emails will “provide further ammunition for Donald Trump, her Republican presidential rival, who has used the issue to attack her.” The Stone call, if it took place, was based on public knowledge. Pretty much anyone with a pulse in Washington anticipated more Wikileaks releases that summer of 2016. Cohen’s bombshell had been available online for almost three years.

    The emerging media bleat Trump lied in writing to Mueller about contact with Stone and thus, if Cohen is believed, committed perjury, is based solely on unconfirmed anonymous “sources.” No one outside the White House and Mueller’s office knows what Trump wrote in answer to the special prosecutor’s written interrogatories.

     

    So this is it? A saga that began in the summer of 2016, one that commanded a Special Prosecutor to investigate if the Russian government worked with the current president of the United States to help him get elected, that claimed that president was a Russian intelligence asset under the control of Putin, is going to hinge on the minutiae of campaign finance law? That is going to be lawyered into something leading to impeachment?

    As for the hearing itself, Democrats spent the day putting inflammatory words into Cohen’s mouth that he gratefully voiced to make good quotes. They focused on questions of Trump’s finances which will no doubt provide the hook for exposing Trump’s taxes. Republicans spent the time calling Cohen dishonest. Neither side distinguished themselves but gratefully no one on the dais made any specific Godfather movie references. The new POC Democrats in the House called most everyone else racists and made little virtuous speechlets.

    Cohen, for his part, referred to himself more than once as the son of a Holocaust survivor and sought victimhood throughout the hearing because he will miss his family while in jail. Cohen hurt his own credibility on multiple occasions claiming not to understand simple questions just as time ran out, allowing him to dodge responding. Chairman Cummings abetted this via his on-and-off again aggressive enforcement of time limits. Cohen refused to say he’d dedicate the millions he will most certainly make off book deals and commentary roles to charity, further reducing his credibility. He dangled he had hundreds of tapes of something, but produced none. Heaven help us when #BelieveCohen starts trending.

    It was going to be Comey’s testimony that took Trump down, then Papadopoulos was going to flip, or maybe Manafort or Flynn. There were tapes of something, a Russian spy with red hair who would roll over. Books by Comey and Clapper blowing the roof off things, the walls closing in again and again and again. And soon it will be Mueller time! Or may Southern District of New York time, because the media seems to be prepping us Mueller may not have much to say.

    It is all exhausting. We’ll soon enough see if voters feel like a dog with a mean owner always holding out a Scooby treat he’ll never let go of. Sooner or later that dog might say, I’m either gonna bite that SOB, or just get bored and stop giving him the satisfaction of salivating around him.

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  • Poor Folks

    February 24, 2019 // 21 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy, Post-Constitution America


     
    A guy on Facebook I don’t know wrote a version of what has become a kind of set-piece article in today’s America. Here’s a portion:

    Losing The War of Attrition or How To Turn Any Normal Person Into A Broken, Angry Radical

    You are one of the millions who are employed at minimum wage. Or you are one of the millions who are euphemistically called underemployed, or you are one of the millions with no job and no prospects. You are retired- how did that happen?- or disabled- why did that happen?- and trying to survive on Social Security.

    You reach a point when you realize that getting ahead is no longer possible. After that you reach a point when you realize that holding on to what you have is no longer possible. Then you reach a point when you realize that replacing what has been lost or depleted is no longer possible.

     

    I wrote a book about this five years ago called The Ghosts of Tom Joad. No one read it. Publishers in the process of turning me down mocked me for writing about “poor people” and seemed surprised there were poor people in America who weren’t black and living in ghettos. Well, hell, then Trump happened. Because people watching a way of life — a middle class existence where the rich have more but we had some — fall away are easy targets for demagogues. Always have been. Because before we dismissed things as whataboutism we used to study them as lessons from history. Other people’s’ mistakes. History shows very clearly this economic game we’re playing ends with everyone but a small handful at the top losing badly.

    I concluded five years ago the game was already decided. Our society was already then like those photos of railroad tracks, where in the distance it seems like the two rails come together in a single point. That point is essentially feudalism, where a tiny minority owns almost everything and everyone else lives off whatever scraps they let us have. Like in the Middle Ages, where everyone farmed for the king as serfs. It’s worse than slavery, because slaves at least know they’re slaves and have the possibility, however small, of freedom. Maybe for their kids if not for themselves.
     
    We are not at the singularity, but we are inexorably headed toward it. Five additional years of data has only made that clearer; five years ago we spoke of the 1%. That number no longer matters. The new figure is .1%, an even smaller group who owns even more.

    And no, none of this is new Because Trump. Since 1980, the incomes of the very rich (the .1%) have grown faster than the economy, for about a 400% cumulative increase in wealth. The upper middle class (the 9.9%) has kept pace with the economy, while the other 90% of us, the middle class and the poor have fallen behind.

    By the way, it is these numbers which sent Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign to both use $250,000 as the upper limit of the middle class. They sounded misguided, but it was sort of true. They just were still lumping what we’re calling here the “Upper Middle Class” and the “Middle Class” together. Just words. At present in the U.S. we have three-and-a-half classes: The .1%%, the 9.9%, everyone else hanging on, plus some people way at the bottom with basically nothing.

    But bad news for the 9.9% Since the they the most (the most the .1% does not yet have) they have the most to lose. At their peak, in the mid-1980s, people in this group held 35% of the nation’s wealth. Three decades later that had fallen 12%, exactly as much as the wealth of the 0.1% rose. And do understand the people at the top are constructing walls and throwing nails off the back of the truck to make sure no one can catch up with them. The goal of .1% is to eliminate the competition, the 9.9% below them. They’ll only effectively have it all when the ratio is down to two classes, the .1% and the 99.9%

    We are kept in place via shiny objects (500 channels, more movies and Apple watches and drugs!) and curated divisions. The ever-increasingly sharp lines between say blacks and whites are a perfect tool. Keep the groups fighting left and right and they’ll never notice the real discrimination is up and down. Some groups just found down earlier and harder, but as long as a poor white man in south Kentucky thinks he has nothing in common with a poor black man in the South Bronx they will never work together, never even see the massive economic forces consuming both equally. Forces are even now hard at work to tell us the Republican party is for whites, POC head Democrat, and any third party is a Russian shill in place to hurt the candidate you favor.

    Whether your housing is subsidized via a mortgage and that tax deduction or Section 8, you’re still on the spectrum of depending on the people really in charge to allow you a place to live. I do not see a way out of this, only maybe steps that can slow it down or cause it to speed up.
     
    Very short version summary: People like you and I fell through the cracks; we weren’t supposed to end up here but the .1% hadn’t worked out the details so they got as much as they do now and we basically ended up with bigger crumbs than we should have, especially me lucking into a “career” with no real skills.

    Our own kids may do OK with what we leave for them, but only if your son is a medical doctor will he have a decent shot at our lifestyle and only because of the “cartelization” of the profession by the AMA. The rest of our kids are unlikely to have any shot at what we ended up with.

    Sorry, I’m not a more cheerful guy but these conclusions are based on a fair amount of honest study.

     
     

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  • The FBI’s Coup Attempt Failed

    February 20, 2019 // 15 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


     
    The sad state of things is former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is barking around late night comedy shows, in spots usually reserved for B-list actors to pimp their latest movies, pimping the idea the president is a live Russian intelligence asset.

    We also hear from McCabe the FBI sought to overturn the 2016 election after it failed to get its preferred candidate elected.

    If any of this surprises you — essentially an attempted coup by the FBI that failed when the Cabinet would not support it by a faux invocation of the 25th Amendment — you haven’t been reading my stuff. Here’s a piece from over a year ago explaining.

     
    BONUS:
    And for fun, here’s a year old summary of the Mueller Russiagate case that could run today with some minor updates. Little of substance has changed, and yes, we’re still waiting.

    If you’re interested in what’s next, it will be the Steele Dossier falling apart. Here’s why.

    The full force of the U.S. intelligence community has been looking for evidence of Russian government (not just “some Russians”) interference in the election for close to two and a half years (five Trump campaign officials were under investigation as of September 2016, including Flynn.) It is reasonable to conclude they do not have definitive intelligence, no tape of a Team Trump official cutting a deal with a Russian spy. The same goes for the Steele dossier and its salacious accusations. If a tape existed or if there was proof the dossier was true, we’d watching impeachment hearings.

    What’s left is the battle cry of Trump’s opponents since Election Day: “Just you wait.” They exhibit a scary, gleeful certainty that Trump worked with the Russians, because how else could he have won?

     
     

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  • But Why Do You Hate Me?

    February 19, 2019 // 4 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Democracy


     

    To all the people who said hateful things to me, accusing me of being a racist and supporting white supremacy simply because I raised early questions about the Jussie Smollett case, apologies are welcome below. If it makes you feel better, you can still say “well, we still don’t know everything.”

    Same for those who said similar terrible things to me when I questioned the Covington Narrative, and asked why #BelieveAllWomen seemed to apply to Kavanaugh’s accuser but much less so to the case in Virginia of the Lt. Governor.

    Russiagate/Collusion, of which I also remain very skeptical, is still dragging on, but a little introspection wouldn’t hurt over that either. And yes, I know, just wait. For those interested, I wrote two years ago about the Deep State coup people are now finally discussing openly in reference to McCabe’s remarks. It does occasionally amuse me that people ten years ago now said similar nasty things about my thoughts on Iraq being a failure.

    We must all retrain ourselves to being more skeptical and questioning of the media, pundits, and celebrities who force an agenda on us disguised as “journalism.” I actually once wrote a primer on how to evaluate “sources” that may be of value.

    And to the editor who accused me of “giving in to redneck conspiracy theories” over Smollett and disinviting my future submissions, be advised while you can’t see which single finger I am typing this with, you can take a good guess.

     
     

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  • After Jeff Bezos, Everyone in America is Now a Victim

    February 15, 2019 // 16 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas


     

    “I didn’t think we’d see this for a few more years, but this Bezos thing put us over the top,” said Department of Homeland Security Director of Victims Ronald Devine, accompanied by his support dog and her personal support kitten.

    “It’s 100% as of today. Every American is now classified — officially — as a victim.”
     

    Devine explained the final holdout were super-wealthy, white, straight, older men, led by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Bezos was once seen by most observers as victim-proof, given his fierce Caucasianess. Yet revelations this week he was not actually a philandering old dude caught sending pathetic nude pics to his younger trophy mistress while still married to the woman who worked beside him for decades while they built Amazon together, shocked a nation.

