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

    January 18, 2019 // 10 Comments

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    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 // 18 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 // 26 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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  • 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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  • The Democratic Party Has One More Shot at Relevancy

    January 8, 2019 // 34 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


     
    Elizabeth Warren, in the final hours of 2018, announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president. She stands at the precipice with a Democratic Party that must hold the primaries in 2020 it should have held in 2016 to remain relevant.
     
    Among the 30-some people the New York Times says may seek the Democratic nomination, almost all the serious candidates should have run in 2016, including Warren, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker. Instead the fix was in; who doesn’t believe Obama pulled Biden aside to say “Kid, this ain’t your year.” Warren, et al, either had their own come-to-Obama moments or were smart enough to back down with dreams of Clintonesque Cabinet positions dancing in their heads. They reassured themselves they would still have time to run after Hillary wrapped up her eight years in office and before it was Chelsea’s turn.

    Old Man Bernie likely never imagined he’d do much more than use his primary platform to air out his signature issues of healthcare and economic reform. That’s why in the beginning he didn’t run against Hillary as much as he ran alongside of her, always gentle on her tender spots like those damn emails. But there was a hunger among some Democrats to confront Wall Street excesses and income inequality. Bernie caught a tailwind and when he did, we all know via the leaked DNC emails and some tell-alls how the Party took him out of the race with super delegates, rigged debates, ad buys, and did other dirty tricks we’d see more of later. Did you know he honeymooned in Russia?

    The primary season was to be little more than a warm-up for Hillary, with her Scooby van listening tour and her book tour and her staged “debates” with Official Party Cuck Martin O’Malley playing the role of the Washington Generals to Hillary’s Globetrotters. How’d that work out anyway?
     
    While no candidate this year has the power Hillary held in 2016, the temptation by the Party to rig the primaries again is great; why spend all that money on a long series of ho-hum votes, and why hand Trump footage like Harris calling Warren ineffective in some debate when the winner can be pre-determined? If Dems grant the media, currently operating with the hive mind of a 24-year-old Brooklynite who owes her parents money, too much influence, it’ll be some accomplishment-free shiny object like Beto for Trump to treat as a political chew toy. Give the voters another rigged primary – make it another her’s turn again – and you likely give America another four years of Trump.

    The Democratic Party in 2016 engineered defeat by not letting the process do what it is designed to do: weed out the weak and their weaknesses. Instead, every weakness was meant to be swept under the rug: Hillary Clinton was the archetypal 21st century candidate, a perfectly-formed tool of the oligarchy, all appetite. Never mind the emails, the Clinton Foundation, Hillary’s warmongering record, and most of all her lack of answers to the questions the electorate wanted answered. The voters knew Obamacare often failed them by providing health insurance they could afford but not actual healthcare they could afford, and that they were being left behind in an economy fueled by inequality. People with kids dying in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere were unsure why. Meh, her turn, deal with it.

    These shortcomings would have been exposed during a real primary. Instead they were left to fester in voters’ minds, and Trump happened. Yet the after action reports on 2016 mention none of this. Instead, supposedly Trump won because of Russia and racist redneck misogynists. Anyone working to elect a Democratic president in 2020 who isn’t willing to consider that by rigging the 2016 primary they ran a weak candidate is being foolish. The only answer is a free-for-all primary, where the ideas that roil the Democratic party, the push and pull of what has come to be called “progressivism,” are allowed to slug it out.

    Because if the primaries don’t wash out the weaknesses, Trump most certainly will use his honed predator’s instincts to do it in the general campaign. Did you know Beto’s wife is part of a billion-dollar real estate family in Texas, making him more Jared than caped crusader? The primary needs to poke at Warren’s bizarro-world claims the system is rigged while it was the same rigged system that allowed her to rise into a position of prominence, what one commentator described as “a curious vision coming from a person whose life story, like that of tens millions of Americans who have risen far above their small beginnings, refutes her own thesis. It was curious, also, coming from someone who presumably believes that various forms of rigging are required to un-rig past rigging.’”

    And how much emphasis will voters place on blud purity? After years of bleating about diversity, what to do with Old White Straight Men like Biden or Michael Bloomberg in all this? Will Sanders’ supporters come home to the Party, or will they remember Bernie humiliated into a little nobody helping nominate someone at the Democratic Convention he clearly loathed? The primaries must above all else settle the question of whether or not Bernie is the divisive element a Democratic party already showing its cracks does not need in 2020.

    What will a sharp look at Cory Booker’s time as photo-op mayor of Newark and his warm relationship with Wall Street money reveal? What about Kamala Harris’ complex history of supporting some progressive causes while rejecting others as California attorney general? Why didn’t she prosecute Steven Mnuchin‘s bank? Meanwhile, how much time and money will be wasted on political fluffers like Beto, a guy who lost in his home state, one of the most important in terms of electoral votes?
     
    This is not to over-focus on any one candidate at this point; quite the opposite. It is to point out the kinds of issues that demand an aggressive, unfiltered, unrigged primary process to address, because nobody in the Democratic Party leadership knows the answers. The goal is two-fold: how will the candidates handle their past decisions and future plans in front of the public, and how will voters react to those attempts.

    No one can win against Trump in 2020 simply by being Not Trump. Never mind the Blue Wave in the House, it is the map which allowed the Republicans to grow their Senate majority in 2018 that controls the Electoral College. Trump is the natural end point of 17 post-9/11 years of keeping us afraid. He is the mediagenic demagogue a country gets when it abandons its people to economic apartheid. He feeds off being Not Not Trump. Every time someone says “well, that’s the end of Trump” after some outrageous statement, Trump needs only to top himself in the next tweet and the process restarts.
     
    Let the primaries get rough; the winner will need the experience to rise above Trump while simultaneously standing up to him. To beat Trump is to offer a counter-vision under fire. The primary process has to sort out which of the Democrats looking at the White House might be able to do that. Because if the Democratic Party again does not allow the primaries to do their job, Candidate Trump most certainly will. Again.

     
     

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  • Dear People Wishing for Stock Market Trouble

    January 3, 2019 // 19 Comments

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


     
     
    Dear People Wishing for Stock Market Trouble:
     
    Stock market trouble will not make Trump go away.

     

    You can have fun posting memes though! He’s owned! He screwed up the one thing he says he’s good at! Rich people will abandon him! Hah hah!

    Any serious downturn in markets will cause more economic inequality. Wealthy people depend on periodic downturns to force middle class people to sell. The rich then buy cheap and wait for the inevitable swing back. They end up owning more stuff, and they got it cheaply.

    About half of all American households own stock, in most cases indirectly through mutual funds, and, more and more via 401(Ks) and whatever company pension accounts still exist. Yet despite that broad base — half of us own something in the stock market — the richest 10% of Americans owned 84% of the total value of the market as of 2016.

    Though those numbers roughly match those of America’s worst period of inequality, the so-called Gilded Age, they are a big change from 2001, when the top 10% owned only 77% of all stocks.

    Today, they have more. You have less. Your part of the market exists because the few wolves need lots of rabbits to eat. You are predator or you are economic prey. Guess where this goes? Think of it as one of those pictures where parallel railroad tracks seem to get closer and closer as they recede into the distance. The theoretical end point is one person owns 100% of everything. But modern wealthy would be happy if .01% owned just 99%, close enough.

     

    In case you missed it, that’s what the 2008 mortgage/housing crisis was all about. Middle class people lost their homes when they could not pay their mortgages. “The banks” then owned those homes and you did not. It took a few years and most prices started back up. You in turn now rent from someone who now owns those homes.

    The inequality of net worth, after almost two decades of little movement, went up sharply from 2007 to 2010, and relative indebtedness for the middle class expanded. The sharp fall in median net worth and the rise in overall wealth inequality over these years are traceable to the high leverage of middle class families and the high share of homes in their “portfolio.”

    What that means is middle class people have most of their net worth embedded in their homes, but see most of that “worth” is actually debt (leverage.) When times get tough, they may lose the home because they can’t pay the debt. People rich enough to spend money in downturns buy up those homes. They have extra money to ride out the tougher years until the government bails out the markets like Obama did in 2008. Same story for the stock market.

     

    It gets worse, because you get money by working for wages. Rich people get money through capital gains, basically stuff they buy cheaply becoming worth more over time. That’s why the downturn is bad for you, ultimately good for most of them. It is math!

    If you like math with letters in it, it is written as R > G. All explained here if you want to understand precisely why you are going to be poorer. And as a bonus, be sure to note the part about how in the U.S. wages are taxed at a higher level than capital gains. You can never have too many advantages.

    Note also that until slavery was ended in the United States, human beings were also considered as part of capital. Meanwhile, because rich people pass on their wealth to their relatives, the children of rich people are born rich and unless they get really into hookers and blow, will inevitably get richer. They almost can’t help it. The gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent must grow. This will create the society reminiscent of the pre-Enlightenment past we are in the early stages of now. You know it from Jeopardy! as “feudalism.”

     
    Downturns are a huge sucking, a redistribution of wealth upward. You’re basically fucked in this process. Poverty is ennobling, so you do have that. Have a nice day!

     

    BONUS: I wrote a whole book about this called the Ghosts of Tom Joad but few people wanted to read it, so this is all kind of a fun secret between us.

     
     

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  • Looking out the Window at 2019…

    January 2, 2019 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

     

    I got up on January 1 and hurried to look out the window. Those medias made so many predictions during 2018, each one tagged with “Just wait!” that I had to see how many came true.

     

    • No flying cars, hoverboards, home sex robots or time machines for 2018. Again. Dammit.
    • Trump did not resign, get impeached, or go insane. He was not indicted, arrested, forced to quit, run out via the 25th Amendment, or jailed over the Emoluments Clause.
    • It never really became “Mueller Time.”
    • Nobody fired Mueller. There was no Saturday Night Massacre.
    • Mattis quit in protest, but only because Trump said he wanted to stop a war.
    • The U.S. did not go to war with Russia, China, Iran, North Korea or anywhere else. None of those countries invaded America. We’ll have less troops deployed in 2019 than in 2016.
    • The Constitution, at least the parts Obama and Bush left intact, was still in place. The Rule of Law and the press, too. No troops in the streets, no economic devastation, Alaska was not sold back to Putin.

     

    With such an abysmal, sad, and completely wrong record of dire predictions, you’d think the media folk would dial it back a notch as we enter the new year. You would of course be wrong.

    I picked up my New York Times and learned despite being absolutely wrong on all of the above predictions and more, one writer proclaimed 2019 to be the Year of the Wolf, warning “It will be a year in which Donald Trump is isolated and unrestrained as never before. And it will be in this atmosphere that indictments will fall, provoking not just a political crisis but a constitutional one…  our very system of law is at stake.” Holy moley! There’ll be no more laws working pretty soon it says.

    But none of that matters, because this article says we may need to “accept the notion that life as we know it may cease in 2018” because Trump. I got to that one a bit late, because it’s already 2019 and life as we know it has not ceased. Whew. Close call.

    Salon.com knows what Mueller is up to somehow, and says the walls are closing in, but it’ll be in 2019, not last year like they said a year ago, so make a note of that. It’s because Salon just found out “Russian infiltration and sabotage of the 2016 election and Trump’s subsequent obstruction of justice are hardly the only potential high crimes and misdemeanors likely to be investigated by the new Congress.” Golly, that is worrisome. It seems to have something to do with porn star Stormy Daniels and things which happened before Trump was actually elected. Imagine how notable it will be to impeach a president for stuff he did before being president. I hope the Founders thought about that one.

    Now some guy labeled as a “former Bush advisor” is even more specific. He says “the self-professed supreme dealmaker will use his presidency as a bargaining chip with federal and state authorities in 2019, agreeing to leave office in exchange for the relevant authorities not pursuing criminal charges against him, his children or the Trump Organization.” You have to read all the way to the end, but the former Bush advisor who wrote this widely-linked article had the job of regional administrator of Region 2 EPA under the Bush administration and executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, so you know he knows this legal stuff inside and out.

    Another insider, America’s Lawyer Michael Avenatti, tells us Trump, Jr. is already indicted, but see it’s a sealed secret indictment that only Avenatti knows about because he knows stuff. He’s challenged Don, Jr. on Twitter to deny this and there was no reply. So you know what that means.

    MSNBC, which has been predicting the demise of Trump since day one, started the New Year with senior shouter Joe Scarborough “Calling for 25th Amendment, Trump’s Presser Show’s He’s ‘Obviously’ Not Fit for Office.” Obviously!

    Oh, and there might be a military coup soon. “There’s a lot of talk in the active ranks right now about these continued assaults on general officers and the military,” retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling told CNN. “Make no mistake about it, it is being discussed in the active ranks about what is occurring with the president and how he’s treating the military.” Maybe he’s right, because Maggie Haberman of the NYT said on Twitter so you know it’s true “In ways big and small, unencumbered retired senior military officers have questioned Trump’s fitness to serve in the last few weeks.”

    A lot of people seem to feel it’s gonna hit the fan with the military in 2019. A professor at the Naval War College writing in the Atlantic says “the president has opened a Pandora’s box” with his criticism of the military, warning “If Trump continues on this path — and he will — we could face the most politicized and divided military since Vietnam, or even since the Civil War.” Wow, the Civil War, that was a bad one, right? The funny thing is how all the people whispering about a military coup seem to avoid saying that is a bad thing, you know, with democracy in danger and fascism and all.

    But before the coup, that impeachment thing is lit. A USA Today op-ed laid out “damning evidence” Trump attempted Russia collusion in plain sight in 2016, before even getting not elected by the popular votes. I guess Mueller missed this damn evidence, so I hope someone staying in a hotel brings him a copy of the paper so he can check this out. Plain sight no less!

    The Times must know stuff, too, because they wrote an article called “The Inevitability of Impeachment” and that word (I checked) means it definitely will happen.

    Even Lindsey Graham knows 2019 is going to be the end, because he warns “President Trump’s loss in wall battle could be ‘end of his presidency'”

    To make things very clear, Politico just says it in a headline: “Yes, 2019 Is the Year You Were Worrying About.”
     
    So holy patootie, this is all really serious! It looks like all the stuff the many medias said was gonna happen in 2017 2018 is actually going to happen in 2019 you guys! Remember, you heard it here first.
      

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  • Tiresome Things of 2018:

    December 31, 2018 // 12 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


    Tiresome things of 2018:

    “News” that is just stuff someone tweeted;

    “News” that is just repeating what a late night TV host said;

    “News” reported on one web site which is just a rewrite of a story on another web site;

    Deification by the left of scum from the right like McCain, Mattis, Clapper, Comey, Brennan, et al, only because they said something bad about Trump;

    Desperate creation of insta-heroes to satisfy some greater political goal (‘Dem Parkland Kids, the cult of ‘Notorious’ RGB, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Friggin’ Beto), empty heros in a time of disappointment and cynicism;

    Movements which claim they have changed everything because their hashtag trended on Twitter;

    All media abandoning even the pretence of objectivity in favor of advocacy but pretending they are still objective;

    The primacy of “sources say…” over anything resembling actual fact-gathering;

    “Fact checking” that is actually partisan gaming of information;

    Idiots thrilled when bad things happen (like stock market declines) because they think it validates their Trump hate;

    Idiots over-dramatizing bad things (like stock market declines) into evidence the world is ending, fascism is taking over, end of democracy, time to worry, walls closing in, tick tock;

    Idiots hoping for more bad things to happen, like a doomsday cult does, because they think that will hasten the end of Trump;

    People who have been saying “Just wait” for three years now into Russiagate. We’re waiting.

    That most social media which isn’t cat pictures is now endless self-promotion because everyone is a brand or selling something or demanding we follow them or friend them or like them or thumbs up them;

    People who just read the headlines and media which writes headlines which are not reflective of the actual content;

    The way transpeople have become progressives’ adopted bestest minority of the moment;

    Over-use of the word “folk”;

    Insta-hate that finds some way to make anything Trump does from the dramatic to the mundane evil and wrong;

    Historical revisionism that turns people like George W. Bush into kindly old men sharing candies with Goddess Michelle instead of thugs who dragged America into war and recession and forever damaged our nation’s credibility by torturing human beings;

    Anything that starts with “As a ____” (woman, POC, Kurd, left handed Asian-American) because you know the rest is just going to be someone whining about how life is unfair, the system unjust, the deck stacked, because they are a ____ and can comment with the full authority for everyone ____ everywhere because they are a ____ and you are not;

    Discussions on immigration policy that dead-end when someone has to tearfully tell us about how his great grandfather didn’t speak English, forestalling any serious attempt to look at broader policy in the 21st century.

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  • Don’t Weep for Mattis but for the Global War on Terror, 2001-2018, R.I.P.

    December 25, 2018 // 20 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Trump, Yemen



    Senior officials never seem to resign over a president starting a war. And Trump, the guy who was supposed to start new wars, instead ended one and is on his way to wrapping up another.

    A full pull-out of U.S. forces from Syria and a drawdown in Afghanistan are much more important as markers of the end of an era than either a bureaucratic tussle (Mattis is stepping down as defense secretary after Trump overruled him and other top national security advisers) or a disastrous geopolitical decision.

    The New York Times, its journalists in mourning over the loss of a war, ask “Who will protect America now?” Mattis the warrior-monk is juxtaposed with the flippant Commander-in-Cheeto. The Times also sees strategic disaster in an “abrupt and dangerous decision, detached from any broader strategic context or any public rationale, sowed new uncertainty about America’s commitment to the Middle East, [and] its willingness to be a global leader.” “A major blunder,” tweeted Marco Rubio. “If it isn’t reversed it will haunt… America for years to come.” Lindsey Graham called for congressional hearings.

    What is history if not irony. Rubio talks of haunting foreign policy decisions in Syria seemingly without knowledge of its predecessor decisions in Iraq. Graham wants to hold hearings on quitting a war Congress never held hearings on authorizing.

    That’s all wrong. Mattis’ resignation, and Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, are significant as marking the beginning of the end of the GWOT, the Global War on Terror, the singular, tragic, bloody driver of American foreign policy for almost two decades.

     

    Why does the U.S. have troops in Syria?

    It’s 2018. Why does the U.S. have troops in Syria?

    Defeat ISIS? ISIS’ ability to hold ground and project power outside its immediate backyard was destroyed somewhere back in 2016 by an unholy coalition of American, Iranian, Russian, Syrian, Turkish, and Israeli forces in Iraq and Syria. Sure, there are terrorists who continue to set off bombs in marketplaces in ISIS’ name, but those people are not controlled or directed out of Syria. They are most likely legal residents of the Western countries they attack, radicalized online or in local mosques. They are motivated by a philosophy, and that way of thinking cannot be destroyed on the ground in Syria. The fundamental failure of the GWOT is that you can’t blow up an idea.

    Regime change? It was never a practical idea (as in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, there was never a plan on what to do next, how to keep Syria from descending into complete chaos the day Assad was removed) and though progressives embraced the idea of getting rid of another “evil dictator” when it came through the mouthpiece of Obama’s own freedom fighter Samantha Power, the same idea today has little drive behind it.

    Russia! Overwrought fear of Russia was once a sign of unhealthy paranoia satirized on The Twilight Zone. Today it is seen as a prerequisite to patriotism, though it still makes no more sense. The Russians have always had a practical relationship with Syria and maintained a naval base there at Tartus since 1971, and will continue to do so. There was never a plan for the U.S. to push the Russians out — Obama in fact saw the Russian presence are part of the solution in Syria. American withdrawal from Syria is far more a return to status quo than anything like a win for Putin (Matt Purple pokes holes in Putin Paranoia elsewhere on TAC.)

