• Archive of "Democracy" Category

    What We Lost in the Pandemic

    April 4, 2020 // 2 Comments »


     
    A lot of change has taken place in a very short period of time in America, almost all of it undebated and unchallenged, in response to what still has a long way to go to justify it. But the virus is killing us all! Stop. It is not only possible to hold two ideas in mind at once, it is vital. The virus is a threat. At the same time we are immersed in making fundamental changes to society willy-nilly that will outlive the virus.
     
    Only two weeks ago I had an hourly-paid part-time job, my hours subject to my boss’ needs and whims. That made me a lot like the 60 percent of the American workforce who are also hourly employees, not to mention those working as independent contractors, adjuncts, and the massive undocumented labor behind our farms, hotels, and restaurants. The government ordered most of us to stop working and we did. Nobody is entirely sure if “the government” can actually just do this, but it did. Almost none of us can work from home. We wait like baby birds for the government to drop checks into our mouths. Overnight we went from workers, albeit workers at the failing edge of economic inequality, to dependent on government handouts. As the balance of power between Americans and their government changes dramatically, 60 percent of us approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

    Perhaps the clearest example of what just happened took place among teachers. Teachers from K-College worked frantically on their own time to eliminate the need for classrooms and move instruction online. Something that might have been rejected as unacceptable six months ago, or expected to take years under normal circumstances, was done at no new cost overnight. No consultants, no arguments from parents or unions, just worker bees radically transforming the American educational system. It won’t take long after this is done for institutions to realize they don’t need so many teachers, classrooms, janitors, etc. anymore. The infrastructure now assembled can be used so one teacher can instruct hundreds or thousands of kids. Why have ten math professors to teach ten sections in ten rooms when one person online can more or less do it? So teachers, thank you for your efforts to iron out the bugs in a mass proof-of-concept experiment. Don’t worry in the future when you’re out of work; there are always alternatives in the free market system. A porn site is offering the unemployed big bucks as cam girls during the pandemic.

    A live classroom teacher (doctor, therapist, consultant, etc.) may someday become yet another luxury available only to a select few. Quality will be what you can afford. That is part of what corona is doing, helping people adjust to a new standard. Remember once most white collar jobs came with a private office with a door, a dedicated secretary, and a formal lunch hour, never mind a pension. Manufacturing jobs paid a living wage, with union benefits and a picnic each summer to honor the American worker. Stuff happens, ya’ know?

     

    For the second time in about only a decade, we are seeing our homes endangered. Rent payments are hard. As mortgage payments slip the banks are sniffing around like hyenas. Some people will fail on rent payments on the same homes they used to own. Occupy Wall Street? No, occupied by Wall Street.

    Like good boys and girls a lot of us did invest our money after the 2008 economic crisis, yet anyone contemplating retirement or college in the near term just saw 20 percent of all that go away. Again. The bailouts are here, in the trillions, again, for the airlines and other businesses. Of course the stock market will go back up, it always does. What occurs in the space between it going down and going back up is the wealthiest Americans, having money in reserve, buy cheaply once-expensive stocks you were forced to sell at the bottom to feed your family. In a few years you’ll start buying in again, you know, when you get back to work, to push up prices and fuel the rich folks’ gains. The wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-2008 financial crisis growth while the bottom 80 percent, whose wealth was in their homes not stocks, became poorer as their missing homes did not “grow.” Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The last recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century.

    What about 2020? Since over half of all Americans now own no stock, the wealth in 2020 will be sucked out of the so-called 10 percent, the remains of what was once the upper middle class. They are the only ones who actually have money for the hyper-wealthy to take. The bottom 90 percent are basically too poor to steal from (except our labor; see above.) A month ago the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the total value of the market. The One Percent are in the process of taking from the Nine Percent below them right now. Fair enough in a way; much of the Nine Percent’s wealth was harvested out of the 2008 crisis.

     

    At least in 2008 it was just our money they took. I sit here in NYC under a multi-layered federal, state, and city state of emergency. I am still sort of free to go out, but since most stores, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, etc. are closed by fiat, freedom of movement is an illusion, like prisoners circling the rec yard. Adding to the people who now tell me what I can and cannot do, the manager of my local grocery has made up his own rationing rules, choosing which products and which quantities he allows us to purchase.

    Freedom of assembly is gone. No more questions about whether Milo can speak on campus. No more Pink Pussy Hat marches. A month ago if anyone said that to a BLM group, the riot would have been followed by a Supreme Court First Amendment case. In 2020 only three people nationwide have legally challenged anti-assembly orders. Before the virus we made fun of George W. Bush, who in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 seemed to downplay the severity of it all by telling Americans to go shopping, to visit Disney World. That seems generous to a population now cowing in their bedrooms. We are being conditioned to reject the comfort and solidarity of being in the presence of others; one media outlet explains to little JoJo’s and Yorki’s how to report large gatherings to the authorities via an online form.

     

    Politically the progressive movement disappeared with the proverbial whisper, not a bang. Is Bernie still in? All that talk about a brokered convention, third party stuff, whatever, it is gone. Frightened people (they were scared about Bernie’s ideas long before the virus but the end came quick once the virus arrived) want to pull the blanket over their heads. Joe Biden’s campaign slogan seems to be “I Won’t Do Much,” or more succinctly, “Better Things Aren’t Really Possible.” Joe is the political equivalent of an Obama tribute band. You’ve seen them, imitators who look a little like the Rolling Stones. They play only the best hits, competently but not skillfully, showing how wide the gap is between someone who can pull “Honky Tonk Woman” from the ether and someone who can just play the cords with enthusiasm. It’s a way to make a living and for Joe Biden telling everyone things will look like the 1958 it might just be enough. Protip: don’t wager too many dineros on the political future of AOC and The Squad. Even Tulsi endorsed Biden on the way out.

     

    Orwell in 1984 never really explained how it all came to be. He wanted to shock readers with a dystopian society whole on page one, something that felt like it always was and thus always will be. For us, however, living in this time, the evolution is of some interest. Orwell was also an amateur. He imagined freedom as something people would fight for. He did not envision how easy it would be to manipulate fear into learned helplessness such that Americans would in the space of a week voluntarily give up most of their freedoms, along with their actual jobs. Orwell envisioned the need for a Ministry of Truth when in fact all it took was a handful of deaths, some prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling it “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles for the majority not only to go along with the new authoritarianism, but to demand more. Fear is the problem and empowering government is the solution. You have to give some things up for a safe good society. If not, you’re selfish, a thought crime.

    Of all the bell curves, the one of interest is when the cure becomes worse than the disease. When do we as a society cross the line where measures of social control are no longer affecting the spread of the disease but are damaging the life we live. Of course many of the draconian steps taken these past weeks will be pulled back. But some will stick. And the lessons learned by the darkest corners of American life will be jotted down. The same thing happened after 9/11, when frightened by terrorism, Americans gave up their rights to privacy and freedom from search with great enthusiasm. Somewhere Dick Cheney is saying to himself “we could have taken it so much further, we just didn’t realize it would be so easy.”

    Hey, Dick, check it out — we have voluntarily given up our livelihoods and jobs, freedom of assembly, and transferred most of our speech to social media monsters who can edit or block it as they wish. We are heading toward more dependency on government money to eat. Access to medical care, once limited by having “good” insurance, is now limited by medi-bureaucratic decisions — committees who will decide who gets to see a doctor. Remember how even the rumor of such “death panels” under Obamacare set people afire? We understand better now, sorry grandma.

    Unintended consequences? Doubt that. This did not just happen, our governments made it happen near enough to overnight and we wanted them to do that. No one wants to die. But think ahead to how we are going to live.
      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Biden My Time as Bernie Burns Out

    March 16, 2020 // 56 Comments »


     

    How did the Democrats end up with Joe Biden their presumptive nominee?
     

    After three years of preparatory media artillery fire about diversity and change, those stupid pink hats, and chumming the electorate with promises of free college alongside all the healthcare-they-care-to-eat, Democrats started with six women, a couple of black people, the gay one, a huge mix of experience and background, and progressive ideas ranging from the necessary to the kooky.

    Here’s the full list of players — Biden, Gabbard, Sanders, Warren, Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Steyer, Patrick, Yang, Bennet, Delaney, Booker, Williamson, Castro, Harris, Bullock, Sestak, Messam, O’Rourke!, Ryan, de Blasio, Gillibrand, Moulton, Inslee, Hickenlooper, Swalwell, Walsh, Sanford, and some guy from West Virginia named Richard Ojeda.

    How many of their faces can you picture?
     

    The Democrat party ended up choosing the only candidate from 1958, 77-year-old Joe Biden. He’s old, he’s tired, he lost the race for president twice already (once for plagiarism and lying about his education), and he appears to be in some state of cognitive decline. Between the hair plugs and too-much botox he looks waxy, like grandpa putting himself out there for one last fling after grandma Obama passed away God rest her soul. That Biden is required to chose a woman as his VP as a sop to the last three years only serves to emphasize the tokenism of the moment — ironically it is the Democratic party which has demonstrated a woman, gay person, or POC can’t be elected president but here, see, we’ll put your photo on the refrigerator so everyone can see how hard you tried.

    The entire premise of the Democratic primary was false. It misunderstood Trump’s election as a fluke if not an outright scam, and that The People wanted a revolution. This was sustained by a relatively small group of disconnected people who through cancelation culture, peer pressure, and the need to fill a 24/7 media vacuum convinced each other they were right. So when a mediagenic Hispanic woman won a nothing race by a few votes against a sleepy incumbent in the Bronx, they told each other they were right and AOC is the proof. The echo chamber made it seem they were always right as they serially proclaimed new saviors, off-stage The Squad, on stage Beto! and Pete predominantly, though Booker, Harris, Klobuchar and others were granted mini-moments after a decent debate performance or some minor event. Some call it the “pundit fallacy,” a belief driven inside the echo chamber that Americans are at heart progressive people who haven’t yet been educated to vote the way they really should.

    The problem was as soon as the actual people were allowed a word it all fell apart. The primary narrowed very quickly. White voters didn’t like the black candidates. Novelty candidates like Yang and Steyer sucked up bandwidth and confused the electorate. Midwesterners were terrified of initiatives aimed at transgender, reparation, and illegal immigrant support blocks that existed only in the minds of candidates who read too much in the Atlantic and The Nation. Everyone wanted better healthcare but very few agreed a massive upheaval of our capitalist economic system was the way forward on that. The candidates went out of their way to ignore public opinion on these issues and alienate voters, especially purple voters. Maybe next time the party can find a progressive thinker who also likes to hunt deer.

    Now quick, name one of Biden’s signature policy initiatives.
     

    The second-to-last man standing, Bernie, was artificial. Unlike everyone else in the field, he started with a pre-built organization, fully-formed policies, and a cash load from 2016. He had a certain glow to him, having been treated so unfairly in 2016 but that did not help much when there was no anti-Hillary vote to glom. But while initial powerups allowed Bernie to survive, he never grew. The new voters he counted on never appeared, at least not for him. Voter turnout did increase on Super Tuesday compared with 2016 but most of those new voters went for Biden. Bernie was the rock band still touring behind its one smash hit; the audiences are the same people who loved them in the 70s, just older now, even as the size of the venues shrunk.

    The process of elimination reality drove forward was nudged by old-fashioned party power plays. Black voters were massed by local pols in South Carolina to come out for Biden. Someone behind the curtain (almost certainly Obama) made the calls to Buttigieg and Klobuchar and told them, as he likely did in 2016 with Biden to clear the way for Hillary, “kid, this ain’t your night.”

    You end up with Joe Biden.
     

    One writer called Biden’s success the product of the “politics of exhaustion,” seeing a Democratic electorate not anxious for change, but one that’s just tired, and tired of being tired. The unrelenting apocalyptic news cycles of the past few years depressed them and finally burned them out, and all they want is to tune out and put someone acceptable enough in charge. When Nancy Pelosi declared the morning of Super Tuesday “Civilization as we know it is at stake in the 2020 election” they had had it.

    Exhausted, you end up with Joe Biden, running on three things: 1) he’s not Trump; 2) maybe he’ll die in office and his VP will take over early in his term and 3) Joe’s cognitive decline appears slightly less than Trump’s in the race for Mr. Alzheimer 2020 but we’re not sure. Not exactly “Hope and Change.”

    Biden candidacy also means sweeping three years of Democratic messaging under the bed. The list of subjects Joe won’t be able to talk about is a long one. Russiagate imploded on its own. Impeachment centered Hunter Biden and ain’t nobody on the Democratic side gonna bring that up.

    President Bone Spurs? Biden received five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War, same as Trump. In 1968 when his student status was wrapping up, Biden was medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma. Yet in his autobiography he described an active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player. He also lied about being on the University of Delaware football team.

    Trump’s naughty finances? After leaving the Obama White House Joe and his wife made more than $15 million, mostly via a sweetheart book deal. Biden and his wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as they did in the previous 19 years combined. The University of Pennsylvania gave Joe $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to grant him indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching. Biden charged the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property so they could protect him. Since leaving office Biden made $2.4 million on speaking engagements, including $10,000 for travel expenses to the University of Buffalo. A speech at Southwestern Michigan in October 2018 included $50,000 in travel expenses (for the rubes out there, travel expenses are not taxable income.)

    Taxes? After failing to close the loophole with Obama, Joe left office to create his own S Corporation, so he receives money for things like book advances and speaking fees not directly, which would cause him to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as with salaries, but laundered as divestitures from a corporation he owns. As corporate money, nasty personal taxes are fully avoided, and the corporation can claim nearly unlimited “business expenses” to be deducted against those profits. Joe’s S Corp also donated his own money back to his PAC. Legal laundering.

    Trump’s sexism and racism? Young people, Google “Anita Hill” now. You’ll be hearing a lot about her come the fall.

    Biden represents to many Democrat voters semi-living proof they will never see healthcare reform in their lifetime (Biden’s comeback drove a $48 billion gain for health insurance stock; they know.) Absent a timely cardiac event, they will not see a woman president for who knows how many years. Income inequality will remain the salient descriptor of our society. To win, Biden will have to break the record for oldest man to be sworn in as president (Trump holds the title now.)

    Biden’s worst enemy heading into November will be low voter turnout. His opponent for Democratic votes will be Mr. Just Stay Home. That’s why those polls which show broad dissatisfaction with Trump are useless. The Trade Joe Moms of Northern Virginia are never going to vote for Donald Trump. But they just might vote for no one. There are ominous signs; polls for several states Biden won on Super Tuesday, including Massachusetts, Texas and several southern states that helped catapult the former vice president into front-runner status found young voters did not show up at the rate they did in 2016. Same problem for disrespected Bernie supporters who just might sit November out.

    The black voters who saved Biden in South Carolina are notoriously fickle when it comes to turn out. Older Americans, who favor Trump, historically turn out at 30 to 40 percent higher rates than the youngest voters. The exaggeration of white privilege that became a cornerstone of the Democratic party — whites are racist, illiterate opioid-soaked gun nuts — is also one of the ways Democrats risk losing the 2020 presidential race, as it leads inexorably to the devaluation of voters needed to clinch the Electoral College.
     

    Biden’s presumptive status as nominee triggered the MSM hive mind to drop any talk of the issues which have dominated their agenda for three years in favor of droning about electability. It makes little sense. Why else vote for someone if not for what he represents and will do? You want electability, run a puppy. Biden represents the end state of a political thinking that literally anyone must be better than Trump. The backup plan seems to be rooting for the coronavirus to  trigger a massive recession.

    That’s betting the whole house on one thin straw. It’s what happens when you settle for Joe Biden.
     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!

    March 3, 2020 // 4 Comments »


     

    The Russians are back, paired alongside the American intelligence agencies playing deep inside our elections again. Who should we worry more about? Hint: Not the Russians.
     

    On February 13 the election security czar in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) briefed the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians were meddling again, and that they favored Trump. A few weeks earlier, the ODNI briefed the Sanders campaign the Russians were also meddling in the primaries, this time in his favor. Both briefings remained secret until this past week, when the former was leaked to the NYT in time to make smear Trump for replacing his DNI, and the latter leaked to the WaPo ahead of the Nevada caucuses to try and damage Sanders.

    Russiagate is back, baby. Russiagate II!
     

    You didn’t think after 2016 those bad boys of the intel “community” (which makes it sound like they all live together down in Florida somewhere) weren’t going to play again, and that they wouldn’t learn from their mistakes. Those mistakes were in retrospect amateurish. A salacious dossier built around a pee tape? Nefarious academics befriending minor Trump campaign staffers who would tell all to an Aussie ambassador trolling London’s pubs looking for young, fit Americans? Falsified FISA applications when it was all too obvious even Trumpkin greenhorns weren’t dumb enough to sleep with FBI honeypots? You’d think after influencing 85 elections across the globe since WWII the community would have be better at it, sure, but you also knew after failing to whomp a bumpkin like Trump once they would keep trying.

    Like any good intel op, you start with a tickle, make it seem like the targets are figuring it out for themselves. Get it out there Trump offered Wikileaks’ Julian Assange a pardon if he would state publicly Russia wasn’t involved in the 2016 DNC leaks. The story was all garbage, not the least of which was because Assange has been clear for years it wasn’t the Russians. And there was actually no offer of a pardon from the White House. And conveniently Assange is locked in a foreign prison and can’t comment. Whatever, time the Assange story to hit the day after Trump pardoned numerous high-profile scum bag white-collar criminals, so even the casual reader had Trump = Russians = Bad on their minds. You could just almost imagine a baritone announcer’s voice intoning “Previously, on Russiagate I…” as they whole thing unfolded.

    Then only a day after the Assange story (why be subtle?), let the sequel hit the theatres with the timed leaks to the NYT and WaPo. Then stand back and watch the MSM descend into free fall.

    CNN concluded “America’s Russia nightmare is back.” Maddow was ecstatic, bleating out “Here we go again” realizing her failed conspiracy theories could be recycled whole. Everybody quoted Have Adam Schiff firing off Trump was “again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling.” Tying it all to the failed impeachment efforts, another writer said “’Let the Voters Decide’ doesn’t work if Trump fires his national security staff so Russia can help him again.” The NYT fretted “Trump is intensifying his efforts to undermine the nation’s intelligence agencies.” Former CIA Director John Brennan (after leaking for a while, most boils dry up and go away) said “we are now in a full-blown national security crisis.” The undead Hillary Clinton tweeted “Putin’s Puppet is at it again, taking Russian help for himself.” It is reportedly clear we’ll be hearing breaking and developing reports about this from sources believed to be close to those in the know through November. Intel community 1, Trump 0.