    “Bezos is a victim,” stated every blue-check, which includes all previously designated victim-Millennials. “His phone, we heard from Seth, was hacked by the Russians on orders from Trump because Bezos’ Washington Prime Post writes journalism about Trump, so Trump ordered the Russians to trick Bezos to take photos of mini-Jeff.”

    “And that did it,” said DHS Director of Victims Devine. “We had previously categorized only about 50% of the entire population as victims until we looped in all women except Melania, who social media feels sort of deserves it. Then it was the creation of ‘People of Color’ being victims, a super victim smoothie that ties together the whole Pantone scale from a Chinese billionaire to a Dominican guy delivering food.

    “Of course black folks were brought in after Black Panther told their origin story, same as Star Wars once did for white people. All immigrants and their grandchildren who write college entrance essays were entitled to victim status for years. Same for Native Americans, though the category now includes all older men who wear overly large turquoise jewelry and bolos.

    “We’d already counted all veterans and their grandchildren who write college entrance essays as victims. It once was just those Vietnam guys rocking handlebar mustaches down at the VFW who all needed to blame their drinking problem, their cheating problem, and their buying cars at 21% interest problem on something, but now anyone who did two years as a supply clerk at Fort Hood is in. You don’t need to even show any paperwork anymore; just get a Support the Troops sticker on your car, or, south of the Fairfax County line in Virginia, fly that POW flag in your front yard.

    “Most of the rest of Americans — I think it got us into the 90% percentile — made it to be victims when we started adding letters to being gay. In the old days we just had the guys from the drama club at Brett Kavanaugh’s old high school. The category jumped when LGBT became so many letters. LGBTQIA added queer, intersex, and asexual. We also have U for unsure, C for curious, another T for transvestite, TS or 2 for two-spirit persons, P for polyamorous, and O for other. The initialism LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual) covered most of California and parts of Austin.
     

    “Another step forward toward 100% victimization was a decision to merge ‘survivors’ and ‘community’ with ‘victims.’ There’s a ton of crossover you know. People who had a suspicious mole removed from their back now qualify as cancer survivors, and everyone that knows them forms a cancer survivor community supporting their struggle, see. And then once you could purchase that kind of thing by typing your credit card number into a GoFundMe, it was like the Big Bang of shared victimhood.

    “So really all that was left were super-wealthy, white, straight, older men. We at this office had been keeping an eye on them for some time, and thought they’d made the jump into victim status when Trump claimed avoiding sexually transmitted diseases was ‘his Vietnam.’ But for some reason that didn’t catch. Funny, given how nearly every super-wealthy, white, straight male of his generation would have been under that umbrella alongside those college deferments. Same as that Esquire article about American boys everyone flipped out on. Nonetheless, it is, once again I may add, Jeff Bezos who leads us into the future. Him being the victim, his very privacy lost, brings every single person in America into victim status. We did it, people. There still is that American Dream. This rejects the Trumpian view of the world.
     

    “So effective immediately, some changes. We’ve ordered millions of ‘Do Not Pet’ reflective vests for Americans to wear themselves to avoid unwanted touching at work. Otherwise, no more clothing with words on it. Every pet and most house plants are now officially designated as support animals. No more need to buy those fake ID cards for Rover off Amazon.

    “Things are gonna get crazy at the airport, because after the crew boards everyone with a branded credit card and local municipal employees in uniform, 100% of the remaining passengers are going to qualify for preboarding and extra time. We may need to create new, expansive forms of social media. I know one already being tested is called SJWMobster. I can imagine mandatory VLOGs. It’s difficult to see Joe Pesci’s career advancing, but there will be huge opportunities in sensitivity training. And we gotta add about 8000 words to the First Amendment to define hate speech so we can ban it. We can expect ‘raising awareness’ to become the number one major at America’s colleges, and setting up a GoFundMe our fastest growing job title.

    “What’s ahead? I think the new frontier in America is going to be celebrities, who have already been victims for a long time owing to the pressures they face earning millions of dollars and having to do drugs, using some of the new victim coaches out there to grow themselves into more varied categories of victimhood. There will be a lot of competition to book those who can tick the boxes in three or more categories.

    “We’ll be busy sorting out who we should be boycotting, given the competing victim statuses creating new categories of multiverse victims for nearly every piece of music, literature or film ever made. Here at the Department of Homeland Security we have already created a new sub-ministry of truth that is even now working through everything ever published to unoffend it double-quick. We may just close all the libraries and let Amazon decide what’s safe to read now that all victims finally have a voice.

    “With 100% of Americans enjoying victim totalitarianism, somebody is being hurt, retraumatized, triggered or disrespected right now as I speak, maybe just because I am speaking. How will we as a nation deal with that? I mean, it’s not like we can just laugh at all this, right?”
     
     

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  • Blackface: Confronting One’s Integrity in the Past

    February 6, 2019 // 19 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy


     
    We live in an age when one’s past is dragged up by those with ill intent to confront one’s integrity in the present.
     
    If you worked in Asia in the 1980s or earlier, you likely remember a popular toothpaste called, sadly, Darkie. It featured a caricature of a black-faced minstrel performer on the label, with shining white, white teeth.

    I have an old Polaroid photo of a very young American diplomat from that era, now a senior official, dressed as that logo, complete with blackface and a top hat, from a long-ago Halloween party. Others present were dressed as local characters, logos, kind of a theme. One person was done up as the Frito Bandito, a caricatured portrayal of Mexicans. The black-faced diplomat was not a racist then and is not now, actually has done some important things for the State Department at some personal risk in terms of getting it to treat its people better. Most today would describe him as “woke.”

    Yet I am sure the NYT, or if not them, TMZ, would rush to publish the photo and the diplomat would be pressed to resign. His career would be impacted, his decent work stopped, and none of that would have a whit of any effect on racism in America. Unspoken is the idea that the same guy who wore blackface then is the same guy who is doing good things today. You just know something more about one evening long ago that now seems to matter so much when it doesn’t matter at all.

    I have no intention of revealing the photo from three decades ago. But we live in miserable times for this kind of thing when judging someone based on 30 years of their life seems to make less sense than picking something from 30 years ago and ignoring everything else since.
     
    Our society’s current solution is to selectively allow offenders to apologize, often accompanied by a sizable donation to some appropriate charity. Kevin Hart was offered the chance with hosting the Oscars as his prize, Louis C.K., not so much. Al Franken’s time came too soon; today he’d likely be let off by the mob with a heartfelt mea culpa; one can see the tears behind those smug glasses.

    But overall the idea of apologizing as a work-around is a bit of a strawman, a cheap trick to somehow drag the discrete events of the past into the present day — well, he did XYZ in 1984, but he continued not to apologize for the last 35 years! And it offers the mob another chance to judge; see, it’s about something happening today (the apology) and not an event from when TV was in black and white! Yet in one case it was presented as enough to derail a Supreme Court nomination and in another it is dismissed as a political smear.

    Anybody can say they’re sorry, especially under the gun of the social media-regular media mob that passes judgement on these things. What might make more sense is to look for are amends, what someone has done with their life since some bad thing. Are you a better person? Are you still espousing racism? What have you done with the years? Oh, but that’s complicated. Easier to snarl at a old photo and tweet.
     
    Inside the world of security clearances, where practicality often still overrules mob shoutdowns, standards have evolved. When I joined the State Department during the Reagan era, you could not get a clearance if you admitted to smoking a joint, and you certainly could not be cleared if you admitted to being gay. Same for holding significant debt, which supposedly made you vulnerable to Russian spy payoffs. Heavy drinking? Well, that was almost part of the job description and was generally overlooked. It got to the ridiculous point where only good liars, people from strict religious backgrounds, and folks who could hold their liquor could pass.

    If today was debt was a show stopper the vast majority of young applicants, with their massive student loans, would be denied clearances. Limited illegal drug use in the past is not a problem in most cases, and we all know of the 180 degree change on LGBT status. There are still showstoppers in the clearance process (having relatives in “bad” countries is a huge issue as more and more first generation Americans, some with critical language skills, seek clearances,) but the emphasis is now on holism, a long view of a person’s life that looks for trends and patterns instead of hyper-focusing on singularities.

    Few claim Northam in blackface is a good thing. The real question is at what point do we judge, a single point in the past or the sum of a man’s life. I don’t know much about his work in the last 35 years, but that seems a more reliable indicator of how he’ll serve as governor (the actual issue) than a photo from whenever. Northam resigning does not erase racism of the past, and it does nothing practical about racism today. He just joins the crowd of those sacrificed at the altar of identity politics, a feel-good to the many who only seem to have realized these issues exist since Trump was elected.
     
    See, it is not like this issue of how the past affects the present is new; we’ve just resolved it more practicaly in other iterations. How many states are seeking to allow felons to vote again? Parole, expungement, time served — people who have committed actual crimes, even murder, get to a point where they can move on.

    Our tolerance for illegal drugs has followed a similar path. Decades ago, Bill Clinton was confronted with accusations he smoked marijuana. To save himself, he came up with the line that while he may have once held a joint to his lips, he never actually inhaled (Clinton would employ similar word play later in his career over whether a blow job constitued sex.) Fast-forward to candidate Barack Obama, who early on casually admitted to smoking weed, and even experimenting with other drugs. The public response? Meh. People grow, people change, that was then.

    The alternative is to allow the mob greater control. With Facebook turning 15 years old today, politicians on the rise will find more and more of their pre-celebrity lives documented. Will we band together online to hunt down every person who ever did anything wrong and drive them out of home and job in some Great Cleansing? What happens when definitions of “wrong” morph? Is such a mob vetting likely to bring better people into government, or send them running?

    Unspoken is the idea the same guy who wore blackface then is the same guy who was elected by the people of Virginia now and, until about a week ago, apparently well-thought of by them. We all just know something more about his past that powerful forces are seeking to drag forward into the present and claim represents a different man. We live in the age when one’s past is dragged up to confront one’s integrity in the present.
     
    We don’t want to talk about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are elements that awkwardly pair with the Northarm story. What really happened decades ago? Are we learning about those events now accurately and unemotionally, or are they being spoon-fed through a ready tablodized media for partisan political ends?