    The Kurds? The U.S.-Kurd story is a one of expediency over morality. At each sad turn there was no force otherwise available in bulk and the Kurds were used and abandoned many times by America: in 1991 when it refused to assist them in breaking away from Saddam Hussein following Gulf War I, when it insisted they remain part of a “united Iraq” following Gulf War II, and most definitively in 2017 forward following Gulf War III when the U.S. did not support the Kurdish independence referendum, relegating the Kurds to forever being the half-loved stepchild to Baghdad. After all that, U.S. intentions toward the Kurds in Syria are barely a sideshow-scale event. The Kurds want to cleave off territory from Turkey and Syria, something neither nation will permit and something the U.S. quietly understands would destabilize the region.

    Mattis, by the way, supported NATO ally Turkey in its fight against the Kurds, calling them an “active insurgency inside its borders.” The Kurds run a propaganda operation inside the U.S. to rival any other, and, as if to signal that they would not go quietly, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are discussing the release of 3,200 Islamic State prisoners, a prominent monitoring group and a Western official said Thursday. Western media of course featured this story heavily, without thinking for even one second how stupid it would be to release thousands of ISIS prisoners who would immediately turn on you, just to spite the U.S.

    A final point — “The Kurds” are not a nation, or an organization, or a sports team. As referred to in this context, “The Kurds” are a violent subset of an ethnic group spread across multiple nation borders, including Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Supporting “The Kurds” means supporting a non-uniformed armed force which uses violence many classify as terrorism, including urban car bombs, to take and hold territory. The roots of these conflicts go back centuries, and the U.S. should tread carefully when inserting its 500 pound gorilla-self into them. Certainly discussion beyond Op-Eds is needed. Sorry, kids, it’s called real world politics: forced to choose between Turkey whose second-largest army in NATO controls the entrance to the Black Sea, and the stateless Kurds, um…

    Iran? Does the U.S. have troops in Syria to brush back Iranian influence? As with “all of the above,” the genie got out of the bottle years ago. Iranian power in the greater Middle East has grown dramatically since 2003, and has been driven at every step by the blunders of the United States. If the most powerful army in the world couldn’t stop the Iranians from essentially being the winners of Gulf Wars II and III, how can 2,000 troops in Syria hope to accomplish much? The United States of course wasn’t even shooting at the Iranians in Syria; in most cases it was working either with them, or tacitly alongside them towards the same goal of killing off ISIS anyway. Tehran’s role as Assad’s protector was set as America rumbled about regime change. Iran has since pieced together a land corridor to the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria and will not be giving that up, certainly not because of the presence of absence of a few thousand Americans.

    American credibility? Left is that once-neocon, now progressive catch-all, we need to stay in Syria to preserve American credibility. While pundits can still get away with this line, the rest of the globe knows the empire has no clothes. Since 2001 the United States has spent some $6 trillion on its wars, and killed multiples of the 9/11 victims worth of American troops and foreign civilians. The U.S. has tortured, still maintains the gulag of Guantanamo as a crown jewel, and worst of all credibility-wise, lost on every front. Afghanistan after 17 years of war festers. Nothing was accomplished with Iraq. Libya is a failed state. Syria is the source of a refugee crisis whose long-term effects on Europe are still being played out. We are largely left as an “indispensable nation” only in our own minds. A lot of people around the world probably wish America would just stop messing with their countries.

    Our allies? The much-touted coalition which the U.S. lead into Afghanistan was in pieces before it fell apart in 2003 ahead of the Iraq invasion. One-by-one, American allies across Europe, including Britain, as well as Canada, have dropped out of GWOT or reduced their participation to token forces. Nonetheless, the media has found people as far away as Australia to quote on how the U.S. is abandoning its post-WWII roll as the world’s protector. And of course any U.S. ally who feels the fight in Syria/Afghanistan/Yemen/Etc. is worth dying for is more than welcome to send in its own troops.

     

    So why does the U.S. have troops in Syria?

    Anyone? Bueller? Mattis?

    The U.S. presence in Syria, like Jim Mattis himself, is an artifact of another era, the failed GWOT. As a Marine, Mattis served in ground combat leadership roles in Gulf Wars I and II, and also in Afghanistan. He ran United States Central Command from 2010 to 2013, the final years of The Surge in Iraq and American withdrawal afterwards. There is no doubt why he supported the American military presence in Syria, and why he resigned to protest Trump’s decision to end it — Mattis knew nothing else. His entire career was built around the strategy of the GWOT, the core of which was never question GWOT strategy. Mattis didn’t need a reason to stay in Syria; being in Syria was the reason.

    So why didn’t Trump listen to his generals? Maybe because the bulk of their advice has been dead wrong for 17 years? Instead, Trump plans a dramatic drawdown of troops in Afghanistan (American soldiers will be there in some small number forever to act as a rear-guard against the political fallout that chased Obama in 2011 when he withdrew troops.) The U.S. presence in Iraq has dwindled from combat to advise and assist, and Congress seems poised to end U.S. involvement in Yemen against Mattis’ advice.

    There is no pleasure in watching Jim Mattis end his decades of service with a bureaucratic dirty stick shoved at him as a parting gift. But to see this all as another Trump versus the world blunder is very wrong. The war on terror failed, and needed to be dismantled long ago. Barack Obama could have done it, but instead was a victim of hubris and bureaucratic capture and allowed himself to expand it. His supporters give him credit for not escalating the war in Syria, but leave out the part about how he also left the pot to simmer on the stove instead of removing it altogether.

    A New Lens

    The raw drive to insta-hate everything Trump does can mislead otherwise thoughtful people. So let’s try a new lens: During the campaign Trump outspokenly denounced the waste of America’s wars. Pro-Trump sentiment in rural areas was driven by people who agreed with his critique, by people who’d served in these wars, whose sons/daughters had served, or given the length of all this, both. Since taking office, the president has pulled U.S. troops back from pointless conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Congress may yet rise to do the same for American involvement in Yemen. No new wars have started. Though the results are far from certain, for the first time in nearly twenty years negotiations are open again with North Korea.

    Mattis’ ending was clumsy, but it was a long time coming. It is time for some old ideas to move on. And if future world events cause us to have some sort of debate over what the proper U.S. role is in places like Syria and Afghanistan, well, that’s been a long time coming, too.

     

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  • This Year’s Top 10 Hottest Holiday Gifts

    December 24, 2018 // 16 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump


     

    This Year’s Top 10 Hottest Holiday Gifts

    Still shopping for the right last minute gift? Received $300 in $10 Amazon gift cards from the Secret Santas you’ve had to participate in at all your part time jobs and want to treat yourself? Here are some great suggestions!

     

    Middle East Lego Playset

    The set retails for three trillion dollars. Included are enough Legos to build replicas of Mosul and Fallujah, allowing a child to refight those battles over and over. Figures, all with removable heads, include Sunni militias, Islamic State fighters, Shia militias, one figure representing the actual Iraqi Army, Americans, Iranians, Yemenis, Kurds, Russians, Syrians (moderate and radical, though they look alike), Israelis, Saudi financiers, Hezbollah fighters, and a starter pack of refugees. Don’t forget even more adventures can be played with the Turkish Expansion Pack. Parents, please note, even with the best of intentions, the playset tends to simply fall apart after awhile and everyone gets bored with it. Not included: any weapons of mass destruction.

     

    DVD Set: Ken Burns’ America’s Afghan War, 2001 – Who Knows

    America’s master of the documentary returns with this insightful history of America’s longest war. Weighing in at over 12,345,000 hours of DVD footage delivered in three container trucks, the documentary largely consists of one scene played over and over of Marines capturing and then giving up then recapturing the same hill outside Kabul while narrator Morgan Freeman reads letters from other troopers detailing how their PTSD ruined two marriages and they’ve missed nine birthdays for their youngest son.

    On the Blu-Ray version, Burns offers us an interview montage of a Taliban leader in 2001 saying he will outlast the Americans, followed by his son saying the same thing in 2006, followed by his grandson repeating it in 2010, followed by twin great grandchildren making the same promise in 2018 while various American presidents mime “nyah nyah” behind them. The Deluxe Edition comes with $20 billion in American dollars, along with a match so you can set it on fire, a far better use of the money than funding another year of war.

     

    Trump: The Foreign Policy Game

    Game night will never be the same! This basically is just a regular game of Jenga. The new rules, however, allow a player to suddenly yell “Make America Great Again” and knock over the tower.

     

    The Amazon Alexa Ocasio-Cortez Plug-In Adapter

    In addition to changing Alexa’s voice to that of Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, this software update occasionally sets your device to simply scream at the top of its lungs for no discernible reason until you wish she would just go away. When you order something for yourself, the device refuses to process the request and says “That’s just so wrong!” Several times a month it does use your credit card to purchase artisanal honey-based shampoos made in Brooklyn to ship to refugee centers because they need comforts too, and to pay off student loans held by Members of Congress. After six months the software self-destructs and you never hear from it again. Includes a coupon good next Christmas for the Ilhan Omar and Beto versions.

     

    Speak to Me Millennial Doll

    Has your Millennial son or daughter stopped talking with you since the 2016 election? The Speak to Me Millennial Doll is the answer! The doll comes in only one transgender version with a nose ring and simulated tattoo of alleged comedian Pete Davidson making love to Hillary Clinton. Pulling the string causes the doll to nasally utter such phrases as “That’s racist!,” “You’re a fascist,” “Seriously, you’re going to eat that ‘food’?”, “No more hate speech,” and “I wish I wasn’t white.” The doll has a feature in which no matter where you put it down it automatically returns to sleep on the coach in your basement.

     

    CLUE – the 2020 Democratic Presidential Edition

    A crime has been committed and the game is afoot! Who has been nominated for President and Vice President by the Democratic party? It’s your job to follow the clues and figure out who the culprits are! Is it Biden and Some Black Person in the men’s room? Warren and Bernie in the Assisted Living Wing, Gillibrand alone locked outside, or Hillary running alone through the house killing off the others with a candlestick shouting “It’s still my turn!” Comes with a free tax increase, a new war in the Middle East, and an Obamacare “Tarnished Tin” level starter-pack. Libertarian candidate cards not available in the U.S.

     

    Grow Your Own Putin

    Available exclusively at PetSmart, you get a glass tank and a small ceramic Trump Tower that doubles as an air filter. Simply fill the tank with water (or blood) and pour in the pre-measured freeze-dried Putin flakes. Watch as they grow! Initially your Putin may only occupy a small corner of its tank. But the more you pay attention to it, the bigger it will get! With proper media exposure, your little Putin will soon dominate your entire household, and come to be the thing to blame when someone forgets to buy milk, when the dishes are not done, and when the spark just seems to have gone out of your marriage. Warming lamp, food pellets, and 24/7 fiber optic access to social media sold separately.

     

    Mueller Supercut, Hero Edition

    For the antifa niece or nephew on your list, this is a supercut of all classic tough guy movies (Clint Eastwood, Arnold, Bruce Willis) where, using state-of-the-art computer graphics, Robert Mueller’s face is substituted in. Hear your favorite Man o’ the Resistance utter lines like “Make my day, punk,” “Yippie Ky-ee, MF” and of course “Get off my lawn.” Also included are the really romantic stuff from Love, Actually where Mueller is shown doing all the nice things you wish your damn boyfriend would do for you just once this Christmas how the hell hard can it be to make up some cards and ring the doorbell, and those not-gay scenes from Magic Mike where each shirtless image of Channing Tatum is redone with Mueller’s face.

    Comes with a temporary Mueller tattoo, because we know you’ll come to regret it even if you don’t yet. And for one lucky child with terminal cancer, the real Robert Mueller will come to his hospital bed and whisper the secret ending of the investigation. This insight will cure the child and he will be able to walk again.

    (Note: this gift idea replaces an earlier supercut in which Ruth Bader Ginsburg was CGI-ed as several Avengers characters.)

     

    CNN or FOX News Pundit Gift Certificate
    Don’t watch the news, create the news! This attractive gift certificate, available for your favorite not fake news channel, allows you to appear as one of a panel of 25 experts to comment on the most important story of the day. Your image on screen will be approximately the size of an Apple watch, and your remarks must be limited to shouting “But wait just a minute,” “The walls are closing in,” “What about the emails?” or “Oh right, the Russians,” delivered either with righteous anger or drippy sarcasm depending on which channel you choose. Buy two or more certificates and you will be quoted as “an unnamed source close to the White House” and given a book deal. The buyer is responsible for travel to CNN headquarters in New York and the trailer park where Fox News is thought to originate.

     

    Your Own GoFundMe

    With GoFundMe now America’s largest health insurer, give the gift of an account to a loved one!

     

    …And some bonus items!

    Media Critique Kit

    An educational “toy” to encourage a more thoughtful approach to the mediascape of 2019, the kit is just a gallon of vodka. The advanced kit includes a stout rope and sturdy stool.

     

    The Mar-a-Lago Experience

    Why not a little getaway to the Happiest Place in America? All-inclusive, the weekend includes an appointment to whatever Cabinet position happens to be open at the time. Seriously, you don’t have to really go there for the weekend, just please someone take some of these jobs if you can.

     

    Military Leadership: From Battleground to Boardroom

    A good book always makes a great gift. But this isn’t really just one book, you can give a million of them to everyone on your list because every retired service member from 30-year-generals to privates kicked out on bad conduct violations writes one. Don’t worry which to choose, as they are all the same! Every book is created by a computer that just randomly shuffles chapter headings like “Lead from the Front,” “People are Your Best Resource,” “No Surrender,” “Details Count,” “Be the Leader You Always Wanted,” “Combat Hardens Men (and Women Now Too!),” and more. Even the titles are similar, always with a colon: Leading from the Front: A General’s Story or What I Learned in Combat: A Major’s Lessons from the Front or Trident Glory Honor Sweaty Stuff: SEAL Lessons for Managers Who Don’t Have to Kill People.

     

    The Password for my Netflix Account
    Seriously, about 20 people are already “borrowing” it. You might as well use it. How does this company make money?

     

    A Fill-In-the-Blank ‘Never Forget’ Bumper Sticker
    Be prepared.

     

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  • Was Jim Mattis the Last “Adult” in Trump’s Room?

    December 23, 2018 // 6 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Trump

    Creepy Easter Bunny

    The idea Mattis was the “adult in the room,” the moral and intellectual restraint on Trump’s evil wishes, is tired. We’ve been recycling that one for two years and more now, as various “adults” were christened as such and rose and fell in the eyes of the media — Flynn, McMaster, Tillerson, Kelly, and now Mattis (the media regards Pompeo and Bolton as “dangerous” and thus not adults. Nobody else seems to make the news.)

    Despite these adults’ irregularly scheduled regular departures, there has been no catastrophe, no war with Iran or China, no dismantlement of NATO, no invasion of Freedonia. We can certainly argue over the rights and wrongs of Trump’s foreign policy decisions (for example, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement) as with any other president, but that clearly falls within the boundaries of standard disagreements, not Apocalypse 2018: Trump Unleashed. The big news is that none of the terrible things and in reality, tweets aside, very few of the small bad things, have come to pass. It’s almost as if all the predictions have been… wrong.

    Somewhat unique to the Trump era is the idea cabinet officials, appointed by the President and who work for the executive branch, are supposed to be part of some underground #Resistance check and balance system. One pundit critically observed “If Trump holds to form, he will look for a new secretary of Defense who sees the job as turning his preferences into policy rather acting as a guardrail on his impulses.” Leaving out the hyperbole, isn’t that what all presidents look for in their cabinet, people who will help them enact policy? A writer in the NYT was more direct, saying “Many, in other words, hoped that Mr. Mattis would be willing to subvert American democracy in order to check a bad president.” Um, you mean throwing away the rules of our democracy to save it, simply because you disagree with the president’s decisions? Sure, nothing to worry about there. We’ll just run for awhile as a chaotic autocracy of unelected generals until we can get a good president.

    Positions like Secretary of Defense exist to carry out the policies of the executive branch, offering advice and counsel of course, but ultimately are not independent actors. I can’t seem to recall anyone saying Donald Rumsfeld failed to control the worst impulses of George Bush, or was expected to do so. No, this is a role imagined into existence by a paranoid media streamlined now to condemn anything Trump does and praise the, well, opposite. Much media have been spent explained how it was good Mattis “slow walked” and stalled orders from his boss. In any other administration that would be called borderline insubordination; it is real chaotic when underlings don’t follow orders. People usually get fired for that. With Trump somehow it is labeled courageous. I do wonder how open Mattis would be for some of his generals slow walking a few of his own orders, you know, the ones they disagree with politically.

    To accept the media’s Mattis/Syria narrative, you must also accept:

    — the purpose of Cabinet officials is not to implement executive policy but to resist it, in secret and unconstitutionally if necessary;

    — this change from the last 230 years is because Trump is uniquely a dangerous man who requires us to sacrifice democracy to save it until we can elect a Democrat;

    — only military men can really be trusted to do this;

    — American troops in Syria are a key element of America’s defense and foreign policy and so much depends on them staying in place;

    — Mattis departing means 2019 will be a stream of war and chaos as Trump is unleashed, so watch for that.

    WaPo claims “Mattis reportedly told the commander of the Strategic Command to keep him directly informed of any event that might lead to a nuclear alert being sent to Trump.” The implication is Trump could run amuck and trigger nuclear armageddon.

    But for the WaPo story to be true, you have to believe prior to this the Secretary of Defense, whose office is part of the chain of command that would launch any actual response, was not being informed alongside the president of nuclear-alert level events. And that is absolutely not accurate. “Hey, Mr. President, Staff Sergeant Jones here from NORAD. Yeah, fine, thanks for asking. Hey, sorry to wake you, but I wanted you to be literally the first to know a massive Russian first strike is inbound. You want me to call anyone else or you gonna do it?”

    Funny thing, but here’s a partial list of things that happened when Mattis (and McGurk, below) was in senior leadership positions which did not call forward from him an act of conscience such as resigning: Bush starting the Iraq war based on lies, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Gitmo, torture, drone killings of multiple civilians. And Obama agreeing to forever hide torture, drone killing American citizens, invading Libya under whatever pretenses, not closing Gitmo. And Trump threatening nuclear war with North Korea. Nope, that was all apparently cool. Just don’t ask these guys to stop a war.

    It has become common now for the media to ascribe super powers to outgoing officials, and the veneration of Mattis and the whispers about all the crises’ he quietly averted these past two years for us are only now beginning. It is all expected and it is all meaningless. Mattis did a decent enough job but was neither a superstar nor a goat, just SecDef for a couple of years.

    Seriously, if your system is so fragile that it can be broken by one man, and otherwise depended on another one man to keep it afloat and not destroy the world, the problem is the system, not Trump.

     

    McGurk Bonus

    Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the coalition (which is mostly just the U.S.) fighting the Islamic State, has accelerated his resignation by two months, telling colleagues this weekend that he could not in good conscience carry out Trump’s newly declared policy of withdrawing American troops from Syria. No American, it seems, can support in good conscience actually ending a war.