    Kind of a miss on Bernie. He did very well in Nevada despite the leaks. But the Great Game of Russiagate II has a long way to go. Bernie himself assured us of that. Instead of poo-pooing the idea the Russians would be working for him, he instead gave it cred, saying “Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.” Sanders handed Russiagate II legs, signaling he’ll use it as cover for the Bernie Bros online shenanigans called out at the last debates. That’s playing with fire; it’ll be too easy later on to invoke all this around Comrade Bernie memes in the already wary purple states.
     

    Summary to Date: Everyone is certain the Russians are working to influence the election… (adopts cartoon Russian accent which also sounds a bit like WWII movie Nazi) but who is the cat and who is the mouse?

    Is Putin helping Trump get re-elected to remain his asset in place? Or is Putin helping Bernie “I Honeymooned in the Soviet Union” Sanders to make him look like an asset to help Trump? Or are the Russkies really all-in because Bernie is a True Socialist sleeper agent at heart, the Emma Goldman of his time (Bernie’s old enough to have taken Emma to his high school prom)? Or is it not the Russians but the American intel community helping Bernie to make it look like Putin is helping Bernie to help Trump? Or is it the Deep State saying the Reds are helping Bernie to hurt Bernie to help their man Bloomberg? Are the Russian spies tripping over the American spies in caucus hallways trying to get to the front of the room? Who can tell what is really afoot?
     

    See, the devil is in the details, which is why we don’t have any.

    The world’s greatest intelligence team can’t seem to come up with anything more specific than words like “interfering” and “meddling,” as if pesky Aunt Vladimir is gossiping at the general store again. CBS reported House members pressed the ODNI for evidence, such as phone intercepts or other SIGINT to back up claims Russia is trying to help Trump, but briefers had none to offer. Even Jake Tapper, a Deep State loyalty card holder, raised some doubts. WaPo, who hosted one of the leaks, had to admit deep in its story “It is not clear what form that Russian assistance has taken.” Just take our word for it, it’s Russia.

    Yes, yes, have to protect sources and methods, but of course the quickest way to stop Russian influence is to expose it. Instead, the ODNI dropped the turd in the punchbowl and walked away. Why not tell the public what media is being bought, which outlets are working, willingly or not, with Putin? Will we be left hanging with the claim “it was something something social media” again? Did the Reds buy $100 of Facebook ads or implant a radio chip in Biden’s skull? If you’re going to scream Communist zombies with MAGA hats are inside the house you’re obligated to provide a little bit more information. Why is it when specifics are required the response is only something like “Well, the Russians are sowing distrust and turning Americans against themselves in a way that weakens national unity” as if we’re all not eating enough green vegetables. Why leave us exposed to Russian influence for even a second when it could all be shut down in an instant?

    Because the intel community learned its lesson in Russiagate I. Details can eventually be investigated.  That’s where the old story fell apart. The dossier wasn’t true. Michael Cohen never met the Russians in Prague. Oops. The a-ha discovery was that voters don’t read much anyway, so just make claims. You’ll never really prosecute or impeach anyone, so why bother with evidence. Just throw out accusations and let the media fill it all in for you. After all, they managed to convince a large number of Americans Trump’s primary purpose in running for president was to fill vacant hotel rooms at his properties. Let the nature of the source — the brave lads of the intelligence agencies — legitimize the accusations this time, not facts.
     

    It will take a while to figure out who is playing who. Is the goal to help Trump, help Bernie, or defeat both of them to support Bloomberg? But don’t let the challenge of seeing the whole picture obscure the obvious: the American intelligence agencies are once again inside our election.

    The intel community crossed a line in 2016, albeit clumsily (what was all that with Comey and Hillary?), to play an overt role in the electoral process. When that didn’t work out as planned and Trump was elected, they pivoted and drove us to the brink of all hell breaking loose with Russiagate I. The media welcomed and supported them. The Dems welcomed and supported them. Far too many Americans welcomed and supported them in some elaborate version of the ends justifying the means.

    The good news from 2016 was the Deep State turned out to be less competent than we originally feared. But they have learned much from those mistakes, particularly how deft a tool a compliant MSM is. This election will be a historian’s marker for how a decent nation, fully warned in 2016, fooled itself in 2020 into self-harm. Forget about foreigners influencing our elections from outside; the zombies are already inside the house.

      

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    Navigating the Homeless and Mentally Ill

    February 24, 2020 // 12 Comments »

     

    New York, America’s richest city and Ground Zero in how economic inequality is reshaping every day of our lives.
     
    NYC is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. One apartment building alone, 740 Park Avenue, is home to the highest concentration of billionaires in the United States. Yet living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the highest homeless population of any American metropolis, close to 80,000 and growing. The homeless numbered 24,000 during Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral administration some twenty years ago. Three years after that the homeless population swelled to almost 38,000 under Michael Bloomberg. The number of homeless single adults today is 142 percent higher than it was ten years ago, the highest level since the Great Depression.
     
    The city shelters about 64,000 on any given night. Another 3,000 people make their full-time home in the subway system. Their belongings and their defecation crowd out morning commuters on the platforms. In the winter many never emerge above ground. A visitor from outer space would be forgiven for thinking they weren’t even human, recognizable as just a head emerging from a urine-soaked bundle of clothing, not living really, just waiting. The ones who prefer to ride the trains 20 hours a day or more are like one-celled amoebas that react to heat or light by moving out of the way, in the specific case a transit employee whose inquiry causes some physical shift but no sign of sentient action.

    Don’t be offended — what did you think runaway economic inequality was gonna end up doing to us? Macroeconomics isn’t a morality play. But for most New Yorkers the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created.

    Navigating income inequality is not a problem for the rich. Public transportation, once the great melting pot, is less so as Uber plays a bigger role. The new super apartments, with their city-required handful of “affordable” units, have separate entrances based on wealth. A someone goes and gets the coffee, does the shopping, delivers the food. Armored cars for personal use are seeing a boom in sales. NYC’s newest mega-development, Hudson Yards, (Jeff Bezos is a fan) has been dubbed the Forbidden City, a mean snub as it is self-contained, literally walled off from the environment around it (there are “service” entrances for workers, and the stores have their primary doors opening into the gated courtyard, not on to Tenth Avenue.) NYC helps its wealthy pay for all this with a generous 40 percent incentive tax break. The city also built Hudson Yards its own subway line and park network for a total expenditure of six billion (the city spends only half that total on the homeless.) Elsewhere private restaurants, private clubs, private entrances, members only-everythings and VIP sections at public events keep the homeless beyond arm’s reach.
     
    For the rest, stuck between middle class and the abyss, navigating the world of economic inequality is more of a contact sport.

    Public libraries are in various degrees off limits, at best shared, with the well-behaved homeless. They are among the tens of thousands who live in the gulag archipelago of NYC’s vast shelter system. Most of the shelters (there some exceptions for women with small children) are only open at night, leaving the residents to find somewhere to physically exist between 7am and 11pm, after which the city cares about them again. There is no daytime plan for this population, so in bad weather they take over the libraries. Regular patrons are on their own if the staff don’t manage it well; the signature main library with the stone lions has guards to send the homeless across the street to a branch, where the homeless are more or less curated like the oversize books on to one particular floor. At the 96th street branch, the library serves no other purpose than homeless daycare, except for a brief period after school when bodies are moved around for an hour or two to accommodate story time.

    How do the non-homeless navigate this? They buy books on Amazon. They buy quiet workspace and WiFi at coffee shops. They buy their way around the homeless same as others buy their way around via ride sharing services.

    Economic inequality is part of life for many New Yorkers. Not homeless but damn poor, 400,000 reside in taxpayer-paid permanent (permanent as in multi-generational, grandmas passing squatter’s rights to grandkids) public housing. Conditions are literally toxic in these “projects,” as well as crime-ridden and just plain Third World crumbling. And yes, New York’s public housing authority is the world’s largest. There are probably fewer no-go zones than in the dark times of the 1970s, but maybe more “why would you want to go there anyway” places.

    Housing prices for who can pay their own way are such that 40 percent of adult renters live with a roommate. The city even has a program to help elderly renters share their homes. Hanging on to the middle in times of economic inequality means shared or public housing, juggling multiple jobs which often pay less than minimum wage (Taskrabbit, Fiverr, who background check their employees and then send them into anonymous homes), living with life-crippling debt, skating on the edges of no healthcare, and snubbing your nose at people who aren’t living that Big Apple dream.

    In a society constantly creating more poor people and depleting its middle class, spending more money on shelters won’t work. Look to Honolulu. It has been overwhelmed with some 7,000 people who became newly homeless in 2019. That number erased the 616 homeless people per month, on average, who were placed into “permanent housing.” They’ll really not ever stop building until, in theory, shelters house about 99 percent of everyone.

    To lighten things up, New York loves irony. Many of the cheaper apartments for young Millenials are in the same parts of town which once housed new immigrants in the early 20th century, that now golden-hued era of open borders celebrated as a democratic ideal when a more accurate vision would realize it was just a massive labor pool for the wealthy to exploit. That’s also a reminder that modern immigrants, particularly from Central America, form the exploitable, discardable labor pool that undergirds New York’s food service and day labor industries, and staffs car repair shops, butcher and delivery businesses.

    Hey, businesses, too, still have to navigate, especially around the homeless. I used to work at a Barnes and Noble near the bus stop out to the main homeless shelters on Randall’s Island. The B&N was open late and in bad weather the homeless came in to wait for their ride. There was actually a store policy created, and the regulars were trained: don’t interfere with commerce, no bathing in the restrooms, no sleeping, use the electrical outlets in the back to charge phones, don’t panhandle in the coffee shop and you can stay. A kind of Darwinian process kept some warm inside while security moved others out into the weather.

    An ecosystem in balance, same as at most Starbucks. People here sometimes refer to the place as a public toilet which also happens to sell coffee because, following charges of discrimination, the chain now claims its space and toilets are open to all, not just customers. Of course in some marginal parts of town those toilets are forever closed to all “under repair,” but in most places the homeless are trained to navigate us, staying out of the way, taking a cup out of the trash to set on the table and pretend they are buying something. Being seen as being nice is important to Starbucks’ customers as they mentally navigate their own place being able to afford expensive coffee alongside those who have less. Awkward!

    As a woke company catering to woke customers who want nice things without guilt, Starbucks has a whole corporate page up about how kind they are to the homeless. Something similar at the new food court at Essex Market (called the “anti-Hudson Yards”), which has full-time staff assigned to monitor the public toilets, allowing the homeless in and nudging them into the boundaries the Market deems acceptable. Essex market, like Starbucks, seems to see faux-humanitarian gestures towards the homeless as part of its marketing plan to Millenials who don’t want to see bag ladies dragged into the street whilst sipping artisanal Tibetan tea. It’s pretty much all just undergrad-level socialist theatre. Different rules and rougher play at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, where the more delicate suburban ladies and fragile tourists still shop pretending like it is 1968. At the end of the day, however, the homeless are still homeless at each place and night comes the same for all.
     
    The urban stories above are only about one part of the homeless population. There are two overlapping populations: those outside capacity of existing systems who depend on businesses and us to navigate, and those so far whacked and gone nothing exists to help them.

    It’s inevitable in a society that is constantly adding to its homeless population while simultaneously lacking any comprehensive way to provide medical treatment, all the while smoothing over the bumps on the street with plentiful supplies of alcohol and opioids (I was in line behind a homeless guy in liquor store paying with sock full of coins. He was 67 cents short for a bottle of no-name gin. What’s the right thing to do? I probably drink as much as he does most nights but it’s OK because I work for my money instead of begging? There are moral hurdles to navigate as well) are the severely mentally ill. These people exist outside the vast shelter system. They live outside, discarded, driven out of the overnights and the daytime Starbucks by violent or paranoid delusions. Even the recent killing of four homeless men by a fifth mentally ill homeless man failed to shock anyone into action.

    Navigating these people requires something more than a benign balancing of company profits and makeshift humanitarian gestures. At the Fulton Center subway station, problems with the mentally ill homeless reached a point where wire rope was installed alongside a made-up “no sitting” law to eliminate places to rest. A team of angry rent-a-cops make the homeless stand, wandering through the space waking up those who tumble, and chase away the worst. The sole working men’s room remains a kind of demilitarized zone, and it is not uncommon to see one man washing his clothes in the sink while another talks to himself as a third vocally struggles with his defecation. Most of the city’s such privately owned public spaces employ guards not against crime per se, but to enforce rules about how much baggage the homeless can bring in, whether they can sit, sleep, or have to pretend to buy something, and act as not gentle referees when a tourist snaps an unwanted photo and angers someone, or a homeless person otherwise becomes too aggressive with himself or another homeless person.

    There are of course other, more profitable, ways to navigate. San Diego created a “toolkit” to help businesses benignly wrangle the homeless without needing to involve the cops. NYC stores are told to invest in barbed grates that homeless can’t lay on comfortably (the hostile architecture of bars, protrusions and spikes that make it impossible to lie down on a park bench or wall are pretty much sculpted into the architecture of the city, markers of the struggle for public space. The idea even has its own Instagram account.) A private security firm offers more comprehensive solutions: advice about restricting access to sidewalk overhangs, alcoves, or other areas protected from inclement weather, remove handles from water spigots, and keep trash dumpsters locked when not being filled or emptied. If things get too bad, the company, for a price, will deploy “remote cameras integrated with military-grade algorithms capable of detecting people in areas they shouldn’t be in.” There are other ways to make money off the homeless, of course. Many of the shelters in NYC are contracted through private companies (fraud criss-crosses the system) , who charge the city about $80 per adult per night for an SRO room without its own indoor plumbing. Food stamps are distributed via Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT (some recipients claim the acronym really means “Eat Better Tonight.”) JPMorgan Chase holds the contracts in half the United States to handle the transactions. In New York that’s worth more than $112 million. But hey, Amazon now accepts EBT online in New York and you don’t even need Prime!

    A concise fable of what economic inequality has done to this city lies in canning, a nice term invented to describe the underground economy of returning aluminum cans for the five cents deposit. What was started in 1982 in hope the deposit would encourage consumer recycling alongside kids picking up cans to supplement their allowances, has become way to make a sort of living for an estimated 8,000 human beings. As the value of a nickel to many faded over the years, the need for a few bucks among the city’s growing homeless population grew. They started picking up cans for the money wealthier people set out as trash. The recycling centers in most food stores, however, hoping for return shoppers, did not want the homeless in their stores. Most set $12 daily redemption limits, often broken up in per can lots that forced the homeless to return two or three times. Streetside automated drop off points devolved into social centers for the homeless, including the infamous Pathway site at 125th Street that was renown as a drug market and dumping spot for the near-dead until it was closed down.
     
    Unable to redeem their cans, the homeless moved on, replaced by highly exploitive canning crews which buy cans in bulk from elderly pickers (many are retired or on disability) for about a $30 nightly haul per person, and who then deal directly with the bulk metal recyclers uptown. A five cent can might be worth only three cents on the street; competition among the people living off my garbage is sharp, where on a late night dog walk just before the bulk trucks arrive can crews run by Chinese organized crime (rumor is those who can’t work off human smuggling fees otherwise work the can routes) tussle with individuals for turf. The cops are uninterested and some local doormen try and intervene but often tire of the guff. It’s not a proud thing to witness.

    We’re a society built around economic inequality. We’ll all just have to learn to navigate our way through.
      

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    Dems, It’s Over. All the Smoking Guns Have Been Firing Blanks.

    February 8, 2020 // 13 Comments »

    We are watching the pathetic ending to one of the most pathetic periods in American politics. All the smoking guns have been firing blanks.

    Following one of the most childish tantrums of denial ever recorded, you Democrats set about destroying the Trump presidency in its crib; a WaPo headline from January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day itself – exclaimed “The Campaign to Impeach President Trump has Begun.” The opening gambit was going to be Emoluments, including rent paid by the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China for its space in Trump Tower in New York.

    After three years, it looks like that attempt finally reached its end game, failure, one gray afternoon. Last Friday the Senate brought impeachment proceedings to their effective conclusion, declaring the witnesses already called before the House were to be the last. The formal vote to acquit Trump is scheduled as an anti-climax for Wednesday.

    It has been ugly and mean. Using the entire apparatus of the American intelligence community, operating fully outside the law, you declared the President of the United States a Russian spy. You forced gentlemen to explain to their elderly mothers what a pee tape was. We had to hear over dinner about Trump’s penis, his sexual mores, and look deeper into Stormy Daniel’s cleavage than our own political souls. You made expedient heroes out of small, dishonest men like Michael Avenatti, John Brennan, and James Comey for perceived political gain. Shame on you, Democrats.

    When Russiagate collapsed you plunged deeper, with a setup “crime” driven by a faux whistleblower, supported by State Department gossips and not much more. Look at the series of plays you tried even within this Hail Mary of a Hail Mary. Back in August your manufactured worry was Trump, by messing with Ukrainian aid, was a threat to national security that would send the Red Army rolling west. Then there was the continued attempt to link up created memes, Trump’s help from the Russians in 2016 and Trump’s help from the Ukrainians in 2020 were part of some whole to damage democracy. At the end it was to be about how not allowing additional witnesses chosen by leaks to the NYT would distort the 2020 election. One reporter called acquittal “the worst day for America since the Civil War.” We had to listen to another round of democracy dying, existential threats, end of the Republic, as repetitive as summer Top 40.

    At your decision the House chose not to wait out a special prosecutor, or even subpoena witnesses back in the fall. Your bleats today about no witnesses ignored how you called 17 witnesses to the House, not a single one of which had first-hand knowledge of the events unless we were willing to believe some State Department Obama fan-boy magically overheard both sides of a cell phone conversation. If you had had a real case a special prosecutor could have sorted through Parnas and Hunter and Bolton, with subpoenas if necessary, and warrants could have shown us exactly what was said in those calls. But that would have come up weaker than Mueller and you knew it.

    You don’t think voters see they were played — again? As with Brett Kavanaugh, when things seemed darkest, you produced a witness that appeared to turn everything around. Back then you unveiled Christine Blasey Ford as the deus ex machina, a woman scorned decades ago by a high school kid, now-Supreme Court judge, you called a drunk. Same with John Bolton and his “manuscript” (shall we call it a dossier?) and instead of dealing with it months ago in a calm fashion, the New York Times drops the leak right into the middle of the impeachment punch bowl so it could create its own sense of urgency saying we can’t wait for thoughtful deliberation or even a court ruling, we must do something right away.

    So really, in the end your game-changer was supposed to be lifelong conservative John Bolton ratting out a Republican administration? That was how you were going to get Trump? Only a week earlier it was going to be Ukrainian grifter Lev Parnas. Before him was it “fixer” Michael Cohen, or Paul “Fredo” Manafort, who was going to flip? Was it taxes or the 25th Amendment which was once upon a time going to be the final blow?