    How were the Kavanaugh accusations, uncorroborated and in some instances refuted by other witnesses, more in line with #BelieveWomen than those now directed by a woman at the Virginia Lieutenant Governor but labeled as a political smear by his supporters? Yet in one case it was presented as enough to derail a Supreme Court nomination and in another it is dismissed as a political smear, spiked by a partisan Washington Post who basically said to the victim “Honey, time to take one for the team, we’re not running this an causing a Democrat to lose this election. Now, did Judge Kavanaugh ever lay a hand on you?”

    And not a single 2020 Democrat has commented on Fairfax, though pretty much all have condemned Northam. Meanwhile, in the hearings to replace Kavanaugh in his old job, Democrats hyperfocus not on the nominee’s years on the bench, but on her now-politically incorrect articles written by the nominee in the 1990s, containing what they label as anti-feminist advice such as “a man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” We’ll leave judging the actual usefulness of such advice to those with daughters reading this.

    Now imagine the potential for what we awkwardly call blackmail should an unscrupulous lobbyist confront a politician with some old photos, asking for a political favor. Need we demand candidates hand over their yearbooks along with their old tax forms as a bulwark against social media mob justice?
     
    This is about the future, not Ralph Northam. How did the very serious business of #MeToo end up a political tool? How did we get to a place where old yearbook photos may overturn an election? Why are we accepting this as the way we’re conducting our democracy?

      

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  • Seriously WaPo?

    February 4, 2019 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    Seriously WaPo, you spent millions on a Super Bowl ad using Tom Hanks to tell us, “Um, guys, really, journalism is good.”
     
    And your best strategy for that is paint yourselves as victims, brave patriots who put their lives in danger to report the news?
     

     
    Oh! My dudes, seriously, a tiny, tiny number of journalists are ever hurt or killed due to their jobs, though a huge number daily seek “Victim Status” on social media bragging about their death threats. The fact they think their job is some heroic or dangerous profession shows how deluded the media has become and I guess, full circle, why WaPo needs to spend millions to convince the public to take what passes as journalism there seriously.

    I much preferred the Super Bowl commercial that seemed to suggest someday little girls will play pro football, or the tribute showing Dr. King’s relatives endorsed the coin toss.

    And by the way, WaPo, that “democracy dies in the dark” catch-phrase is way, way over dramatic, especially coming from a paper that bases most of its political coverage on anonymous sources and documents leaked to harm someone’s political enemies using you as the tool.

      

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  • John Kerry Is a Man of His Times (and That’s Not a Good Thing)

    January 31, 2019 // 18 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria


     

    Oh how easy it is to forget! John Kerry, fundraising for the 2020 Dems, write “Trump’s complete disregard for diplomacy has embarrassed our nation on the world stage” and “weakened the very foundation of our democracy.”

    Poor John Kerry doesn’t remember much about his own record. So, John, here’s something I wrote in 2013 to refresh your memory of what a hash you made of the world, including singing “Happy Birthday” to Vlad Putin during a USG shutdown.

    This one’s, again, for you, Johnny boyo!

     

    In the 1960s, John Kerry was distinctly a man of his times. Kennedy-esque, he went from Yale to Vietnam to fight in a lost war. When popular sentiments on that war shifted, he became one of the more poignant voices raised in protest by antiwar veterans. Now, skip past his time as a congressman, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, senator, and presidential candidate (Swift Boated out of the race by the Republican right). Four decades after his Vietnam experience, he has achieved what will undoubtedly be the highest post of his lifetime: secretary of state. And he’s looked like a bumbler first class.  Has he also been — once again — a true man of his time, of a moment in which American foreign policy, as well as its claim to global moral and diplomatic leadership, is in remarkable disarray?

    In his nine months in office, Kerry’s State Department has one striking accomplishment to its name. It has achieved a new level of media savvy in promoting itself and plugging its highest official as a rock star, a world leader in his own right (complete with photo-ops and sophisticated image-making). In the meantime, the secretary of state has been stumbling and bloviating from one crisis to the next, one debacle to another, surrounded by the well-crafted imagery of diplomatic effectiveness. He and his errant statements have become global punch lines, but is he truly to blame for his performance?

    If statistics were diplomacy, Kerry would already be a raging success. At the State Department, his global travels are now proudly tracked by the mile, by minutes flown, and by countries visited. State even has a near-real-time ticker page set up at its website with his ever-changing data. In only nine months in office, Kerry has racked up 222,512 miles and a staggering 482.39 hours in the air (or nearly three weeks total). The numbers will be going up as Kerry is currently taking a 10-day trip to deal with another NSA crisis, in Poland this time, as well as the usual hijinks in the Middle East.  His predecessor, Hillary Clinton, set a number of diplomatic travel records. In fact, she spent literally a full year, one quarter of her four years in office, hopscotching the globe. By comparison, Cold War Secretary of State George Schultz managed less than a year of travel time in his six years in office.

    Kerry’s quick start in racking up travel miles is the most impressive aspect of his tenure so far, given that it’s been accompanied by record foreign policy stumbles and bumbles. With the thought that frenetic activity is being passed off as diplomacy and accomplishment, let’s do a little continent hopping ourselves, surveying the diplomatic and foreign policy terrain the secretary’s visited. So, fasten your seatbelt, we’re on our way!

    We’ll Be Landing in Just a Few Minutes… in Asia

    Despite Asia’s economic importance, its myriad potential flashpoints, and the crucial question of how the Sino-American relationship will evolve, Kerry has managed to visit the region just once on a largely ceremonial basis.

    Diplomatically speaking, the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed “pivot to Asia” seems to have run out of gas almost before it began and with little to show except some odd photos of the secretary of state looking like Fred Munster in Balinese dress at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference. With President Obama then trapped in Washington by the shutdown/debt-ceiling crisis, Kerry seemed like a bystander at APEC, with China the dominant presence. He was even forced to suffer through a Happy Birthday sing-along for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the meantime, the economy of Washington’s major ally, Japan, remains sleepy, even as opposition to the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact grows and North Korea continues to expand its nuclear program seemingly unaffected by threats from Washington.

    All in all, it’s not exactly an impressive picture, but rest assured that it’ll look as fetching as a bright spring day, once we hit our next stop. In fact, ladies and gentlemen, the pilot now asks that you all return to your seats, because we will soon be landing…

    … in the Middle East

    If any area of the world lacks a single bright spot for the U.S., it’s the Middle East. The problems, of course, extend back many years and many administrations. Kerry is a relative newcomer. Still, he’s made seven of his 15 overseas trips there, with zero signs of progress on the American agenda in the region, and much that has only worsened.

    The sole pluses came from diplomatic activity initiated by powers not exactly considered Washington’s closest buddies: Russian President Putin’s moves in relation to Syria (on which more later) and new Iranian President Rouhani’s “charm offensive” in New York, which seems to have altered for the better the relationship between the two countries. In fact, both Putin’s and Rouhani’s moves are classic, well-played diplomacy, and only serve to highlight the amateurish quality of Kerry’s performance. On the other hand, the Obama administration’s major Middle East commitment — to peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians — seems destined for a graveyard already piled high with past versions of the same.

    Meanwhile, whatever spark remained of the Arab Spring in Egypt was snuffed out by a military coup, while the U.S. lamely took forever just to begin to cut off some symbolic military aid to the new government. American credibility in the region suffered further damage after State, in a seeming panic, closed embassies across the Middle East in response to a reputed major terror threat that failed to materialize anywhere but inside Washington’s Beltway.

    Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia was once nicknamed “Bandar Bush” for his strong support of the U.S. during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign and the Bush dynasty.  He recently told European diplomats, however, that the Kingdom will launch a “major shift” in relations with the United States to protest Washington’s perceived inaction over the Syria war and its overtures to Iran. The Saudis were once considered, next to Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region. Kerry’s response? Fly to Paris for some “urgent talks.”

    Meanwhile, the secretary of state has made no effort to draw down his fortress embassy in Baghdad, despite its “world’s largest” personnel count in a country where an American invasion and nine-year occupation resulted in a pro-Iranian government. Memories in the region aren’t as short as at the State Department, however, and Iraqis are unlikely to forget that sanctions, the U.S. invasion, and its aftermath resulted in the deaths of an estimated 4% of their country’s population. Kerry would be quick to condemn such a figure as genocidal had the Iranians or North Koreans been involved, but he remains silent now.

    State doesn’t include Turkey in Kerry’s impressive Middle Eastern trip count, though he’s traveled there three times, with (again) little to show for his efforts. That NATO ally, which refused to help the Bush administration with its invasion of Iraq, continues to fight a border war with Iraqi Kurds. (Both sides do utilize mainly American-made weapons.) The Turks are active in Syria as well, supporting the rebels, fearing the Islamic extremists, lobbing mortar shells across the border, and suffering under the weight of that devastated country’s refugees. Meanwhile — a small regional disaster from a U.S. perspective — Turkish-Israeli relations, once close, continue to slide. Recently, the Turks even outed a Mossad spy ring to the Iranians, and no one, Israelis, Turks, or otherwise, seems to be listening to Washington.

    Now, please return your tray tables to their upright and locked position, as we make our final approach to…

    … Everywhere Else

    Following more than 12 years of war with thousands of lives lost, Kerry was recently reduced to begging Afghanistan’s corrupt president, Hamid Karzai, to allow a mini-occupation’s worth of American troops to remain in-country past a scheduled 2014 tail-tucked departure by U.S. combat troops. (Kerry’s trip to Afghanistan had to be of the unannounced variety, given the security situation there.) Pakistan, sporting only a single Kerry visit, flaunts its ties to the Taliban while collecting U.S. aid. As they say, if you don’t know who the patsy is at a poker game, it’s you.

    Relations with the next generation of developing nations, especially Brazil and India, are either stagnant or increasingly hostile, thanks in part to revelations of massive NSA spying. Brazil is even hosting an international summit to brainstorm ways to combat that agency’s Internet surveillance. Even stalwart Mexico is now lashing out at Washington over NSA surveillance.

    After a flurry of empty threats, a spiteful passport revocation by Kerry’s State Department, a bungled extradition attempt in Hong Kong, and a diplomatic fiasco in which Washington forced the Bolivian president’s airplane to land in Austria for a search, Public Enemy Number One Edward Snowden is settling into life in Moscow. He’s even receiving fellow American whistleblowers as guests. Public Enemy Number Two, Julian Assange, continues to run WikiLeaks out of the Ecuadoran embassy in London. One could argue that either of the two men have had more direct influence on America’s status abroad than Kerry.