    Funny aside: There were no known State Department resignations of protest during the 15 years of atrocities known as the War of Terror (as well as no publicly released dissent memos.)No one quit because of torture, or Abu Ghraib, or Gitmo, or white phosphorus against civilians, or any invasion or drone kill. Zero. That must have all been OK! At the State Department there were only three resignations of conscience over the 2003 Iraq War, and one other related to Afghanistan. In 2016, 51 American diplomats did write a formal dissent memo calling on Obama to order military strikes against the Syrian government. Former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is believed to have resigned that post in protest over the Obama administration not going to war in Syria.

    McGurk has a long, long history with Iraq and Syria. In fact, he has been the Forrest Gump of the American Gulf Wars.

    McGurk worked in Iraq under multiple U.S. ambassadors and through both the Bush and Obama administrations. He was present at nearly every mistake the U.S. made during the years of Occupation. In return for such poor handling of so many delicate issues, McGurk was declared “uniquely qualified” and Obama nominated him as America’s ambassador to Baghdad in 2012. You’d kinda think having that on your resume– I am partially responsible for everything that happened in Iraq for the last ten years, including America’s tail-between-its-legs retreat— might make it hard to get another job running Iraq policy. Who goes out of their way to hire the coach that lost most of his games?

    Unfortunately, around that same time a series of near-obscene emails appeared online, showing a sexual relationship between the then-married-to-someone else McGurk, and a then-married-to-someone else female reporter assigned to Baghdad. The emails suggested a) that official U.S. government communications were being used to arrange nooky encounters; b) that McGurk may have shared sensitive information exclusively with this one reporter as pillow talk; c) that he may have ditched his security detail to engage in his affair and d) rumors circulated that a McGurk sex tape, featuring a different woman, existed.

    McGurk withdrew his nomination for ambassador and was promptly appointed by the State Department as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, a position without the title of ambassador but one with a significant role in policy making. Conveniently, the position was not competed and did not require any confirmation process. McGurk just walked in to it with the thanks of a grateful nation.

     
     

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  • A Short History of How the U.S. Went to War in Syria

    December 22, 2018 // 2 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria



    Here’s what got Secretary of Defense James Mattis all worked up!

    Even as what should have been a quick 2001 strike into Afghanistan bogged down into the quagmire of nation building, George W. Bush in 2003 invaded Iraq. The pretenses were all false. Terrorism was the excuse, American control over the region the goal. “Winning” in Iraq was built on an illusion the U.S. could somehow establish a puppet government there incorporating Sunni, Shia, and Kurd power blocs. There was no plan for this and it predictably failed, metastasizing into civil war, eventually drawing in powerful outside forces, most predominantly the Iranians on the Shia side, and al Qaeda on the Sunni side, with the U.S. assuming a defacto role protecting the semi-autonomous Kurds.

    As the second Bush term gasped to conclusion and America grew weary of the Iraq War, the U.S. quietly abandoned its plans for a tripartite Iraqi state. It allowed Iranian-supported Shias to “win” the 2010 elections at the expense of the Sunni population, and walled off the Kurds, formal status to be sorted out sometime whenever. Under a deal negotiated by Bush, American troops came home under Obama. That action didn’t “lose” Iraq; Iraq was “lost” at a thousand incremental steps between 2003-2010 when the U.S. failed to create a viable government and left everyone to fight it out. The continued presence of American troops post-2010 would not have prevented the violence which followed, anymore than the continued presence of U.S. troops pre-2010 did not prevent the violence and in fact inflamed it.

    The Shia government in Iraq, advised, financed, and controlled by newly-empowered Iran (America’s wars had removed Iran’s two biggest enemies, the Taliban on its eastern border and Saddam on the west, freeing up the bulk of Iran’s military and foreign policy resources) wildly overplayed its hand, setting off on a clumsy genocide of the Sunnis. Out of desperation, the remnants of al Qaeda coupled with ultra-violent Sunni nationalists/protectors/patriots/terrorists (pick one word, but they all describe ISIS) morphed into Islamic State. From a Syrian border American interventionism had turned into a failed state, Islamic State organized itself and began holding ground, quickly rolling over the Kurds in northern Iraq and through sympathetic Sunni lands. When the American-trained (cost: $25 billion) Iraqi national army dropped its weapons and ran in 2014, remaining Shia forces collapsed back toward Baghdad, and it looked like Iraq was about to snap apart.

    The U.S., under Obama, reinserted itself into Iraq, in a devil’s bargain with the most powerful player on the ground other than ISIS, the Iranians. The U.S. paired with Iranian special forces, the U.S. paired with Iranian-led Iraqi troops, and the U.S. paired with Iranian-backed Shia militias/nationalists/protectors/patriots/terrorists. This time there was no grand plan to do any nation building. The plan was to literally kill every Islamic State fighter, and if that meant destroying Sunni cities to save them, so be it. Death was rained in literal Biblical doses. The American strategy against Islamic State worked. It should have; this was a war the American military knew how to fight, with none of that tricky counterinsurgency stuff. Retaking Ramadi, Fallujah, and Mosul were set-piece battles. City after Sunni city were ground into little Dresdens before being turned over to the militias for ethnic cleansing of renegade Sunnis.

    Without much discussion, “fighting ISIS” into Syrian territory slipped into another, albeit less enthusiastic, round of regime change, this time aimed at Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Assad’s family controlled the country since the 1960s, and was a sort-of American partner here and there, certainly helpful during the early years of the GWOT in torturing folks on America’s behalf. Bashar himself was a goofy looking guy with a sophisticated wife, an optometrist by education, and when he took office after his classic dictator Dr. Evil father’s death, was briefly seen as a “new voice” in the Middle East, a less fashionable version of last year’s Saudi Mohammed bin Salman. Assad was fighting Islamic State, too: they were seeking to seize territory from him, and so the U.S. and Assad were sort of on the same side.

    Nonetheless, Obama’s warhawks — the gals, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton in the lead! — drove policy toward regime change. Assad became an evil dictator who killed his own people. Justification for the U.S. going to war again in the Middle East was thus because a tiny percentage of the deaths were maybe caused by gas instead of artillery, aerial bombs, machine guns, tanks, rockets, grenades, car bombs, mines, bad food, or sticks and stones, a “red line.” The world of 2015 however was very different than the one of 2003. The U.S. had been bled out by the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and fights picked in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and across Africa. Iran was empowered. Russia, always a friend of Assad’s, was invited in to help rid Syria of chemical weapons by Secretary of State John Kerry and took the opportunity to dramatically grow its military role there.

    Saudi money fed the fight, often flowing into ISIS’ coffers because ISIS was fighting Iranian-backed troops whom the Saudi’s opposed. Turkey saw an opportunity in chaos to push back against the Kurds nipping at its southern and eastern borders and basically a small-scale version of WWI unraveled as the United States bombed a bit, stepped back, sent in some special forces, then claimed it had no boots on the ground, and so forth. America’s goals — destroy ISIS, fight Iranian influence, oust Assad — were often at odds with one another and lead to U.S. weapons and money flooding the battlefield. More than one firefight featured American-supplied guns on both sides. More than one American special forces unit found itself playing traffic cop stopping an American “ally” from attacking another American “ally.”

    That more or less brings things up to late 2018…

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  • Seeing the Promised Land: Springsteen on Broadway, a Review

    December 18, 2018 // 10 Comments

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

    Springsteen on Broadway, Bruce Springsteen’s one-man show finished its 236 performance run in New York, and arrived on Netflix December 16.

    It is extraordinary. It is an autopsy of us, a public service, a political rally, a tally of what we need to do next as a nation. A man confesses his sins, asks for our forgiveness, tells us about an America we still might be able to become, and opens his heart about what it means to be closer to the end than the beginning.

    I saw the show live, an early winner of the ticket lottery. The Netflix version of the same show (and album, DVD, etc.) is a simple recording of what we all saw in the theater. No backstage footage, no interviews, no B-roll of Bruce grimly driving around his hometown. Someone was smart enough to focus the cameras and get out of the way. Over the year and a half run, Bruce moved a few things around a bit ,a nd added two songs, Long Time Coming and Ghost of Tom Joad. Otherwise, the show stayed pretty much the same.

    Politics is missing from the show and politics is present in nearly every line. While there are references to “the current state of affairs” and admonishments against giving in to those who probe at our differences for their own benefit, you don’t hear the name Trump, same as you didn’t hear Reagan, or Bush, or much of Obama during Bruce’s long career. Instead, you hear about the people those presidents left behind, those once the American Dream and now just what happened to it.

    Bruce signals early it is time to make amends, via spoken passages pulled from his autobiography interlaced with his music. I’d heard something like this before – at AA meetings where people working through their 12 Step Programs admitted what they’d done, the people they’d hurt, and sought redemption. Bruce stood up and apologized for allowing Born in the USA to become an anthem. Bruce is pissed off now singing, no, shouting the lyrics. He seeks amends by telling us it should have always been sung as a protest song, that it always was to him, but he let it slip away.

    So he took the song back, hitting the line “son, you don’t understand” hard, maybe directed at himself in 1984 trying to ride the tiger of fame, maybe at himself as a young man dodging the draft and later, politicized by Ron Kovic, wondering when he visited the Vietnam Memorial who was sent in his place.

    Springsteen’s politics are bigger than one passing president, same as his vision for us. He professes we need a conscience, not a party affiliation, to make America great. So the words of a nation turning its back in the 1980s on those who built it double for the words of a nation turning its back on some of its most vulnerable citizens in 2018.

    The lack of empathy which caused us to abandon factory workers in the Midwest isn’t all that different from the lack of empathy that causes us to abandon people in need today. Some manipulative politicians tell us it is all different, that we don’t need to care about old white laborers, same as others tell us we don’t need to care about poor immigrants of color. There are no deplorables here, just Haves and Have Nots, and some who Took It All. Springsteen channels, mimics, and echoes the poets who came before him and understood it, too: Whitman, Guthrie, Steinbeck, Agee, Debs, Dylan, alongside a little Holden Caulfield and Joe Dirt.

    Land of Hope and Dreams captures all this, with its signature line about a train called America carrying saints, sinners, whores, and gamblers borrowed from Woody Guthrie who borrowed it from John Steinbeck. We can be better, even if we never were better before. America’s greatness isn’t about romanticizing a past that never existed; we always pushed back against immigrants, always sent men and women to die for the wrong reasons abroad. This used to be a country that talked about dreams with a straight face; it was never supposed to be a finite place. And so Bruce amends a key line from Promised Land to warn, changing “I believe in a promised land” from his records to “I believe there is a promised land.” The danger is always in thinking we cannot be better.

    Promised Land thus is an unexpected highlight of the show, framed around a retelling of Bruce’s first trip across the great western deserts. Springsteen makes no secret the promise he saw in America then remains unfulfilled, and the answer is us. He finished the song aside the mic, singing and playing without amplification. It was as if he was singing to each of us as individuals, and it was meant to be so.

    Yet for its intimacy, much of what happens doesn’t seem like it was for us at all. We didn’t show up to see him as much as he seemed to need us to show up so he’d have someone to talk with. Bruce’s adult life has been all about crippling bouts of depression relieved only by maniacal touring. You could imagine if it was somehow possible, he would have liked to deliver this show to each of us individually, maybe in the kitchen, with little more than the light off the stove to give some space between us. Gathering everyone into a theater was a necessary but unwanted logistical thing.

    A lot of this hummed around the edges of Bruce’s performances for years; he was already working out his emotions over his unloving father on stage as a kind of rap meditation when I first saw him perform in 1978. But tonight when he imitated his father telling him to go away as a young Bruce was sent to fetch him from some bar – “don’t bother me here, don’t bother me here” – that was an eight-year-old on stage mimicking an adult. If it was Bruce acting for us, the pain was as involuntarily present as the sweat on his forehead.

    The evening was as necessary as a last hospital visit with an old friend. Bruce wanted to know – he asked – if he’d done OK by us, had he been a “good companion.” We’d made him very rich, allowing him as he joked to never have to hold a job in his life. Twice he accused himself of being a fraud, saying he’d never been inside a factory in his life. But it’s time now to take that long walk. We’re tired, we’re old, we’re at the point where there is more to look back on than to look forward to. So did he do OK by us? Was it… enough?

    Yeah, Bruce, it was. The show finished where things started really, with Born to Run. Everyone in the audience heard it a first time a different time since it came out in 1975, but now, 43 years passed, we had grown old together. Every one of us, and by God that had to include Bruce, heard a hundred versions of that song in that moment. We heard it on 8-track, bootleg cassette, LP, CD, MP-3, DVD, YouTube, and Netflix and had to face, together, the warm embrace and cold slap of never being 16 years old again.

    Age is omnipresent – maybe we ain’t that young anymore – right down to the construction of the song list; it’s telling a 69-year-old Springsteen chose about a third of the set from his youthful period forty years earlier. As he said on stage, there’s less blank paper left for us to write on. Maybe as a person, maybe as a nation. Maybe they are the same thing if we think on it right.

    Unlike a typical Springsteen concert, where anything less than three hours is a short cut, the Broadway show is short, tight, maybe even a bit rushed. Not like Bruce was trying to cram in everyone’s favorite songs and still get home for the news, but that he had a lot to say and knew he didn’t have a lot of time to say it. The end is coming even though we don’t know exactly when, so you listen up now.

    The weight of it all – the love lost, the hate and pain collected, a nation wavering on itself and its promise – feels heavier than it used to when there was more time. Now, Bruce seemed to say, I’m going to get these things together for you and hand them over during these hours. After that, they’ll be yours to take care of. In a way, they always were.

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  • Why Trump is Unlikely to Be Indicted or Impeached for Campaign Finance Crimes

    December 12, 2018 // 14 Comments

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

    Almost overnight the focus of Russiagate shifted from treason and Trump as a Russian asset to a hyperfocus on payoffs to two women Trump slept with years ago. But even if it can be shown Donald Trump’s actions toward those two women are actually chargeable crimes, he will not be indicted while in office.

    That leaves impeachment, over acts the president did before being elected. We are in a load of trouble if there is a way to impeach a president essentially retroactively, for things done before he assumed office. This is Twitter-think gone wild, destroying people for old Tweets written in some cases years ago, or holding a Supreme Court nomination hostage to yearbook scribbles. The politics of personal destruction. Let’s see where things stand.

     

    Indictment?

    Before getting into the specifics of Trump, Cohen and those payoffs, it is clear the attorneys of the Southern District of New York (SDNY), under the control of the U.S. Department of Justice, will not be permitted to break long tradition (here’s the document from the Office of the Legal Counsel which establishes it would be unconstitutional to indict) and indict a sitting president. No one will say it, but no one wants that door opened, even to get Trump; if it is, every future president can expect to find himself endlessly enveloped in frivolous indictments from prosecutors seeking to make a name for themselves and/or score political points by turning an opinion into a headline. Nope, nobody is throwing Baby political safety out with the bathwater of Trump.

    There is also crazy talk SDNY is preparing the indictment against Trump now, to file against him the day he leaves office in 2021 (assuming he loses the election to Hillary/Beto or whomever), a new level of pointless revenge in America that won’t happen. No newly-elected Democratic president wants to send that Third World vengeance message alongside of obligatory “time to heal” rhetoric. And of course if Trump is elected to a second term the SDNY indictments disappear; there is a five year statute of limitations on any 2016 election finance crimes such as Trump might be accused of. As New York magazine put it in a headline, “Trump 2020 Shaping Up to Be a Campaign to Stay Out of Prison.”

    Indictment of trump, now or in the future, seems headed nowhere. But we’ll talk about it endlessly anyway.

     

    A Tale of Two Women

    So bottom line: SDNY isn’t going to do anything. It’s impeachment or nothing from the Democratic House starting in January.

    There are two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, at the center of all this. Both are alleged to have had affairs with Trump, and both are said to have received money to not speak of those affairs (though they have.) You can in fact pay people to shut up about affairs. That happens all the time. It is not illegal.

    The fact is Trump could have made the payment himself without violating the law. In the simplest version, if Trump had paid the women with money clearly his own, with a note attached saying “No politics, this is only to spare my family shame, you filthy bimbo,” there would be absolutely no crime. Sleaze, disgrace, cravenness, yes, of course. But the crime, if it exists, is based on the way this was done, not that it was done. So can any of this be criminalized to the extent that it becomes the “high crime or misdemeanor” necessary to impeach Trump?

    Let’s start with Stormy.

    Stormy Daniels

    For Stormy’s $130,000 payoff to morph into something illegal, it will be necessary for someone to determine the money paid her came from campaign funds, that it was a donation. If it was 100% Trump’s private money, there is no case. Nothing Mueller or the SDNY has released has said where the money came from. Think about think how complex Trump’s finances are. Proving the money was campaign funds is a critical part of this. Keep in mind the idea that campaign funds are illegal to use here hinges on none of this cash was Trump’s own money, even money he donated himself to his own campaign. The illegal part is based mostly on a $2,700 donation limit imposed on the supposed “giver,” Michael Cohen in this case, a limit which does not apply to the candidate himself. The campaign funds part comes in in tracking the source of the cash used to reimburse Cohen.

    In short, the payment is not a donation if it was made for an expense that was independent of the campaign – that is, money that would have been paid even if there were no campaign.

    If the money can be shown to be campaign funds or a donation by Cohen, one next has to prove the purpose of the payoff was to influence the election, not say to prevent shaming Trump’s family. Absent hard information to the contrary, Trump could claim he wanted to hide the affair say from his young son reading about it in the media, and maybe even show he’s been paying off women for decades, long before he ran for president, as proof that Stormy was just another in a long line of galpals paid to shut up after the deed.

    If the money can be shown to be campaign funds and somehow intent was clear, then impeachment would still require tying all that to Trump, because as things stand at this moment, it was Trump lawyer Michael Cohen who paid the money out with whatever intent Cohen himself had at that time. Trump himself did not pay anything to Stormy per se.

    Cohen, in his guilty pleas seeking lenient sentences on his unrelated tax cheating convictions, says that was the case, for him, that his intent was to influence the election. We currently have only his word that it was also Trump’s intent when (again, only on Cohen’s word) Trump ordered him to make the payoff. Absent additional information, those key elements of the crime depend on convicted felon Michael Cohen’s impeachment testimony from his jail cell as to culpability and intent of the president.

    Then there is the question of the money again. Cohen claims he paid Stormy using his own personal funds, and then was reimbursed by Trump. Assuming that is true, then step one (above) would be to prove the reimbursement money came from campaign donations and Trump knew the money was being reimbursed for the payoff specifically. Intent is very much a factor in proving a crime here. So if say Cohen sent an unitemized invoice (as Rudy Giuliani has suggested) to Trump for a dollar amount simply for “services rendered” (call it plausible denial), Trump can claim he had no idea the money was being used illegally. So hopefully someone will produce a receipt annotated “Shady Payoff to Stormy.”

    This is a complicated case to prove — that the payoffs were in fact “campaign donations,” that the intent was to influence an election after Trump had already made clear to the electorate his sleazy background with women, that Trump knew in detail what Cohen said was done by him, and that Trump ordered these things to happen. That would mostly leave Trump guilty of some sort of “conspiracy to…” charge, something second hand the public might see as short of impeachable.

    The fact that Cohen chose to plead guilty to campaign finance crimes seeking a lighter sentence means that none of these questions were ever contested in a court, nothing was proven, no evidence produced, and no witnesses called and examined. Cohen’s choice to plead guilty is not prima facie evidence of the truth of any of this. His guilty plea is not “evidence” in the impeachment of Trump, though Cohen would obviously be a key witness.