    Do you think voters won’t remember it was Adam Schiff who failed in Russiagate, issuing his infamous Schiff Memo defending as legal the FISA court surveillance of Carter Page now shown to be unconstitutional? The same Schiff who worked with the “whistleblower” to shape the impeachment narrative and then buried the whistleblower from scrutiny? History will remember Schiff poorly, and judge those who put their party’s future in his dirty hands, Nancy, equally poorly.

    As it will Elizabeth Warren, who submitted a “question” at the impeachment proceedings which asked if the proceedings themselves “contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?” Nancy Pelosi picked up the theme saying the president will not be exonerated after the Senate acquits because “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial. And you don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation,” echoing the insanity of saying a victory in the Electoral College isn’t really being elected president. Do Democrats think the Super Bowl victory went to the team with the most yards rushing, or the one with the most points scored?

    Impeachment failed in the Senate, ultimately, because it was phony. Senators are politicians, with their noses always in the wind. They sniffed not a modicum of support for this impeachment, and saw nothing akin to the evidence that would encourage them to return to their constituents and explain their contrary votes as they did confronted, overwhelmingly, with Nixon’s wrongdoings.

    It’s really over now. Our democracy, which you regularly declare so in peril, will be forced to hold an election of all things to determine its next president.

    Democrats, the shock of Trump’s 2016 victory was such that voters were ready to follow you anywhere to defeat him in 2020. You led them off a cliff. As your supporters watched you create false excuses for losing, they watched Republicans confirm judge after judge. As they listened in their sleep to you bark about diversity, they woke up to see mostly a handful of old, white men to lead the party into the election.

    You lied to them repeatedly about Russia and Ukraine. You lied to them over and over about what a danger Trump is, bringing people who once believed in you to believe their own nuclear destruction was imminent over Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela. You continue to try to convince people a strong economy is an illusion and cheer on a recession. You shoved forward as surrogates the anti-semites who organized the Pussy Hat march, the media-abused Parkland Kids, Greta the Amazing Climate Change Girl, flashes-in-the-pan like Beto! Kamala! Cory! AOC! Mayor Pete! Stacey Abrams!

    You continue to paint an inaccurate picture of a society with gun nuts, Nazis, and white supremacists on the march. You convinced a generation of young voters they are fundamentally unhappy, awash in racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and when they just can’t see it the way you do, you corrupted movies and TV with dorm room level political piety to insist that is how it is out there. Now, instead of respecting one another at work and school, they tip-toe around as wanna-be defendants looking for targets to sue or complain to HR about. Describe yourself in one word? Offended.

    The hollow shout “It is all unfair!” after things don’t go your way echos from the third grade playground to 2016 to HR to impeachment.

    Would you trust the nation to the people the Democratic party has become? Because that is the question you have thrust into the minds of voters. As you have said many times, this was always more about America than it was about Trump.

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    Lev Parnas is Not the Impeachment Witness You are Looking For…

    January 29, 2020 // 34 Comments »


     

    Lev Parnas is who we all hope is the last “Did too! Did Not!” player in the three year effort to find someway to  drive Trump from office.

     

    Parnas is a Ukrainian-born “businessman” who claims to be the missing link between Trump and evidence needed to impeach. Parnas is also under indictment for breaking campaign-finance laws by disguising donations from foreign entities to unnamed U.S. politicians, and so is singing like the girl from Frozen to be let go. The media christened him the new White Knight of democracy. Is he?
     

    Nah. Parnas is mostly an opportunist, with notes of stalker, groupie, and crazy guy who imagines Jodi Foster is in love with him from afar. He takes his place as the Hail Mary play in the blob that is impeachment now. He joins James Comey, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti and his aggrieved porn stars, Christopher Steele, the tattered Russian oligarchs still waiting for their checks from Christopher Steele, The Masked Whistleblower, and so many others who came before them.

    Though the media label him a Rudy Giuliani henchman, associate, thug, or fixer, and thus by extension a Trump henchman, associate, thug, or fixer, Parnas instead paid Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for “business and legal advice.” He didn’t work for Guliani, Giuliani worked for him. And in the you-can’t-make-this-up category, Parnas’ company is called Fraud Guarantee.

    Parnas was supposedly paying for the privilege of being used to gather dirt on Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, which begs the question of why. As America’s ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch served at the pleasure of the president. Trump did not need a reason to fire her. He did not need dirt gathered. He could simply instruct the State Department to recall her (or any other ambassador) and that’s that. It happens all the time without the need for third party cloak-and-dagger work by a B-grade Clouseau. Yet Parnas has gone on at length about the process of firing Yovanovitch being so difficult the most powerful man in the world with the Article II-guaranteed right to fire someone needed Parnas’ help.

    Actually the only “work” Parnas wanted in return for this generous payments to Rudy was the appearance of access, grip-and-grin photos, a sleazy form of currency in the markets people like him travel through in Eastern Europe and Asia. They decorate the walls of fast talkers across the globe, like the “awards” small town real estate agents and insurance brokers favor. So via his payments to Giuliani and his generous donations, Parnas amassed photos of him and Trump. Those photos are the cornerstone of Democrats’ case against Trump, who says he really does not know Parnas. See, there are pictures, what the media insist now are to be called “receipts.”

    You want some photos with the big boys and girls? Easy. You write a modest check to a campaign. You get invited to a campaign event for a quick picture, maybe at first with a tier-two Trump kid. You write a bigger check, you get invited to another event and maybe are led past the Man himself for a quick snap. More money, better photos. Start to bundle donors, and you get invites to “private” breakfasts attended by dozens of people with a drop-by from the candidate. None of this means you “know” Trump or he knows you. You or may not exchange a word of greeting as the photos are taken in assembly-line fashion. And of course if your politics runs Democrat, these same photos are available with Biden, Bernie, Pete, or whomever. For a price. Now, show us a photo of you with Trump in matching Speedos poolside and you’ll have our attention.

    Along with most of the media and American public, sleazy businesspeople in Eastern Europe don’t seem to grasp the meaningless of these photos, and imagine a guy like Trump isn’t using Parnas as an ATM while a guy like Parnas isn’t using Trump for pretend status. Meanwhile, as con men do, Parnas was going around Ukraine telling everyone, without any evidence, he was working for Giuliani and Trump, gathering dirt on the American ambassador. But there was always a little wiggle room in the actual relationship — note the “like” when Parnas said “I became like Rudy’s assistant, his investigator.” How one works for someone one is paying is, like, unclear. Parnas, like generations of grifters before him, is free to go around claiming he is important and trying to tie himself to important people but none of that makes it true.

    In fact, perhaps having been introduced to the legal term perjury or its vernacular cousin “lying” by his defense attorney John Dowd, a former Trump lawyer he and the media made a big deal out of hiring, Parnas further qualified his relationship with Trump to say “I mean, we’re not friends. Me and him didn’t watch football games together. We didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were.”

    Following his indictment and ahead of impeachment proceedings Parnas has become a one-man media event. He claimed to Federal Elvis-level investigator Rachel Maddow he knew Trump knew everything bad that was going on, though admits he never spoke substantively to Trump and his knowledge is second or third hand at best. To say he was photographed with Trump at fundraisers is miles from claiming Trump directed him in the Ukraine caper which in fact even Parnas does not claim. The media has done that for him, imaging a selfie is a receipt for impeachable offenses.

    And of course there’s more as the story oozes downhill from drama into comedy. Remember how the Russians had Trump on tape with prostitutes? And how the media headlined Michael Cohen had incriminating tapes of Trump no one ever heard? Parnas supposedly has tapes, too! Parnas also introduced a somewhat dubious legal gambit. Without evidence he accused Attorney General Bill Barr of being involved in all things Ukraine, and thus must recuse himself from Parnas’ campaign finance illegal donations case due to this “conflict of interest.” Parnas also accused Vice President Pence of “having to have known” about the Ukraine stuff. Parnas dismissed hints in a text by an alcoholic Trump supporter that Ambassador Yovanovitch was under Giuliani-ordered surveillance and/or the target of assassination. Democrats have called for an investigation anyway. And the fact that Parnas chose to reveal all on the Maddow show, as opposed to a proffer, or under oath anywhere, should not distract from his credibility.

     

    Enough. There is no evidence Parnas ever spoke substantively about Ukraine with Trump. There is no evidence supporting Parnas’ claims he in any way worked with, at the direction of, or otherwise for Trump. His statements now, only after indictment, raise significant questions about his credibility and thus demand supporting evidence. Selfies with Trump are not supporting evidence. Nothing corroborates Parnas but Parnas.

    That ends Parnas’ value as a potential witness in these impeachment hearings. But what about his enablers in the media without whom he’d be telling his tall tales to the cafeteria ladies at some Federal prison facility?

    The old adage about not being able to cheat an honest person extends to the media; a con man can only be elevated to the national stage by a dishonest media willing to ignore his lack of credibility for its own agenda. And so the same people who drove the Russiagate train for years embrace Parnas as the new smoking gun. The NYT’s own queen of that particular swamp, Maggie Haberman, admitted “One of the hallmarks of the Trump era is anybody who is oppositional to Trump gets instant credibility. We’ve seen it over and over again. Michael Avenatti, Cohen even at points, even when he was admitting he was lying to Congress at some point after he pleaded guilty to other charges.” That’s a hell of a thing for Haberman to say given how much credibility she and her paper of record have bestowed on a parade of transparent liars.

    This all started three years ago with Christopher Steele, who at least had a nicely-typed dossier and an MI6 pedigree. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a few of the others probably did know things even if they didn’t snitch out. But now we’re down to the media primping a guy who before he was a recognized as a savior by CNN was called by CNN a radioactive wolf who shook down Ukrainians pretending he had a connection to the White House.

    With impeachment soon to be over and the Democratic primaries starting hopefully there won’t be bandwidth left for another round of this with whoever feeds even further below Lev Parnas. The list of people who have been used by the media to try to bring Trump down is long. Most of them are now in jail, were fired or disgraced, or received Pulitzer Prizes. Time for this to end. Maggie, come get your people, they’re embarrassing themselves out here.

      

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    Defamation: Enter Sandmann v. CNN

    January 25, 2020 // 12 Comments »

    Once again a geopolitical event — this time, the killing of an Iranian General — was falsely blown by agenda-driven journalism into ItIsWWIIIWeAreAllGonnaDieBecauseTrump and then within a handful of days we realize no, not the case. Again.

    The facts never support the media contentions, but the facts seem to matter little. The need to drive an agenda,  Orange Man Bad, controls.

    Remember how Trump will start WWIII with China over Taiwan’s inauguration phone call, Trump will start global economic war with China trade sanctions, Trump will start WWIII by withdrawing from NATO, Trump will start a wider war in Syria bombing Russian bases, Trump will start a  war moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Trump will start WWIII pulling out of Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement, Trump will start WWIII with North Korea, Trump will sell out the U.S. to get peace with North Korea because he wants a cheap Nobel, Trump will start WWIII because he is Hitler, erratic, mentally ill, impulsive, isolated, Trump will ___ to distract from Mueller, Comey, impeachment, Trump will start a war over Venezuela, Trump will start a genocide of Kurds with Turkey, Trump will start a Mideast war after Iran attacked a Saudi oil facility or shot down a drone, Trump will start a civil war inside the U.S. after Charlottesville, or to stop the midterms, or to prevent the next election, or he won’t leave if he loses, Trump is a Russian asset, Trump owes Putin billions, Trump is Putin’s cockholster, Trump is a pee tape sex pervert, Trump will start a recession, Trump will trigger a depression, Trump is rich from emoluments, Trump is almost bankrupt with hidden taxes, the stock market will crash, trade wars will end global capitalism, Trump killed all the Puerto Ricans, Trump will take away health care, Trump will imprison LGBTQXYZ people, Trump will end legal abortion, Trump has America on the brink…

    One can find dozens of articles on any of the subjects above. By my count the NYT’s Paul Krugman predicted LINK a Trump recession 17 individual times, the first even before inauguration, alongside many more instances of the clear and present dangers of tax cuts, market bubbles, tariffs, and more. MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow devoted her entire show for about two years to the walls closing in on Trump, repeating “tick tock” like some modern version of the Rain Man.

    Columnist Max Boot in The Washington Post put into writing what we have all known for some time: real journalism, Jefferson’s informed citizenry and all that, is dead. The job has shifted to agenda writing, just plain made-up stuff to drive events. Boot is at least honest that he writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.”

    The worst agenda journalism reads like bad anti-Trump fan fiction, worse than the basement Star Wars stuff where Leia always ends up without her golden bikini. Trump is a spy. Trump digs golden showers. Turn around his jest, and if Trump saved a man’s life in the middle of Fifth Avenue Don Lemon would explain that night why that was wrong, and an existential threat to the rest of us if not Democracy itself. If it doesn’t pass even the sniff test, well, it was designed to. When writing for a fan fiction audience one simply need to feed them the raw meat they crave (naked Leia, Orange Man Bad.) Truth, subtlety, challenging thought have no place and indeed no value. That’s kind of what you expect when the goal is basement Solo pleasures, but it is now one of the drivers of the national mainstream media in America.

     

    The giveaway that journalism is near-singularly devoted to an agenda, frightening the public in service of driving Trump somehow from office, is how the mistakes are always wrong in same direction. Meanwhile none of the people who keep track of the lies Trump tells and who are demanding “fact checks” before ads are allowed to run on social media seem to spend any time on the other side of the equation. Who would accept a track record this bad from their doctor, lawyer, their nail technician (“No, seriously, cracked nails are hot this year, it was in the NYT”)? Is there any price to be paid for agenda journalism?

    Assuming credibility, professionalism, and self-respect are apparently worth about zero, the price tag for agenda journalism looks to be about $25 million. That’s what CNN is reported to have paid settling a defamation case brought by Covington High School student Nick Sandmann charging the network “maintained a well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald Trump and established a history of impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.” The amount is probably half what CNN spends yearly just on botox for Anderson Cooper but as Cooper’s estheticians are prone to say, it’s a start.

    Almost a year ago to the day Sandmann and his Catholic school classmates traveled to Washington, DC to join anti-abortion protests. Sandmann was photographed grinning at a Native American DC protest regular. The media with one mighty flatulent blast knew what to do. Based solely on a YouTube clip, outlets like CNN and WaPo imagined Sandmann, wearing his MAGA cap, as the distillation of everything evil, some redneck crapper from Kentucky a hatin’ women and a protestin’ them abortions and rubbing his smug grin in the face of a noble Native American POC supposedly trying to defuse a tense situation with native drumming. The drummer was also quickly (but wrongly) glorified as a Vietnam Vet.

    Blue Check Twitter suggested Sandmann be punched in the face, and veiled suggestions of mob action led to threats, Sandmann’s family temporarily run out of their home, the kid dropped from school trips, and other disciplinary action to include coerced apologies. The second wave was pearl clutching Op-Eds about what Trump has turned us into, and look, it has spread to The Children. The media implied Sandmann deserved it because of his politics. Contrast that treatment with the beatification bestowed on #Resistance kids like Greta Thunberg, and the good victims of the Parkland shooting (the Parkland kid who supports the Second Amendment meanwhile was media-doxxed out of his Harvard scholarship.)

    Not only was all of that absolutely wrong (Sandmann was never an aggressor, and alongside his peers, said nothing in return to those taunting him, even though CNN claimed they “looked like they were going to lynch” the Black Hebrew Israelites who actually started the whole thing) it wasn’t even news. Students on a field trip, with the media appointing Sandmann their symbolic oberfuhrer, were fashioned into props to fit the characterization people who wear MAGA hats are intolerant. The media cared little for the truth when they had their entire white nationalist anti-Trump agenda as they imagine it exists packaged in one handy snapshot.

    The media counts on America to forget their propaganda fails and move on. Only this time it turned out differently. Sandmann is suing a range of journalists individually, including Maggie Haberman, Ana Navarro, and Shaun King for slurs they threw at him on Twitter, and their employers for directing their massive global platforms to beat up an innocent high school kid. Included in the swath of lawsuits by Sandmann are CNN, MSNBC’s parent company, the AP, Gannett, and the Washington Post. In the words of the suit, they “brought down the full force of [their] corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child.”

    Representative Ilhan Omar, who tweeted the boys yelled “it’s not rape if you enjoy it” when they did not, is exempt from the suit as a public office holder. “Comedian” Bill Maher, who called Sandmann a profane name on TV, also likely enjoys a legal exemption for satire. Maher topped off his coverage of the events by making a child rape joke about Sandmann, stating “I do not get what Catholic priests see in these kids.”

     

    While the many suits are pending, this month CNN independently reached a cash settlement with Sandmann, one of those we-sorta-admit-it but legally do not admit, in the words of the lawsuit, to defaming Sandmann by accusing him of “engaging in racist conduct” without properly investigating the incident. The suits contend CNN and the others would have “known the statements to be untrue had they undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication.” In other words, CNN willfully failed to commit journalism, the finding of facts, the asking of questions in lieu of packaging what was actually nothing at all into a steamy piece to fit an existing agenda.

    With a win in Sandmann’s pocket and as his cases against the other media outlets work their way through the courts, others also appear ready to challenge agenda journalism via the defamation laws. Ten more Covington high school students are now suing various media for defamation. Elsewhere, writer Peter Brimelow is suing the NYT for labeling him an “open white nationalist.” Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald Trump, filed suit against Fox a month ago claiming defamation. George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, filed a defamation suit against HarperCollins, the Martin family lawyer’s publisher. Trump critic and Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig is suing the NYT, accusing them of publishing “false and defamatory” information about him. Melania is suing all sorts of outlets for defamation. Representative Devin Nunes sued CNN last month claiming the network defamed him with false reports he traveled to Vienna to meet with the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden helped oust in 2016.

    Under current law, most of those suits will fail. Going forward, how powerful a weapon defamation lawsuits might prove to be against agenda journalism will depend on how flexible the courts choose to be. Historically they have given great leeway to anyone, journalist or not, who appears to libel (an untrue defamatory statement in writing) or slander (same, but orally) public figures. The idea is if you put yourself out there as an actor, or a politician, you’re expected to take a few slings and arrows and so the standards of proof are higher. This is what allows tabloids like the National Enquirer to get away with making up stories about popular figures as their basic trade. Defamation as a business practice was once upon a time what they did, and not what places like the media of record are now about.