    Now, please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts, and consider ordering a stiff drink. We’ve got some bumpy air up ahead as we’re…

    … Entering Syrian Airspace

    The final leg of this flight is Syria, which might be thought of as Kerry’s single, inadvertent diplomatic accomplishment (even if he never actually traveled there.)

    Not long before the U.S. government half-shuttered itself for lack of funds, John Kerry was point man for the administration’s all-out efforts to attack Syria. It was, he insisted, “not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter.” That statement came as he was announcing the recruitment of France to join an impending U.S. assault on military facilities in and around the Syrian capital, Damascus. Kerry also vociferously beat the drums for war at a hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    His war diplomacy, however, quickly hit some major turbulence, as the British parliament, not eager to repeat its Iraq and Afghan misadventures, voted the once inconceivable — a straightforward, resounding no to joining yet another misguided American battle plan. France was soon backing out as well, even as Kerry clumsily tried to soften resistance to the administration’s urge to launch strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime with the bizarre claim that such an attack would be “unbelievably small.” (Kerry’s boss, President Obama, forcefully contradicted him the next day, insisting, “The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”)

    Kerry had his moment of triumph, however, on a quick stop in London, where he famously and offhandedly said at a news conference that war could be avoided if the Syrians turned in their chemical weapons. Kerry’s own State Department issued an instant rejoinder, claiming the statement had been “rhetorical.” In practically the same heartbeat, the Russians stepped into the diplomatic breach. Unable to walk his statement back, Kerry was humiliatingly forced to explain that his once-rhetorical remark was not rhetorical after all. Vladimir Putin then arose as an unlikely peacemaker and yes, Kerry took another trip, this time to “negotiate” the details with the Russians, which seems largely to have consisted of jotting down Russian terms of surrender to cable back to Washington.

    His “triumph” in hand, Kerry still wasn’t done. On September 19th, on a rare stopover in Washington, he claimed a U.N. report on Syria’s chemical weapons stated that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack that had set the whole process in motion. (The report actually said that there was not enough evidence to assign guilt to any party.) Then, on October 7th, he effusively praised the Syrian president (from Bali) for his cooperation, only on October 14th to demand (from London) that a “transition government, a new governing entity” be put in place in Syria “in order to permit the possibility of peace.”

    But, But…

    As for Kerry’s nine-month performance review, here goes: he often seems unsure and distracted, projecting a sense that he might prefer to be anywhere else than wherever he is. In addition, he’s displayed a policy-crippling lack of information, remarkably little poise, and strikingly bad word choice, while regularly voicing surprising new positions on old issues. The logical conclusion might be to call for his instant resignation before more damage is done. (God help us, some Democratic voters may actually find themselves secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush won his dismal second term in office.)

    In his nine months as secretary of state, Kerry, the man, has shown a genuine capacity for mediocrity and an almost tragicomic haplessness. But blaming him would be like shouting at the waiter because your steak is undercooked.

    Whatever his failings, John Kerry is only a symptom of Washington’s lack of a coherent foreign policy or sense of mission. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been adrift, as big and dangerous as an iceberg but something closer to the Titanic. President Bush, the father, and President Clinton, the husband, had at least some sense of when not to overdo it. They kept their foreign interventions to relatively neat packages, perhaps recognizing that they had ever less idea what the script was anymore.

    Waking up on that clear morning of September 12, 2001, the administration of Bush, the son, substituted a crude lashing out and an urge for total domination of the Greater Middle East, and ultimately the planet, for foreign policy. Without hesitation, it claimed the world as its battlefield and then deployed the Army, the Marines, the Navy, the Air Force, growing Special Operations forces, paramilitarized intelligence outfits, and drone technology to make it so. They proved to be good killers, but someone seemed to forget that war is politics by other means. Without a thought-out political strategy behind it, war is simply violent chaos unleashed.

    Diplomacy had little role in such a black-and-white world. No time was to be wasted talking to other countries: you were either with us or against us. Even our few remaining friends and allies had a hard time keeping up, as Washington promoted torture, sent the CIA out to kidnap people off the streets of global cities, and set up its own gulag with Guantanamo as its crown jewel. And of course, none of it worked.

    Then, the hope and change Americans thought they’d voted into power in 2008 only made the situation worse. The Obama administration substituted directionless-ness for idiotic decisiveness, and visionless-ness for the global planning of mad visionaries, albeit with much the same result: spasmodic violence. The United States, after all, remains the biggest kid on the block, and still gets a modicum of respect from the tiny tots and the teens who remember better days, as well as a shrinking crew of aid-bought pals.

    The days of the United States being able to treat the world as its chessboard are over. It’s now closer to a Rubik’s Cube that Washington can’t figure out how to manipulate. Across the globe, people noted how the World’s Mightiest Army was fought to a draw (or worse) in Iraq and Afghanistan by insurgents with only small arms, roadside bombs, and suicide bombers.

    Increasingly, the world is acknowledging America’s Kerry-style clunkiness and just bypassing the U.S. Britain said no to war in Syria. Russia took over big-box diplomacy. China assumed the pivot role in Asia in every way except militarily. (They’re working on it.) The Brazilian president simply snubbed Obama, canceling a state visit over Snowden’s NSA revelations. Tiny Ecuador continues to raise a middle finger to Washington over the Assange case. These days, one can almost imagine John Kerry as the wallflower of some near-future international conference, hoping someone – anyone — will invite him to dance.

    The American Century might be said to have lasted from August 1945 until September 2001, a relatively short span of 56 years. (R.I.P.) John Kerry’s frantic bumbling did not create the present situation; it merely added mirth to the funeral preparations.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Venezuela: What Happens in an Evacuation?

    January 30, 2019 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Trump


     

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered American diplomats to leave his country. The United States refused. What happens next?
     

    Last week in Venezuela opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido declared the current Maduro government illegitimate. President Trump agreed, announcing the U.S. considers Guaido “interim president.” Maduro responded by cutting off diplomatic ties and ordering American diplomats out under a deadline now extended for 30 days. Washington said Maduro’s orders are invalid as he no longer has “legal authority to break diplomatic relations or declare our diplomats persona non grata,” and thus will not withdraw embassy staff. Standoff.

    Trapped in the middle of this high-level muscle-tussle are America’s diplomats on the ground in Caracas. Maduro threatened to cut off the electricity and water to the embassy, and more than one person inside State remembers it was 38 years ago last week American diplomatic hostages were finally released by Iran, after government-sponsored “students” took over the American Embassy in Tehran. Will Maduro, who still enjoys the loyalty of the Venezuelan military, harm U.S. diplomats, leading to some sort of military intervention by the U.S.?

    Unlikely. Shooting one’s way out of Dodge is used only as the last resort when no one is in charge, and thus there’s no one to negotiate with. Whether it’s Maduro, or Guaido, or some as-yet nameless colonel in the Venezuelan army, that is not the situation in Caracas. It is always safer to talk your way out. That said, such rescue scenarios are part of Marine units’ special operations qualification tests, and are regularly practiced. I participated in three such field exercises and many tabletop versions during my 24 years as an American diplomat.

    With the glaring exception of Tehran, diplomatic hostage situations, and evacuations under force are uncommon. Instead, traditions dating back to the Greeks are generally followed. The host country, Venezuela in this case, is always responsible for the safety of diplomats inside its borders. Embassies are special places that while not “sovereign soil,” are inviolable, off-limits to host country law enforcement and military. As such, diplomats’ physical presence is often used to send a message. Things will get tense — the symbolism almost requires them to get tense — but in the end both sides know the boundaries.

    The norms were respected throughout the Cold War and beyond. The former U.S. Embassy building in Afghanistan was left largely untouched even as the Taliban swept to victory. Saddam did not take any U.S. diplomats hostage despite two wars, and the old American Embassy in Baghdad was never attacked. The list of all 250 diplomats killed since 1780 has only a handful who lost their lives under direct attack; the majority of deaths were due to disease.
     
    The idea behind this record of general safety is treatment of diplomats affects a country globally, and is reciprocal. A government or militia leader knows his relationship with the United States and all that entails can be affected for decades (see: Iran) if protections are violated. You mess with our people one place, it comes back to bite you in another — playground rules, push and you get pushed back.

    It’s easy enough to confidently write that now, but it is also easy enough to remember a mob outside the embassy shouting, then hearing glass break, while I hid under my desk wondering if I’d get home that day. The rules are clear, but in the breach will the local cops risk harming their own countrymen to protect you? Did the local cops even show up? Is the strongman, seeking to rally his support, really ready to trade on violating diplomatic tradition?

    So while it would be significant step for Maduro to attack the embassy, every embassy plans for just that to happen. Every outpost, including Caracas, has an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). The EAP explains how the embassy will be defended by its local security forces and/or Marine guards, where people will take safe haven, the locations of friendly embassies, and more. In updating the EAP, staff pace off local green spaces to see if they are wide enough for helicopters to land, and find out how much blood local hospitals keep in reserve.

    The embassy and Washington will then establish highly classified tripwires for the EAP, agreed upon events to trigger some action. If Maduro does this, we will do that type of things, leading toward an evacuation of all personnel in the extreme.

    A critical tripwire to watch in Venezuela is the availability of outbound commercial transportation, the most common assurance of escape. If local infrastructure is compromised (flights canceled, blockades on airport access), the State Department often moves to arrange an evacuation via chartered transportation.

    Military options, including non-violent ones like large transport planes, are a last resort. As the State Department advises “Rescue by helicopters [and] armed escorts reflect a Hollywood script more than reality.” I once watched a Secretary of State twist the arm of an airline CEO to get commercial flights to fly uninsured into a beleaguered foreign airport, to avoid using U.S. military planes which would have roiled the local conflict during an evacuation. In the Mid East, the U.S. at some cost negotiated a temporary stop to an artillery attack by a foreign entity to allow commercial barges to enter a harbor in lieu of the U.S. Navy.
     
    The airport outside Caracas is still open. So what’s happening in Venezuela?

    Most likely following an EAP tripwire, the State Department evacuated dependents and non-essential personnel with a requested local police escort. The evacuation flight was conducted using commercial transportation as an ordered departure. The U.S. is not releasing numbers, but the Washington Post stated there were originally 124 Americans, including 46 family members, at the embassy. A ballpark figure of diplomats still present in Caracas today would be in the dozens.