    One can imagine the media circus as Cohen, maybe clad in an orange jumpsuit on day pass from some Federal prison, testifies alongside Stormy Daniels, whose skills at anal sex are watchable on Porhub turning breaks in the proceedings. Also,

    A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Stormy Daniels to pay nearly $300,000 in legal fees to Trump over a defamation lawsuit dismissed on October 15 to add to the gathering of shame. Bazinga!

     

    Karen McDougal

    If the number of elements which must be proven to impeach Trump over what happened with Stormy seems a long road, the case of Karen McDougal is even more complex.

    In McDougal’s case, Cohen claims he paid $150,000 in Trump money to David Pecker (you can’t make this stuff up), who runs American Media, which controls the National Enquirer. Pecker then supposedly used that money to buy exclusive rights to McDougal’s story of sex with Trump with the intent of never publishing the tale, thus burying it. Although Cohen said he would reimburse Pecker (and then Cohen would be reimbursed by Trump), the reimbursement did not happen. So the crime here is Cohen causing a third party (Pecker) to make an illegal contribution.

    Illegal contribution? Well, that’s another point in both cases, Stormy and McDougal. For these cases to add up to crimes, instead of a legal payoff to remain quiet/buy the rights to a story, the House would have to somehow conclude the money was actually a contribution to Trump’s campaign, a contribution either made illegally beyond allowable limits, or made illegally to influence the election, or made illegally just because it wasn’t disclosed. If the whole mess was to be heard in a real court, this point of law would be a showstopper, and a focal point for both sides to contest. How it will be adjudicated in front of Congress is anyone’s guess, but expect Trump’s defense team, if things get that far, to try and move the question out of Congress and into a real court.

    Another element is it must be shown Pecker spiked the McDougal story to influence the election, not simply as an editorial decision. Fun fact: prosecutors first granted Pecker (and another American Media executive, Dylan Howard) immunity to testify in this case. They then announced a “Non-Prosecution Agreement” with American Media, which quickly said the whole thing was political. No one is above the law, unless you are willing to testify against someone more important than you, in which case you get off scot-free for your own crimes!

    And maybe someday we can talk about the third world system we are watching play out where plea bargains and lesser sentences are bartered for nasty testimony.

     

    The Jury of Us

    Proving the many legal points is hard enough, but that’s just the beginning of the real test. This is all about the politics of destruction; Democrats couldn’t beat Trump n 2016, they couldn’t gin up enough Russia-fever to get him, and so may choose to settle on working these payoffs as their last act.

    Keep in mind all of the above elements will need to be proven in hearings held in the House, with witnesses and defense teams, all no doubt televised. There is a difference between what a prosecutor asserts in a one-sided filing designed (see the job title, “to prosecute,” the other side is called the defense) to present someone as guilty, and proving those same elements of an actual on-the-books crime, with evidence. There is a difference between what you so desperately want to believe is true, and what actually is true under the Rule of Law you also believe is so in danger but would throw away in a heartbeat to oust Trump.

    Democrats will have to answer in a way average Americans will agree with how this is all so different from when it was discovered Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was guilty of violations involving nearly $2 million – an amount that dwarfs the $280,000 in Cohen’s case – the Obama Justice Department decided not to prosecute. Instead, the matter was quietly disposed of by a $375,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission. How’d we go from a fine to impeachment anyway?

    To be sure, SDNY prosecutors have charged election finance violations as felonies before, most notably in 2014 against conservative Dinesh D’Souza, whom Trump later pardoned. That no doubt displeased the folks at SDNY, so there’s an element of shallow revenge for the public to chew on as well.

    Politics

    The story will unfold in the context of hearings where the real jury are the Americans who’ll vote in 2020. Since absent some bombshell the Republican Senate will never convict Trump no matter what the House does, this is all for show, and we’re the audience. Democrats thinking this all through must remember the dumpster fire of the Bill Clinton impeachment, where in return for their efforts to trump up similar charges and their actual impeachment vote against Clinton, they ended up with the voters turning against them, sick of the whole thing and ultimately taking Bill’s side more or less-ish.

    Can the Democrats really expect to convince a large number of Americans that in his third year in office, Trump needs to be impeached over a violation of conspiracy to violate Section 30116(a)(7)(A) of the election laws which occurred before he was even elected? That the 2016 election needs to be overturned for that, for the good of the country, and that this wasn’t just the politics of personal destruction out of control again, as we saw with Kavanaugh?

    They might. The Democrats from Day One have wanted to put an asterisk by Trump’s election. The Russiagate-collusion narrative has turned dusty and old. It isn’t as easy to understand or as sexy as a pee tape, but in its place Dems may try and use Trump’s payments to two mistresses as a way of locking in their narrative that Trump won by cheating. Mueller is a man of the Deep State, a fixer for them, and his dirty hands are being well-employed with fixing the problem of Trump being elected when the Plan was always for Hillary.

    Or maybe not. I don’t think the Dems will risk it. I don’t think Trump is going to face impeachment, or indictment. There will be a flow of noise and threats and dire Maddow-esque predictions, but this all ends one way or another with the election of 2020, not impeachment or indictment.

     

    BONUS

    It’s easy to forget the special prosecutor who sent Bill Clinton into impeachment began with the financial mess of Whitewater and ended with Monica Lewinsky and lying to Congress, even as Mueller started with Putin controlling the Oval Office and seems likely to end with payoffs to a porn star.

    The concept of appointing a Special Prosecutor with the task of finding SOMETHING to try and overthrown an election is an ugly one. While so many Americans are near-joyful over each crumb that suggests Trump is in deeper trouble, I wonder how they’ll feel when a Special Prosecutor becomes a standard opposition weapon used against a president they like. A reminder you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

    BONUS BONUS

    And yes, to save some time, let’s just assume all the people who have commented for 2.5 years “But just wait!” have already done that again here, ‘kay?

     

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  • Mueller’s End Game

    December 11, 2018 // 12 Comments

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

    A baby born when Robert Mueller started his investigation would be talking by now. But would she have anything to say?

    We last looked at what Mueller had publicly, and what he didn’t have, some ten months ago, and cautioned skepticism that he would prove “collusion.” It’s worth another look now, but we’ll give away the ending: there is still no real evidence of, well, much of anything significant about Russiagate. One thing clear is the investigation seems to be ending. Mueller’s office reportedly even told various defense lawyers it is “tying up loose ends.” The moment to wrap things up is politically right as well; the Democrats will soon take control of the House and it is time to hand this all off to them.

     

    Ten months ago the big news was Paul Manafort flipped; that seems to have turned out to be mostly a bust, as we know now he lied like a rug to the Feds and cooperated with the Trump defense team as some sort of mole inside Mueller’s investigation (a heavily-redacted memo about Manafort’s lies, released by Mueller on Friday, adds no significant new details to the Russiagate narrative.) George Papadopoulos has already been in and out of jail — all of two weeks — for his sideshow role, Michael Avenatti is now a woman beater who is just figuring out he’s washed up, Stormy Daniels owes Trump over $300k in fees after losing to him in court, there is no pee tape, and if you don’t recall how unimportant Carter Page and Richard Gates turned out to be (or even remember who they are), well, there is your assessment of all the hysterical commentary that accompanied them a few headlines ago.

    The big reveal of the Michael Flynn sentencing memo on Tuesday was he will likely do no prison time. Everything of substance in the memo was redacted, so there is little insight available. If you insist on speculation, try this: it’s hard to believe something really big and bad happened such that Flynn knew about it but still wasn’t worth punishing for it, and now, a year after he started cooperating with the government, nobody has heard anything about whatever the big deal is. So chances are the redactions focus on foreign lobbying in the U.S.

     

    This week’s Key to Everything is Michael Cohen, the guy who lied out of self-interest for Trump until last week when we learned he is also willing to lie, er, testify against Trump out of self-interest. If you take Cohen’s most recent statements at face value the sum is failed negotiations we all knew about already to build a Trump hotel in Moscow went on a few months longer than originally stated. Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York submitted a sentencing memo Friday for Cohen recommending 42 months in jail. In a separate filing, Mueller made no term recommendation but praised Cohen for his “significant efforts to assist the special counsel’s office.” The memos reveal no new information.

    Call it as sleazy as you want, but looking into a real estate deal is neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor, even if it’s in Russia. Conspiracy law requires an agreement to commit a crime, not just the media declaiming “Cohen was communicating directly with the Kremlin!” Talking about meeting Russian persons is not a crime, nor is meeting with them. The takeaway this was all about influence buying by the Russkies falls flat. If Putin sought to ensnare Trump, why didn’t he find a way for the deal to actually go through? Mueller has to be able to prove actual crimes by the president, not just twist our underclothes into a weekly conspiratorial knot. For fun, look here at the creative writing needed to even suggest anything illegal. Doesn’t sound like Trump’s on thin ice with hot shoes.

     

    Sigh. It is useful at this point of binge-watching the Mueller mini-series to go back to the beginning.

    The origin story for all things Russiagate is a less-than-complete intelligence finding hackers, linked to the Russian government, stole emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016. The details have never been released, no U.S. law enforcement agency has ever seen the server/scene of the crime, and Mueller’s dramatic indictments of said hackers, released as Trump met with Putin in Helsinki, will never be heard of again, or challenged, as none of his defendants will ever leave Russia. Meanwhile, despite contemporaneous denials of the same, it is now somehow accepted knowledge the emails (and Facebook ads!) had some unproven major affect on the election.

    The origin story for everything else, that Trump is beholden to Putin for favors granted or via blackmail, is opposition research purchased by the Democrats and carried out by an MI6 operative with complex connections into American intelligence, the salacious Steele Dossier. The FBI, under a Democratic-controlled Justice Department, then sought warrants to spy on the nominated GOP candidate for president, based on evidence paid for by his opponent.

    Yet the real origin story for all things Russiagate is the media, inflamed by Democrats, searching for why Trump won (because it can’t be anything to do with Hillary, and “all white people and the Electoral College are racists” just doesn’t hold up.) Their position is Trump must have done something wrong, and Robert Mueller, despite helping squash a Bush-era money-laundering probe, lying about the Iraq War, and flubbing the post-9/11 anthrax investigation, has been resurrected with Jedi superpowers to find it. It might be collusion with Russia or Wikileaks, or a pee tape, or taxes, all packaged as hard news but reading like Game of Thrones plot speculation. None of that is journalism to be proud of, and it underlies everything Mueller.

    As the NYT said in a rare moment of candor, “From the day the Mueller investigation began, opponents of the president have hungered for that report, or an indictment waiting just around the corner, as the source text for an incantation to whisk Mr. Trump out of office and set everything back to normal again.”

    The core problem is Mueller just hasn’t found a crime connected with Russiagate someone working for Trump might have committed. His investigation to date hasn’t been a search for the guilty party, Colonel Mustard in the library, but a search for an actual underlying crime, some crime, any crime. All Mueller has uncovered are some old financial misdealing by Manafort and chums that took place before and outside of the Trump campaign, payoffs to Trump’s mistresses which are not in themselves inherently illegal (despite what prosecutors simply assert in the Cohen sentencing report, someone will have to prove to a jury the money was from campaign funds and the transactions were “for the purpose of influencing” federal elections, not say simply “protecting his family from shame.” Cohen’s guilty pleas cannot legally be considered evidence of someone else’s guilt), and a bunch of people lying about unrelated matters.

     

    And that’s the give away to Muller’s final report. There was no base crime as the starting point of the investigation. With Watergate there was the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters. With Russiagate you had… Trump winning the election (remembering the FBI concluded the DNC hack was done by the Russians forever ago, no Mueller needed.)

    Almost everything Mueller has, the perjury and lying cases, are crimes he created through the process of investigating. He’s Schroeder’s Box; the crimes only exist when he tries to look at them. Mueller created most of his booked charges by asking questions he already knew the answers to, hoping his witness would lie and commit a new crime literally in front of him. Nobody should be proud of lying, but it seems a helluva way to contest a completed election as Trump enters the third year of his term.

    Mueller’s end product, his report, will most likely claim a lot of unsavory things went on. But it seems increasingly unlikely he’ll have evidence Trump worked with Russia to win the election, and even less likely that Trump is now under Putin’s control. If Mueller had a smoking gun we’d be watching impeachment hearings by now.

    Instead Mueller will end up concluding some people may have sort of maybe tried to interfere with an investigation into what turned out to be nothing, another “crime” that exists only because there was an investigation to trigger it. He’ll dump that steaming pile of legal ambiguity into the lap of the Democratic House to hold hearings on from now until global warming claims the city of Benghazi and returns it to the sea. Or the 2020 election, whichever comes first.

     

    BONUS:

    The uber-point of all this Ocean’s Nineteen-level conspiracy is supposedly so Putin can, whatever, sow dissent in America. Because if he wanted a puppet in the Oval Office it has been a damn poor return on investment — sanctions are still in place, NATO is still on Russia’s border, Montenegro joined NATO, Trump approved arms sales to the Ukraine, RT and Sputnik are sidelined as registered foreign agents, Cold Warrior-like hardliners Bolton and Pompeo are in power, the U.S. just delivered Russia an ultimatum on an arms control treaty that could return some American missiles to Europe, and more. On the plus side, there were those friendly Tweets.

    Along the way new journalistic “norms” were created: Trump is too stupid to have made his money, so it must be ill-gotten. Trump did real estate deals in NYC and so is mobbed up. Trump’s taxes (albeit available to the IRS and Treasury for decades, the FBI and Mueller via warrant for years) hide secrets. Meanwhile, everyone in Russia with a few bucks is an oligarch, and everyone who anyone from the Trump side spoke with is “connected to Putin.” Trump doesn’t have lawyers, he has fixers and consigliere.

    These tropes allow journalists to communicate in a kind of shorthand with the rubes who still imagine something will happen to annul the 2016 election. They allow each mini-development to appear to be a major event, as in the mind of the media everything is related, and everything accumulative. So a lie about a real estate deal in Russia is HUGE because it has something to do with Russia and see that connects all the dots!

    None of that is journalism to be proud of, and it underlies everything Mueller. It is almost sad looking back at the old articles and TV tales to see how excited everyone got — Flynn was indicated! Sessions recused himself! Comey will save us! The Nunes Memo! They all used to matter sooooo much. Outlets like the NYT and WaPo rolled out a “source close to the White House” to comment whatever just happened means Mueller is getting close to nailing Trump. The nutters who took over once cogent places like HuffPo and Salon run “reporting” that reads like Game of Thrones plot speculation. Everybody runs the same headlines: BREAKING: Reports: Sources: Trump Fixer to Flip; Avenatti Says “Orange is the New Black, Buttercup!”

    As one writer puts it, “For the last two years the mass media machine has been behaving very, very strangely, and it isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse. Not since the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq have we seen mainstream media outlets trying to shove narratives down our throats so desperately and aggressively.”




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  • Julian Assange Will Die Alongside Your 1st Amendment Rights

    December 2, 2018 // 10 Comments

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




    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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  • Notes on the Khasshogi Case

    November 23, 2018 // 20 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Trump




    The Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi story will someday be seen by historians (not in the US) as a near-perfect example of the failure of American policy in the Middle East begatting more failure. Only ignorance of history and the amazing sheepishness of the American people to have their opinions spoon fed to them will make things “work out.”

    Forget the current arms sales (the naughty thing the media says made Trump “pardon” Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for supposedly ordering the murder, conveniently on a phone fully-tapped by the US, though sooner or later someone will claim the real driver is some sort of shady Trump real estates deal negotiated by Kushner) the US at present needs the Saudis as a hedge against the empowered Iran our wars of the last decades in Iraq inadvertently created, and of course as Israel’s new friend in that same regard in the music of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” that powers the Jewish state’s relations in the neighborhood. Trump is boorish and gross, but he is just the ugly face of truth behind decades of US policy, a Few Good Men’s Colonel Jessup inside foreign affairs screaming we can’t handle the truth. The truth is every American president from Roosevelt to Trump bent over for the Saudis. And so will the next president, whether it’s Trump or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Representative Tulsi Gabbard eviscerating Trump as “Saudi Arabia’s bitch” is true enough, even if she was incomplete in not naming every other American leader since WWII. And, oh yeah, the Clinton Foundation, which was engorged with Saudi cash.

    (Trump as Colonel Jessup telling us what we don’t want to hear is not restricted to Saudi affairs. When journalism cosplayer, now friend of the #Resistance, Bill O’Reilly demanded to know what Trump thought about Vladimir Putin being a killer, Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?… I think our country does plenty of killing also.”)

    The truth is the Saudis can do whatever they want inside their own sphere as long as they serve our (shifting needs) for (example) oil, war in Afghanistan against the USSR, and now bulwark against Iran.

    And the US is always happy to return a favor. Two Bushs waged wars that helped the Kingdom. Obama sent US forces into bloody work in Yemen for the Saudis. Stuff happens along the way — OPEC was unleashed out of a plan to control prices, 9/11 and al Qaeda out of the creation of the jihad against the Sovs, Desert Storm when then-US ally Saddam ended up too strong after we used him to knock back Iran in the 1980s and America had to defend the Kingdom’s oil so they could sell it to us, and this year the relatively minor kerfuffle (promoted by Erdogan for his own political purposes) of Khasshogi. But the US always looks the other way, whether it is Saudi funding to kill 2,997 Americans on 9/11 or the Soprano’s hit on Khasshogi. Meh.

    The latter just caught the public’s attention because it fits with the media’s 24/7/365 need to create Trump-driven crisis fodder (don’t forget Mohammed Bin Salman — MBS to his friends and PR handlers — was a US-media darling only months ago because he was gonna let the ladies drive over there), plus of course Trump’s own willingness to constantly fan the flames with a Tweet or flippant comment. It’s nice to see them have such a symbiotic relationship. Meanwhile the greater American atrocity, supporting the slaughter of civilians by Saudi forces in Yemen, is left more or less untouched except as an adjunct to the Khasshogi case; the US may publically pull back there a symbolic bit as playful punishment. The real blowback from Khasshogi will be near-zero compared to what happened for example when OPEC crushed our economy and when al Qaeda sent us to war for 18 years.

    US-Saudi relations are a constant clusterfutz where one unexpected horrible outcome is “fixed” by an even larger problem once envisioned as the solution. That domino effect, from 1945 through tomorrow, is what binds the US and Saudi Arabia as brothers in foreign policy crime, and if the Saudi’s play it right (as they have for decades) it always will.




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  • Thanksgiving 2018

    November 21, 2018 // 9 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Trump

    Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving (Not in Iraq)


    Nine years ago this day I was in Iraq at a forward operating base embedded with the 10th Mountain Division and alongside all those men and women missing Thanksgiving with my family.


    Not one article, Tweet, or video clip ran that said we were wasting our time out there, that we were being used as a political tool by the president, even though we were, and the waste was 1000x greater in every way over whatever’s going on on the Mexican border.


    You are concerned about how the U.S. is treating people of color? In Iraq, we were killing them, not refusing them asylum. Women, kids, old men, whatever, collateral damage.


    The media didn’t criticize our deployment then, they cheered it, and when they criticize it today only in one place, Mexico (the troops are still in Iraq for another Thanksgiving, by the way) just Because Trump they either don’t know or likely don’t care how empty, rude, and hypocritical they fucking sound.




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  • Progress or Failure in North Korea?