    The major defenses against defamation are truth, or that the alleged defamatory statement was a statement of opinion. If CNN were to prove Nunes did go to Vienna as reported, that would end his suit. One woman who claims Trump raped her several decades ago is now suing him, claiming his Constitutionally-protected statement of innocence defamed her. Her suit demands he prove the truth of his denial to escape judgement. Opinion is exempt when it is truly some sort of opinion — Nunes is the worst Congressman ever — and not just when it is fudged along the likes of “This reporter’s opinion is Nunes traveled to Vienna.”

    The hope would be justice recognizes a new media environment has crawled out from the mud, one which drags innocent people onto the national stage unnecessarily and without context in a way which is unethical and exploitative. And that even public figures, never mind the voters who select them, deserve accurate, factual reporting.

    Yeah, one can hope. But in the case of CNN and Nick Sandmann, it appears the network would rather pay out a couple of million dollars then to roll the dice to see what a court would say. And hey, small world: Nick Sandmann’s attorney, Lin Wood, is the same person who successfully represented Richard Jewell in his defamation suit against CNN years ago, when the network falsely labeled him the Atlanta Olympic Park bomber.

    In a rare breath of self-examination, columnist David Brooks wrote “Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable. The anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.”

    That CNN has not made any noticeable changes in its stream of agenda journalism since the original incident a year ago, or since settling with Sandmann, suggests what they paid out is to them a reasonable price to continue to lie to the American public. Defamation settlements are just another business expense. The Founders assigned journalism a specific role to ensure that citizens would be able to carry out informed debates. Truth, they understood, is more than an ideal, it is a perspective. Yet over the last three years serious journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush to do away with Trump, not by honest persuasion but by any means necessary. Fear won out, and so objectivity is now #Collusion. Seeking facts before going viral is so 2015. The media picks on kids because they can’t get Trump. We asked for an informed citizenry and we got Mean Girls.

     

     

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    Morning in America Again, or Kristallnacht? The Answer Wins the Election

    January 13, 2020 // 6 Comments »


     

    Just before holiday visits back home to the Midwest, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney explained Trump’s 2020 reelection message will focus on the economy, immigration, and Democratic Party “socialism.”

    The first is straightforward. Some 76 percent of Americans rate economic conditions positively, up from 48 percent at the time of Trump’s election. Stocks are having their best year since 1997, and indexes are at all time highs. Wage growth continues, unemployment is at a half-century low point, holiday spending was up 3.4 percent with an 18.8 rise in online sales, and the media-driven fears of recession and trade war apocalypse yielded to reality. History shows the guy in the White House on Election Day gets the credit.

    The Democrats’ rebuttal is a blurry focus on economic inequality. The drunks at Midwest holiday parties actually agree in large part, but as sober voters are unsure who Bernie Warren is lecturing to about that, as they’ve been well aware of economic inequality for a long time. It was easy to walk them back through the weaker and weaker union contracts (when they still had unions) and  plant downsizings (when they still had plants) to around 1973, the year financial equality in America peaked. The conversation is like watching those YouTube videos showing the Beach Boys singing Surfin’ USA in the Sixties through to their creepy 2019 selves.

    These people are open to hear what Democrats plan to do about it but they do not believe the Robin Hood strategy Elizabeth Sanders proposes. They are also more than aware there are even more exhausted little towns down county wracked by drugs. They know places like that don’t care about Medicare for All, they already have Medicaid for All. Free college isn’t much of a draw because there aren’t a lot of better jobs begging and the places that have had training programs left over from presidential campaigns past already learned the hard lesson education, while a good thing, doesn’t create jobs. Jobs create the need for education. Otherwise it’s empty calories, changing underemployed uneducated people into underemployed educated people. Teaching a million people to code, or weld, even if you could, means nothing if there aren’t a million of those jobs accessible. Actually, if “those in a craphole of debt” are an important electoral demographic for Democrats, the people in these pink houses would welcome some attention to limits on the 24 percent interest rate they pay on credit cards, or the 391 percent interest on payday loans for those who can’t get credit anymore.

    If a Democrat came up with a viable infrastructure plan, he’d have these folks’ ears and if funded more intelligently than “we’ll get rich people whose companies don’t pay taxes now to pay” he’d likely have their votes, too. They’ve struggled enough at the end of a month to know money doesn’t come from nowhere, and the same people promising them something are promising others bribes in the form of slavery reparations, student loan forgiveness, and maybe free ponies. Some might even remember the War on Poverty, which started Medicare and Medicaid, was aimed in part at the Midwest some fifty years ago to help displaced coal miners. These folks are familiar with politician’s promises. This is not an audience easily won over by an argument to trust new and expensive government programs to fix everything.

    Sure there are paradoxical notes on meritocracy, that things are earned, which get scrambled among people who accept food stamps but decry others who do the same as lazy. But what makes sense and what is are not always the same. In 2020 the hint of new taxes to pay for things that aren’t likely to get them a better job is enough to stick with what little the last four years handed over. A job, or a better paying job, is what everyone wanted under the Christmas tree. Trump has not delivered fully as he promised, but things feel better.

     

    More immigration is about as popular as less football. Listening to Democrats talk about open borders, sanctuary cities, benefits for illegals, and admitting more refugees, you would be surprised to learn 77 percent of Americans see illegal immigration as a “critical/important” threat. So people are wondering why fellow Midwesterner Pete Buttigieg wants to deport fewer illegal immigrants. They wonder what happened to the 2016 Bernie, who once claimed open borders were a Koch brothers’ plot to flood the U.S. with cheap labor to depress wages.

    They wonder if Democrats can’t handle the truth. Never mind the sepia Ken Burns documentaries, they know they’re the descendants of immigrants who weren’t always welcomed, who were called Hunkies or Polacks before being exploited as cheap labor by the “whyte people” of the day. They also know damn well the reason wages are down today at many places is because people are coming from countries thousands of miles away to be exploited as cheap labor. Nobody this New Year’s said “our lives would be better if we had more immigrants moving in.” Nobody said “I’m glad some candidates are focused on transgender asylum rights, that’s important.” But nobody said “I hate refugees or trans people” either. Understanding the difference between the two statements is going to help decide the election.

     

    That brings things to Mick Mulvaney’s last Trump campaign point, “Democratic Socialism,” a vision for what America could become under a new administration. It is a story a candidate tells voters. What the Democrats are offering seemed as popular as the burnt crescent rolls even the drunks left alone on the table New Year’s Eve. An “…and in other news” story about how the Bernie Sanders campaign is worried spending too much of their money on office supplies from Amazon is unethical brought forth a consensus opinion locally of “and these people represent who” around here?

    The great campaigners — Reagan, 2008 Obama, first-gen Bill Clinton — had a vision of Morning in America, of Hope, and, of well, also Hope. People vote their pocketbook, but they also vote on that vision of who they are and who they think they want to be. Aspiration is an economic driver same as wages and in America may be more powerful. Trump is good enough at this. He tells people he’s rich, he’s powerful, he can do anything he wants, and what he chooses to do is work for them for free. Look at the faces at a Trump rally. You saw the same in 2008 with Obama, with Reagan in 1984, and it becomes a conversation that ends almost organically with a vote, like a perfect date that slides buttery into breakfast. They don’t really want to stand up and complain at a town hall, they want to see their future. Save the arguments about what is real and what is guff because they don’t matter when you’re telling a good story to an audience that wants to think they’re better people than they’ve been forced to become.

    Meanwhile, the story Democrats are telling is of a crappy place buried in racism and homophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments. It’s not Morning in America in 2020, it’s Kristallnacht. We’re not people of hope and aspiration, we’re bitter and hateful, despised not just for holding a political opinion, but for being the kind of person who holds such an opinion. Nobody takes Michael Moore seriously in a literal way anymore, but he spoke out loud what many Dems think when he said “Two-thirds of all white guys voted for Trump. That means anytime you see three white guys walking at you, down the street towards you, two of them voted for Trump. You need to move over to the other sidewalk because these are not good people that are walking toward you. You should be afraid of them.”

    We’re not even really worthy of our vote — the popular vote, as expressed by New York and California, will allow a more righteous country to emerge over bodies of the rednecks the Russians told to vote Trump.

     

    The only real vision the Dems offer is whichever one of them limps out of the primaries, they are not Trump. They want everyone to forget the three years of lies and conspiracy theories that Trump was working for the Russians. They want everyone to ignore the FBI campaign to overturn the last election, the last gasping efforts of which are an impeachment process even the Democrats seem to wish would just go away now. They want everyone to forget the fear mongering saying Trump would start a war with China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea or just nuke somewhere in a fit of rage when Melania had a headache again. They want everyone to forget the three years of claims Trump is incestous, is mentally ill, subject to the 25th Amendment, a danger to us all, bonkers, unhinged. They don’t know the more they rage about Trump and predict catastrophe the more out of touch it seems when the catastrophes don’t happen. Pssst, people have noticed the pattern, Rachel.

    Dems also want everyone to forget how those actions, consistent and over time, might be a better indication of how they would govern than any “plan” posted on line. So much fuel has been burned pointing out Trump’s ugliness that the Dems think voters won’t notice the party’s own self-righteousness. Everyone has had their good will tested by years worth of movies and TV which eschews plot to shove simplistic versions of wokeness and feminism down everyone’s throat. We get it — commercials feature disproportionate levels of same-sex and mixed race couples, and the moral of the story is the old white guy is wrong. The absurdity of a man with long hair identifying as a woman and setting local high school track records is now drilled in. That is part of the vision ascribed to Democrats, and it is not worth many votes.

     

    Few people listen to the media anymore here and even fewer believe much of what they hear. Polls show 47 percent of Americans believe it’s difficult to know whether the information they encounter is true. Some 60 percent say they regularly see conflicting reports about the same set of facts, and way less than half of Americans have confidence in the media (the number drops to 15 percent when just Republicans are asked.) The ground truth is not hard to tease out, though reality is easier to see when your morning coffee doesn’t cost $6.99. The Millenial pundits from Brooklyn who write the dumb garbage about the Heartland as a infestation of inbred racists wouldn’t even need passports to come out and visit. They might come to realize they spend too much time reporting off social media without knowing they’re talking to themselves. But they wouldn’t be comfortable at the cousins’ homes. When they ask where the coffee is sourced from and is it sustainable, the answer would be “Um, Kroger, and yeah, we got a whole pot on.” It helps to have to have grown up in a place where it was usually too cold to leave the beer outside on New Year’s.

    Still, they might learn the majority of voters in purple states, the ones who likely will decide the election, don’t see America as a hateful place consumed by racism, homophobia, and white supremacy, and they don’t see themselves as racists, homophobes, and white supremacists. A lot of these people voted for Obama when he won Ohio in 2008 and 2012. The people the pundits might meet are also more aware than the media things were not so great during the Obama years progressives now bathe in golden light. These people are tired of being defined and reviled by candidates who have no idea of how they live, yet hate them anyway for not watching PBS. The media’s idea they are Nazis, or support anything close to Nazism, is an insult. Their grandfathers fought the Second World War. They know Facebook is where you post pictures of the kids, not receive marching orders from the Kremlin. Their America hasn’t been taken away from them by blacks or whoever’s; nobody really wants it.

    “Not Trump” will be enough for the Whole Foods/Trader Joe base, but not for places across Ohio and elsewhere further down the food chain. Trump gets this at a visceral level. It is messy out there, but these people understand they have made it three years without a new war, without an economic collapse, that the impeachment matters not a whit, and even Saturday Night Live is sort of funny again.

     
     

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    On the Afghan Papers, Tequila, and Anne Smedinghoff

    January 3, 2020 // 27 Comments »


     

    It’s common this time of year to write review articles making sense of the events of the last 12 months. But what all of them will omit is one of the most important stories of the year. For the first time in some two decades America hasn’t started a new war.

    In 2019 34 American service members died in war. In 2009 it was 459, in 2003 it was 526. A total of 6857 since the post 9/11 wars commenced in 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan. Bush began that war, then invaded Iraq in 2003. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 then immediately expanded the war in Afghanistan. He went on to restart America’s war in Iraq after it was over the first time, launched a new war to turn Libya into a failed state and trigger the refugee flows still disrupting EU politics, engaged the U.S. in Yemen, abetted a humanitarian crisis in Syria, and set off yet another refugee flow into Europe through military intervention. So three full years without a new war is indeed news.

    This year also brought mainstream confirmation of the truth behind the Afghan War. The Washington Post, long an advocate for all the wars everywhere, took a tiny step of penance in publishing the “Afghan Papers,” which show the American public was lied to every step of the way over the past 18 years about progress in Afghanistan and the possibility of some sort of success. Government officials from the president(s) to the grunt(s) issued positive statements they knew to be false and hid evidence the war was unwinnable. The so-called Afghan Papers are actually thousands of pages of notes created by the Special Inspector for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog federal agency created to oversee the spending of close to one trillion dollars in reconstruction money.

    The SIGAR documents (all quotes are from the Post’s Afghan Papers reporting) are blunt. “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking… If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction, 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added. “Who will say this was in vain?” There are plenty of similar sentiments expressed going back a decade, with hints of the same almost to the first months of the conflict. The record of lies is as stark, final, and unambiguous as the death toll itself.

     

    Underlying all these comments given to SIGAR confidentially (WaPo had to fight a hellish FOIA battle to get these Papers released and even then most names were redacted) is a subtheme of what happens when the public finds out they’ve been lied to? The lesson there is a clear one: the public will have it shoved under their noses and ignore it repeatedly. The “secrets” of what was going on in Afghanistan were available for any who cared to call bullsh*t. Everything that failed in Afghanistan was at some level a repeat of what had failed earlier or concurrently in Iraq. The Papers quote an Army brigade commander in eastern Afghanistan who told government interviewers that he often saw nation building proposals that referred to “sheikhs” literally cut-and-pasted from reconstruction projects in Iraq. (“Sheikh” is an Arabic title of respect regularly misused by the military in Iraq but inapplicable across most of Afghanistan.) Many reconstruction personnel on the civilian side were transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan, and senior military leaders followed enlisted sons and fathers in doing deployments in both nations.

    On paper the story was the same. Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks exposed the lies in Iraq, only to face jail time and personal destruction. Whistleblower Matt Hoh, who served in Iraq as a Marine and in Afghanistan with the State Department, resigned in protest and told all as far back as 2010. My own book on Iraq exposed reconstruction was a failure in 2011, as did Chris Coyne’s on reconstruction in Haiti in 2010, or Douglas Wissing or Anand Gopal on Afghanistan or more recently Scott Horton’s in 2017. The Army’s Lt. Col Danny Davis, or even SIGAR’s own reporting over the years told much of the same story if anyone had bothered to read it. If anyone had looked deeper, they would have seen the same errors in reconstruction made many times before, from Somalia to the massive CORDS program in the Vietnam War.

    The Papers also show during the peak of the fighting in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, U.S. politicians and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other projects the faster things would improve. Aid workers told SIGAR from the ground “it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.” One staffer with the Agency for International Development claimed 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.” A contractor explained he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home, and “he said hell no. I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.”

    It was never a question of would it work, but more of a question of finding any example in the past where it did work. The one cited by so many NEOCON believers was the post-WWII Marshall Plan, as if loans to German and Japanese industrialists to rebuild factories and retool from tanks to cars had anything to do with the medieval economy of Afghanistan.

    But perhaps owing to their roots as the watchdog of the reconstruction program, SIGAR saves some of its most laser-like commentary for nation building.

     

    But Afghanistan was always supposed to be more than a “kinetic” war. The real battles were for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, with money as the weapon. Democracyfreedompluralisticsociety would be created from the primeval mud, with roads and bridges and factories as its Adam, and schools for boys and girls as its Eve. One of the core lies told to the public, and to each other on the ground in Afghanistan, was that a large portion of reconstruction money should be spent on education, even though Afghanistan had few jobs for graduates. “We were building schools next to empty schools, and it just didn’t make sense,” a Special Forces officer explained. “The local Afghans made clear they didn’t really want schools. They said they wanted their kids out herding goats.”

    “There was not a willingness to answer questions such as, what is the meaning of this number of schools that you have built? How has that progressed you towards your goal?” said John Garofano, who supported the First Marine Expeditionary Force in its reconstruction spending in Helmand Province. “How do you show this as evidence of success and not just evidence of effort or evidence of just doing a good thing?”

    And it is on that specific bruised prayer of a lie that Anne Smedinghoff, the only State Department Foreign Service officer to lose a life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, died.

    This is what all those lies detailed in the Afghan Papers translate into on the ground. Anne was a diplomat, just 25 years old, assigned by the State Department to create good press in Afghanistan so the people at home could see we were winning. It was a hard fight, her work was supposed to show, but the sacrifices were worth it because we are accomplishing this. This in the very specific case which destroyed Anne was handing out unneeded books to Afghans who lacked clean water and childhood vaccines twelve years into America’s longest war so she and (important) more senior people could be photographed doing so. Inside the beltway this was called a “happy snap,” photos of Americans doing good with, albeit always in the background, smiling Afghans lapping it up. Through a series of grossly preventable micro-errors in security nested like Russian dolls inside the macro-error of what Anne or any American was doing in rural Zabul, Afghanistan anyway, Anne’s body was blown into pink mush by jagged fragments of steel from an IED.

    The school where Anne was killed was “built” by the U.S. in October 2009, only to enjoy a $135,000 “renovation” a few months later that included “foundation work, installation of new windows and doors, interior and exterior paint, electricity and a garden.” The original contractor did miserable work but got away with it in the we’ll check later Potemkin world where the appearance of success trumped actual results. The Army noted as the school opened “The many smiles on the faces of both men and women showed all were filled with joy and excitement during this special occasion.” That the Afghans in the area likely needed sewage processing to lower infant mortality levels from water borne disease was irrelevant, they got a freaking school.

    The limited official reporting on what happened to Anne bungled most of the details, and State clung (as they later did with Benghazi, some lessons are learned) to a weak tea that the “cause” of Anne’s death were the actions of the bad guys, anything we did up to our very presence on the ground treated as a kind of background. The desire to not look too deep was underscored by then Secretary of State John Kerry, who said “she tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future” and smoothed the media into blending Anne’s death into what the entire world now knows is the fake narrative Anne herself died trying to create.

    Kerry is an easy target because of his Vietnam-era protests, including his famous question to Congress in 1971 “Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

    To the State Department, what mattered in the life and then death of Anne Smedinghoff was damage control to what the Afghan Paper show they secretly knew was an already-failed story.

     

    Anne was only one of thousands of Americans, and, literally-only-God-knows how many Afghans, who died for the lies in the Afghan Papers. Same in the other countries America made war against, Syria and Libya for example, whose “papers” exposing those lies we await. So that’s why the biggest story of 2019 is the one no one seems to want to talk about, that for the first time in decades we seem to be slowing this all down.