    Even in the most routine evacuations, things go wrong. There are never enough diapers for the inevitable delays. Women go into labor. Pets may have to be left behind. Most evacuations limit how much luggage you can leave with, and a senior person shows up way over the weight set. Serious stuff, too, like a scared soldier at a roadblock who didn’t get the message to allow the Americans to pass. A once-junior diplomat now an ambassador is a minor legend for smoking a pack of cigarettes (he never smoked before) with a group of trigger-happy militia at a checkpoint to calm them enough to allow a convoy of evacuating dependents through.

    With only a core staff left, the next big job at the embassy is reducing the amount of classified material just in case the building is attacked. Every embassy is required to know how much classified material is on hand, and how long it would take to destroy it. Say there are three feet of paper in a file drawer, how many hours of shredding would it take for 500 drawers? The whole idea is to destroy the most sensitive materials well-ahead of the threat without tying up the whole staff to do it.

    Under the “no double standard” rule, the embassy also notified private American citizens of the dependents’ evacuation. As long as commercial transport is available, citizens are expected to make their own way out of the country, though unlike staff they can’t be ordered to do so. Local-employed staff, Venezuelans, are rarely evacuated. The embassy’s cooks, drivers, and translators are usually left to make their own way in what can be a very dangerous environment for someone seen as an American collaborator. Should it come to it, physical control of the embassy compound is handed over to a locally-contracted security force if possible. Some American is then literally is the last one out, locking the front door behind her.

    We’re not anywhere close to that in Caracas.
     
    One path out of crisis would be to use the extended 30 day window Maduro declared for Americans to depart Venezuela to negotiate a downgraded level of relations. The U.S. and Venezuela could continue diplomacy through “interest sections,” de facto embassies for nations with no formal ties. The “diplomats” would be gone, at least in name, while talks continue. This is the most likely outcome unless one side demands a fight.

    Meanwhile, events continue to happen both on the ground and in Washington. Secretary Pompeo announced $20 million in “humanitarian aid” to somebody in Venezuela, and don’t be surprised if that is eventually funneled through the military. For the short term, the embassy is stocked with food, water, and fuel for the generator, mitigating threats to cut off services. Washington on Saturday fanned the flames, urging the world to “pick a side” in Venezuela.

    Will Maduro push back? If protesters show up at the embassy, do they appear to be under someone’s control? Are they at the front gate, where the news cameras are, or are they seeking to encircle the building? Are diplomats being hassled on the street by law enforcement, or ignored when they are “off stage?” These things are being watched as staff hunker down. It is a nervous time inside the American Embassy in Caracas.

    In such situations it is hard to say goodbye to evacuated colleagues and dependents, and hard to stay focused on work when your safety is in question. The big decisions may be happening outside of your control. Is your physical presence sending a resolute signal of support as diplomats’ presence often does, or are you bait deliberately placed in harm’s way by the Trump administration hoping for an incident? Like the song, in the end the waiting is the hardest part.
     
    BONUS: For those who believe Trump is beholden to Putin and skews American foreign policy to his benefit, maybe you can explain below why Trump is trying to oust Putin ally Maduro in Venezuela in the first place. Does access to oil beat out the risk of the Russkies uploading the pee tape to Instagram?

    The Russians are warning the U.S. not to interfere with their friends, the current Venezuela government. Russian security contractors are helping guard Maduro. China stated it too opposes foreign interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs. Imagine the reaction if following the 2016 election powerful nations declared they would not recognize Donald Trump as president and demanded Mike Pence take the oath instead.
     
    BONUS BONUS: Under near-ancient rules governing the exchange of diplomats, the host country approves foreign diplomats for service in their nation; Venezuela, Russia, Canada, Great Britain and all the rest say yes or no when the U.S. wants to ship in a new foreign service officer. The concept works in the inverse as well; the host country can order diplomats out. Formally that’s called declaring them unwanted, no reason needed, persona non grata (PNG.) It happens regularly, often tit-for-tat among enemies. It was back in May that Maduro did PNG the acting American Ambassador Todd Robinson and his deputy Brian Naranjo, claiming they were part of some “conspiracy.” The U.S. has no ambassador in Venezuela, with just another acting person in charge.

    With friendly nations, the formal process exists only in the extreme. More likely the host country Foreign Minister will phone up the American Ambassador first with an informal “suggestion” someone be packed out, or a visa will be denied for some technicality to preserve face for bigger issues. So the trick of the light being used here by the U.S. is fully acknowledging Venezuela’s right to throw our people out, while saying the current president Maduro no longer makes those decisions. Delicate protocol is preserved even while a harsh message is sent. Diplomacy is tricky when played well.
      

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • What if Political Journalism Really Can’t Snap Back from Tabloidization?

    January 25, 2019 // 11 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump


     

    After a week in which Buzzfeed published the false claim Donald Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, quickly followed by a tsunami of inaccurate reporting over a bunch of Covington high school kids and their MAGA hats, it’s time to ask: What happens if political journalism can’t snap back from its current state of tabloidization?

    Journalism is the only profession mentioned in the Bill of Rights. The Founders assigned it a specific role in helping citizens carry out informed debate. And yet in the last two years, serious political journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush toward tabloidization, the goal of which is to do away with Donald Trump, not via informed debate but by any means necessary.

    The justification is America is on the precipice of 1933 so running Trump out of office is a moral duty. Trump is a Nazi, red MAGA caps the new Klan hood. Under such dire circumstances, media can no longer risk both sides being heard (now known as “giving them a platform”) or chance unbiased reporting might inadvertently make Trump look good. Some journalists believe they were partially responsible for Hillary’s defeat, and live in fear some scrap of truth might accidentally abet Charlottesville’s everywhere controlled by Putin. The new standard is tabloid-level journalism, so every story can be a Fruity Pebbles sugar high serving the cause. Objectivity is #Collusion.

    Classic tabloids like the National Enquirer run Elvis-is-alive articles, announce miracle cancer cures, and traffic in outrageous celebrity gossip. Sources are anonymous, conclusions spoon-fed, headlines bombastically out of line with the text. It’s OK in its place because absent a few blue haired old ladies in what used to be called the beauty parlor, no one really believes the stories. We’re spectators at a magic show where we know no one is actually sawed in half but it is fun to be fooled anyway. The concern is with the tabloidization of real news.

    The most recent example is Buzzfeed’s claim documentary proof exists Trump ordered his attorney (whom the media by common agreement libelously calls a “fixer”) to lie to Congress about the Moscow Project. Tabloids use assumed narratives and prejudices – a cure must be out there to save Mom if only Big Pharma would get out of the way – and in this case the narrative chain is Trump wanted to build a hotel in Moscow so the Russkies helped him win the presidency so he’s now their asset and so it all has to be lied about and so Trump has to be in on it.

    Lack of actual evidence has held back Russiagate in all its metastasizing forms for over two years. Enter Buzzfeed, who sets the hook with something new: its mystery sources saw the evidence Trump told Cohen to lie. One of the Buzzfeed authors, albeit one with a history of plagiarism and misreporting going back years, kinda sorta maybe said he personally saw it too.

    Same as with the miracle cure, to any objective person Buzzfeed’s story was too good to be true: a literal paper receipt for perjury! Trump can’t lie his way out of that! He’ll be out of office as fast as the paperwork can be processed! Impeach the MF!

    Legacy prestigious media outlets such as WaPo and the New York Times picked up the story, having learned how to hide behind the thong of appending “As reported by Buzzfeed…” after which for all they care they can headline The Earth is Flat! at no reputational risk to themselves. In 2019 they are no longer responsible for what they (re)print.

    Congressman Jim Clyburn spoke for the media and his fellow pols when he said “I don’t think that my Democratic friends are in any way rushing to judgment because they qualified right up front, ‘If this is true.’ When you preface your statement with ‘If this is true,’ that, to me, gives you all the cover you need.” One imagines with horror those words chiseled on a journalism building Clyburn funds at his alma mater.

    The only sort of problem is Buzzfeed’s story wasn’t true. It was shut down by a statement from the Special Counsel’s office in less than 24 hours, the first such rebuke ever issued, though to be fair, James Comey also stated some New York Times reporting on Russiagate was wrong. The media in both instances characterized being told it was wrong by the definitive source it otherwise deified as just a “dispute,” “push back,” a “controversy.”

    Buzzfeed’s specific reaction included a clumsy jujitsu of challenging Mueller to tell them exactly what he thought was inaccurate. They perhaps understood in the tabloid world truth has a viral-length expiration date, that truth is only what people are willing to believe anyway, including that magicians really can saw women in half on stage. Falsehoods are the work of bad sources, even though we’ll try again next week with basically the same story from new sources. All that matters is an infusion saying Trump is evil and that end justifies the journalistic means.

    Advocacy journalism, tabloid style, is not about pointing out real wrongs with an occasional correction issued. It is about teeing up tales to support a political goal. Let Buzzfeed open the door for WaPo to legitimize the story. Members of Congress then bypass the fuzzy source to cite the name-brand one (“according to sources” becomes “according to the Washington Post”) until Democrats want hearings into the Buzzfeed story Mueller’s office already made clear isn’t true.

    In the same week as Buzzfeed, a selective short clip of an encounter between some white Covington, Kentucky high school students wearing MAGA hats, a Native American (whom the media falsely lionized for days as a Vietnam vet), and some black protesters was fanned into a racial showdown, when all it took was for someone to watch the whole recording of the interaction to realize that was not true.

    Or the mass-proclamation conservatives were furious over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s silly dance video when no one was. Or this long list of Russiagate game-changers that weren’t. Or two-years’ worth of false breaking news somebody in the Trump administration was about to flip, quit, be indicted, get fired or fire Mueller.

    Tabloid journalism for a political ends has assumed priority over reporting facts. People are being conditioned to overreact. Name calling is commentary. Prejudice and stereotyping are offensive when aimed left, allowed when projectiled by Pulitzer-winning columnists at Trump voters. Headlines can be less true than the text. Belief trumps truth. The ends justify the means when attacking a political opponent. Too much free speech plays into the hands of the authoritarians. The term “both sides journalism” is a now a negative one. Journalists have convinced themselves serving up the correct sort of political bias is equivalent to serving the nation.

    It’s sad some measure of the truth has to come from Whoopi Goldberg on The View, who wondered why the media rushed to judge the Covington teens. “Because we’re desperate to get Trump out,” co-host Joy Behar asserted.

    Political journalism adopting the standards and methods of the tabloids is a true threat to democracy. As one writer put it “let’s not underestimate the damage being done… people of all political stripes will acknowledge the important role that free and unfettered discourse plays in the democratic process. By extension, when that discourse is poisoned, so too is the process.”