    November 16, 2018 // 5 Comments

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



    In this same week the New York Times asserted North Korea is engaged in a “great deception” over its nuclear forces, South Korean unification minister Cho Myoung Gyon is visiting the United States with plans to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a Member of Congress, and to address several forums

    Will he speak of diplomatic failings and deceptions? Or will he talk about how to make progress as the two allies seek a balance between economic rewards and North Korean denuclearization?

    It’s likely the latter. Cho may compare the situation to one year ago, when the Council of Foreign Relations put the chances of nuclear war at 50%. Since then: the Olympics attended by North and South, the Trump-Kim-Moon summit, multiple intra-Korea summits, and positive steps economically and symbolically. The reality is we are watching complex diplomacy unfold in real time, meaning things can appear to move slowly. But with the Americans, the minister is likely share a perspective that with the movie played at double-speed a different picture emerges.

    The question is not so much if progress is occurring, but if, driven more by the Koreas than Washington, it isn’t moving fast enough. Jeong Se Hyun, former unification minister, reminds it is “unprecedented” for Seoul’s unification ministry to deal directly with the State Department. The reason? “In this situation where the United States is putting the brakes on United States-North Korea relations, there is a need for the unification ministry to directly persuade the State Department,” Jeong said.

    A year ago it was reported the United States was imminently preparing to attack North Korea. Instead of holocaust, what followed was a summit in Singapore. Officials from North and South now meet regularly, Secretary Pompeo has been to Pyongyang, and there is a new American Ambassador (a career Navy officer whose father fought in the Korean War) and Deputy Chief of Mission (a professional diplomat with nearly a decade of Korean experience) in Seoul. The United States has a Special Representative for North Korea. Diplomatic infrastructure is being built.

    Yet the headlines this week raise concern over a “great deception” by the North Koreans, evidenced by a think tank “discovering” North Korean missile facilities already long known to United States intelligence. As dramatic as that sounds, South Korea’s presidential spokesperson put those “new” missile facilities into a more accurate perspective, saying “North Korea has never promised to shut down this missile base. It has never signed any agreement, any negotiation that makes shutting down missile bases mandatory… There is no agreement, no negotiation that makes it necessary for it to be declared.” All of this was to be expected; Kim Jong Un in his January 2018 New Year’s Day guidance stated North Korea would shift from open air testing to maintaining nuclear weapons in such facilities.

    The larger story left in the shadows of such created-drama is the ongoing rush forward driven by the two Koreas themselves, the most likely subject of discussion this week between Minister Cho and Secretary Pompeo.

    Since the Trump-Kim-Moon summit the two Koreas established pseudo-embassies just north of the Demilitarized Zone, where representatives have met more than 60 times. The offices have become clearinghouses for over a dozen joint economic initiatives, including a massive project in preparation for greater cross-border trade to link roads and railroads severed during the Korean War. North and South Korea have removed landmines and other weapons from the border and drawn back border guards. Kim offered to permanently dismantle two key ICBM facilities under the observation of outside experts, and to negotiate further on the permanent shut down of the nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

    While Minister Cho and Secretary Pompeo will no doubt agree that’s not a bad start for the first five months since Singapore, of likely concern to the United States is South Korean President Moon Jae In’s belief economic progress is a necessary fore step to ultimate denuclearization. He almost certainly sent Cho to Washington seeking American concurrence to increase economic cooperation with the North, including asking for changes to sanctions now limiting some financial transactions. Moon himself lobbied Russia leader Vladimir Putin along the same lines, and will make a pitch to Vice President Pence on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN Summit this week.

    Moon seeks sanctions relief as negotiations move forward, no doubt holding little is accomplished without some give and take. “I believe the international community needs to provide assurances that North Korea has made the right choice to denuclearize and encourage North Korea to speed up the process,” he said this week in Paris. American domestic politics sees things flipped 180 degrees, with sanctions relief a thank-you gift delivered after the last nuke is carted away.

    Despite the situation as described by pundits – a sneaky North Korea duping an uninformed American president – the reality appears much closer to a process now at a crossroads between two visions of a way forward. North and South Korea appear to want economic progress, paced with concessions by the North. Under criticism Trump is naive, the American side wants aggressive steps toward denuclearization first, with economic progress largely withheld instead of fed incrementally. How much the United States is willing to incentivize denuclearization is much more likely the subject Minister Cho and Secretary Pompeo will discuss then North Korean missile bunkers both have long known about.

    Time matters. A new American president in 2020 will be unlikely to press the case in North Korea, receding back into the politically safer waters of previous decades’ policy of largely ignoring things. Washington is not alone in seeing strategy held hostage to domestic politics. In the South, progress with North Korea is widely supported, and Moon will see electoral challenges if he does not deliver results. Kim’s domestic situation is less clear, but he faces pressure for economic progress from his growing middle class while at the same time must tamp down the suspicions of his hard line supporters that he may give away too much too soon at too low a cost.

    Minister Cho may remind his reluctant American interlocutors decades of sanctions have yielded only a nuclear North Korea. The nukes are part of a problem solved by a comprehensive solution that takes into account what the North is really at the table for: engagement with the world system and assurance of its own survival. That ultimate goal will require the North’s nuclear weapons to become unnecessary, as Pyongyang agrees internally to and is allowed externally to become so engaged with the global system it finds itself no longer in need of such a powerful deterrence. It can be done; the world has the broader road map of Deng Xiaoping and China to follow forward.

    This isn’t faux optimism. This is diplomacy, chock-a-block with hard choices and twisty decisions, a push and pull between priorities. The underlying challenge for the three parties is not about media bleating, North cheating, and Trump tweeting, but finding the proper balance of economic incentives which match both strategic and domestic needs, in three national capitols. All that before time runs out.



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  • Deception in North Korea? Nope, But a New Flavor of Neocon

    November 15, 2018 // 2 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State




    What is the state of diplomacy on the Korean peninsula? Are we again heading toward the lip of war, or is progress being made at an expected pace? Are there Asian Neocons fanning the flames for conflict in Pyongyang much as others did with Baghdad?


    A year ago, in November 2017, John Brennan estimated the chance of a war with North Korea at 20 to 25 percent. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the odds were 50/50. The New York Times claimed we were “slouching toward war” with the North, on a “collision course.” National security adviser HR McMaster said North Korea represented “the greatest immediate threat to the United States” and that the potential for war with the communist nation grew each day. The U.S. lacked an ambassador in Seoul; Victor Cha was rejected by Trump because, according to “sources and reports,” he didn’t support a preemptive strike on Pyongyang. It was reported the U.S. was “imminently preparing for an attack on North Korea,” driven in part by hawks like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton.

    All that was wrong.


    Cha, it appears, didn’t in fact support what Trump actually was planning: not a preemptive strike, but a summit meeting with Kim Jong Un, held some five months ago in Singapore following a first try at courtship aside the Seoul Olympics in January 2018. World leaders meeting to talk peace is historically seen as a good thing. Yet the American media consensus was a president they believe is roundly despised globally conveyed “legitimacy” on Kim Jong Un, no matter that his family has ruled North Korea for some seven decades, and his country already holds a seat at the United Nations. No shortage of experts from South Korea universities and American think tanks were found to support those claims.

    The media generally ignored, in return for the U.S. postponing a handful of military exercises (“concessions,” which were deeply criticized by an American media which has failed to note the U.S. has actually resumed some exercises, the North unilaterally stopped ICBM testing (the missiles which might someday be able to reach the U.S.) and nuclear detonations. It released American hostages, and took steps to close down two nuclear missile facilities. Kim Jong-un fired top military leaders who dissented over his approaches to South Korea and the United States.

    Officials from North and South now meet regularly, and U.S. diplomats engage with both sides on an ongoing basis; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been to Pyongyang. Numerous practical steps have been taken along the DMZ to reduce the chance of accidents. South Korea’s unification minister in charge of North Korea issues Cho Myoung-gyon will visit the United States this week, where he is expected to meet Pompeo. This is the first time in four years for South Korea’s unification minister to visit Washington. On the last visit, in 2014, then-Secretary of State John Kerry refused to meet with his predecessor in line with the Obama (and Bush) administrations’ policy of ignoring North Korea in hopes the problem would go away.


    Yet the headlines this week in the New York Times and other major U.S. outlets scream of a “great deception” by the North Koreans, evidenced by a hardline think tank — helmed in part by Victor Cha — “discovering” North Korean missile facilities already long known to U.S. intelligence (Cha’s lo-rez commercial satellite photos are dated March, months before the Trump-Kim summit, so everyone who mattered already knew.) In a matter of a few paragraphs, Cha and the Times blow this “discovery” up to announce, without any evidence, “What everybody is worried about is that Trump is going to accept a bad deal — they give us a single test site and dismantle a few other things, and in return they get a peace agreement” that formally ends the Korean War. Mr. Trump, he said, “would then declare victory, say he got more than any other American president ever got, and the threat would still be there.”


    What is the real state of diplomacy on the Korean peninsula? Are we again heading toward the lip of war?

    Of course not. South Korea’s presidential spokesperson put those “new” missile facilities into the perspective Trump’s critics lack, saying “North Korea has never promised to shut down this missile base. It has never signed any agreement, any negotiation that makes shutting down missile bases mandatory… There is no agreement, no negotiation that makes it necessary for it to be declared.” In other words, there can be no deception where there was no agreement.

    To call what the Times discovered a “deception” is deeply misleading. The Singapore declaration and the inter-Korean summit declarations of April 27 and September 19 this year do not commit Pyongyang to disclose the sites. What is new to the Times is actually old news; Kim Jong Un in his January 2018 New Year’s Day guidance stated North Korea would shift to the mass producing nuclear weapons in such facilities. “The nuclear weapons research sector and the rocket industry should mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, the power and reliability of which have already been proved to the full, to give a spur to the efforts for deploying them for action,” Kim said. The Times in fact more or less acknowledged all this in September, before being suprised by it in November.

    And the Times’ big scary takeaway, that the old/new facilities are in caves, confuses tactical concealment with some sort of nefarious political “deception.” Did they expect the missiles to be worked on in the parking lot outside Kim’s villa?


    One issue only lightly touched by a western media obsessed with parsing tweets as their stab at journalism is the ongoing rush forward driven by the two Koreas themselves, what under any other media climate would be hailed as a huge series of successes but which falls in 2018 under the Trump Is Always Wrong Shadow. In a short time the two states established psuedo-embassies just north of the DMZ, where representatives from the two Koreas have met more than 60 times. The office has become a clearinghouse for over a dozen projects launched during the summit. There are plans for a massive binational project to link roads and railroads severed during the Korean War.

    North and South Korea have begun removing landmines from the border, drawn back some troops, and most recently held a third leaders’ summit in September in Pyongyang North Korean leader Kim offered to permanently dismantle two key ICBM facilities under the observation of outside experts. He also offered to negotiate further on the permanent shut down of the nuclear facility at Yongbyon. South Korean President Moon Jae-In, for his part, better than the U.S. understands the future is ultimately about economics, not nukes. Moon seeks sanctions relief as negotiations move forward (little is ever accomplished without some give and take.) “I believe the international community needs to provide assurances that North Korea has made the right choice to denuclearize and encourage North Korea to speed up the process,” he said this week in Paris during a visit with French President Emmanuel Macron. If the western media is correct that Trump is being duped, played, deceived, and cheated by the North, what must they think about the faster pace set by the South? After all, a U.S. miscalculation means we all switch from Samsung to Apple phones made in China, while South Korea risks being turned into a wasteland dotted only with signs for Nuka Cola.


    Left off to the side is that it has been only five months since the historic summit in Singapore. Obama’s agreement with Iran, which did not even involve actual working nukes, took almost two years to conclude. Cold War negotiations with the Soviet Union ran across administrations, extending the broader process into decades of talks, and were aimed at goals much shorter than full denuclearization. Five months is barely enough time to grow a decent garden, never mind resolve multinational problems that reach back to 1945.

    With North Korea, there is no history of trust, no basis of goodwill to build on. That all has to be created, built from scratch, as part of the heavy lifting of diplomacy. The ultimate goal — denuclearization — may or may not someday come to pass, but if it does it will be the result of years of more small steps forward than small steps back. Diplomacy is about moving the goalposts and embracing the long game, not playing chicken. It will require the North’s nuclear weapons to become unnecessary, as the North agrees to and is allowed to become so engaged with the global system that it finds itself no longer in need of such a powerful deterrence to attacks by its neighbors. Diplomacy requires one to at least understand the opponent’s goals and motivations, even if you don’t agree with them.


    There exists an industry of sorts devoted to portraying North Korea as an eviler than evil empire, with Kim as a parody of the movie Dr. Evil. These hardliners, ensconced mostly in universities in South Korea and think tanks in the U.S., have been around since the Cold War to make sure the case for the militarization of South Korea and American support for various South Korean military dictators never lacked public advocates. They act as mouthpieces for North Korean defectors with horror stories, and are quick to seize on anything to amplify the threat. Older readers will remember similar mostly defunct “industries” set up to do the same over the actions of Cuba, China, and the Soviet Union once (though the Red Threat gang is trying to make a comeback over Bond villian wanna-be Putin.)

    Victor Cha himself is a kind of one man gloom machine, writing regularly of the impossibility of denuclearization. His old articles focus fearfully on meetings canceled them (but since successfully concluded; fatalism ignores the future) he in fact represents a kind of Asian neocon, an industry dedicated to the impossibility of peace on the peninsula as long as the Kim dynasty remains in power. Cha’s home organization, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, for example, features multiple former Secretaries of Defense on its board and as trustees, and is well-funded by elements of the military industrial complex. Of the plan to link railroads across the DMZ, what any sane person would see as progress, the organization grumbled the “move is expected to increase friction with its traditional ally Washington over the pace of inter-Korean engagement.”

    So shame on those hardline groups — let’s call them Asian Neocons, for they want regime change in the North in the same way as Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al, wanted it in the Middle East — and shame on the New York Times for morphing its Trump-is-always-wrong editorial policy into presenting something long-known to U.S. intelligence as something new enough to declare deception has overtaken the diplomatic long game on the Korean Peninsula. As they did during the run up to the Iraq War, the Times is once again serving as a platform for those who cannot see or will not wait for a peaceful way forward.

    Deception? The deception, it is clear, is all (again) on the side of the neocons. They seek to destroy any chance of lasting peace with unrealistic expectations and by announcing failure at goals never actually set. Because if not diplomacy, then what is the alternative? Theirs is not pessimism, it is fatalism. Success instead should be measured by the continued absence of war and the continued sense that war is increasingly unlikely. Anyone demanding more than that wants things to fail.


    BONUS Reading!


    https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/02/politics/mcmaster-potential-war-north-korea/index.html
    https://www.vox.com/world/2018/1/31/16954880/trump-north-korea-south-korea-ambassador-victor-cha
    http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2018/11/13/0200000000AEN20181113001000315.html

    https://www.nknews.org/pro/what-to-make-of-a-new-report-on-n-koreas-undeclared-missile-operating-bases/

    No, Donald Trump Isn’t Going to Nuke North Korea

    Don’t Be Cynical About an Olympics Detente With North Korea

    What if Kim Jong-un is Looking to Liberalize?

    What if the Trump-Moon-Kim Summit Fails?

    The Diplomacy 101 Lessons That Washington Forgot




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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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  • For Veteran’s Day: Understanding Moral Injury in Hooper’s War

    November 11, 2018 // 12 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War

    Here’s an excerpt from my new book, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, on sale now at Amazon. This excerpt is told from the perspective of the main character, Lieutenant Nate Hooper.

    I’m lucky enough to have a friend with a boat. Sitting at the stern, I watch the boat create its wake, then as we speed away the wake fades just as quick. Thinking about the war doesn’t work that way. About the best I can hope for in real life is to be able to put what happened in a box. The box stays closed most of the time.

    Some guys try and keep it shut by making life meaningless—liquor for the old ones, drugs for the young ones, a little of both for the handlestache Vietnam vets in the middle. The Friday nights drinking with the boys become Wednesday mornings drinking alone in the bathroom with the door shut. Some let that run its course and just tap out.

    But absent a few orange plastic containers next to the bathroom sink, for me, I took my neighbor’s grandson out to the zoo, made dinner, went to work, all the time the curator of some secret museum. The memories don’t go away like the people do.

    If the box pops open, some people try to push such thoughts away, stopping with just their toes in the water, thinking they’ve gone swimming. But after a while I knew I had to go into the deep end, because only there could I confront the real monster: the essence of war is not men dying, the essence of war is killing. War isn’t a place that makes men better. Flawed men turn bad, then bad men turn evil. So the darkest secret of my war wasn’t the visceral knowledge that people can be filthy and horrible. It was the visceral knowledge that I could be filthy and horrible.

    The part of Hawaii I retired to is peaceful. Some tourists, but not too many, little of the tawdry spank of Waikiki. Sometimes I get lonely for some noise though, and find myself over there, enjoying a little ice cream and a walk.

    For me the war is like a shirt I always know is there in my closet but don’t wear often. I’ll be absently out and step onto an unfamiliar path and it’ll be just the right crunch of gravel under my feet. My eyes will involuntarily lose focus for a second, and if I’m with someone they might ask, “Nate, everything okay?” and I’ll lie and smile, “Oh you know, just a senior moment.” But memory slaps me just the same way stirring up the ashes of barbecue coals turns them red. I’ve failed many times to remember a time when I had nothing particular on my mind.

    The Honolulu end of Waikiki beach is anchored by a Department of Defense hotel, run on taxpayer money as a low-cost vacation destination just for service people. The military is comical about telling them to “keep a low profile,” supposedly so they don’t become targets of the terrorists presumed to haunt these beautiful beaches. But of course you can tell. The buff bodies stand out against the fleshy look of the regular tourists. The odd-patterned tans—all dark brown faces with pale white everywhere else—betray a recent trip to the Middle East.

    I’ll sometimes nod to them, mostly out of politeness. I generally keep to myself the fact that we know a lot about each other. A few will nod back, maybe say a few words and leave you to fill in the silence, but I find the ones who talk too easily are generally part of what I call professional veterans, guys with little dirt under their nails who get a lot of free drinks and airline upgrades in a September 12 world. I’m grateful after meeting them for those portions of my stroll when there’s less time for my thoughts.

    Once in a while someone who fought some of the same kind of war I did is obvious—a missing hand on a 20-year-old, some thick pink scars. It could’ve been a car wreck or a factory fire, I guess, but I know that wasn’t what it was. I wonder what his friends thought the first time they saw him, or what his ex-girlfriend said, or what he thought being as scared to come home as he was scared to go to war. This is the guy who, after Wolf Blitzer moves on to the next story, cries trying to touch his daughter’s hair, and knows just because he changed from cammies to beach shorts that’s not a shortcut back into normal life. If you see these guys on TV, you always see them young and still strong, showing courage learning to use their new robo-prosthetics. You never see anything that shows what their life is like ten or forty years down the road.

    Out on the beach, some people won’t stop looking, like a 10-year-old’s focus on a a pile of Legos, and some won’t look at all, but either way this is all happening, like the wars did, simultaneously while other people are eating at Applebee’s and going shopping. It gets hard to keep it all in the same world. And you, sure, go ahead, you go on and use the term “unbearable pain” the next time you hit your thumb with a hammer.

    Of course, there are also those you don’t see, the boys and girls who bought the long zipper, the one that closes a body bag. Yes, Mrs. Mom, we took your son, but look, we gave you back a neatly folded flag. See, it’s in a triangle shape, representing the hats of American Revolutionary War soldiers, isn’t that interesting. And if you have a second child, and you call now, we’ll double your order.