    When someone writes now, in light of the reveals of the Afghan Papers, Anne died in vain, someone else will dismiss that as playing politics with a young woman’s death. But if you will read one more sentence, read this: Anne’s presence in Afghanistan was about politics, and her death delivering books for a photo op was a political act in support of lies. Her death thrusts her into the role of symbolism whether anyone likes that or not, and our job is simply to determine what she is indeed a symbol of and try to learn from that.

    For me, I learned on the same day Anne died an airstrike elsewhere in Afghanistan inadvertently killed ten children. I learned on the nights I think too much about things like that it usually takes a fair amount of tequila to abort my thoughts. And I take no pride in admitting I usually just drink from the bottle. But tonight I’ll use a glass, so I can raise it to Anne. I know she won’t be the last, there’ll be another set of “papers,” but there’s always hope at the bottom of a glass, isn’t there?

      

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    Do You Believe In Christmas?

    December 23, 2019 // 9 Comments »


     

    When our kids were little we would make Santa’s magic boot prints from the front door to the Christmas tree by sprinkling baking soda around a crude cardboard cutout of a boot print. This explained how the presents showed up for Christmas morning since we didn’t have the fireplace Santa used in every damn storybook. It was cute to see our daughters when they simply believed it was all true. But as they got older, the world of logic crept forward — How’d Santa get past the locked front door? And why didn’t the dog bark?

    The real world works that way, sad as it is sometimes to see them grow up. Logic overcomes belief. Otherwise you’re 45 and still wondering if it was really Santa who ate the cookies you left out.

    The bad news is the magic is back, at least in terms of politics, as belief takes over from logic. This isn’t the good kind which makes Christmas memories. It is the bad kind which turns rational people into blithering idiots who are ready to believe anything that supports their world view, and who create garbage to fool others. It can get to the point where such folks can be convinced of anything, and that makes them manipulable. After all, if you don’t clean up your room, there’ll be no presents under the tree this year!

    Here’s where wanting to believe something so much that it shuts down thinking leads. Accusations become evidence for impeachment or harassment or Islamophobia or a society gone white nationalist wild, and the more accusations the stronger the evidence is seen to be. Simply filling a bus with people claiming someone did something  should mean nothing but it now means more than ever.

    Same for words. Just calling something a new name not does not change anything. So even as the hive mind agrees a flippant remark is “demanding foreign intervention” or labels an investigation “interference in our democracy” and with even less evidence claims Trump is a Russian agent, Tulsi a Russian plant, Facebook is a Russian tool, and Jill Stein a Russian something or other, it does not make it true. A minimum wage dropout saying something horrible to a fast food customer is indicative of our crappy educational system maybe, but hardly an indictment of “a nation awash in racism,” even if it’s on YouTube. Adding “-gate” to a noun does not create a crime to be investigated. Saying “it’s just like Watergate” over and over does not make it Watergate. Claiming a phone call is bribery, or a tweet is witness intimidation does not negate the need for the law degree that allows you to actually use those words accurately. And kids, I’m sorry, I know how much you wanted to believe in the elves, but it was really Mom and me buying the presents all those years.

    It is sadly no surprise the ambiguously favorable witness Democrats allowed to testify at the Impeachment Gladiatorial Thanksgiving Spectacle, Gordon Sondland, was soon accused of sexual misconduct by not one, but three women, so it has to be true. The allegations are true to form at least, because all of the alleged incidents took places years ago, there were no witnesses or physical evidence, and none of the women found a reason to bring the accusations forward until Sondland emerged as a possible weak point in the Dems’ case against Trump. What they said was fully and forever unprovenable, and can only be “believed” based on what outcome you support.

    Watching those accusations front-paged by a believing media, and with memories of the Kavanaugh confirmation, one can only view Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s deteriorating health with concern. She has been a fine justice, but seems to be using up her share of amazing recoveries from falls and the flu at a rapid pace. The chances are good Trump will name the Ghost of Christmas Past’s replacement. We all can start to feel that pain in our stomach knowing whomever he nominates will be accused of terrible things. For a male nominee, it will be more sexual harassment incidents than Jack the Ripper, dating back to when he pulled Cindy’s pigtails in fourth grade. For a female nominee, it is inevitable something she wrote in a junior high creative writing class will have her labeled a racist. Never mind the hidden horrors in their income taxes, early decisions from their days on the traffic court bench and so on. It will be endless and ugly and it is as inevitable as Santa’s yearly visit.

    What people want to believe is delivered to them. Jessica Kwong was a Newsweek “journalist” fired after she wrote an article claiming Trump was wasting taxpayer money golfing over Thanksgiving when in fact he was serving dinner to the troops in Afghanistan. She just made up a report because it was what she wanted to believe. Wanting to believe accounts for so much of what we call fake news, stuff based on “reports” or anonymous sources who could not possibly know what the president was thinking, or what he said in a closed door meeting, but are quoted anyway because we already know what we want to know is true. Americans are meanwhile still sorting out what they “believe” the Mueller report said. What is true is not a worthy goal. What we believe seemingly is.

    Democratic candidates have felt the reason for the season, outdoing one another in hinting at what might be under the tree simply because we want it to be there however impractical and honey, yes, I still remember the year you believed there’d be a real pony in the back yard and you cried. Elizabeth Sanders will have rich people give us all Amazon gift cards to pay off student loans and provide free healthcare. Mayor Pete will leave a load in stockings through his Douglass Plan, offering $50 billion  (Cory Booker proposes double, $100 billion) for Historically Black Colleges and Universities as just a Christmas Eve teaser. They believe they will find the money under the tree, or in the backyard with the pony. Yeah, we tried to buy our kids’ love with expensive presents, too, but at least we spent equally on each of them.

    Yet despite all that proposed giving, belief works for the negative as well. There is a profound belief things are much worse, almost Biblical, than they really are. Democracy has one more chance, or perhaps the Republic is already done and we’re just waiting on funeral arrangements. First maybe a military coup, or a civil war. Or Trump will simply refuse to leave office (NYT, CNN, MSNBC, Vox, Politico, Newsweek, Atlantic, Slate, Salon, MSN all say so.) Certainly women, POC, and LGBT are done for. When pressed for real specifics, there are none though who can count any “specific” that starts with “Well, Trump tweeted…” and never was followed up with legislation or executive action?

    Driving the sense the End is upon us is a profound ability to not only know little about history, but not even to remember stuff from a few weeks ago. Those End of Days wars with China, Iran, Venezuela, and worst of all, North Korea, what happened to them? The Kurds do OK with that genocide? “Trump will trigger nuclear armageddon” is a stand-by article when WaPo has to fill Op-Ed space. No one seems to know much about the rise of Hitler in any detail, but everyone believes we are seeing it play out again (except there’s no mass party, no Brownshirt vanguard, no overarching ideology, no rearming for world war, no annexation of neighboring territory, no Nuremberg laws, no Dachau, and no exercise of state power like the 1930s). Scale doesn’t seem to matter; Trump cut back on immigration and so did Hitler, so boom, they are the same.

    So it follows a tiny group of Nazi cosplayers in Charlottesville three years ago is proof of sweeping white nationalism, alongside Colin Kaepernick not being able to get a job. It takes a lot of belief to imagine one guy not making the team as proof of much of anything. You get the NYT saying “Trump is president only because a constitutional provision invalidated the choice of the American people,” flippantly referring to the Electoral College created by the Founders in the Constitution to choose 45 presidents over 230 years as a invalidating provision. The same article goes on to say “Democrats and pundits have been bullied into accepting the fiction that he has democratic, and not just constitutional, legitimacy.” Even the clear outcome of an election under the same system in place for centuries is today subject to the belief test.

    Adding to this damp blanket of nihilism is the endless failure of insta-heroes. The mood seems so desperate for a savior that a new one is created regularly. The now-discredited anti-semites who organized the Pink Pussy Hat march, the media-abused Parkland Kids, Greta the Amazing Climate Change Gal, celebrities who announce the boycott-of-the-week and then fade just as fast, it’s almost to the point where you can’t trust anyone anymore. At one point Michael Avenatti announced he was looking into running for president, and remember Beto? He went from the cover of Vanity Fair in an Annie Leibovitz glamor photo to, well, we don’t know what he’s doing, working at Wendy’s with Kamala and the other unemployed elves maybe. People started imagining flooding TV commercials with mixed race couples was somehow lessening racial tensions, same as Wakanda and some black superhero characters were going to inspire youth to succeed where Cosby and OJ failed.

    None of it is real, that is the nature of belief. Having millions of hits is the illusion of accomplishment. Getting your hashtag trending is the illusion of action. Twitter doesn’t elect anyone, or stop anything, or do anything. It is raising awareness! and it is disappointing when nothing changes in the real world after what seems like a lot of effort online. Someone should do a podcast about that. You can make #SantaIsReal the most popular hashtag ever but it won’t make Santa real. The problem is that like Santa, the belief is no organic. It didn’t grow on its own. It was created and sold, much like each new generation of parents resells the Santa myth to a new generation of toddlers.

    Belief has led us to where we don’t just hate ideas, we have come to hate people for holding those ideas because belief is an emotional response not an intellectual one. Hence the flood of articles on “how to get through Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner with your MAGA uncle.” There’s no point in talking, he’s wrong and too ignorant to know it, so the goal is simply to zone out somehow before you can get back to Brooklyn. Thom Hartmann, once a reasonable voice of progressive thought, takes that to its extreme, saying “the parts of America that are still functioning democracies (California comes to mind — there has been discussion of various ‘compacts’ between the three West Coast states, possibly joining with a few Eastern Seaboard states) must consider some form of independence, whether it be ‘soft independence’ like California declared when they established their own air quality standards or some form of partial independence or succession.” Hartmann of course is writing in the context of those Thanksgiving arguments growing into literal violent civil war in America if Trump is re-elected.

    There is an obsession with diversity, to the point where “first black ____” and “first lesbian _____” are celebratory events, even when the achievement under celebration is some minor nothing job and everyone has forgotten we already had the first black president and now we are somehow on the verge of racial war. I’m not sure where everyone gets all these firsts from; is there a secret list? When society checks them all off is there a prize? What happens after that?

    But bringing it all home are not the now-expected pseudo-historical/hysterical screeds about how Thanksgiving is actually a holiday celebrating genocide and white nationalism (Paul Krugman actually thinks the holiday “commemorates the struggle to end slavery”), but as the season begins Salon stating without hesitation “whatever enthusiasm I once felt for Christmas has dissipated entirely in the age of Donald Trump. He ruins everything he touches, and Christmas, for me, is no exception… Forget Tiny Tim declaring, ‘God bless us, every one!’ It’s clear that for that 40 percent of people in the Trump cult, it’s closer to ‘Damn anyone to hell who isn’t exactly like us!’ The point of Christmas is to declare white supremacist America as the only ‘real’ America.”

    And whatever, climate change means we’ll all be washed out to sea before New Year’s anyway. That’s where belief has brought us these few weeks before the holidays. And kids, it was always me who ate the cookies you left out for Santa. Ho ho ho!

      

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    Horowitz Report Shows the FBI Tried to Influence the 2016 Election

    December 14, 2019 // 10 Comments »

     Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’ report, which shows the Democrats, media, and FBI lied about not interfering in an election, will be a historian’s marker for how a decent nation fooled itself into self-harm. Forget about foreigners influencing our elections; it was us.

    The Horowitz Report is being played by the media for its conclusion, that the FBI’s intel op run against the Trump campaign was not politically motivated and thus “legal.” That covers one page of the 476 page document, fits with the Democratic-MSM narrative Trump is a liar, and ignores the rest. “The rest” of course is a detailed description of America’s domestic intelligence apparatus, aided by its overseas intelligence apparatus, and assisted by its Five Eyes allies’ intelligence apparatuses, releasing a full-spectrum spying campaign against a presidential candidate to influence an election and when that failed, delegitimize a president.

     

    We learn from the Horowitz Report it was an Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, a man with ties to his own nation’s intel services and the Clinton Foundation, who was set up with a meeting with a Trump staffer, creating the necessary first bit of info to set the plan in motion. We find the FBI exaggerating, falsifying, and committing wicked sins of omission to buffalo the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts into approving electronic surveillance on Team Trump to overtly or inadvertently monitor the communications of Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon, Rick Gates, Trump transition staffers, and likely Trump himself. Trump officials were also monitored by British GCHQ and the information shared with their NSA partners, a piece of all this still not fully public.

    We learn the FBI greedily consumed the Steele Dossier, opposition “research” bought by the Clinton campaign to smear Trump with allegations of sex parties, pee tapes, and, most notoriously, claims he was a Russian plant, a Manchurian Candidate, owned by Russian intelligence through a combination of treats (land deals in Moscow) and threats (kompromat over Trump’s evil sexual appetites.) The Horowitz Report makes clear the FBI knew the Dossier was bunk, hid that conclusion from the FISA court, and purposefully lied to the court claiming the Dossier was backed up by investigative news reports which themselves were secretly based on the Dossier. The FBI knew Steele had created a classic intel officer’s information loop, secretly becoming his own corroborating source, and gleefully looked the other way because it supported their own goals.

    Horowitz contradicts media claims the Dossier was a small part of the case presented to the FISA court. He finds that it was “central and essential.” And it was garbage: “factual assertions relied upon in the first [FISA] application targeting Carter Page were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed,” reads the Report. One of Steele’s primary sources, tracked down by FBI, said Steele misreported several of the most troubling allegations of potential Trump blackmail and Trump campaign collusion.

    We find human dangles, what Lisa Page referred to as “our OCONUS lures” (OCONUS is spook-speak for Outside CONtinetal US) in the form of a shady Maltese academic, Joseph Mifsud, with deep ties himself to multiple U.S. intel agencies and the Pentagon albeit not the FBI per se, paying Trump staffers for nothing speeches to buy access to them. We find a female FBI undercover agent inserted into social situations with a Trump staffer (pillow talk is always a spy’s best friend.) It becomes clear the FBI sought to manufacture a foreign counterintelligence threat to import into the United States as an excuse to unleash its surveillance tools against the Trump campaign.

    We learn Trump staffer Carter Page, while under FBI surveillance to discover Trump’s ties to Russia, was actually working for the CIA in Russia. The FBI was told this repeatedly, yet it never reported it to the FISA court approving the secret investigation of Page as a Russian spy. An FBI lawyer even doctored an email to hide the fact Page was working for the Agency and not the Russians; it was that weak a case. The CIA rated Page well as a source, and dismissed the Steele Dossier itself as an “Internet Rumor.” Had that information been available to the FISA court, it is hard to imagine they would have approved the warrant against Page, or further considered the Dossier absent additional information the FBI of course did not have.

     

    The Horowitz Report goes on to find “at least 17 significant errors or omissions” concerning FBI efforts to obtain FISA warrants against Page alone. California Congressman Devin Nunes raised these points almost two years ago, in a memo the MSM widely discredited, even though we now know it was basically true and profoundly prescient. Adam Schiff’s rebuttal memo turns out to have been garbage.

    Much has been made by the MSM about these “mistakes,” in that the Horowitz Report does not conclude they were indices of political bias. Maybe. But if the mistakes were just that, accidents or sloppiness, you’d expect at least some of them to favor Trump’s side. In fact, all of the mistakes favored the FBI’s poor case and that chips away at the idea there was no motivating element behind them.

    Page was a nobody with nothing, but the FBI needed him. Horowitz explains agents “believed at the time they approached the decision point on a second FISA renewal that, based upon the evidence already collected, Carter Page was a distraction in the investigation, not a key player in the Trump campaign, and was not critical to the overarching investigation.” They renewed the warrants anyway, three times, largely due to their value under the “two hop” rule. The FBI can extend surveillance two hops from its target; so if Carter Page called Michael Flynn who called Trump, all of those calls are legally open to monitoring. Page was a handy little bug.

    Carter Page was never charged with any crime. He was a small nobody blown into a big deal by the fictional Steele Dossier, an excuse for the FBI to electronically surveil the Trump campaign.

    When Trump was elected, the take from all this muckery, focused on the uber-lie that Trump was dirty with Russia, was leaked to the press most likely by James Comey and John Brennan in January 2017 (not covered in the Horowitz Report), and a process which is still ongoing tying the president to allegiance to a foreign power began. “With Trump, All Roads Lead to Moscow,” writes the New York Times even today, long after both the Mueller Report and now again the Horowitz Report say unambiguously that is not true. “Monday’s congressional hearing and the inspector general’s report tell a similar story,” bleats the Times, when in fact the long read of both says precisely the opposite.

     

    Michael Horowitz, the author of this current report, should be a familiar name. In January 2017 he opened his probe into the FBI’s Clinton email investigation. In a damning passage, that 568 page report found it “extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors… for the admitted purpose of preventing them from telling him not to make the statement, and to instruct his subordinates in the FBI to do the same. By departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”

    Horowitz’ Clinton report also criticizes FBI agents and illicit lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged texts disparaging Trump before moving from the Clinton email to the Russiagate investigation. Those texts “brought discredit” to the FBI and sowed public doubt. They included one exchange reading, “Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Strzok: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

     

    If after reading the Horowitz Report you want to focus only on its page one statement the FBI did not act illegally, you must in turn focus yourself on what is “legal” in America. If you want to follow the headlines saying Trump was proven wrong when he claimed his campaign was spied upon, you really do need to look up that word in a dictionary and frankly compare it to the tangle of surveillance, foreign government agents, undercover operatives, pay offs, and more Horowitz details.

    You may accept the opening lines of the Horowitz Report that the FBI did not act with political bias over the course of its investigation. Or you can find a clearer understanding in Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Report “that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions.” You will need to reconcile the grotesque use the information the FBI gathered was put to after Trump was elected, the fuel for the Mueller investigation and years’ worth of media picking at the Russian scab.

    To claim none of this is politically biased, you must walk away from the details of the Horowitz report, particularly the gross abuses of FISA, happy that what it says is how democracy works in America today. You must be willing to search and replace every instance of “Trump” with “Elizabeth Warren” a couple of years from now, and be happy with that. You have to see every instance in that report where the FBI orders something done as OK if it was Trump issuing the same words. At that point you can say there is no bias.

    The current Horowitz Report, read alongside his previous report on how the FBI played inside the 2016 election vis-a-vis Clinton, should leave no doubt the FBI tried to influence the election of a president in 2016 and then delegitimize Trump when he won. It wasn’t the Russians, it was us. And if you walk away concluding the FBI fumbled things, acted amateurishly, failed to do what some claim they set out to do, well, just wait until next time.