    The Buzzfeed story, followed so quickly by the Covington high school story, should be a significant moment of reflection, when the media remember they play a critical role in our system. Yet there are few calls against the misuse of sources, the rushes to judgment, the purposeful dropping of objectivity, the loss of seeking out other perspectives, the problem of reporting wrongly too often, the slurring of editorial into reporting.

    Still no one asks why there aren’t mainstream “Sources: Trump is innocent” stories that later need to be walked back. No one demands as much emphasis on corrections as on the original false story. Instead, the standard response to being caught wrong seems to be either dig in as with Buzzfeed, or at most to delete a Tweet or two about the Covington mess, as if in the age of the Internet that makes something to have never happened.

    It is unlikely things will change, especially when this model of journalism is also good for a business where clicks equal dollars. The sad thing is craven economic self-interest is the least worst explanation for tabloidization. Democracy dies in the darkness? It’s in danger in plain sight.

     
     

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  • What if Political Journalism Can’t Snap Back from Tabloidization?

    January 25, 2019 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump


     

    What if mainstream political journalism can’t snap back from its current state of tabloidization? After a week in which Buzzfeed brought the false claim Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, quickly followed by a tsunami of inaccurate but inflammatory reporting over a bunch of Covington high school kids and their MAGA hats, the media needs to do more than apologize and delete a few Tweets. It’s time for a dollop of introspection.

    Journalism is the only profession specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights, and the Founders assigned it a specific role, helping citizens (we have a task assigned as well) carry on an informed debate. And yet in the last two years, serious political journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush toward tabloidization. Political journalism has slipped into a kind of con job to wash away the dangers of free speech.

    The con is this: since by acclamation America is perched on the precipice of 1933 (you’re reading this somewhat tongue-in-cheek but too many people are dead serious about the historical warning) resisting Trump’s policies until he can be run out of office (emoluments lawsuit, 25th Amendment, indictment, impeachment, an election if it really has to come to that) is a moral duty. Trump and his MAGA people are Nazis, their red caps the equivalent of Klan hoods. This is for the first time in American history beyond the push-pull of politics. The survival of the Republic itself on the line, dammit don’t-you-know.

    It follows journalism in the specific and free speech more generally cannot afford to allow for both sides to be heard (now known as “giving them a platform”) or allow objective reporting that might inadvertently make Trump look good. Journalists, some of whom literally believe they are responsible for Hillary’s defeat, live in fear they might abet the government-sanctioned mass lynchings of blacks and beatings of transpeople they expect to break out across America, Charlottesville’s everywhere controlled by Putin. Objectivity is #Collusion. Advocacy is #Resistance. The new standard is tabloid journalism, where every story has to be a Fruity Pebbles sugar high serving the cause of freedom.

    While the tension between objectivity and advocacy isn’t particularly new (read up on The Jungle and The Way the Other Half Lives) what’s new is the near-complete way the mainstream media has created an anti-Trump narrative of Charlottesville’s everywhere controlled by Putin while condemning any outlet not on board as the Fox in democracy’s henhouse. Demonizing a perspective has gotten rougher in the age of deplatforming and weaponized “fact checking.” A new step in the wrong direction is to claim talking heads have blood on their hands for supporting disagreeable but still legitimate political positions say on restricting immigration or withdrawing from Syria. It’s a bit much, but it falls within a snappable-back range for now.

    Classic tabloids like the National Enquirer once upon a time ran Elvis-is-alive articles, or reported on aliens walking among us, or trafficked in outrageous celebrity gossip. It was OK, because absent a few blue haired old ladies in what used to be called the beauty parlor, no one really believed the stories were true. The con included us as willing participants, spectators at a magic show where we know no one is actually sawed in half but it was fun to be fooled anyway.

    The greater concern lies in how alongside all this social media has tabloidized “real” news. The most recent example is Buzzfeed’s use of anonymous sources to claim documentary proof exists Trump ordered his attorney (whom the media by common agreement libelously calls a “fixer”) to lie to Congress about the so-called Moscow Project. Tagged on is the fact-free narrative chain of Trump wanting to build a hotel in Moscow so the Russkies helped him win the presidency so he’s now their asset. To any objective reader, same as an Elvis sighting, Buzzfeed’s story was too good to be true: a literal paper receipt for perjury before Congress. Trump could not lie his way out of this, and he would go down for basically the same crime Bill Clinton was impeached over. Trump would be out of office as fast as the paperwork could be processed.

    The Buzzfeed story appeared out of nowhere, went globally viral, and was shut down by the Special Counsel himself, all within a span of hours.

    So that’s why there are no viral stories that need to be walked back claiming “Trump is innocent.” Nope, the media wants to believe he is guilty of, well, something, and they know they are peddling that belief to a willing audience. A good con also has some truth in it, otherwise the con artist’s job is much harder. Cohen actually did lie to Congress. Next step is knowing most media and many Americans want to believe Trump was involved. Not a hard sell. But it has been the lack of actual evidence that has held back Russiagate in all its metastasizing forms for over two years, you know, actual proof, something you can hold in your hand or listen to online, not simply the now-you-see-it now-you-don’t self-serving statements from convicted perjurers, anonymous officials, and felons we love to hate.

    Enter Buzzfeed, who sets the hook with something new, and it appears given Mueller’s unambiguous press statement, wholly untrue: Buzzfeed’s sources have seen written evidence Trump told Cohen to lie. One of the Buzzfeed authors, albeit one with a history of plagiarism and misreporting going back years, kinda sorta maybe even said he personally saw the documents.

    Social media rockets the story around the globe. Media outlets as once prestigious as the WaPo and New York Times have learned how to hide behind the micro bikini bottom of appending “As reported by Buzzfeed…” after which for all they care they are allowed to headline “The Earth is Flat” at no cost to themselves. In 2019 they are no longer responsible for what they print. Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn spoke for all media and pols when he said “I don’t think that my Democratic friends are in any way rushing to judgment because they qualified right up front [by saying], ‘If this is true.’ When you preface your statement with ‘If this is true,’ that, to me, gives you all the cover you need.”

    It doesn’t hurt that this model of journalism seems to be also good for business in a market where clicks equal dollars, in the words of one NYT columnist “reinforc[ing] the prejudices of your readers.” The sad thing is craven economic self-interest in the service to social media mob-think is the least worst explanation for this phenomena of tabloidism.

    The free press the founders wrote into the Bill of Rights isn’t part of some long con, where the goal is to take the rubes for their ticket money, or give them a chuckle over Elvis. No, the serious media adopting the standards and methods of the tabloids, feeding us back what we want to hear, pretending this all is serious and real without the little wink which says “pssst, we’re in on it with you…” is a very bad thing for a democracy. As one writer put it “let’s not underestimate the damage being done… people of all political stripes will acknowledge the important role that free and unfettered discourse plays in the democratic process. By extension, when that discourse is poisoned, so too is the process.”

    We are being taught there is no truth beyond ever-briefer viral spasms. Falsehoods are just bad sources, we’ll try again next week with basically the same story about Trump from hopefully better sources. Because all that matters is proclaiming some moral stance — Trump is evil, really evil, not just a bad president — and that ends justifies the journalistic means. Advocacy journalism in 2019 is not about pointing out real wrongs with the occasional professional missteps caused by the haste of social media. Nope, it is about teeing up “crimes,” with any small outlet opening the door for the bigger ones to legitimize the story. Members of Congress, citing the Times or the Post, then do things like demand investigations into the Buzzfeed story even after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office made clear the original story wasn’t true.

    It’s not like the Buzzfeed saga is a one-off. In the same week, a carefully edited clip of an encounter between some white Covington, Kentucky high school students wearing MAGA hats, a Native American, and some black protesters was fanned into a racial showdown, when all it took was for someone to first watch the whole recording to realize that was a completely false narrative. Or CBS’ lead journalist falsely Tweeting he was under an arrest warrant in Egypt. Or something as silly as a mass-proclamation conservatives were furious over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s silly dance video. Or this long list of Russiagate game-changers that weren’t. Or two-years’ worth of inaccurate breaking news somebody in the Trump administration was about to flip, quit, be indicted or get fired. The narrative has assumed priority over reality. People are conditioned to overreact as their first impulse. Somebody is going to get hurt.

    Buzzfeed’s reaction was to “stand by its reporting” and challenge Mueller to proofread their work for them and be more specific in telling them where they screwed up, beyond the Special Counsel’s clear, blanket statement the Buzzfeed article was simply not accurate. That was the first such rebuke issued by Mueller in some two years. Though to be fair, James Comey also stated in front of Congress some New York Times reporting on Russiagate was wrong. The media in both instances characterized being told it was wrong by the definitive source as a “dispute.” Otherwise, the standard response to being wrong is to apologize and maybe delete a Tweet or two, the damage done, the zeitgeist stirred.

    The Cohen story, followed so quickly by the Covington high school story, should be a pivot point, a significant moment of reflection for the media when they stop, take a deep breath, and remember why they really exist as a free press. Hint: they were written into existence by the Founders to play a critical role in critical thinking in our system of government. This tabloidization is already out of control, the media already largely written off as a force for good through the 2020 election cycle. One hopes after that some amount of resiliency will take hold, and the press will snap back.

    Now that way of dealing with political enemies, choosing stereotypes and falsity over accurate reporting, does indeed have some echoes back to 1933.

     
     

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  • I Wanna Sit With the Cool Kids at Lunch Again

    January 21, 2019 // 14 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    Never Again
     

    Never again, Tucker. I wanna be able to sit with the cool kids at lunch again. So here is my apology. I was wrong about everything.

    Trump is an orange #CheetoJesus whoremonger who must be mocked in every forum alongside his Satan-spore children, especially the boy ones with greasy hair, the adopted Jew, and the hot girl known as Incestaka. Lock ’em up!

    There is no longer anything around our forebearers might recognize as “comedy.” This all matters too much and that’s not funny. The Dark Lord is among us. I hope to one day be welcome enough among you to make a Voldemort joke about him here. Like Trevor and Seth, and Sam Bee. So cool! Go Brooklyn!