    Me, we, they, you, I don’t know the right word to ever use, because it wasn’t just our side. I’d seen something on PBS saying that during the 1950s and early 1960s you could still see a few Japanese soldiers around the train stations, wearing bits of their old uniforms, some with crude prosthetics, begging, failed in the end by disregard. Young people, dressed in the latest western styles, passed by, eyes on the ground, embarrassed about men humiliating themselves in the midst of the post-war economic miracle. What if a visiting foreigner saw them, what would he think of Japan? Older people would slip the soldiers small bills, hoping if they had some money they would go away.

    A few guys ended worse off than the physically wounded, spending the weekends with their regular companions Samuel Adams, Johnnie Walker, and the cops. Get some sleep and have a drink, they were told, only don’t let it turn into too much of either one. Each bad thought seemed like a page that needed a twelve-ounce can of paperweight to hold it down. All we ever thought about was coming home; “If the army doesn’t kill me, I’ve got it made for life,” we said. We were naive; too many of us survived the war only to come back wanting to die every day.

    You learn to be alone in crowded places, deep in your own head. Imagine being on this beautiful beach and not caring to even look up and watch a father try to make his way across the hot sand balancing four dripping ice cream cones.

    They’d lost things whose importance they only recognized when they weren’t there. They’ve come to think today means nothing, tomorrow means nothing, and develop a sense that only things that already happened matter. Nothing has taste or color.

    My generation had no counselors, no clinics, no support groups. In my Ohio hometown, before the wife and I retired to Hawaii, every Memorial Day there’d be little flags first made in Iowa, then Hong Kong, then Japan, then Korea and now China and Vietnam—Vietnam, for gawds sake—on every porch. Half the people my age watching the parade then were vets in wheelchairs. I had a nice welcome home party when I came back, and plenty of good Veteran’s Days to try and use to subtract things from the parts of the fight I dragged along with me. But the underlying message was the same as in every war, whether delivered nicely or crudely: deal with the real stuff in private, we don’t want to know. You pack out your own gear, trooper.

    Drinking hurt, but for some it hurt less. Everyone learns it just sends your pain off to wait for you, but still it was something to look forward to, the first fizzy beer of the day tickling your nose, or the throat-burning shot of something stronger biting into an ulcer. Drinking wiped away hours when someone had too many of them, all the way back to 1945 sometimes. Pain can be patient, waiting for that one guy who had a little too much wine at a wedding and started talking about blood and brains in some alcoholic dialect until a couple of other vets walked him outside where he told stories from his knees for an hour which they alone could understand.

    A lot of this festers not out of what you saw and did, but the realization that what you saw and did really didn’t matter in any bigger picture and you had to make up some smaller picture to justify whatever. It should’ve had a reason. People say, “whatever you have to tell yourself,” but they forget you can’t lie to yourself alone at night. Imagine what it’s like to be my age and scared of the dark.

    I came to think of it like taking apart a jigsaw puzzle. You couldn’t say exactly when, but at some point you couldn’t see the picture anymore. It’s the last drop of water hanging swollen on the end of a faucet. You want to know what it’s like to have a breakdown in the meat aisle at Safeway? We can tell you. Even so, we don’t want to be called victims and disabled out, and we’re not seeking some third party’s moral redemption. We just want to get this crap out of our heads.

     

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  • Is a Blue Wave or a Red Undertow Coming? (Prediction Time!)

    November 1, 2018 // 34 Comments

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

    There will not be a Blue Wave. Democrats’ goal in the Senate has devolved to limiting losses, not gaining seats, and they are unlikely to take control of the House. Even the Washington Post and New York Times are hedging their bets. Here’s why.

    Midterms are always a question of whether people have a reason to risk change. Historically, incumbents retain their seats over 80% of the time. Recent flips of the House were driven by large-scale demands for change, including concern over the Iraq War and Obamacare, that reached deeper and more broadly into society than this year’s casus belli, Trump Rage. History does show midterm elections generally bring some losses to the ruling party. But all that matters this year is a 24 seat Democratic gain. Anything less – a Blue Dribble – and the House stays in Republican hands subject to party-line votes. Leaving aside everything else, those are rough odds mathematically.

    But the “everything else” part matters a lot. What is the impetus for an Ohioian who went Republican last round, and maybe before that except Obama in 2008, to take another chance on change?

    Though healthcare is the number one issue of concern, there has been little new offered by Democratic candidates. Republicans failed to dilute Obamacare. Things today are basically at status quo November 2016 when candidate Clinton pronounced the system about the best we could hope for and called Bernie Sanders’ general ideas as now roughly endorsed by many Democrats too expensive. Democrats’ current change of heart seems driven more by poor election results than policy stance, so are they to be trusted? Elizabeth Warren says she took her DNA test to restore trust in government, so there’s that.

    People are instead supposed to vote for “Medicare for All,” though please, please don’t ask for details, or how it will be paid for, or what the massive insurance industry Obama allowed to stay in control of the system and now subsidized by the government will have to say about it. Otherwise there are few drivers of change. The economy is doing well. Nobody seems happy with immigration or guns, but as for new Democratic ideas, well there is that the one guy with the ponytail yelling abolish ICE.

    The headlines leading up to the midterms are instead a Kavanaugh hangover (with mumbles still about impeaching him), something bad with the Saudis that does not affect Americans, the Twitter Outrage O’ the Day, the still-unemployed Colin Kaepernick, those transgender bathrooms that keep progressives up sobbing at night, and the crazies, who now include the once-stolid Carl Bernstein and Paul Krugman shouting like so many Chicken Littles fascism, dictatorship, and mandatory Nazi cosplay are imminent. And what happened to those wars with Iran, China, North Korea, and maybe Canada Trump was supposed to have started by now? Anybody heard from Mueller recently? It seems like a lot until you realize in reality it isn’t much of anything.

    And even if you, say, did share concerns over Kavanaugh, you were required to throw away the centuries-old cornerstone concept of innocent until proven guilty or be a gender traitor. Immigration? Sensible talk must wait until concentration camps for infants are torn down. Gun reform? You either are complicit in child murder or a Parkland Kidlet. Same for Maxine Waters encouraging people to scream at Republicans while they eat dinner, not a way to open the tent to more swing voters in places like Minnesota or the Dakotas.

    The Democrats have left precious little middle ground on important issues, and if they want Republicans and independents to shift from their previous voting stance, they need some middle ground for those people to take a stand on. Who wants to join a party when you’re not invited?

    The only driver of change seems to be the Democrat fantasy voters want a do-over on the 2016 election. The problem is a Fox poll shows “rein in Trump” of significant concern to only 10% of voters. An MSNBC poll has nothing of the sort, with the serious issues of healthcare and immigration instead topping a list of voter concerns.

    Polls do consistently show white, educated women favoring Democrats (but even that is only a sort-of-OKish 61%; some 30 million women voted for Trump.) Not much of a change from 2016, where the same feisty, angry, fierce, polarized group failed to elect Hillary. Democrats are still apparently unaware there are few House districts where white, educated women are the majority, and where their husbands don’t vote. Meanwhile, Rahm Emmanuel imagines there’s a new block of voters to turn the tide – “Mea culpas,” those who did not vote in 2016 and feel remorse over the resulting Trump win.

    The whole midterm hopey-changey thing instead depends on producing historical turnouts from millennials and blacks loosely attached to the electorate, though there doesn’t seem to be much of a plan for that other than Social Media! and having the undead Hillary proclaim an end to political civility until her side finally wins an election. Meanwhile, Republicans rely on demographics that do turn out, in numbers such that Democrats need to motivate four millennials to actually produce one vote, while Republicans will likely get more than three for four. Actual turnout for age 65+ is 82%, dropping to 26% for those 18-29.

    There are other factors. Trump’s overall approval rating continues to rise, a bad sign for a Democrat party framing the midterms as a referendum on him. Some 75% of Republicans want their congressional candidates to fall in line with Trump’s agenda. Republicans vote in midterms in higher percentages than Democrats. A group Democrats magically hoped would support them because they are not white, “Hispanics,” apparently don’t see themselves that way.

    Depending on people who don’t vote, Democrats run the risk of internalizing losses. There are too many reasons to lose again already teed up: If it’s not the Russians, it’s voter suppression, gerrymandering, racism or the proportional representation system people just seemed to notice 230 years after it started. They mean to anger people into voting, but it can easily have the opposite effect.

    The deck is stacked against us can seem disheartening to voters, and may leave as many sitting home drinking as heading out to the revolution. Already a quarter of millennial students found the 2016 election so traumatic they claim to have PTSD. In psychology, this is known as “catastrophizing,” driving yourself into depression envisioning ridiculous outcomes beyond even a real-world worst case scenario. It can lead to suicide. It’s becoming the core Democratic strategy for the midterms.

    Many millennials seem to believe all they have to do is retweet hashtags, sign online petitions, and protest on school days. It created Beto mania, but it didn’t defeat Kavanaugh. This result is a black wave of false hope when social media driven movements fail to cross over into the real world, the appearance of a novel, seemingly authentic movement/moment creating the illusion of action and change. See, for example, the current progressive superhero Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose victory was replacing a Democrat with a Democrat, all based on a 13% turnout, only about 27k people from a densely populated district caught sleeping through a primary. A trick play that only works once.

    The Democratic party is held back most of all by mistaking an exception for a trend. About a year ago my dog came upon a full box lunch left on the sidewalk. She gulped it down before some sorry construction worker came back, and ever since she stops at that spot, certain one of these days there will be another meal waiting. The year 2008 was historic in American politics, when a near 100% desire for change following an exhausting eight years of Bush drove record turnouts in front of one of the best campaigning politicians since the Greeks invented democracy. The real lessons for the future were missed in the weaker victory over a mediocre opponent in 2012.

    Obama could have been FDR. He could have gotten a real healthcare solution but settled for the expedient. He could have saved middle class homes with a New Deal-style mortgage bailout, dramatically reducing economic inequality, but further enriched the One Percent instead. He could have pulled out of Bush’s Middle East mess but instead gave us Iraq War 3.0, and the humanitarian disasters of Syria, Libya, and Yemen. He failed at change, and those swing voters from 2008 know it, even if Democrats now try to push the Obama years as ones of social justice aplenty as a way of countering what they naively think matters most to most people about Trump.

    Unless and until Democrats recognize their failures as most Americans lived them and offer change that might happen on the things that really matter, no Blue Wave in 2018. And don’t ask about the Red Undertow of 2020.

    BONUS: Meanwhile, while WaPo admonishes us “Democracy Dies In Darkness,” it is owned by a CIA contractor and the richest man on earth. Democrats are trying to sell people that this is some kind of bulwark against corporate fascism when it is the very vanguard of corporate fascism. Best if the millennial freedom fighters don’t figure that one out until after the midterms.

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  • New York Times Speculates the Secret Service May Murder Trump

    October 25, 2018 // 29 Comments

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

    Jesus to Trump: Drop Dead

    For no real reason just two weeks ahead of the midterms and only a day after pipe bombs were sent to politicians across the country, the New York Times commissioned and published five authors to write “fiction” about President Trump and Russia that reads like a modern-day Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here’s a sample:

     

    — One story has Trump pardoning everyone who testified against him to Mueller and then pseudo-resigning via the 25th Amendment with a promise from Pence to pardon him. The deal lets Trump live in the White House and play lots of golf while Pence is called the Acting President. Some nasty bits about how “close” Trump and Ivanka are, too;

    — One has the Secret Service helping murder Trump after an assassin sent by Putin to take out his failing agent can’t complete the hit. As the Russian’s gun jams, we read: “The Secret Service agent stood before him, presenting his Glock, butt first. ‘Here,’ the agent said politely. ‘Use mine…’;

    — One story has Trump instigate cyberwar with Russia, including flooding Russian TV with a biopic about dissident punk band Pussy Riot starring the American actress Reese Witherspoon (this is the mildest of the five);

    — Another posits Edward Snowden, still in exile in Moscow, controls the “pee tape” and ponders releasing it before the 2020 election after he failed to do so prior to 2016. This story also manages to mock Snowden’s patriotism and suggest the Russians control him via threats to his girlfriend;

    — The last features a new “dossier” surfacing which reveals Trump and Putin cooperating on money laundering. Trump calls Putin to warn him there’s a leak inside the Kremlin, and Putin tells Trump he did it because Trump failed to carry out his part of the bargain — Russia would get him elected if he wiped away the sanctions. Trump is a liability now, and Putin will give the Democrats the information they need to impeach him.

    I wanted to read these like they were bad fan fiction, you know, the kind that features a bikini-clad Princess Leia arriving on earth desperate to mate with teenage Star Wars fans. Instead, it comes off as hateful, nasty, like a snuff film, the worst impulses transferred from someone’s bad brain to a tangible medium.

    Yes, violence is bad, but if the NYT wants to give its readers a hard-on imaging the Secret Service murdering the president, I guess that’s ok nowadays. And where the stories aren’t violent porn, they are childish in making fun of Trump’s hair over and over, like a lounge lizard comic recycling bits he heard on Kimmel last week. The Russian assassin stays in a Trump hotel and we get this line of Pulitzer-prose: “The bar of soap had the hotel name stamped into both sides. He made sure to wash his ass with it.” Just what you expect now I guess from the “newspaper of record.”

    Because I know the Times is interested in always showing both sides to an issue, I’ve sent in my own fun stories for their consideration. One has Cory Booker and Kamala Harris lynched by the Secret Service after a white nationalist’s rope breaks. Another features Elizabeth Warren receiving fake DNA test data from her Chinese handlers, the same people who created the birth certificate making it look like Obama was born in Hawaii, “Operation Moana Pocahontas.” There’s a tale with Joe Biden, where he lusts after one of his sons (but not the dead one, there are limits!) The best story features Ed Snowden in possession of the actual video showing Hillary Clinton killing Vince Foster.

    The Times had previously paid off progressive hero-writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to produce a snarky little made-up “story” showing Melania is an air headed bitch, alongside some lovely hints of Daddy’s incestous relationship with Ivanka as the wife he would never have. Regardless of what you think about Trump, it is inconceivable the Times would have done this with any other president, or any other person. It is unworthy of a newspaper that otherwise pretends to do serious journalism. It is a marker for historians cataloguing how far we have fallen.

    Read it yourself.

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  • Google, the “Good Censor,” is Going to Think for You

    October 24, 2018 // 7 Comments

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




    Google might soon add its Terms of Service to the First Amendment.

    A leaked document written by Google argues because of a variety of factors, including the election of Donald Trump, what they call the “American tradition” of free speech may no longer be viable. The document lays out how the company can act as the world’s “Good Censor,” protecting us from harmful content and, by extension, harmful acts like electing the wrong president again.

    The document, which Google has officially characterized as research, is infuriatingly vague about whether the company has made any decisions or taken any action. So think of all this as a guidepost, like the Ghost of Christmas Future showing us the worst case scenario.

    The company is talking about changing the rules so the freedom to speak will no longer exist independent of the content of speech. What you can say could depend on Google’s opinion of whether or not it will negatively affect others. To Google, the personal liberty of freedom of speech might need to be balanced against collective well-being. The company acknowledges for the first time it has the responsibility and power to unilaterally adjudicate this battle between “free-for-all and civil-for-most” versions of society.

    We probably should be paying more attention to how they plan to do this, but because the document leaked on Breitbart, and because the initial rounds of censorship have impacted right of center, it has received little critical attention. But the significance of Google’s plans extends beyond the left-right fight; which content is censored is easily changed. If this plan is implemented, everything you will ever read online will be judged before it reaches you. Or doesn’t reach you.

    The old ideas seem as archaic to Google (Facebook, Twitter, and their successors) as the powdered wigs the Founders wore when they wrote them. People should be free to say nearly anything they want. In the marketplace of ideas good will overpower bad. If we block one person’s speech, we can soon block others, right up to when it comes to us. The collective right to free speech is more important than an individual’s reaction to that speech. There is an uncomfortable duty to protect speech irrespective of its content.

    Jefferson had a good run. Then the election of Donald Trump scared the free speech ideal out of Google. Could they have been… responsible… for helping elect a threat to democracy, the last president, someone who would shape-shift into a dictator? Should they have tried to stop him? Wouldn’t you have killed baby Hitler if you could have?

    Under such circumstances, free speech is reimagined by many as a liability which bad actors will exploit judo-style, the tools of democracy used to destroy democracy. The Google document warns “online manipulation and disinformation influenced elections in more than 18 countries, including the U.S. [as] free speech becomes a social, economic and political weapon.”

    The irony is the Internet was supposed to be, and maybe briefly was, the highest expression of what is now the legacy definition of unfettered speech. Anyone could start a website to stand alongside the .govs. One voice was as loud as anyone else’s, and search engines were the democratizing connective tissue. Google was created to organize the world’s knowledge, not help control it. Free speech flourished online. Government censors had real restrictions; we know them as borders.

    Not so for global entities like Google. What doesn’t pass through their search engines or social media travels through their servers and cloud storage. There is no more pretending any but a minority of users can use another tool, or ignore the web, and still functionally live in the real world. Google sees itself at the nexus of this historic change, saying “Although people have long been racist, sexist, and hateful in many other ways, they weren’t empowered by the Internet to recklessly express their views with abandon.” We apparently can’t handle that, and Google is, for the first time in human history, in a position to do something about it. After all, they acknowledge they “now control the majority of our online conversations” so the Internet is mostly whatever they say it is.

    At that point, Google worries, the “we’re not responsible for what happens on our platforms” defense crumbles. How much the last election was influenced doesn’t matter as much as the realization the tools are in place to do it more effectively next time. Existing laws can limit foreigners buying political ads stuffed with controversial news, but if Americans want to do the same thing laws not only don’t limit them, the legacy version of the 1A demands they be allowed to blast out hate speech and gendered bigotry. Something has to be done. Google’s document says they as the apex predator can now create online “well-ordered spaces for safety and civility.”

    There is no one to stop them. It is very clear what private companies can do vis-a-vis speech; the argument is over what they should do. Thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Google is shielded from traditional publishers’ liability and responsibility. The 1A does not apply. No one at Google stands for election. Users matter only in the aggregate of millions of clicks. Google as the Good Censor would be accountable to pretty much no one (though the Supreme Court last week agreed to hear a long-shot case that could determine whether users can challenge social media companies on free speech grounds.)

    As proof-of-concept – what they are capable of doing – the Google document cites Charlottesville. Following racial violence, Google, GoDaddy, and Cloudflare quietly ganged up to end their relationships with The Daily Stormer, “effectively booting it off the Internet.” Google noted “While some free speech advocates were troubled by the idea that ‘a voice’ could be silenced at its source, others were encouraged by the united front the tech firms put up.” Same with Alex Jones, as corporations serially kicked him off their sites. Facebook and Twitter also actively censor, with Facebook removing over 800 political pages for “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” an Orwellian term Facebook claims means they were not forums for “legitimate political debate.”

    Google and the others aren’t acting in a vacuum. Some 69% of American college students believe intentionally offensive language should be banned. The ACLU now applies a litmus test to cases it defends, weighing their impact on other rights (for example, the right to say the N-word versus the rights of POC not to hear it), declaring free speech can be secondary to other political goals. As Google suggests, censorship has a place, per the ACLU, if it serves a greater good.