     

    On a personal note, if any of this is news to you, you may want to ask why you are learning about it now. This blog has consistently been one of the few outlets which exposed the Steele Dossier as part of an information op nearly since it was unveiled, and which has explained how the FISA court was manipulated, and which has steadily raised the question of political interference in our last election by the American intelligence services; follow the links above to read some of our past reporting, going back to the election.

    I claim no magic powers or inside information; to any of us who have been in or on the fringes of intelligence work what was obvious just from the publicly available information was, well, obvious. Despite what you think you know about spying from TV and movies, most of the work is done the same way every time, using techniques that go back to ancient times. Honey works better than vinegar, so bribes trump pee tapes. There was no Moscow hotel-land deal is the biggest “tell” here nothing else was true. Be careful, because your enemies will tell you what you want to believe. Make people your friends by paying them. Dangling a cool blonde is always a good gambit. Important agents are run by important intelligence officers. If Putin was pulling Trump’s strings, in real life a little man like Carter Page would not know it.

    If you are reading any of this for the first time, or know people who are reading bastardized versions of it for the first time in MSM sources, you might ask yourself why those places went along with Steele, et al. Their journalists are no dumber or smarter than me. They do write with a different agenda, however. Keep that in mind as we flip the calendar page to 2020.

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    Ladies and Gentlemen of the Real Impeachment Jury…

    December 10, 2019 // 14 Comments »


    Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the election for the next president of the United States is tomorrow, November 3, 2020. It has been a long few months since the Democrats impeached the president in the House, and the Republican-controlled Senate did not convict him. Since neither side really weighed what happened, it is up you, the purple and undecided voters, to serve as the real jury and decide what this all really means.

    Twitter doesn’t decide anything, nor do the Russians. Congress doesn’t elect the president. You do. So please give me your full attention as I sum up my case.
    A warning first, however. Ignore anyone who uses terms like “threat to democracy” or invokes the Federalist Papers. You have heard that malarkey for four years now. Remember all the things they tried to scare you with — wars with Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and China which never happened. Recession, economic collapse, trade wars. Trump is mentally unstable and might blow up the earth. He was a Russian agent. And ignore all the creative writing; just because you call something a shakedown, bribe, strong arm, or crime family, doesn’t mean it is and usually quite the opposite. Nope, this is all just politics.

    You should keep in mind how the Democrats acted when they were given the power to run the impeachment process as a clue to how they would yield power from the White House. This was the only modern impeachment done in a first term, and the only one not preceded by a formal investigation — you know, with rules of evidence and legal protections. It was based on a very select set of witnesses who first testified in secret as a kind of practice session, with curated leaks to soften you up. That’s how you ended up with “witnesses” with no first hand knowledge, and how when you got two of those it was counted as “corroboration.” Imagine the fun a defense lawyer in your home towns would have with a case against her client built around evidence from an overheard phone call a hostile witness shouldn’t have been listening too in the first place.

    Then there was public spectacle side of the impeachment, with a new and improved smoking gun promised daily, a sparkly uniform, and media running out of adjectives to describe the foreign service as if the FSOs were Lassie in pinstripes — brave, loyal, dependable, no accidents inside the house. If anyone questioned them, or raised a point of contention about a fat guy in uniform, they must hate America. You were told military people are loyal and trustworthy except for Mike Pompeo who graduated first in his class at West Point. Anything Trump wanted looked into was dismissed as a debunked conspiracy theory. But when the Dems accused him of being a Russian agent with no evidence, that required three years, falsified FBI records, and the full resources of the intelligence community. Think what that says about the Dems’ own respect for the rule of law, justice, and fairness, because if they are elected tomorrow you’ll get more of the same.

    That’s what happened. Why it had to happen is also worth your consideration. After the first two weeks of public impeachment hearings, 62 percent of independents — smart people like you — claimed the issue is “more important to politicians than it is to me.” When asked to rank 11 issues as top priorities, impeachment placed last among independents. And what you think matters: independents make up 38 percent of the electorate, greater than both Republicans and Democrats at 30 and 31 percent respectively.

    So you as independents are the most important group, and you don’t see impeachment as a priority, and the Democrats wasted the majority you helped give them in the midterms to do it anyway because Russiagate failed, the Emoluments Clause failed, the 25th Amendment failed, the Stormy-Avenatti-Michael Cohen show failed and they are afraid to let people vote again on the president, so the rule of “by any means necessary” meant setting aside the issues you care about to do this. Keep that in mind, too, tomorrow when you vote.

    But I promised you a look into the evidence, and like with Dorothy in Oz, it has always been with you. The actual moment when the president was to have committed his impeachable act was memorialized in the memorandum of conversation of the July 25 phone call between him and Zelensky. Now of course many of the same people who would not accept this official USG document as proof of what was said accept another guy’s uncorroborated rendering of a call he supposedly overheard in a restaurant. But you’re smarter than that.

    The July 25 memo is the only primary source in this entire case. It tells us what happened. The so-called witnesses only talked about what they think happened, or their opinions of what happened, or what someone else told them happened. Remember, none of the 12 impeachment hearing witnesses actually heard Trump explicitly tie the security aid to the investigations. That is a big, big deal. So it is essential to this case if any of you can point to any portion of the memo which explicitly ties the security aid to the investigations, which after all is the actual crime the president was accused of. But you can’t because it does not say that. That also is a big, big deal.

    And by the way, was any aid actually withheld? Delayed is not withheld, you know that. And since no one proved when the Ukrainians even learned of any delays, even that does not seem to have mattered. And can any of you tell me what investigations took place? Because there were none.

    In sum, there were no witnesses to “the crime.” The only primary document has no explicit evidence of “the crime.” And no aid was withheld and no investigations took place. A smoking gun requires there to be a dead body on the floor. Without the media keeping this all alive, you would be left wondering exactly what it is we’re still talking about.

    That said, there are some things Trump said in the call (“I would like you to do us a favor”), and some titter-tattle Democrats think adds up to an illegal quid pro quo. So let’s talk about that.

    It is always easy to forget the basics. Here they are, and they were established long before Trump. The president makes and conducts foreign policy, and has extraordinary latitude to say what the U.S. national interest is. Not the NSC, not the State Department or its ambassadors, no matter how smart they are, or think they are. Foreign aid is never a gift. It is a policy tool and the U.S. offers it to nations in return for something. As an exasperated Mulvaney told us, of course it has a quid pro quo attached to it — vote our way in the UN, let us have a military base in your country, help us negotiate with your neighbor. The president can and many times before has withheld or delayed aid. An investigation is not meddling. We ask foreign governments to work with us on criminal, financial, and other investigations all the time. The Democrats asked Ukraine to help investigate Trump/Russiagate in 2018. Providing accurate information is not interfering in our democracy. Wordplay.

    Now to the thing Trump supposedly asked for, that investigation of Joe Biden and any Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election. Much has been made of the idea those things benefit Trump personally and not the United States. But if you think this through, can you claim there is no value to the people of the United States, specifically you the undecided voters, in knowing what Biden and his son were up to in Ukraine, that even looking into that is wrong? And you can’t say “there’s no evidence they did anything” because no one has really looked. If it was Ivanka instead of Hunter at that Ukrainian gas company you know we’d all be losing our minds.

    To legitimately believe Trump attempted bribery in asking Ukraine to investigate the Biden family is to claim the American people have no stake whatsoever in knowing whatever the truth is about the Biden’s.

    Almost everything a politician does is done with an eye on how it affects him as a candidate and/or in the history books. While their decisions are usually thought to be for the benefit of the country as well, it is damned hard to find too many times a politician has done something he did not seek to also benefit from. What else do you think Obama meant when he told the Russian president off-mic he’d have more flexibility after he was re-elected?

    Trump might have benefited from the investigation but voters would benefit either way — Biden is clean, Biden is dirty, factor that into your choice. Now of course if an investigation revealed something bad about Biden, that would also benefit Trump as well as the voters. In such a theoretical, would you want to assign a ratio to it, say 51 percent good for Trump and 49 percent good for the voters to know? What if you conclude it was 99:1? You want to impeach over a percentage?

    So you need to look not only at what was done, but whether it fits the seriousness of impeachment. We all have heard how the Constitution is vague on what exactly is an impeachable act, but we do have precedent. Just in the last two decades we had a president who lied us into war, set up a torture program and spied on Americans, and sat on his hands as the economy crashed. No impeachment. We had a president whose military incursions into Libya, Syria, and Yemen set off the worst refugee flows Europe has seen since WWII, who illegally spied on Americans (complete with a whistleblower), who assassinated Americans by drone, and who hid forever the torture program, who gave trillions to Wall Street in bail outs while Main Street floundered, and no impeachment. But an internal power struggle between the careerists and political appointees over not-really-matters Ukraine, now that is what the Founders had in mind?

    That’s where I’m stuck. Because if we can’t answer those questions, then the conclusion this is all a political hit job is unavoidable. Weigh that carefully, , ladies and gentlemen of the real jury, because a lot depends on your answer when you vote tomorrow.

     

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    State Department Shoots Itself in the Foot at Impeachment Hearings

    November 24, 2019 // 23 Comments »


    The State Department, where I worked 24 years as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) and diplomat, reminds me a lot of my current hometown, New York City. Both places spend an inordinate amount of time telling outsiders how great they are while ignoring the obvious garbage piled up around them. It’s almost as if they’re trying to tell themselves more than others everything is OK.

    Like NYC convincing itself the Broadway lights mean you won’t notice the wicked homeless problem and decaying infrastructure, the State Department fully misunderstands how it really appears to others. Across Facebook groups and internal channels, FSOs this week are sending each other little messages tagged #FSProud quoting Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s the closing soliloquy from her impeachment testimony. Yovanovitch’s testimony otherwise read like the HR complaint from hell, as if she was auditioning for a Disgruntled Employee poster child position to cap off her career. She had already been fired by the time the alleged impeachable act took place — during Trump’s July 25 phone call — and was stuck in a placeholder job far removed from Ukrainian policy. She witnessed nothing of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the House is investigating, and basically used her time to complain she knew more than her boss did so he fired her.

    At the end of her testimony Yovanovitch unfurled a large metaphorical flag and wrapped herself and the entire Foreign Service in it. Her lines had nothing to do with Ukraine, and were boilerplate recruiting prose about how FSOs are non-partisan servants of the Constitution, how everyone lives in harm’s way, yada yada. She name checked diplomats from forty freaking years ago held hostage in Iran, and rolled in a couple of CIA contractors when tallying up the “State” death toll in Benghazi. She omitted the we-don’t-talk-about-that-one-death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff in Afghanistan, whose 25-year-old life was destroyed participating in a propaganda photo-op.

    This is the false idol image the State Department holds dear of itself, and people inside the organization today proudly christened Ambassador Yovanovitch as its queen. Vanity Fair summed it up better than the long-winded FSOs bleating across social media: “A hero is born as Yovanovitch gives voice to widespread rage at State. ‘I think people are feeling huge pride in Masha,’ says a former ambassador.” Yovanovitch uses her Russian nickname, Masha, without media comment because of course she does.

    And that’s the good part. Alongside Yovanovitch, bureaucrat-in-a-bow-tie George Kent issued pronouncements against Trump people he never met who ignored his tweedy advice. Ambassador Bill Taylor leaked hoarded text messages with Trump political appointees. Taylor’s deputy, David Holmes, appeared deus ex machina (Holmes had a photo of Yovanovitch as his Facebook page cover photo until recently!) to claim back in the summer he somehow overheard both sides of a phone conversation between Trump and political appointee ambassador Sondland. Holmes eavesdropped on a presidential call and dumped it in the Democrats’ lap and now he’s non-partisan #FSProud, too.

    Interesting the major political events (scandals?) of the last few years have all criss-crossed the State Department: Clinton’s emails and Foundation shenanigans, the Steele Dossier and many things Russiagate, and now impeachment and Ukraine. And never mind two major Democratic presidential candidates-in-waiting, Clinton and Kerry, had a home there. That’s an awful lot of partisanship for an organization bragging about being non-partisan.

     

    Gawd, I need to wash my hands. I am #FSProud that in my 24 years as a diplomat I never perjured myself, or claimed to or actually eavesdropped on someone else’s phone call, then spoon fed the info months later to my boss on TV to take down a president mid-campaign, all the while accepting cheers that I was non-partisan, and thinking my role as a snitch/boot licker was going to help people vision my organization as honorable.

    FSOs see themselves as Marvel superheroes who will take down the Bad Orange Man. The organization flirted with the role before; a 2016 mid-election “dissent” was designed to force the winner into war in Syria. Then another “dissent” by State strayed close to insubordination opposing Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban.” Everyone remembers the Department’s slow-walking the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails (after helping hide the existence of her private server for years.) The State Department turned a blind eye to Secretary Clinton’s nepotism hiring her campaign aides as State employees (remember Huma?), and use of America’s oldest cabinet position to create B-roll of herself helping women around the globe ahead of her soiled campaign. Hillary of course was handed the Secretary job itself by Barack Obama as a treat for dropping out of the race in 2008.

    Maybe the State Department’s overt support for Candidate Clinton did not make clear enough what happens when the organization betrays itself to politics.

    While FSOs are gleefully allowing themselves to be used today to impeach Trump, they fail to remember nobody likes a snitch. No matter which side you are on, in the end nobody will trust you, Democrat or Republican, after seeing what you really are. What White House staffer of any party will interact openly with his diplomats, knowing they are saving his texts and listening in on his calls, waiting? State thinks it is a pitbull waiting to bite on its master’s command when in fact it is an organization that has betrayed its golden nonpartisan glow and is out of control. Hey, in your high school, did anyone want to have the kids who lived to be hall monitors and teacher’s pet as their lunch buddies?

    The real problems go much deeper, and are either the cause of or a reflection of the current state of things, or a little of both. A Government Accountability Office report showed more than one fourth of all Foreign Service positions were either unfilled or filled with below-grade employees. At the senior levels 36 percent of positions were vacant or filled with people of lower rank and experience pressed into service. At the crucial midranks, the number was 26 percent unfilled.

    The thing is the report is from 2012, and showed similar results to one written in 2008. The State Department has danced with irrelevancy for a long time and its efforts to be The Resistance as a cure today feel more like desperation than heroism. State’s somnolent response, even during the legendary Clinton and Kerry years, to what should have been a crisis call (speculate on what the response might be to a report the military was understaffed by 36 percent) tells the tale. As the world changes, State still has roughly the same number of Portuguese speakers as it does Russian among its FSOs. No other Western country uses private citizens as ambassadors over career diplomats anywhere near the extent the United States does, doling out about a third of the posts as political patronage mainly because what they do doesn’t matter. The Secretary of State hands out lapel buttons reading “Swagger“; imagine a new Secretary of Defense doing the same and then being laughed out of office.

     

    FSOs wade in the shallowest waters of the Deep State. Since the 1950s the heavy lifting of foreign policy, the stuff that ends up in history books, mostly moved into the White House and National Security Council. The increasing role of the military in America’s foreign relations further sidelined State. The regional sweep of the AFRICOM and CENTCOM generals, for example, paints State’s landlocked ambassadors weak.

    State’s sad little attempt during the Bush years to stake out a new role in nation building failed in Iraq, failed in Afghanistan, and failed in Haiti. The organization’s Clinton-Kerry era joblet promoting democracy through social media was a flop. Trade policy has its own bureaucracy outside Foggy Bottom. What was left for State was reporting, its on-the-ground viewpoint that informs policy makers. Even there the intelligence community has eaten State’s sandwiches with the crusts cut off lunch — why hear what some FSO thinks the Prime Minister will do when the NSA can provide the White House with real time audio of him explaining it in bed to his mistress? The uber revelation from the 2010 Wikileaks dump of documents was most of State’s vaunted reporting is of little practical value. State struggled  through the Chelsea Manning trial to convince someone actual harm was done to national security by the disclosures. Some nine years later there hasn’t even been a good book written from them.

    That leaves for the understaffed Department of State pretty much only the role of concierge abroad, the one Ambassadors Taylor, Yovanovitch and their lickspittles Kent and Holmes complained about as their real point during the impeachment hearings. Read their testimony and you learn they had no contact with principals Trump, Giuliani, and Pompeo (which is why they were useless “witnesses,” they didn’t see anything first hand) and bleated about being cut out of the loop, left off calls, not being on the inside. They testified instead based on overheard calls and off screen voices. Taylor complained he had to contact the NSC, not State, to find out if policy had changed, and whined Pompeo ignored his reports.

    Meanwhile, America’s VIPs need their hands held abroad, their motorcades organized, and their receptions handled, all tasks that fall squarely on the Department of State. That is what was really being said underneath it all at the impeachment hearings. It is old news, but it found a greedy audience as it was repurposed to take a whack at Trump. State thinks this is its moment to shine, but all that is happening is a light is being shined on the organization’s partisaness and pettiness in reaction to its own irrelevance.

    Nice bow tie on George Kent though, shows he’s “with it.”

     

    BONUS:

    One of The Blob’s greatest accomplishments has been to convince a large number of Americans everything pre-Trump was normal and everything since is extraordinary. That sets up the idea that extraordinary means are needed to deal with unique threats, and that sets up throwing away the rules because when the Republic is at stake ends justify the means.
     
    No one here is claiming any virtue for Trump. He is a bad president. But he is not uniquely bad such that he is a threat to democracy, etc. That is a myth which is used to justify things that can become threats to the democracy.
     
    Dems want to impeach over… not much because not much is what they have. Ukraine really is not important. Most of us never heard the names outside of Foggy Bottom of the State Dept people now raised to heroic status. But if this process is normalized then it will come back again, against a president “you” do like.

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    Dear Friends: Tell Me How This Ends

    November 20, 2019 // 27 Comments »


    Dear progressive friends, family, those who have unfriended me in real life and online life, deplatformed me, told me I belong to a cult, and everyone who suggested I commit physically impossible acts upon myself:

    I can’t tweet this as I’ve been life-banned, and while currently my Facebook is open I’ve been blocked there before. Places I used to write for won’t look at articles defending the things I defended on their pages three years ago, like free speech, diplomacy with North Korea, and non-intervention in the Middle East. I can’t tell you how many times someone has heard The American Conservative come up alongside my name and sharply ended a conversation. So call this a message in a bottle.

    I don’t support Trump. In Ye Olde Days one could support some of a president’s policies (say free speech, diplomacy with North Korea and non-intervention in the Middle East) without being throw overboard for supporting all of his policies, statements, tweets, and brags. You could once disagree with what someone said without having to destroy him as a human being, such as insisting publically he was mentally ill and should be institutionalized for holding a political stance.