    Trump is a dog eating its own vomit. He’s a carrion bird dining on rotted rat meat. He hates kittens, eats only fast food and ho’ spit, and steals towels from other people’s hotels. He made a pee tape, and an elevator tape, and for a brief period worked undercover in the movies with a different toupee using the name “Ron Jeremy.” He has no heart, no soul, hires third world illegals to wipe his bum, and doesn’t wash his hands after pee pee, on or off tape. The Apprentice was a terrible show no one watched. His dad was a piece of crap even other pieces of crap did not care for. People who voted for Trump are all slack-jawed inbred yokels who will either shoot themselves with their own guns or rightfully die of opioid overdoses while driving pickup trucks they can’t afford to churches that preach racism. Like everyone on the east and west coasts (the best coasts) I hate them all and wish they would all combine into one giant racist ball and move to like Austria or France.

    America is in its #FinalDays, our beautiful democracy ruined by this grifter thug, who wasn’t even elected. Some call him president, but I say now, “president.” Trump? No, “Rump.” If he didn’t cheat by gerrymandering the black folks in North Dakota, he got help from the Russians, or Jill Stein, or MySpace, or maybe all of them (how deep does the rabbit hole really go??????) And Bernie, especially Bernie, helped because those of us stupid enough to be distracted from voting from the candidate the Democratic party knew was best for us all along after Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race are personally responsible for every minority-ish person who is called a bad name today. I hope all 240 million trans-folk of America can one day forgive me for imaging there could be more than two parties. My bad, um, guys.

    That and still believing in white-centric models of free speech makes me a Nazi. The Reichstag will burn, oh, yes it will. Wait, does America have a Reichstag? Maybe at Epcot Center. And Trump is so Hitler. “Alexa, change the date to 1933” we might as well say. I have said it. #TimesUp!

    Christopher Steele, He lead the way, He showed us the path to redemption began with the pee tape, but I shunned Him. I said because He had no evidence to back up His accusations He was a False Prophet. But others — Comey, Brennan, Clapper, Mueller — all fine men, came from the Deep State which I know now only exists in my impure mind and showed me the light. I should have trusted them all, as have so many presidents and everyone at CNN before me.

    Trump has always been a Russian asset, maybe from his birth, maybe from Russia’s birth. We know this because.

    By the way, I want to personally apologize to All The Media. You are the mighty hawkmen of our time, the canaries in the coal mine, the bravest of our generation. If only we had another Dunkirk, you would be there. For me. Because when the call came, I stuck to contrarian thoughts, wicked thoughts, anti-Obama and anti-Hillary thoughts. I wrote of these and tried to convince others. Only now, alone with my eyes having been eaten out by rats working via Fiverrr in Room 101, can I really see how wrong I was. But I have the voices I can still hear — Maddow, Blitzer, all those blonde women on daytime teevee — to guide me like #BlindBirdBox Challenge. And hey, “Faux News,” I hope a zombie in a MAGA hat eats your face.

    Also, for the record, I am ashamed of being a white biologically male. I wish I wasn’t, because everything we broke must be fixed by people of fluid color, non-binaries, and it would be better if most of them could also be Muslims and left-handed. Sorry! At least we know now one of the founding fathers was actually a hip POC guy, so thanks #Hamilton! Shame the dude was allowed to die in Hurricane Maria by Trump.

    In the end, I was also so very, very wrong on foreign affairs. We really did have those wars with North Korea, China, and Iran Twitter said we would, and which I did not believe would happen. Same for the global trade wars and economic collapses. To make amends, I am returning all the gains my stocks made over the last two years, like a sweet 26%, to Wall Street asking they include them in their next donations to the 2020 Democratic savior.

    Of course, there is still time for Trump to be impeached, or locked up in the crazy house under the 25th Amendment as it was intended to do, or prosecuted for emoluments crimes against humanity for the #Unfair minibar prices at Trump hotels, or made to eat soap out of Michael Cohen’s buttocks in the showers at some Federal corrections facility for corruption and collusion. Suck it up, buttercup, it’s Mueller time! #TickTockMF

    Then we will not need an election. By voice acclamation, America will disband the Electoral College and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will assume the role as our leader as it was foretold by Instagram likes. I will petition her and her Vice President Reality Winner to spare my life. Beto will offer himself in my place at the last minute, and get 1,000,000 new friends on Twitter to become Secretary of Goodness. He only asked me to turn my apartment into a sanctuary city in return. Deport ICE I say!

    The payments I received for my thought crimes came in now-worthless rubles; I’ve fed them to my dog, who identifies as a she/her. The sex I had with Vladimir Putin in return for my service still warms me, shamefully, in my darkest moments, but the guy does have game, sorry for that. Being back on the mainstream team does however allow me to recycle all the old homo jokes from junior high, as long as they are aimed at Cockholster Trump and Putin the Impaler. Otherwise, all LGBTQetc people are simply better than me in all ways and I worship them for their youth and beauty.

    I know now we have always been at war with Syria. I know only the Party and Twitter knows what is best. It has been a difficult two years but I now want to be part of you all again, be on Twitter, to have memes, visit the State Department cafeteria for coffee with other old timers, get asked to do interviews by NPR on how the Republic is in danger, and on Democracy Now! about how only through corporate censorship of hate speech can we prevail. I want to earn the pronoun “they/them.”

    Is that enough? Please say it is, because friends, I am changed. I love Big Brother.

     
     

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  • Social Media Legally Falls Under the First Amendment; Here’s How

    January 18, 2019 // 14 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


     
    A court just came close to acknowledging the First Amendment applies to social media. But there is still a lot of ground to cover to protect our free speech rights online.
     
    In Davison v Randall, a local government official blocked a constituent from an “official” Facebook page. The court held this to be viewpoint discrimination, a 1A violation in a long-recognized category of unconstitutional speech restraint. Advocates like the ACLU and Knight Institute supported the case to bolster the argument Trump cannot block people on his Twitter feed; lower courts have agreed it is unconstitutional under the 1A for Trump to silence his critics this way. The Department of Justice is appealing, and the ACLU is happy to build precedent with smaller cases like Davison v Randall, as the Trump case almost certainly will wind its way to the Supreme Court.

    The ACLU is likely to continue to prevail against Trump. The problem is while narrowly focusing on an individual politician’s responsibility not to block users with unpopular opinions, the courts continue to allow Facebook, et al, to do exactly the same thing on a much larger scale.
     
    In the age of Trump, social media companies’ suspensions skew against conservative and libertarian commentators (I am permanently banned from Twitter) but Facebook could just as easily block all Sanders supporters, or anyone left handed for that matter. Despite this, and driven in part by the ACLU’s apparent desire to only disadvantage Trump and not enlarge 1A protections in ways that might empower his critics, the broader issues are being bypassed in favor of a narrower one.

    The struggle to grow the 1A to cover social media has a history of piecemeal progress. One victory confirmed the status of social media, when the Supreme Court struck down a law making it a crime for registered sex offenders to use Facebook. Justice Kennedy wrote in Packingham v North Carolina social media is now part of “the modern public square.” Denying access violated the First Amendment.

    But the decision made clear unconstitutional denial still has to come from the government. Facebook and others may deny those speech rights any time they want. The argument only the government is covered by the 1A seems to have reached its limit with technology that so grossly delineates whose literal finger clicks the mouse when the results and implications for free speech in our society are exactly the same.

    Technology and market dominance complicate the 1A environment by giving greater power to a handful of global companies (currently all American but imagine the successor to Twitter based in Hong Kong with Chinese censors at the helm) even as the law seeks to crave the simplicity of the 19th century. That way of thinking requires willful ignorance that Facebook would never act as a proxy for the government, unconstitutionally barring viewpoints on behalf of a politician who would not be allowed to do it themselves.

    Except it already happened. Following a hazy intelligence community assessment accusing the Russians of influencing the 2016 presidential election, Twitter and Facebook punished Russian media RT and Sputnik by banning their advertising in line with the government’s position the two did not deserve the protections of the 1A. Senator Chris Murphy got it. He demanded social media censor more aggressively for the “survival of our democracy,” with companies acting as proxies for those still held back by the First Amendment.
     
    It may even seem to some a valid argument in the realm of social media. But when the same proxy idea appears in the flesh, the underpinning seems less acceptable. It is easy to see how the government using federal law enforcement to bar entry to opposition supporters at a town hall meeting held at some theater is unconstitutional. It is equally easy to see the president’s best friend hiring private security guards to do exactly the same thing would not pass a court challenge, yet that is basically what is currently allowed online.

    The sub-argument the theater is private property and thus outside the 1A (just like Twitter!) does not hold up. The Supreme Court recognizes two categories of public fora: traditional and limited public forums. Traditional public forums are places like streets, sidewalks, and parks. Limited public forums are not traditionally public, but ones the government has purposefully opened to some segment of the public for “expressive activity.” Like that town hall meeting held in a private theater.

    By inviting the public to Facebook for comment, the government transforms a private place into a limited public forum covered by the 1A. The Court only requires a “forum” for 1A purposes “to be private property dedicated to public use” or when the government “retains substantial control over the private property.” Like how the government cannot censor public library books even if the library is located in a private storefront. Like a Facebook page set up and administered by the government.

    The most analogous example of how shallow the debate is comes from a technology of the 1980s, one originally expected to change the nature of debate: public access television. Before the Internet, it was envisioned privately-owned cable TV companies would make air time available to the public as “the video equivalent of the speaker’s soapbox.” Even though the channel and equipment used to produce the programming was privately owned, the programming fell under the 1A. The Court concluded “public access channels constituted a public forum, notwithstanding that they were operated by a private company,” the dead solid perfect equivalent of social media.

    The faux public-private argument is being double-plus used as a work-around to prohibit disagreeable speech, say by labeling a conservative viewpoint as hate speech and letting @jack banish it. Millennials who celebrate Twitter not being held back by the 1A believe that power will always be used in their favor. But back to the law, which sees further than the millennial obsession with Trump. In City of Lakewood v Plain Dealer the Court held all that power was itself a 1A problem: “The mere existence of the licensor’s unfettered discretion, coupled with the power of prior restraint, intimidates parties into censoring their own speech, even if the discretion and power are never actually abused.”

    The once-upon-a-time solution was to take one’s free speech business elsewhere. The 2019 problem is the scale of the most popular social media platforms, near global monopolies all. Pretending Facebook, which claims it influences elections, is just another company is to pretend the role of unfettered debate in a free society is outdated. Technology changed the nature of censorship so free speech is as much about finding an audience as it is about having some place to speak. In 1776 you went to the town square. In 2019 that’s on popular social media. Your unknown blog is as free, and irrelevant, as a Colonist making an impassioned speech alone in his barn.
     