    The document makes clear Google understands current censorship efforts have fallen short. Decisions have been imprecise, biased, and influenced by shares and likes. Yet while acknowledging they never will please everyone, Google is emphatic it can’t escape “its responsibility for how society functions and progresses.” So the document is rich in words like transparency and fairness as it wrestles with the complexity of the task, with Google envisioning itself as more an imperfect but benign curator than Big Brother. But like a bad horror movie, you can see the ending from miles away.

    Eliminating voices to “not influence” an election is influencing an election. Once one starts deleting hate speech, there is no bottom to the list of things offensive to someone. Once you set your goal as manipulating thought via controlling information, the temptation to use that tool will prove great. Why not manipulate stock prices to fund “good” nonprofits and harm bad ones? Who should be elected in Guatemala? What’s the Google solution for that land dispute in St. Louis? It is so easy. Just placing links for one candidate above another in a test search increased the number of undecided voters who chose that candidate by 12%.

    The cornerstone of free speech – the absolute right to speak remaining independent of the content of the speech – is now in the hands of corporate monopolies, waiting for them to decide whether or not to use the power. Where the Supreme Court refused to prohibit hate speech, Google can do so. Where the 1A kept the government from choosing what is and isn’t called true, Google may decide. Journalists can take a first pass at writing news, but Google is the one positioned to determine if anyone sees it. Like some TV murder mystery, Google is perched on the edge of a terrible decision, having tested opportunity, means, and method. All that’s left is the decision to pull the trigger.




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  • What Kavanaugh Tells Us about the Midterms

    October 13, 2018 // 36 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

     

    While Democrats refight the 2016 election, Republicans confirmed their second Supreme Court judge.

    The soiled Kavanaugh confirmation process put Democratic strategy for the 2018 midterms in plain view. The question is will what hasn’t worked to date do any better for the Dems a month from now?


    This week’s FBI investigation was never going to turn up much beyond incomplete recollections. Apart from liberal Twitter, all of whom are apparently trauma memory experts (last week they were scholars of perjury law), most people in Normal America have a hard time conjuring up long ago details. It is even harder to remember things that never happened. The FBI had done background investigations six times on Kavanaugh over a period of decades without uncovering any of what people said this week, so in reality, the investigation lasted 30 years. Democrats knew unless the FBI miraculously turned up a blue dress with semen stains on it, the facts by themselves were never going to be enough.

    The investigation, like Trump’s taxes and Russiagate, was really just a way to turn a scar into a scab to pick at, enough of something to propel the story into another week. Then if no new smoking gun-let drops into the media’s lap, the script says claim the process itself was unfair – Putin stole the election, gerrymandering cheated the vote, the FBI wasn’t allowed to interview enough witnesses.

    The real plan was always to force the confirmation into the mold Democrats think will win them the House, the same gambit they thought would deliver a landslide in 2016. And so Kavanaugh’s complex judicial record was discarded in favor of Clinton-esque, er, progressive, talking points: the election, um, sorry, the confirmation is all about respect for women, fighting misogyny, defeating privilege, too many White Men, Trump is evil, we can’t have an accused rapist in the White House, sorry, on the Supreme Court! Disqualification via demonization. The Kavanaugh hearings were an updated version of what was supposed to be the 2016 game-changer, the “pussy grabbing tape.” The Dems would give America another shot at having had it with the patriarchy.


    It didn’t work. Despite endless bleating the hearings were a “job interview” (imagine the lawsuit after a Microsoft hiring manager pivoted from coding skills to accusing someone of being a drunk) the hashtags were not enough. Judicial temperament problems? The issue never came up in Kavanaugh’s long career. Even so, few courtroom situations turn a judge into a Senators’ punching bag; maybe a little righteous anger was called for? Some may even remember how Democratic voters abandoned presidential candidate Mike Dukakis when he was too dispassionate in his reaction to a question about someone assaulting his wife.

    Things devolved too quickly from concern over Roe v. Wade to an attempt to catch Kavanaugh out on yearbook nomenclature. Dems convinced themselves it was conclusive when Maddow labeled Kavanaugh a liar over what “Devil’s Triangle” really meant in a suburban Maryland boy’s school in 1982. They imagined people would believe wrongly stating the drinking age in Maryland decades ago was perjury and not just a mistake. They thought people would care more if the pool of “victims” (i.e., anyone who saw Kavanaugh with a brewski) increased exponentially. Most everything serious was lost in a cloud of stupid.

    It is a hard ask to get people concerned about health care as a life-or-death issue to take you seriously as a party when all you seem to care about is high school butt sex. Jester Michael Avenatti pushed things further into farce with an “accuser” whose credibility failed sitcom standards. Susan Collins specifically cited Avenatti’s actions as part of her decision to vote yes on Kavanaugh. Yet Democrats still see Avenatti as a useful idiot, a kamikaze working alongside them, without understanding he demeans the seriousness of everything he touches as a tabloid Midas.

    It was little surprise the absurdity of it all was missed by the Dems. One Democratic strategist statedidentity politics has really become the ecology you’re operating in. Economics aren’t as dispositive as they used to be.” That makes sense only to a party banking its midterm strategy on voters not noticing the economy is doing pretty well. It follows pretending constant predictions of trade wars and real wars haven’t all turned out to be crying wolf. It starts to make sense America would go along with the idea a guy claiming he wasn’t a drunk in college means he’s a liar unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.


    There were issues in Kavanaugh’s judicial history worth debating. Concern over Roe runs deep. But the Democrats spent little thought on that, failing to grasp while American demographics may be changing, they haven’t yet changed.

    The only constituency re-energized over Kavanaugh is suburban liberal white women (accuser Ford could not have been more a Clintonite if Murphy Brown was reanimated out of the 1980s via a horcrux from Hillary herself), a group favoring the Democrats anyway. Apparently this group can also be counted on to ignore the likelihood a Democrat Senator outed Ford when she wanted to remain anonymous, and to overlook attempts to slut-shame high school girl Renate Schroeder on the grounds that if she was a pass-around then Kavanaugh was a non-virgin who screwed tramps like that. Same for the tsunami of criticism directed at Susan Collins, labeled a traitor to her gender to the point where people are donating money to her unknown opponent of the future. No one on CNN praised her as a courageous woman who made a thoughtful decision.

    There seems little inside the Kavanaugh fight to specifically drive minorities, already understood as reluctant voters, to the polls. Millennial voters share a low historic turnout rate. If you can’t get a lot more than 1 out of 4 in a demographic to show up things are unlikely to work out (71% of Americans over 65 vote, skewing Republican, and the Kavanaugh saga could easily energize them into an even higher turnout). There seems little-to-no Democratic plan to shift these historical trends other than Trump rage, and the warm feelings of consensual hallucination embodied in social media aside, that failed again this week to affect a #RealWorld event.

    Purple” men moving to the Democrat side? One of the things which damaged the women’s movement in the 1980s and helped the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA; remember that?) to fail was an overemphasis on men as the enemy, a feature of the Kavanaugh process. Many women walked away from the feminist groups supporting the ERA, knowing the mantras “all men are rapists” and “Republicans hate women” just weren’t true.

    This is what is happening now, when people who support Trump based on economics end up labeled fascists, people who support Kavanaugh based on his judicial history are rape apologists (or traitors), and people who support free speech are Nazis. Same as post-Parkland, when people who support the 2A were slandered as child killers. It’s deplorable. No one supports rapists or child killers. But few voters are willing to trust Democrats that see them as people who do.

    The point of politics is to change people’s minds, not declare them unfit to walk among decent folk. Kavanaugh proved the Democrats (and their partnered media) are still unaware while this may be the year of #MeToo in Washington, New York, and Hollywood, it’s still just 2018 in West Virginia.

    The Democrats failed in 2016 when they tried to make the election a referendum on Trump’s behavior. They failed again this week with the same strategy, even after elevating Kavanaugh to a psychopathic POTUS mini-me. With no tailwind from Russiagate, Democrats move toward November with little more than more of the same, throwing in some mumbled threats to impeach Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court (will that be before or after they impeach Trump?) if they take the House.

    It’s bad enough to pick the wrong hill to die on. Even worse to do it three times.




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  • Before the Vote, What I Saw at the Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings

    October 2, 2018 // 33 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump



    Everyone knew the testimony would not clear anything up. You were expecting a Colonel Jessup moment from A Few Good Men? Instead, the Judiciary Committee vote, likely along party lines, is scheduled for Friday with basically the same information in front of members as they had yesterday.

    Along the way the world’s self-proclaimed greatest deliberative body soiled itself with partisan rancor – slut-shaming a woman not present, calling a sitting judge a drunk without evidence, and then labeling him a gang rapist, all in efforts to provide… advice and consent.

    Christine Blasey Ford is a serious, empathetic, and sincere woman. That does not alter that prior to her testimony today, Ford’s accusation as she repeated it in front of the Judiciary Committee had already been refuted by everyone she said was present at that party in 1982 where Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her. Her “evidence” was she had told a similar story earlier to her husband (albeit without mentioning Kavanaugh by name), some “beach” friends in California recently, and her therapist (again without mentioning Kavanaugh by name), what most people in or out of a court would consider repetition, not corroboration. When asked about the possibility the assault took place but that she misremembered the assailant as Kavanaugh, Ford just said no and things were left there.

    There never could be any physical evidence nor was any suggested to exist to investigate. Ford admitted not remembering specifics that could have formed the basis of exculpation, including how she got home from the party, that driver being in a key position to assess Ford’s condition after the alleged assault and thus support or weaken her story. By not providing an exact date and location for the alleged assault, Ford did not allow for Kavanaugh to present an alibi, proof he was somewhere else. Ford in fact couldn’t say where they both were supposed to be to begin with, apart from “a suburban Maryland house.”

    The attorney speaking for the Republicans gently pointed out multiple inconsistencies and inaccuracies between Ford’s previous statements and today’s testimony, walking Ford back from assertions to assumptions. The questioning was consistent with what is done in sexual assault prosecutions to help evaluate the credibility of witnesses. Ford in the end presented a dramatic, heartfelt but ultimately general accusation, backed by the hashtag of #BelieveWomen that precluded any serious questioning of her key assertions, and nothing more.


    Brett Kavanaugh made clear from the initial reports right through the hearing Thursday none of what Ford (or his later accusers) said happened, had happened. He was unambiguous. He left no wiggle room. He could add no additional details to describe something that had not taken place. Clever lawyers created the appearance of a he said/she said. These are typically a case of two contradictory versions of a single event, as in date rape cases where sex is acknowledged by both parties who differ over the presence of consent. Kavanaugh’s situation is different; for the past four decades there was no “she said” until a handful of Democratic senators standing behind a victim they may have outed themselves forced Kavanaugh to deliver another round of “he said” denials today.

    Kavanaugh showed real emotion in today’s testimony, calling how he has been treated a political hit, revenge, the expression of left-over anger from the 2016 presidential election, a national disgrace, finally breaking into tears. He called out the media for slut-shaming one of his female friends based on a vague high school yearbook reference. Multiple Democrats returned to the same accusations later anyway.

    The outcome of all this hinges on a philosophy that believes people without discerning inquiry based on emotional responses and political expediency (i.e., a “credible accusation.”) So about the only real question left after today’s testimony was whether 99.99% or 100% of the people watching had already made up their minds in advance. Like any investigation that might have been launched, no clarity was possible under the circumstances. Ford was unable to prove the positive and Kavanaugh could never prove a negative.

    Truth became in the end extraneous to what was really going on. Ford was a prop used against Kavanaugh by Democrats seeking to shift from holding a confirmation hearing they would likely lose to a referendum on mistreatment of victims of sexual assault they might win.



    Democrats used their questioning time to make stump speechlets about the horrors of sexual violence, one going as far to say Ford had “inspired men to listen to women.” Nearly every Democrat ceremoniously entered thousands of letters of support for Ford “into the record.” To make sure everyone really, really got the point, Feinstein invited celebrity #MeToo activist Alyssa Milano to attend Thursday’s hearing (and speak with the media, of course.) Everyone cranked out plenty of campaign B-roll. This was theater.

    At times things seemed one step away from bringing in Handmaiden’s Tale cosplayers. The once great Senator Patrick Leahy engaged in an argument about the meaning of slang terms used in a 40 year old high school year book with a nominee to the Supreme Court, as if proof of immaturity was proof someone was a gang rapist. Another exchange focused on whether a word meant puke or fart. For every careful courtesy shown Dr. Ford during her testimony, Democrats treated Kavanaugh like a cheap punching bag.

    Sensing the confirmation might not go their way and needing someone to blame, Feinstein spent her question time trying to coerce Kavanaugh into requesting an FBI inquiry. Senator Durbin demanded Kavanaugh to turn to the White House Counsel present at that moment and demand an FBI investigation on live TV. When Chairperson Grassley cut that off, Durbin responded by telling Kavanaugh if he had nothing to hide, he had nothing to fear, a line often attributed to Joseph Goebbels. Senator Kobuchar played good cop, trying to persuade Kavanaugh to call for the FBI. Expect the demand for an investigation to be Maddow’s (and Wolf’s, and Twitter’s) talking point tonight, when everyone cries for the confirmation vote to be delayed. To call it all a circus is a disservice to real clowns.


    How did the very serious business of #MeToo end up a political tool?

    Only about ten days ago, without the votes to reject Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats started throwing stuff against the wall hoping something would stick. It started with Cory Booker’s failed Spartacus stunt. Kamala Harris, a fellow 2020 Democratic presidential aspirant, demanded more documents about well, something, we hardly knew then or remember now the issues from two administrations ago, brought forward likely in the hope there might be a perjury trapplet buried in those 100,000 pages for an intern to find.

    Kavanaugh was accused of having a gambling problem, and of being an alcoholic (Senators Hirano, Kobuchar, and Booker accused him of having a drinking problem again today, Kobuchar explaining she knew one when she saw one because her grandpa was in AA.) And how had he paid off his debts after buying baseball tickets for friends? A pattern emerged: the goal wasn’t to suggest Kavanaugh was unqualified as a jurist but to insist he was unqualified as a human being. In each instance Kavanaugh denied the accusations. He couldn’t add much more. He couldn’t prove a negative no matter how many times the Democrats and the media demanded he try. Until…


    Until a strategy ripe for 2018 finally emerged – he’s a witch! How do we know he’s a witch? Just see how vehemently he denies it! Well, maybe not a witch, that’s so 17th century. But a rapist is 2018, where a Resistance-charged mob can be convinced denial is proof of guilt. One can still credibly deny being a drinker, or a gambler, or stealing money in 2018, but one is no longer allowed to simply say no when accused of sexual assault.

    Democratic lawmakers went out of their way to gleefully proclaim this was a hearing (or “a job interview,” in Feinstein’s Constitution-contradicting words), not a trial, and so their plan was not going to be sidelined by fussy old stuff like a presumption of innocence. There was no question Ford’s testimony was really just an excuse to prosecute Kavanaugh. Senator Hirano, in basically announcing no holds were barred because this was not a trial, sounded more like she belonged in the Octagon than a Senate chamber. Cory Booker asked questions like a bad first year law student, stopping just short of demanding if Kavanaugh still beat his wife. A woman of lost virtue had been found by the Democrats, was willing to point her finger, and we was gonna have us a lynching. It might as well have all been set in a sweaty Alabama courtroom decorated to look like 1950.

    With all the theatrics, much of the context behind today’s main event was missed. Christine Blasey Ford’s path to the hearing has not been given much critical attention. She wrote to her local representative this July with a request for anonymity. The letter was sent to Dianne Feinstein, who sent it to the FBI. Ford as the victim was then outed publicly after all of the above gambits to derail Kavanaugh failed, dramatically just hours before his assured confirmation vote. Ford testified today she never gave anyone permission to release her letter or name to the public.

    The media, normally reluctant to splash victims of sexual assault across the front pages, went into spasm. Nobody seemed overly concerned about who, how, or why Ford’s name was leaked. No one seemed to include Feinstein’s sitting on the letter for weeks in their stories claiming Republicans weren’t giving the accusations enough time to be heard, though Chairman Chuck Grassley raised the point today.


    Ford was near-perfect for the Democrats’ purposes, the archetype Clinton voter, down to a photo circulating of her in her pink pussy hat. The hearings brought together everything anyone hated about Trump in a mediagenic bundle: mistreatment of women, fears over Roe, white male privilege, every tidbit of identity politics teed up. And when idea emerged really “credible” cases had multiple accusers, the always-reliable Rowan Farrow dug around until he found another. Michael Avenatti, the Fagin-like wrangler of Trump-era accusers, was unleashed. He did not disappoint, phoning The View the afternoon before Ford’s testimony to accept congratulations for finding a victim (again with no evidence or corroboration; 64 people who knew Kavanaugh well in high school say they have no idea who the accuser is) who upped the accusations against Kavanaugh to gang rape.

    Alongside, Politico called Kavanaugh a liar for claiming he was a virgin in high school (Kavanaugh re-confirmed his virginity as a senior today) and thus questioned his credibility on all things. A new witness appeared then disappeared. Two men claimed they were the ones who assaulted Ford. Third-party hearsay accusations made headlines. Rawstory libeled by association the attorney Republicans hired to question Ford. Mark Judge, a supposed witness to the Ford assault who actually exculpated Kavanaugh, was smeared as a drug and sex fiend. Yale was painted as Sodom.


    The counter-narrative that this was a Democratic set-up, with Ford as an unwitting victim of that, too, is all of this emerged organically and righteously, after decades, albeit right on time. The accusers were never compelled to speak up by civic duty during Kavanaugh’s years in the White House. Or when he worked with Special Counsel Ken Starr and was looked into by Bill’s Clinton’s supporters doing opposition research. Or during the confirmation hearings that seated him as a lifetime appointee on the Court of Appeals. Or during his original hearings a week or so ago, including by Dianne Feinstein, who already had the information from Ford literally in hand. And none of the assaults, including ten “gang rape” parties, ever resulted in even one complaint by a parent who noticed her child come home in the condition someone who was drugged and raped by multiple men would be in. And the FBI, which conducted six full background checks on Kavanaugh over his decades of government employment, just plain missed it all.

    In the end, everyone is going to believe what they want to believe. It is unclear a single mind was changed today, as it is equally likely not a single mind today was open to change. Something terrible happened to Christine Blasey Ford when she was in high school, there seems little doubt, but it is quite unclear that that also involved Brett Kavanaugh.

    Ford, despite her doctorate, came off as almost naive, claiming not to know what exculpatory evidence was, saying she didn’t understand why people encouraged her to hire a lawyer before going public, testifying she didn’t know why she took a polygraph test and had no idea who paid for it. She said she did not know how her lawyers, one a Democratic regular recommended to her by Feinstein, were paid. She appeared a bit mystified by the vast forces swirling around her, and seeming to believe, a modern-day Mr. Smith, the system would work and honorable people would empower her, not use her. As the day ends and we move into the nightly news cycle, no one in America will have the conversation they need to about whether the Democrats’ ends justify their means.


    The final question goes beyond what happens to Kavanaugh. Will the same strategy the Democrats ran and lost on in 2016 — Trump and his people are pigs, vote for someone else — serve them any better in November than it did this week?




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  • Requiem for Justice: “Credible Accusation” and Brett Kavanaugh

    September 26, 2018 // 30 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump




    Without the votes to reject Brett Kavanaugh, and after a failed Spartacus stunt or two, a strategy ripe for 2018 emerged– he’s a witch! How do we know he’s a witch? Just see how vehemently he denies it!