    I could once talk about disagreements over ideas at Thanksgiving, on Fox and CNN, even over a drink in a bar, without me having to swipe the sludge off my face of being called a Nazi. I’m not a Nazi. Nazis were those people who put the numbers on my great Auntie’s arm. As kids at holiday parties we’d hide in ignorance and behind the couch and dare each other to run out and try to touch them. After Auntie died what for all purposes was a second death we learned about Nazis. Our times are not her times. I wish you could hear it from her directly but I doubt you’d listen. And if she didn’t outright call Trump a fascist you’d probably call her one.

     

    And that’s why I worry about you. You’ve quit listening. You’ve quit thinking that listening is important. You have convinced yourself listening is wrong, calling things you don’t want to hear hate speech and dehumanizing those who say them. Nazis don’t deserve to speak and everyone you don’t want to listen to is a Nazi. Ban them from social media, take them off TV, keep them from schools, defund them on YouTube, and peel them off search results. Candidates who touch nerves too directly must be disenfranchised as Russian plants coughing out Putin’s Talking Points. We don’t have to listen to them, we shouldn’t listen to them.

    It would be too ironic in the context of Nazism to use the term ideological purification, but it would work here. You blame too much free speech for electing Trump in 2016. So you support wounding democracy to “save” it, and thus in 2019 welcome Twitter banning political ads so there’s less chance a competing idea might sneak through. You loathe Facebook’s free speech stance allowing political ads and demand they fact check them, barely disguised code for censorship given what “facts” have become. Fact checking used to be verifying an event took place in April 1860, not June 1944. But now facts are things we choose to agree with, or believe, or not, like whether vaccinations work, or what a politician’s intent was when he said certain words. It’s no wonder “influencer” is an actual job today.

    You don’t like evidence, which is what creates “facts.” There’s no evidence Biden did wrong in the Ukraine because no one investigated whether he did and it thus becomes a checkable fact “Biden did no wrong.” Facts have become what anonymous sources you want to believe say they are. You filter those anonymous statements through legacy media so by the second iteration they are not an anonymous source who might actually be a know-nothing disgruntled intern overheard in a bar, they are “The New York Times says.”

    With what you hear limited to what you believe, the need to think is a vestigial limb in society’s evolution. Instead of thinking — critically weighing information, asking hard questions instead of ingesting easy answers — you have been conditioned to simply react. The goal is to keep you in a constant state of manipulable outrage. It is a dangerous thing for us human beings. In Iraq we were told life happens in states of green, yellow, and red. Green is home on the beach, next to your dog. Yellow is watchful, and red is on patrol loaded and charged. The guy who could never back off of red in Iraq had a hard time reaching green later on. For him it’s evenings alone and drunk cleaning his guns in the garage. That’s too much of America today except we’re in different garages and some are drinking Yuengling and others white wine.

     

    An experiment. Here are some of the things you have been outraged about. Remember the last time you read about them?

    — Kids in cages. This was the summer’s prime outrage, and discourse was dominated in August by claims the U.S. was operating concentration camps. They still there? There were mediagenic visits to the border, drama about people drinking from toilets. Congress voted a bunch of money, and some policy changes took place. One major child center was shut down, but it got little coverage. So did we resolve the problem? Anybody know?

    — Obstruction. As recently as July Democrats were to impeach Trump for obstruction in connection with Russiagate and the Mueller investigation. Then the story which dominated our outrage as well as our mindspace, social media, and the MSM for over two full years simply… disappeared. Stormy Daniels, doing OK? Which Home Depot does Michael Avenatti work at? What about the prosecutions that were said to be forthcoming from the SDNY? Those bogus Trump kids’ security clearances? His taxes?

    — Anyone heard from the Kurds lately? Only a week ago they were going to be consumed by genocide and you demanded American troops put their lives at risk to save them. There were claims to thousands dead in Puerto Rico from the storm; anyone find those bodies yet or still just a statistical construct? The Parkland Kids? The last major references clustered around the one year anniversary of the killings, back in February, when the media claimed they “drove the kind of change that has long eluded gun control activists.” That happen?

    — See if you know who these people are: Semyon Kislin, P. Michael McKinley, T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, Fiona Hill, George Kent, Gordon Sondland, Laura Cooper, Marie Yovanovitch, William Taylor, Catherine Croft, Alexander Vindman, Kurt Volkner, Christopher Anderson, Tim Morrison. How many did you correctly identify as witnesses in the Trump impeachment hearings? All of them? Great. Now, can you say in a word or two about what each testified to? How did each add to the question of whether Trump himself withheld aid to the Ukraine in exchange for some investigation? C’mon, each person was a smoking gun, a game changer, or whatever expression Maddow is using now to replace “the walls are closing in tick tock” she wore out during Russiagate.

    And to fill in the gaps between major outrages there are minor outrages over spelling errors on Twitter by the president, panic over what he says about war dogs, rudeness at the World Series, clickbait headlines unconnected to their content, and the latest racist/sexist/transphobic remark by a blind sided celebrity about to be de-careered over a high school era post. We live on knife’s edge neck deep in cynicism, exhaustion, decline, illegitimacy, and distrust.

    If you can’t tell you are being manipulated, you’re being manipulated.

     

    It seems inevitable the House will impeach and the Senate will not convict, dead-ending the Ukraine outrage. And then we just move on to the 2020 campaign? Or do we cycle to a new impeachment theme like the earlier ones never even happened, the way obstruction was ditched cold in favor of Ukraine?

    If a Democrat wins in November, do we similarly agree to just forget this whole ugly era of hate speech and Nazis like a drunken hookup? Or do we switch and Republicans open investigations from Day One of the Elizabeth Sanders or Joe Clinton administration? If Trump wins, is it another four years of being told democracy is dying, the Republic is in peril, civil war, every day day-to-day in Code Red until… until what?

    Some 16 years ago as a young soldier in Iraq, before he was a hero and way before he was a villain, David Petraeus posed the most important question of the war in its earliest days. Consumed by the combat around him but knowing it would soon enough be over, he asked “Tell me how this ends.” Something was going to come next and Petraeus wasn’t sure anyone was thinking about what to do then.

    I understand what’s happening now has to play out. But tell me how this ends.

     

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    What Republicans Must Ask the Whistleblower

    November 19, 2019 // 5 Comments »


    The whistleblower needs to be front and center in the impeachment proceedings on TV. Here’s why.

    As the latest public spectacle unironically displaces daytime soap operas, the picture is starting to become clearer. The people testifying aren’t there to save America. They are a group of neo-somethings inside the administration who disagreed with Trump’s Ukraine policy and decided to derail it.

    The plan was unlikely intended to lead to impeachment when things began to move back in May, after then-Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was fired. Contrary to the president’s policy the taxpayers paid her to represent, she had her own, and promoted confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and sought more military aid. Bill Taylor was then installed as a figurehead in the embassy and Ukraine policy was taken away from hardliners at the State Department and NSC and handed over to America’s favorite knucklehead, Rudy Giuliani, and the inexperienced, Trump-appointee, Gordon Sondland.

    The bureaucracy called a Code Red. They were needed on that wall to stand against Russia. It seemed easy enough. Ukraine was off most of the public’s radar, so some Op-Eds, Trump’s men nudged aside, and the mini-coup over Ukraine policy would have worked. John Bolton, who could have stepped in and told everyone to return to their seats or no snack time, was agog at the amateur efforts by Giuliani, and certainly no fan of a less robust Ukraine policy anyway.

    Things got out of the group’s hands when Democrats, desperate for something to impeach on after Russiagate imploded, seized on the objections over Ukraine policy as slightly more than the nothing they otherwise had (the alternative was resurrecting the Stormy Daniels-Michael Avenatti-Michael Cohen sleaze fest.) An objection over policy and who would run it was transformed into a vague smatter of quid pro quo based on that July 25 phone call, using a whistleblower’s undergrad-level prank “complaint” as the trigger.

    And that’s why the whistleblower is very relevant. He knows nothing first-hand himself (neither does anyone else, see below, but someone had to go first) admitting in his complaint all his information is second hand. He is not anonymous; Google “who is the whistleblower” and you too can know everything official Washington and the media already know about him, back to his college days. So no one needs to fret about his safety, and no one needs to ask him any questions about the July 25 call.

    Here is the question the whistleblower must be asked: how did this jump from policy disagreements among like-minded people (you, Vindman, Taylor, et al) to claims of an impeachable offense? Who engineered that jump? Was it Adam Schiff’s staffers who first met with the whistleblower? Schiff lied about that contact. Or was it a partisan D.C. lawyer who has been trolling Twitter since Trump’s election looking for someone to hand him raw material he’d lawyer into a smoking gun (an organization he is connected with had mobile billboards advertising for whistleblowers circling the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Agency to try to attract clients)?

    Did the whistleblower make himself into a pawn, or was he made into a pawn? The answer is very important because at this point how the whistleblower came to be at the ground zero of electoral politics tells us if this is a legitimate impeachment or a political assassination. The voters will have to judge that in about a year independent of the partisan votes (the weakness of the actual impeachment case is explained here) taken in the House and Senate.

    The popular impression is men like the whistleblower, Bill Taylor, and Alex Vindman are non-partisan, and there is some truth to that. They came up through a system which strongly emphasized service to the president, whomever that is. But it would be wrong to equally claim they are policy agnostic; in fact, likely quite the opposite. They see themselves as experts, and in Vindman’s case, a native son, who know better. That’s why they were hired, to advise, and under Obama their advice (for better or worse, they wanted to bring us to war with Russia) was generally followed.

    They knew they knew better than the Orange Clown who somehow ended up in the Oval Office and ignored them. They knew he was wrong, and talked and texted about it among themselves. That’s OK, normal even. But it appears they came to see Trump not just as wrong but as dangerous. Add in some taint of self-interest on Trump’s part, and he became evil. They convinced themselves it was a matter of conscience, and wrapped their opposition in the flagged courage of a (created?) whistleblower. Certainly if one hadn’t existed it would have been necessary to invent him.

    With their testimony focused mostly on their disagreements with Trump’s Ukraine policy, and their own intellectual superiority, it seems such proclamations of conscience have more to do with what outcomes and policy the witnesses support and less to do with understanding that without an orderly system of government with a functioning chain of command all is chaos. The Trump-deranged public is overlooking the dark significance of serving officials undermining the elected president because of policy disagreements. They hate Trump so much they are tolerating insubordination, even cheering it. Now that’ll bite America back soon enough. You don’t join government to do whatever partisan thing you think is right; you serve under a system and a chain of command. There is no Article 8 in the Constitution saying “but if you really disagree with the president it’s OK to just do what you want.”

    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 my colleagues and I disagreed with or even believed dangerous. Same for people in the military, who were told who to kill on America’s behalf, a more significant moral issue than a boorish phone call. But we also knew the only way for America to function credibly was for to follow the boss, the system created by the Constitution, and remembering we weren’t the one elected, and that we ultimately worked for those who did the electing. So let’s hear from the whistleblower and all the witnesses about that, not their second hand knowledge of Trump’s motivations, but their first hand knowledge of their own motivations.

    Americans in government and military are mostly decent people. Unlike some who hold power in banana republics, they are unlikely to be convinced to undermine the president for personal gain. But give them a crusade, tell them they are heroes Mueller failed to be, and they will convince themselves anything is justified. Those impure motivations are what transformed the witnesses now driving impeachment from being dissenters to insubordinate into convincing themselves they needed to make a stand. Vindman gives it away, saying he twice “registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine,” out of what he called a “sense of duty.” Duty to what?

    The not very anonymous whistleblower is only 33-years-old, but of the mold. Ivy League, CIA, language guy, a Ukraine specialist who found himself and his knowledge embraced by Obama and Biden — the right guy in the right place — until he was set aside by Trump with new policy. Taylor fancies himself the last honest man, shepherding U.S.-Ukrainian policy through rough waters, having been ambassador to Ukraine 2006-2009. Yovanovitch was a partisan, representing her own vision, not that of the elected leadership, because she was sure she knew better after her years at State. Best and the brightest. They were professional, seasoned dammit, look at their resumes! The uniform!

    If they came to being whistleblowers and then players in politics honestly, then were simply side-slipped into becoming pawns, they should be quietly retired, this generation’s Colin Powell. But if they are agent provocateurs, they need to be fired. That’s why we need to talk to the whistleblower, to understand that difference.

     

    That’s for them, now for us. If this all was just a hearing on bad policy planning and what happens when knuckleheads like Rudy Giuliani get involved, it would make interesting history. If this was a long-overdue review of U.S. relations with Ukraine, it would be welcome. But as an attempt to impeach the president, it is a sordid, empty, brazen, political tactic hardly worthy of the term coup. It sets a terrible example of what we will tolerate from the bureaucracy if we hate the incumbent president enough. It opens the door to political opportunism, and informs real would-be insubordinates how to proceed more effectively. It signals chaos to our allies and opens opportunity to our enemies.

    There’s a fine line between necessary dissent and wicked insubordination, between conscience and disobedience, but there is a line and it appears to have been crossed here. The attack is no longer on policy, on which Taylor and Vindman may lay some claim, it is on the president and only the voters should have that say.

     

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    Impeachment Witness Questions

    November 15, 2019 // 18 Comments »

    In addition to the whistleblower himself, when Republicans get their chance to fully question the people whose testimony is now being stage managed by the Democrats, here are the points they must make to illustrate all this.

    There is no crime. Exactly what is the president being impeached over? The July 25 phone call text? Scream all the mob movie references you wish, but point to what law the smoking gun phrase Trump used, “Do us a favor,” violates. DOJ ruled the whistleblower revealed no criminal act. Unlike with Nixon and Clinton, the House is not building on an existing law enforcement investigation. Instead, the “investigation” is jerry-rigged in real-time consisting of hostile witnesses interpreting what Trump meant.

    If one prefers the simplistic quid for quo, “something in return for something,” that falls empty too. Ukraine conducted no investigations. Whatever Biden did remains only in his version of events. No aid was withheld. As for extortion, at the time of the “ask,” the July 25 call, Ukraine did not know any aid was even being considered to be withheld and witnesses can’t place Ukraine’s knowledge of the delay within a month of each other. Maybe Republicans could try ex nihilo nihil fit, Latin badly translated into “nothing in return for nothing.” Anybody gonna ask the many witnesses why the aid was not actually withheld and why Ukraine did no investigations? How’d that come to be?

    The idea America would want to know if a Vice President misused his office for his son’s benefit is clear. The information would have been of value to Trump, but it would have been of greater value to America. C’mon, if it was Pence and Ivanka Dems would see it differently, and characterizing any of this as help with domestic politics or tying it into efforts to bring a foreign government into our election process are deeply disingenuous. And Trump asking for information, however far-fetched Dems think it is and that’s a stretch given they considered Trump a literal KGB asset for most of his term, on possible foreign interference in the 2016 election was not wrong, and using aid to pry it loose (if that was indeed what didn’t happen) is not wrong.

    But here is the killer question Republicans should ask of each witness: when did you speak to the president? To the Secretary of State? To Guliani, who you claim was in charge?

    Because none of them did. Each is basing his testimony on hearsay and second hand information, just like the initial whistleblower. Ask each “If you never spoke to the president, how can you call yourself a witness with knowledge of his motives?” Is the only rebuttal to those who do claim to understand first hand his motive — Trump himself, Pompeo, Sonderland, Zelensky — a detailess claim that they are liars?

    A careful look at existing witness testimony shows they are passing on what others told them (one of Taylor’s main gripes is he was cut out of the loop, and his testimony was a repetition of stories he heard from Morrison and Sondland, and an overheard phone call) or what they surmised.

    Republicans should dismiss any witness without first-hand knowledge, and that would empty the room.

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    Facebook Takedown! Bad Dog!

    November 10, 2019 // 6 Comments »

    Facebook banned “any mention” of the alleged Trump administration whistleblower’s name on its network, including links to legitimate news articles which could indicate the whistleblower’s identity.

    After Breitbart News had several social media posts about the whistleblower pulled from Facebook this week, the network announced, “Any mention of the potential whistleblower’s name violates our coordinating harm policy, which prohibits content ‘outing of witness, informant, or activist.’ We are removing any and all mentions of the potential whistleblower’s name and will revisit this decision should their name be widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate.”

    The idea is, seriously, that by mentioning the whistleblower’s name, some random person on Facebook will expose the guy to death like he’s Jeffrey Epstein or something. The Facebook people seriously think someone will hunt the whistleblower down and murder him, and needs a mention on Facebook as the final clue to his identity. Now of course one can Google the name, or just type in “Who Is The Whistleblower” and the name and photo pop up. The name also appears in the Mueller report (p. 283) and in Ambassador Bill Taylor’s impeachment testimony.

    But maybe things went too far. The graphics should tell the story of my now taken-down Facebook post. The text reads:

     

    “Please meet my doggy. She is a rescue and has been with us about two years. Dumb as a rock, but very sweet.

    Her new name is Eric Ciaramella. This may also be the name of the alleged whistleblower, but it is also my doggy’s name. Facebook has banned mention of the whistleblower’s name, but I hope they do not ban my sweet doggy.

    Anyone who wants to say ‘Hi Eric Ciaramella’ in the comments, below, please feel free to do so. For each such greeting I’ll give Eric a Scooby treat. If Facebook bans me or takes down this post, I will take away Eric’s favorite chew toy.

    The blood will be on your hands, Zuckerberg.”

     

    About twenty people said “Hi” to my dog Eric before Facebook did indeed take down the post. Their note read that I had violated community standards on “coordinating harm and promoting crime… We have these standards to prevent and disrupt offline harm.”

    Bad dog, Facebook! Bad dog!

    Also, the alleged whistleblower’s last name begins with his actual place of alleged actual employment, CIAramella. Whoa!!!!!!!!

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    The Case for Impeachment Is…

    November 5, 2019 // 10 Comments »


    On Thursday Nancy Pelosi held a vote to, well, reaffirm her impeachment inquisitiveness. It was theatre; everyone knows the hyper-politicized Democratic House will impeach. It’s a weak case, but that doesn’t matter. A partisan Senate (who will also see a weak case but that doesn’t matter) won’t convict. America will leave that steaming mound of democracy aside the road and reflect forever which side stepped in it after we’re done arguing who won in November 2020.

    So looking at the actual evidence for impeachment is mostly academic. Call it… quaint.

    Forget the whistleblower; he had one job, to start this all into motion in August in time for the autumn session of Congress and he did it even without any first hand knowledge of a “high crime and misdemeanor,” just an opinion on a phone call he wasn’t party to. Yet even after DOJ ruled the whistleblower revealed no criminal act, Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment “inquiry.”

    Trump then released the memorandum of conversation between himself and Ukrainian president Zelensky. This is the U.S. government’s record of what was said. That record will form near 100 percent of what Dems will use to impeach Trump. After all, it is the only primary document/first hand “testimony” in the case. Yet despite its short length, some five pages, many people prefer to characterize what it says instead of just reading the thing. So follow along if you like.