    Asking for the 1A to reach now to social media is in line with the flexibility and expansion the 1A has shown historically. For example, it wasn’t until the post-Civil War incorporation doctrine that the 1A applied equally to the states and not just the federal government. Some private institutions accepting federal funding are already covered by the 1A. The Supreme Court has regularly extended 1A protection to new and non-traditional speech, including nudity and advertising.

    Facebook and others like it have become the censors the Founding Fathers feared. The problem is the ACLU and other advocates today apply political litmus tests to what speech they will defend. And so they aggressively seek to force the 1A into social media to prevent Trump from blocking users he dislikes, but they have not taken on cases which would force the 1A into social media to prevent Facebook and Twitter from blocking users whose conservative and libertarian ideas upset their own viewpoints.

    The greater First Amendment challenge is thus stymied by politics, even while the problem only grows with the greater impact of social media. Yet the cornerstone of free speech, the critical need to have all views represented in a marketplace of ideas, has not changed. One hopes these core elements of our democracy will collide inside the Supreme Court in the near future. If not, the dangers of narrow, short term thinking, that Trump is the problem, not the one of access to free speech, will become more obvious.
     

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  • The Wall May Be a Waste, But It is Not a Crisis

    January 14, 2019 // 21 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Democracy, Iraq


     

    Trump’s wall isn’t going to stop much illegal immigration. On the other hand, it is unlikely to hurt much of anything; it will most likely just be another waste of money. It is certainly not a Constitutional crisis over authoritarianism.

     

    There are currently some 700 miles of fence/wall/barrier along the 2,000 mile southern border, built in pieces under the Bushes and Clinton administrations, and maintained under Obama. Clinton even called his 1994 wall effort “Operation Gatekeeper.” There was little-to-no national opposition raised when the various walls were constructed, and no widespread movement to tear them down when Democrats held full control of the government in the early Obama years. No Russian leader stood on the border and declared to freedom loving people everywhere “Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, Other Mr. Bush, or Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!”

    Democrats in the Senate,including then-Senators Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was signed into law by George W. Bush. The law authorized a fence along about 700 miles of the border between the U.S.-Mexico border. By 2015, Customs and Border Protection had constructed 654 miles.

    There was certainly nothing on the scale of what we are hearing today, with Nancy Pelosi calling Trump’s plan to add another 234 miles of fence/wall/barrier “immoral… not who we are as a nation.”

    Maybe she forgot the beloved Abe Lincoln was an actual railsplitter, a person whose job it was to create rails for fences. The wall meanwhile wasn’t immoral in the 1990s and it wasn’t immoral a year ago when Democratic senators negotiated a compromise Republicans rejected for a wall in exchange for legislation on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

    So what’s different in 2019? Via the New York Times: unlike the other parts of the existing fence/wall/barrier, the part Trump wants to add will be “a symbol of hate and racism.” How can one tell? Different construction? A sign? Why isn’t Trump’s part just another brick in that existing wall? What’s the message conveyed by the unwalled half of the border still left after Trump’s part is built?

    The president wants something and the other side doesn’t want him to have it. Think of this all as a prelude to the 2020 campaign, including the fierce commentary storm enraging everyone. The media even has us debating whether “walls” as a concept work; do or don’t people sometimes build walls around their (gated) communities for protection, some ask with great seriousness. WaPo ran an Op-Ed criticizing all walls, from medieval times to the present day.

    Silly media. Like the shutdown, this is not about walls. Every government shutdown is about brinkmanship. And brinkmanship is risky business, because it demands someone must lose and compromise is off the table. That’s not always a good idea when one side holds a trump card. The president’s is he may declare a “national emergency” (there are also less dramatic “declarable” options) which he feels would allow him to reprogram funds to pay for his contribution to the fence/wall/barrier. Within his narrative, it will play as decisive – someone had to solve the impasse – and as an antithesis to whatever people expected from the midterms’ Blue Wave. “No wall, no deal,” Mike Pence declared. “We’re going to keep standing strong, keep standing firm.”

    That sounds all scary, even authoritarian, and you will read articles about how it is unconstitutional or a crisis or an impeachable offense. One outlet called this a “Pandora’s Box” that could even lead to Trump shutting down CNN and Facebook.

    It’s not. Declaring a national emergency is at times necessary, at times bureaucratically convenient, and at times rough politics. Shutting down government over a policy dispute is always a cheap move. Trump and the others involved will be judged by the voters. But that’s about it, folks.

    Here’s a list of the current 28 standing national emergencies. See if you can find some that rise to the level of what any normal person thinks of as an emergency that couldn’t be dealt with except by the president using extraordinary powers. For example, Obama proclaimed Blocking Property and Suspending Entry of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Venezuela as a national emergency.

    Funny thing: the September 11 national emergency, still in force today, was used to have the military do some domestic construction work, the same thing anti-wall pundits claim is now illegal under Trump (other laws also suggest Trump can use the military in this manner.) What if Trump used the existing 9/11 emergency again for whatever he wants, same as Bush and Obama did, instead of declaring a fresh emergency? Maybe that would wake Americans up.

    Now if you still want to talk about misuse of executive power, you may want to look at the Constitution. The document doesn’t say much about walls, but it does limit the power to declare war to Congress. Nobody has done much about that misuse of power, as every president since WWII started new wars without any declaration and in most cases without even a head nod out of Congress. To make things clear after Vietnam, Congress passed the War Powers Act in 1973, a bit of executive power-limiting legislation that has been fully ignored ever since.

    Leaving aside the gross fig leaf of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that has been waived over every American invasion, special forces incursion, regime change, drone attack, bombing campaign, reconstruction project, and police action in the last 17 years and still counting, there has been more debate given to the wall than much of any of the conflicts around it.

    Certainly more anger and angst has been spewed alongside the wall, and the waste of money it represents. Trump wants $5.7 billion to build it! That is all of about 1/7 of the yearly cost of the war in Afghanistan, and of course that war has run on at $45 billion a year for 17 years. Anybody want to talk about that money being wasted? Maddow? Pelosi? Ocasio-Cortez? Bueller?

    And for the media, who discovered via “fact-checking” Trump exaggerated the terrorist threat on our southern border, where were you when every facet of American foreign and domestic policy was driven by two administrations using this same lie?

    Apparently all the fears about abuse of power center on a couple of hundred miles of wall in the desert; wars in deserts further away now barely make the news. Spare us the hand wringing over crisis, abuse of power, and unconstitutionality. If anyone really wants to talk the talk on those topics, let’s reopen the debate on the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as part of the negotiations to reopen the government.

    That all of that is ignored while the nation is on edge over a slice of wall tells you what this is all really about: 2020.

     
     

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  • Wall B.S. and the Politics of 2020

    January 11, 2019 // 27 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


     
    A wall was not immoral every other time it was built. There are already 700 miles of wall along the southern border, and we’re talking today about building only another 235 miles but somehow that is “not who we are.” In linear distance, it less than a third of who we are, actually. Nobody objected then because this is all about the politics of 2020.

    No previous national emergency declaration (there have been over 50 since the law changed in 1976) was ever considered a sign of “Pandora’s box” with all the fear mongering about authoritarianism attached. Nobody objected then because this is all about the politics of 2020.

    Senators Schumer, Obama, and Clinton voted for a border wall, fence, and barriers in 2006 (the Secure Fence Act), which was completed under Obama in 2015. Nobody objected then because this is all about the politics of 2020.

    The media never “fact checked” Bush or Obama’s statements about the terrorist threat which were used to justify every war and domestic loss of civil rights in the last 17 years. The media “checks” only when it suits their narrative.

    With respect, this is all about the politics of 2020.

    Everyone is otherwise losing their heads, as they have over Steele, Comey, Syria, North Korea, Putin, and everything else this administration has touched. There are better and worse decisions over the last two years, but it is not all crisis, all the time.
     

    BONUS: Trump’s wall isn’t going to stop much illegal immigration. On the other hand, it is unlikely to hurt much of anything; it will most likely just be another waste of money.

     
     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • You can have sex with your sources, get thrown out of one job, and rise again in the Age of Trump. Journalism is great!

    January 11, 2019 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iraq


     

    Today’s fear mongering is brought to you by Reuters, who in this piece goes from Trump using emergency powers to build his wall to Trump shutting down CNN and Facebook. The story calls the president’s emergency powers, which have been on the books since 1976 and used by every president since then, a “Pandora’s Box.”

    FYI: the Reuters article is basically plagiarized rewritten adapted from a slightly better version of the same in this month’s Atlantic.

    FYI FYI: The Reuter’s article was written by Brett McGurk’s wife, Gina Chon (above). McGurk was recently forced out of office retired at the State Department because he didn’t agree with Trump’s Syria withdrawal policy.

    Chon, the writer, was previously forced out resigned her job at the Wall Street Journal for once having an affair with McGurk, then one of her sources in Baghdad and married to someone else.

    Apparently you can have sex with your sources, get thrown out of one job, and rise again in the Age of Trump. Journalism is great!

     
     

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  • Exaggerated Terrorist Threats on the Southern Border!

    January 9, 2019 // 5 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Democracy


     
    Dear All Media who are deeply concerned about exaggerated terrorist threats coming from the president for his own political purposes. Where the fuck were you between 2001-2016 when every facet of American foreign and domestic policy was driven by this exact lie and you abetted it? Thank you.
     
    And to those ready to write “But Trump is lying” or something along the lines of “Two/Three wrongs don’t make a right,” in your partisan blindness, you miss the point. The media is manipulating you, again, taking advantage of your fear and anger to tell you how to think. That’s the takeaway, chump, not Trump.
     
    Try this, in simpler terms: it’s all lies. Bush and Obama fanned the flames of fake terrorism, abetted by the media, to justify their wars and the dissolution of our civil rights. Trump is trying the same fear game with terrorism for his political goals. Only this time the media is on the other side, so they are “fact checking.” Imagine if they had done 10% of the same with those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
     

    BONUS: Here’s a fun article from 2017, criticizing Trump for not declaring a national emergency on another issue. But the real point is that such declarations are not uncommon (there are 28 current “national emergencies” in force), and in fact the national emergency declared for 9/11 is still in force. That emergency, now in its 17th year, has justified everything from spying on Americans to war in Libya. Trump should just use it again for whatever he wants, same as Bush and Obama did. Maybe that would wake Americans up to how they have been asleep during previous authoritarian regimes.

     
     

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