    Well, maybe not a witch, that’s so 17th century. But a rapist is 2018, where a Resistance-charged #MeToo mob can be convinced denial is proof of guilt and evidence is unnecessary.


    (This is published before the testimony of Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh on September 27)



    Though we will somehow move on from Kavanaugh no matter the ending of his confirmation, those problems do not go away gently. Like those claiming it’s great news the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies, allowing non-progressives’ free speech rights to be dumped in the trash, claiming because Kavanaugh’s confirmation wasn’t a trial anything goes – particularly the weaponized use of “credible accusations” — is making us incapable of rational participation in civic life.

    “Credible accusation” is not a legal standard. But in 2018 politics “credible” has become a pseudo-standard with enormous power handed essentially to a mob buttressed by traditional and social media, especially when coupled with another new hashtag standard, #BelieveWomen (morphing into the more dramatic #BelieveSurvivors.) They are meant in the best of intentions to correct injustices of the past. They are used now under the worst of intentions as political weapons. No past mistakes are resolved by defining credibility as an emotional reaction to an accuser’s story, twisted for partisan political ends.

    How partisan this all is is made clear when the new rules are applied only in cases of sexual assault. We are not admonished to believe women are more accurate witnesses in income tax fraud cases, even against white male Republicans. We are not told to believe women face no challenges of politically motivated accusations around shoplifting incidents. We are not admonished to believe women are incapable of lying, misremembering, exaggerating or making a mistake in water rights disputes.

    This all allows a unitary actor declared “credible” by default (there seems to be no allowance for a non-credible accusation of sexual assault in 2018) to initiate harm simply by pointing a finger. It really is conceived by progressives as just that easy: “Even if it wouldn’t support a criminal conviction or civil liability, a merely credible allegation is enough to disqualify him,” wrote the New York Times.

    And when the public tires of the one accuser, dig around until you find another. Send Michael Avenatti, the Fagin-like wrangler of Trump-era accusers, to round up as many as needed. Without the need for corroboration, they are not hard to find in bulk. Under the Kavanaugh standards, nearly any person can destroy anyone among tens of thousands of people they went to high school or college alongside of, or ever worked with. Not convinced? In the comments below, leave the details of your next scheduled job interview. And then be prepared to prove you were not in a specific room four decades ago if you want the job, because someone might make a call.

    Of course these are confirmation hearings, not a trial, some say, gleeful the written rules of law don’t apply and they are free to create new standards and expedient practices to fit the needs of the moment. But that is a gross misunderstanding of the “rule of law” which will haunt America past Kavanaugh.

    Like free speech, fairness, and justice, rule of law is a philosophy that underlies a just society, not merely something partially codified in dusty books. Rule of law is a way of living together under a known set of standards, equally applied, with changes broadly supported. Things like the accuser rightly bears the burden of proof. Jobs, respect, property, and freedoms are not taken away by accusation. Claims of innocence are not treated as proof of guilt.

    In Kavanaugh’s case, no evidence has been presented other than the accusations themselves. Whether written to a Congressperson, told to a therapist, or mumbled to a friend, in the end the circle is a circle that points back to a single person, the accuser herself. That’s repetition, not corroboration. Kavanaugh stated the events did not happen. For the past four decades there was no “she said” until a handful of Democratic senators forced Kavanaugh to deliver a “he said.”

    With Kavanaugh, his unambiguous denials are by definition not credible, as the inverse of Believe Accusers is to Disbelieve the Accused. Kavanaugh has been repeatedly asked for more details, somehow a more persuasive denial, of something he says never happened. The task set before him was to prove a negative, then do it again when a new accuser was produced with an even vaguer scenario from years ago. Give us more details of the trip to Paris you never took!

    We were warned. Franz Kafka, in The Trial, has his main character, known only as K, taken to jail without ever being told what his crime might have been. “I’m not guilty,” said K. “There’s been a mistake.” “That is how the guilty speak,” replied the priest counseling him.

    It seemed any defense at all was wrong. “Though Kavanaugh has been careful not to slime Ford, his denial of the incident impugns her anyway,” wrote the Atlantic. When asked if there was anything a truly innocent Kavanaugh could do to prove his innocence, Senator Tim Kaine replied: “That’s kind of very hypothetical.” Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post claimed it didn’t really matter what Kavanaugh said, it wasn’t even in his hands: “It’s not simply that Kavanaugh must be convincing — Christine Blasey Ford has to seem unconvincing.” Matthew Dowd at ABC took that even further and claimed it didn’t matter what either party testified, simply that “Let’s believe the she… For 250 years we have believed the he in these scenarios. Enough is enough.”

    Reason and judgment become subordinate to a social and political agenda. The point is to take advantage of alleged victim-hood before it’s been proven, to use assumed victim-hood to shut down questioning whether there even is a victim. In this mindset Kavanaugh should have been finished months ago when the first accusation appeared anonymously, or maybe it was really all over in 1982 that very night at the high school party, and the rest of this, including his decades on the bench, has been unnecessary epilogue.

    It all tracks with a dire situation in our society where people are increasingly unable or unwilling to listen to different viewpoints as forces inside America have succeeded in turning people against the once-sacred ideal of free speech. Now, speech, fairness, and justice are no longer goals or ideals, just tools to be manipulated expediently to serve political ends. “That’s offensive!” (or sexist, or racist) is an accusation, but it is also understood as evidence itself of the truth of the accusation; why would the accuser be motivated to lie? Aren’t all opinions valid, even if the opinion becomes an accusation? How can a self-absorbed individual leave mental space for her own thoughts to be… wrong? The accusation is enough to demand resolution. Take that and expose it to shrewd Democratic politicians and you get the Kavanaugh confirmation process. And likely the next one, too.

    This is very dangerous territory for a nation claiming to fear the loss of the rule of law. In the worst days of racial injustice, evidence-free accusations of rape from a white woman sent groups of black men to be lynched, her testimony as unquestionable as virtue itself. During the McCarthy era, mere accusations of communist ties were used to destroy political enemies; questioning that meant you were unpatriotic. Scholars find evidence accusations during the infamous Salem witchcraft trials were used to settle land disputes, with questioning the accusers seen as a direct affront to God. In my time in Iraq, an accusation of al Qaeda affiliation from a tribal leader being courted by the U.S. could bring a Special Forces night raid down on a neighbor of his choosing. There are dark lessons here.

    The Democrats have managed in about a week to take the very serious business of #MeToo and turn it into a partisan weapon. In the extreme, they propose no common humanity, simply a society of rapists and their enablers, and victims and their allies. Kavanaugh, the recent process demanded, is more than unqualified for the Court; he is a rapist and liar, unqualified as a human being. Which side will you vote for? It might create a Blue Wave, or it might drive people to vote Republican as a matter of self-defense, more soul-crushing negative partisanship to the body politic.

     

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  • Flying Over the Purple Midterms

    September 22, 2018 // 18 Comments

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


    That slack-jawed yokel look on my face is because I just came back from a wedding and some visits in flyover country, turning the last few days into a highly unscientific survey of old friends and new relatives who’d talk politics with me.

    It was easy, as the media had already slugged my pickup line into the same category as weather, local sports, and whether the buffet chicken was any good: whattya think, is Trump’s craziness gonna lead to big gains for the Democrats in the November midterms?


    I grew up in Ohio, and have written about the flyover voter ahead of the last election, and in a book. Now once again these voters matter. As a bug-eyed Doc Brown preaching from his stool at the open bar would put it, 2020, and the future itself Marty, depends on 2018! If Democrats flip the House by taking 23 seats away from Republican incumbents, they can block appointments, investigate everything in a Benghazi-like loop, and even impeach Trump, paving the way for Elizabeth Warren’s victory dance.

    But for that Blue Wave to reach shore, a bunch of Republicans need to vote Democrat and the New Democratic Base, young people and a list of minorities longer than a CVS receipt, must vote in numbers never before seen. That second part of the plan has its own questions. But my recent travels make it pretty clear depending on a wave of Republicans to vote Democrat, primarily because they no longer support Trump, is out to sea.

    It’s not that Trump is so popular. I met plenty of people as ideologically committed, albeit 180 degrees to the right, as their East Coast vegan socialist cousins. But most of the people I spoke with would be better described as light purple voters. More than a handful enthusiastically voted for their first-ever Democrat in 2008, then backed away from Obama in 2012, before returning to the Republicans, albeit Trump, in 2016. The idea today is Trump’s boorishness will send them back to Democratic candidates.


    Or maybe not. The endless stream of Trump atrocities large and small talked about on Sunday morning TV is not what voters were talking about. Everybody knew Stormy but nobody cared; they had processed Trump’s affairs in 2016 and that makes that old news even if it’s still on Maddow every night. It seems like a new low is declared every day. In response to the daily bombing run of hall monitor gossip, one person said “I get it, I don’t like what he says all the time either, but let the man try and do his job, enough already.” It’s like buying outrage in bulk at Costco; at some point you realize a five pound shaker of nutmeg is too much to deal with and you hide it in the garage.

    Out here candidates are not described as fierce or nasty. Social media is for kids and cats, marches for folks who don’t have to work a weekend second job. Racism and pronouns matter, but only after figuring out how to pay for healthcare. Anything else stinks of elite indifference from people whose pensions didn’t disappear in the last merger. There is a sense being black, brown, gay, Muslim or female is not by itself a qualification for office. There is uncertainty over too easily excluding men, old people, straight people, entire regions of the country, until most everyone was, or cared about someone who was, deemed unworthy. Not status anxiety, more a sense of what used to be a difference of political opinion now making someone illegitimate as a person – “deplorable” came up more than once.


    So it’s not all about Trumpism. And where it is about him, most support a part of Trumpism that hits them financially.

    Democrats campaigning against the economy? It matters, however modest and fragile, that median household income rose 1.8% and poverty declined .4% under Trump. Anything that brings a nose above water is really good for that voter. Economists misunderstand it as a bad thing most middle income families are only now clawing back to 2008 levels, while most middle income families see that as a pretty good thing, finally. I heard the word “results” a lot. “Optimism” is about the future same as voting, and it counts as much as “hope” once did.

    Telling people economic progress is a result of the former administration is a punch line. It is hard to overstate how deeply these Americans despise the Obama response to their 2008 financial crisis. Many saw the value of their homes, the largest investment they will ever make, dramatically decrease. They don’t own much stock outside of a flaccid IRA, and so benefited little from a recovery that bailed out Wall Street. Obama’s decisions are still not done with them ten years later, because their retirement is based on home prices rising enough so a downsizing sale will cover late-in-life costs.

    When people are excluded from the most important decisions affecting their basic livelihood, they lose faith. That bitter lived experience fueled distrust and an ideological drift that manifested itself in electing Trump. I didn’t hear that distrust has dissipated enough for many who did first voted Democrat in 2008 to do it again in six weeks. Many of the people of color I met felt the same way as their white neighbors. Having started at the same place in the factories, and fallen together into being poor and white, or poor and black, they ended up in the same ironic state of equality. A big difference however is black frustration often shows up as low voter turnout, while whites vote Republican.


    These are a practical people, who in one Kansas author’s words “speak a firm sort of poetry, made of things and actions.” It wasn’t racism or Russian Facebook ads; ask and these people will give you the specifics. While darkly certain all politicians will always hand them some version of the dirty end of the stick, the people I spoke with at least felt they understood what the Republican candidates would give them. With an eye on the 2008 bailout, they seemed less sure of the Democratic side.

    I didn’t see what the New York Times thinks it sees, “Democrats Embrace Liberal Insurgents.” I didn’t find many people looking for the local version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, though I found a lot of people who asked me “Alexandria who?” People said if someone promises Medicare for all, they need to also hear how she planned to deliver. Because unlike folks who tweet about it from Brooklyn, these are the people who still try, or in some cases, tried and failed, to get healthcare instead of just insurance out of Obamacare. They remember not fixing that system was part of the Democratic platform and question changes of heart that coincide with changes in polling.

    You don’t have to always understand it but you have to realize there are ground truths present. Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and housing assistance are a way of life now. One can accept food stamps but still think handouts are for lazy people. People can feel cheated working for minimum wage at a Walmart full of junk made overseas without being anti-immigrant racists. Trump understands all this viscerally better than many Democrats now speaking for their party, and people in return ignore a lot of other things. People seem likely to vote Republican even if they don’t support Trump in 2018. Democrats used and lost the “better of two evils” argument in 2016.


    So polls asking if a midterm voter supports Trump, or approves of his performance, may be asking the wrong question. If Democrats insist on November being Trump vs. Trump, a referendum on the first half of his term to see if he gets to play out the second half, all without themselves bringing something new and real forward, they may not like the answer voters give.



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  • Enough Gossip. Where are the Trump Whistleblowers?

    September 17, 2018 // 17 Comments

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

    As a federal whistleblower who lost his career to tell the truth about the Iraq war publicly, I am burdened by how the interviewees in Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear, and Anonymous, that New York Times “resistance” Op-Ed author, have been hailed in heroic terms.

    Many see them as patriots “resisting Trump” from the inside, holding back his worst impulses through fibs and bureaucratic tricks, being the clandestine adults in the room. Having faced similar choices, I know their approach is neither honorable, nor effective. In the past the more common word applied to such officials would have been insubordinate.

     

    No one should join government to do only things they think are personally right; one serves the United States, and takes an oath to a Constitution which spells out a system of government and a chain of command running from the president. There is no addendum saying “but if you really disagree with the president it’s OK to do what you want.” In many military offices, the chain, from president to the lowest officer present, is literally displayed on the wall via pyramided portraits of those specific men and women; the blank space at the end is “you.”

    This is not to support robotic bureaucrats. But ideas, no matter how vigorously debated or opposed, at some point change from being Trump’s or Obama’s policies to those of the United States. Implementing them on a global scale, whether on a battlefield or across a negotiating table, is a team sport. Any other way is to bring on the chaos Anonymous claims to be pushing back against.

     

    I served 24 years in such a system, joining the State Department under Ronald Reagan and leaving during the Obama era. That splay of political ideologies had plenty of things in it to disagree with or even believe dangerous. Same for people in the military and the intelligence agencies, who, for example, were sent to train Afghan mujaheddin under one president and then kill them under another, more significant than wonky disagreement over a trade deal. An amoral president, in Anonymous’ words? How about one who set Americans to torturing prisoners to death?

    In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, some inside government were privy to information about the non-presence of weapons of mass destruction, and understood the president was exaggerating the case for war if not lying about it. Three senior officials resigned from the State Department and left a clear marker in the history books the policy was wrong. Another State Department official, a former Marine, resigned in protest over the war in Afghanistan. He stated in the New York Times (a signed letter, not an anonymous Op-Ed) “[I] tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current administration. I have confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting, and hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside.” More than a decade earlier, four State Department officials quit over the Bosnian conflict, also via public letters of resignation.

    Others who believed a president’s decisions were harmful to the United States blew the whistle, making public information at the cost of their jobs and/or freedom to build an evidence-based case. Chelsea Manning spent years in prison to expose war crimes, Ed Snowden ended up with a lifetime in exile to inform the public of NSA policies threatening Constitutional freedoms. For me, I chose to write a whistleblowing book exposing the failed reconstruction efforts in Iraq I once helped lead, and lost my career in return.

    The consistent threads are important: disagreements over policy, many involving millions of lives, are not new or unique to the Trump administration. Nor are questions of competence: Reagan was thought to be senile, Bush a dolt. Challenges to conscience were answered by good people who believed enough in the United States that they placed their lives, fortunes, and honor as collateral toward being listened to. Challenges to conscience were not thwarted by working from deep inside government to surreptitiously ruin policy.

     

    Until now, at least according to Anonymous’ Op-Ed and Woodward’s book, Fear. Anonymous claims they disrupted things without giving any details; we’re to assume whatever they are doing, accountable to no one, must be better than anyhing Trump wants. Woodward claims Jim Mattis put a Resistance-like stop to Trump’s demand to assassinate Syrian President Bashar Assad, though Mattis denies it. Of course the order to kill, if it occurred at all, would have been illegal and thus require anyone in government to refuse it. No resistance there, simply someone following the law.

    About the only actual act of “resistance” to examine comes from Woodward’s book. Gary Cohn, Trump’s former economic adviser, supposedly walked into the Oval Office and snatched a letter off Trump’s desk saying the United States was pulling out of a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn thus stopped Trump from signing the document after he never noticed it missing.

    The story is almost certainly untrue; “decision paper” for signature going in and out of the Oval Office is tracked assiduously by White House staffers. Stuff doesn’t just go missing, and if it does, someone looks for it; I know, I held just such a job working for the American Ambassador in London. It’s like tearing up a credit card bill thinking the debt will go away. And that’s before getting into how few people the Secret Service lets drop by the Oval Office and grab stuff off the Resolute desk.

    But even accepting Cohn pulled off his heist, is protecting a trade agreement the act of resistance America demands? Reading the actual letter, Trump’s intent was to make a threat of withdrawal, taking advantage of an 180 day delay in implementation to force new negotiations. Trump campaigned on just such promises. There was no madman with his finger on a button. Cohn didn’t agree with his boss (or the results of an election.) That’s not patriotic, it’s a disgruntled employee.

     

    As to the claims Trump is uniquely too stupid to be president, John Kelly, like Mattis, denies he said anything of that to Woodward (in kindergarten did to, did not style, Woodward called Mattis a liar for calling Woodward a liar.) As with Michael Wolff’s nearly-forgotten book which spurred the last round of calls for the 25th Amendment to oust Trump eight months ago, there is no evidence of actionable insanity or stupidity. It’s all circular reinforcement, unnamed voices repeating things heard before, backed by psychiatrists who never met the president claiming he is insane, and enhanced by shock jock pundits reading tweets like a fortune teller reads goat entrails. Almost two years now of the world and democracy not ending have diluted claims this president is a unique danger.

    Until now the people working for presidents as different as Reagan was from Obama understood, as I did, the only way for America to function credibly was for us on the inside to work on her behalf until we couldn’t, and that meant following the system created by the Constitution, remembering we weren’t the ones elected, that we ultimately worked for those who did the electing, that there is no “But Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama/Trump is different…” clause in the Constitution. We understood acting as a wrench inside the gears of government to disaffect policy (the Washington Post warned with some apparent glee “sleeper cells have awoken”) is what foreign intelligence officers recruit American officials to do. Instead, we argued inside our offices, we dissented via internal channels, and for some, we resigned or blew the whistle to credibly and effectively force the issue into the public eye.

     

    So let one of the people inside government who believes America is at mortal risk do something more than gossip to their favorite journalist to keep detrimental memes alive for another painful news cycle– resign, testify, and bring out the documents as proof to separate yourself from the partisan operatives. That person of conscience need not be a Cabinet secretary; Chelsea Manning was a private. Snowden a contractor, not even an NSA employee. “We never should have heard of them,” said a 1993 story in the Washington Post about those State Department Bosnia dissenters. “They were mid-level bureaucrats, dots in the State Department matrix. But they’ve gone and done something extraordinary in Washington: They quit their jobs on moral grounds.”

    Until any of that happens, we shouldn’t waste another moment on anonymous resisters and unnamed/uncredible sources, whether they write in the Times or show up in books by Woodward or Wolff. America, if she truly is at grave risk, is more important than a job in the West Wing. Stand up if the threat is real, shut up if it’s not.

     

     

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