    The call was a routine congratulatory message to Zelensky on his election. So the first couple of exchanges are chit chat along those lines. We’re on page three before the first bit of possible significance comes. Here it is in its entirety:

    “The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows alot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are alot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance. But they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”

    Zelensky gives a generally positive reply. There is nothing to indicate he feels pressured, bothered, evasive, defensive or concerned.

    Trump again: “Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney·General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”

    That’s it for substance.

     

    To impeach, one must be willing to conclude from the text above

    a) Trump asking for information, however far-fetched one may believe it is, on possible foreign interference in the 2016 election was wrong (and then explain why the Dems conducted a three year investigation of the same);

    b) Trump asking for an investigation into whether then-Vice President and perhaps soon President Biden used his office for personal gain is of no interest to the people of the United States, even if that same information were also of great interest to Trump (and account for Dems asking in 2018 the Ukraine to cooperate with Mueller to dig up dirt on Trump, and allowing that a Ukrainian investigation would exonerate Biden as Dems claim); and

    c) that Trump made it clear to Zelensky aid was contingent on conducting these investigations given Trump made no mention of that.

     

    If you can prove that from the memorandum of conversation, well then pilgrim, you have a case. And remember, you have to use Trump’s words. You can’t do it with Godfather references to consiglieres, third-party opinions of this all, or by characterizing Trump’s words — pressured, demanding, weaponized, implored, forced, quid pro quo — to your advantage.

    The base problem is  Trump never said anywhere in the July 25 call he was withholding aid for Ukraine and there is no evidence Zelensky knew Trump had been slow walking it at the time of the call. The earliest tick the Ukrainians even knew the aid was being delayed was “early August” and even those claims are based on anonymous sources in the NYT who somehow have not been found to testify by the Dems. Official U.S. and Ukrainian sources instead say knowledge the funds were held up didn’t get to the Ukranians until late August, shortly before they were released. (Dems made a stink then claiming the funds were held up by Trump to favor Putin. It’s always something.)

    It is thus supposition at best that Trump’s requests, assuming they were pressure at all and Zelensky’s easy going responses suggests he was not bothered by them, were connected in any way to the aid. Correlation is not causation. This was the big gap in Russiagate; because A happened before B, Democrats rushed to claim A must have caused B, and thus collusion!

    And that leads to a second base problem. Nothing happened. Trump never even asked the Attorney General to contact Zelensky. It is unclear who if anyone Guiliani spoke with, but either way there is no evidence the Ukrainians ever investigated anything. This impeachment will be the first in American history without any underlying crime asserted. Democrats seek to impeach Trump for talking about something, and never doing something, that itself may not be a real offense anyway. If you hear echoes of Russiagate, of obstructing something that wasn’t actually obstructed, you have sharp ears.

    When you have a smoking gun you usually don’t need to keep searching for evidence, but that is exactly what the Democrats are doing. Knowing the weakness in their case — it is literally based on a partisan reading of Trump’s own words and the supposition that two events, the call and the aid holdup, are causational — Dems are engaged in a process of finding someone to claim Trump’s policy was to (not) withhold aid to force the Ukraine to do something they never did.

    Ambassador Gordon Sondland stated specifically, under oath recently and in a leaked text from around the time of the original call, there was no such quid pro quo. So did Trump and Zelensky.

    The Dems in turn produced a series of angry State Department people to testify they had been sidelined out of the decision making process and thus knew very little first hand. The noisiest witness, Ambassador William Taylor, made it clear he was cut out of the White House’s backchannel for Ukrainian policy, and only knew what insiders Ambassadors Volker and Sondland told him second hand. His other knowledge of the supposed quid pro quo came when he heard “a [unnamed] staff person from the Office of Management and Budget say that there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine but could not say why. Toward the end of an otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call — the [unnamed] person was off-screen — said that she was from OMB and that her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice.”

    Taylor even went on to impeach himself a little, admitting he had no evidence aid was connected to investigation. He testified National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs Fiona Hill and the NSC’s Director of European Affairs Alex Vindman “reassured me that they were not aware of any official change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, OMB’s announcement notwithstanding.”

    Taylor never spoke to the president. He did not speak to the Secretary of State, or any other senior White House official. He was cut out of the loop. His testimony was just his opinion. Deep Throat that is not.

    What else? The media found a way to wordtrick Ambassador Sondland’s attorney into saying what his client described in testimony “amounted to” a quid pro quo, possibly thinking they would use a client’s own lawyer’s recharacterization of testimony to impeach.

    There are no documents, policy papers, notes, memcons, texts, or anything at all to support the claim the White House policy was aid for investigation.

     

    Imagine in a real trial how a defense lawyer would cross examine Taylor, or any of the other witnesses who have no actual knowledge:

    Did you ever speak directly with Trump about this quid pro quo? How do you know it was his policy? Pompeo? Mulvaney? Exactly who in the WH did you ever speak to to learn this is the policy?

    If the answer is “no one in the WH” how do you know this was the policy? Who told you in explicit terms?

    So where is the investigation into Biden you say we paid for? Why would Trump demand that quid pro quo but never follow through?

    Why wasn’t Ukraine told the aid was being withheld? Wouldn’t it be necessary for Ukraine to clearly and explicitly KNOW the aid was being withheld for this to be a quid pro quo?

    Isn’t it true there is no quid, and no pr quo at all, except in your supposition? What the heck grounds of impeachment is that?

    Actually, why was the aid paid out without an investigation?

    Why are you claiming something happened when it did not happen?

    Isn’t your testimony about what you personally thought Trump was thinking about something that didn’t happen, even though it never happened?

    Other than your own supposition, how exactly do you know Trump’s intent? Any documents? Any evidence besides saying we should believe you over others?

    Do you have any documents, notes, Memcons, texts, anything at all to support your supposition that the White House policy was literal aid for investigation? If not, why not? Because they do not exist? Because this is all your interpretation?

    Why does Ambassador Sonderland say the intent was different? Is he lying? Are you?

     

    Much is also being made of Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman allegedly telling impeachment investigators the July 25 memcon omitted references to tapes of Biden discussing Ukrainian corruption, and Zelensky mentioning the company Biden’s son worked for in Ukraine.

    Such omissions (if they are real and there is no evidence besides Vindman’s own statement) add or detract nothing from the core questions at the heart of this impeachment: did Trump withhold aid in return for a Ukrainian investigation, and was seeking such an investigation solely a personal political goal or something of interest to the United States.
    Vindman’s remarks are also helpful in setting the stage for Democrats to downplay the memcon, the official USG record of the July 25 phone call. As the sole primary document in the entire case, the memcon should be all the evidence needed to vote on impeachment. The fact that it is not a smoking gun is a fundamental weakness in the Dems’ case. So anything which can be manipulated to lessen the memcon’s value is welcomed by the MSM and Democrats. Expect to see more of this — Are there recordings? What do the ellipses in the memcon really mean? What else is missing!?!?!?
    It’s an old trick; find a way to discredit the other side’s best witness. The breaking news coverage Vindman’s grumping about his edits not making the final cut offers an important lesson: as with Russiagate, critical thinkers will be constantly challenged by some new shiny but irrelevant object. Always returning to the core questions is the way forward.

     

    Reminiscent of the high hopes once held that Flynn, Manafort, Cohen, et al, would flip, Democratic plans for a slam dunk currently rest on John Bolton, a deep conservative nearing the end of his public life. They hope he will testify such that the last lines of his biography will call him “the man who more than any other individual helped elect Elizabeth Warren.” Sorry, Bolton is not gonna be your Fredo.

    Unlike with Nixon and Clinton, the House is not building its case on the foundation of an existing law enforcement investigation. That was supposed to be what happened with the Mueller saga. Instead, this time the case is built on a single phone call, with the “investigation”jerry-rigged in real-time consisting of a semi-secret, stage-managed parade of credentialed hostile witnesses interpreting what Trump said in the call. Imagine a room full of critics impeaching Bob Dylan by telling us what his lyrics really mean to him. Opinions are not evidence. Case closed.

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    Hey, What Ever Happened To…

    October 21, 2019 // 21 Comments »

    Hey, what ever happened to…
     
    -Kids in cages. They still there? Problem fixed? When I Googled it the last articles were from June.
     
    -Those thousands dead in Puerto Rico from the storm… anyone find those thousands of bodies yet or is it still just a statistical construct?
     
    -Jeffrey Epstein and all the important people who were going to jail as pedos?
     
    -The Parkland Kids. They fix that gun violence thing yet? UPDATE: The last references to these kids are clustered around the one year anniversary of the killings, back in February 2019 when the media claimed they “successfully drove the kind of change that has long eluded gun control activists.” Not much mention after that.
     
    -Those bogus Trump kids’ security clearances we were going to impeach over?
     
    -Stormy Daniels? Doing OK? Which Home Depot does Michael Avenatti work at?
     
    -Congressional hearings over Trump’s obstruction, when are those scheduled for?
     
    -Anybody know what happened to the recession that was supposed to have started multiple times? Any word on the inverted bond yield curve we all became experts on one week? UPDATE: Apparently the curve is “back to normal” and thus not signaling a recession but I had to dig for this information.
    -Hey, what happened to the Kurds? Last week it was Kurd-o-rama. This week, not much. Did they all move to the Ukraine? There was supposed to be a genocide; that happen? Are they hiding out with Kids-‘N-Cages, another group we once heard a lot about and then nothing more?
    And to show this didn’t start with Trump (but has accelerated during his time in office):

    -How’s the water in Flint? That used to matter, too.

    -The Yazidi’s? Obama started a whole re-war win Iraq over their supposed genocide.

    -How come Assad stopped “gassing his own people” right around the time American politicians stopped caring about excuses to make war in Syria?

     

    If you can’t tell how you are being manipulated, you’re being manipulated. And good times, that scary terror alert graphic above is from w-a-y back in 2015, when Obama was telling us we had to fight ISIS or they would blow us up. Watch for that to make a comeback.

    Remember all of the above before you send out that next blast about abandoning the Kurds, kids. In a week or two that’ll be soooo last week.

    * Wait, no, seriously, what happened to the Kids In Cages? All the articles I can find go back to the summer, and in August we were debated whether or not these were actual concentration camps inside the United States. There were some very mediagenic visits to the border by Democrats, full of drama about people drinking from toilets. Congress voted a bunch of money, and some policy changes took place. So, did Trump… resolve the problem? If so, we should probably talk about that. Are there still kids in cages? Then we should be talking about that. Instead, nothing.

    People who will Google “Kurds” and link to some random article, alert! This is basically sarcasm, not a plea to search the web. I am trying to show how people are manipulated into weekly outrages by the media, only to forget when some new outrage is the rage. The hope is to wake someone up before they overreact on cue to the next thing. Thanks!

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    Civil War and Impeachment

    October 20, 2019 // 7 Comments »

     

    Once-intelligent people are talking about actual civil war in America. This began after Trump retweeted a pastor saying impeachment would cause a “civil war-like fracture in this Nation.” Never mind it was a retweet, and never mind the original statement used like to make a comparison, the next headline was set: Trump Threatens Civil War If He’s Impeached. Newsweek quoted a Harvard Law professor saying that “threat” alone made Trump impeachable. Another headline asked: “If Trump’s Rage Brings Civil War, Where Will the Military Stand?”

    Blowing up some online nonsense into a declaration of war tracks with the sister meme Trump will refuse to leave office if defeated in 2020, or will declare himself the winner even if he loses, sending coded messages to armed minions. “Trump Is Going to Burn Down Everything and Everyone” read the headline from a NASDAQ-listed media outlet. “Before Trump will allow himself to be chased from the temple, he’ll bring it down,” wrote the New York Times.

    And that’s what the MSM is saying; it just gets worse the further off the road you drive. “Trump is going to try everything, Fox is going to try everything, and they’re going to both further the injuring of societal reality and inspire dangerous individuals to kill and maim,” a well-known academic wrote. “There’s a vast number of people in this, people who have been taught their whole lives that they might need to kill in case of a coup or corrupt takeover,” he continued. “Trump and Republicans signal to them constantly. They’re more than ready to see this as the occasion.”

    The idea Americans are steps away from squaring off across the field at Gettysburg is something that should only exist in satire. It would be in fact hilarious if such fantasizing did not influence the actual future of our country. Because set aside the unlikelihood of the hordes taking up arms and indeed we have crossed a line where rationality is in the rear view mirror.

     

    Most of us have lost track of the constitutional crises which have never actually happened since the first one was declared, over the non-issue of Trump losing the popular vote in 2016, then again over his firing FBI director James Comey. What was it last week – Sharpiegate or the hotel in Scotland and emoluments or an impeding war with Iran/North Korea/China or treason or something about security clearances? The Kurds were a thing in 2017 and again now. Paul Krugman of the NYT first declared Trump was going to destroy the economy in 2016, and has written the same article regularly ever since, most recently just last week. It doesn’t seem to matter that none of these things have actually been true. Learned people are saying it all again.

    People opposing Trump have convinced themselves they must impeach for something and if all of Russiagate (Remember that? It’s like Aunt Edna’s brief failed marriage, just not mentioned at the dinner table, nope, dead as the Epstein case) wasn’t enough then Democrats will impeach over a phone call to a minor world leader.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The fantasy was to use Robert Mueller’s summer testimony about Trump being a literal Russian asset to stir up the masses – Mueller Time, Baby! Congress would go home for August recess to be bombarded by cries for impeachment, and then this autumn would feature hearings and revelations amplified by the Blue Check harpies leading up to, well, something big.

    If rationality was still in vogue it’s hard to imagine Democrats would consider the Ukraine call impeachable. But they closed out Russiagate like the OJ Simpson murder trial, certain Trump had gotten away with so much they had to catch him at something else to make it even.

    Desperation makes for poor strategy. Think back just two weeks and no one had heard of any of this; Dems and the media took America from zero to 100 nearly overnight as if this was another 9/11. With the winter caucuses approaching, Dems in search of a crime groped at something half slipped under the door and half bundled up by clever lawyers to be slipped under the door. Mueller was a lousy patsy so a better one needed to be found in the shallow end of the Deep State pool. It wasn’t much but it was going to have to be made good enough.

     

    The details will come out and they will stink. The first whistleblower had some sort of prior working relationship with a current 2020 Democrat; given he is an CIA analyst, that suggests a member of Vice President Biden’s White House team, Cory Booker’s Committee on Foreign Relations, or maybe Kamala Harris’ Select Committee on Intelligence.

    The so-called second whistleblower appears to actually be one of the sources for the first whistleblower. That’s a feedback loop, an old CIA trick, where you create the appearance of a credible source by providing your own confirming source. It was tried with the Steele Dossier where the original text given to the FBI appeared to be backed up by leaks filtered through the media and John McCain’s office.

    So forget everything about this cooked-to-order crisis except the actual thing impeachment would turn on: the transcript of Trump’s call. It does not matter what one, two, or two hundred whistleblowers, former Obama officials, or talking heads “think” about the call; there it is, the actual words, all pink and naked on the Internet for everyone to read. Ukraine did not investigate Biden. Trump did not withhold aid. The Attorney General was not involved. DOJ ruled there was no violation of law. It has little to do with Pompeo or Pence. You and the Congress pretty much have it all in the transcript. It’s bathroom reading, five pages.

    People hate Trump to the point where they have become irrational enough to think whatever the Founders meant in the Constitution as the standard for impeachment means… that. And save your breath about Bill Clinton’s adventures. That he was not removed from office only drives home the point that when political scheming loses touch with reality it fails.

     

    Only a few months ago the Democrats’ drive to the White House began with the loftiest of ideals, albeit a hodge-podge from trans toilet “rights” to a 100 percent makeover of the healthcare system. It is now all about vengeance, clumsy and grossly partisan at that, gussied up as “saving democracy” like it is underage with too much makeup and as if everyone doesn’t notice. Our media is dominated by angry Hillary refighting 2016 and “joking” about running again, with Adam Schiff now the face of the party for 2020. The war of noble intentions has devolved into Pelosi’s March to the Sea. Any chance for a Democratic candidate to reach into the dark waters and pull America to where she can draw breath again and heal has been lost.

    OK, deep breath myself. A couple of times a week I walk past the cafe where Allen Ginsberg, the Beat poet, often wrote. His most famous poem, Howl, begins “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.” The walk is a good leveler, a reminder madness — Trump Derangement in modern terminology — is not new in politics.

    But Ginsberg wrote in a time before mass shootings were somewhere between a growingly-accepted form of political expression and America’s signature sport. One could joke about coded messages before the Internet came into being to push tailored ticklers straight into people’s brains. I’ll take my relief in knowing almost everything Trump and others write, on Twitter and in the Times, is designed simply to get attention and having shouted in our faces for three years getting our attention today requires ever louder and more crazy stuff. What will get us to look up anymore? Is that worth playing with fire over?

    It is easy to lose one’s sense of humor over all this, and end up like Ginsberg at the end of his poem, muttering to strangers at what a mess this had all become: “Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! To solitude!” But me, I don’t think it’s funny at all.

      

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    Celebs Know One Simple Trick to Wreck Society! (It Really Works!)

    October 19, 2019 // 2 Comments »

    Ronan Farrow has fashioned himself into a cottage industry supplying victims to the progressive world, with his newest book claiming Matt Lauer raped a colleague years ago. Over at the NYT, a third party said he saw Justice Kavanaugh (Farrow also played in the Kavanaugh hearings) expose himself three decades ago, something the Times claimed was a credible accusation and Dems were poised to seize on to impeach someone before the current Ukrainian phone call nudged into first place.

    The dubious standbys are also still around, such as Trump is unstable, based on doctors who have never been closer than the same zip code to their patient. People continue to accuse Trump’s policy in Syria of being controlled by Putin. That goes back to the accusations of the Steele Dossier and the pee tape. The common thread? All are fact-free but deemed “credible.”

    In our race to hell, the media and Democratic party (the difference between the two is harder and harder to discern, mostly now a matter of who announces the latest crisis first) champion a new standard to replace the fuddy-duddy innocent until proven guilty — “credible accusation.” An accusation that fits with the moment’s political needs is blown into national news. Facts are clutter, and late night mocks exculpatory information as partisan, fake, dezinformatsiya. It’s been relentless for three years. The accusation serves as judge, jury, and often, executioner.

    Once intended to correct injustices of the past, credible accusations are used now as weapons. No past mistakes are resolved by defining credibility as an emotional reaction to an accuser’s story. How partisan this all is is made clear when the new rules are applied in cases of sexual assault. With Matt Lauer, only two people in the universe know what happened and there is no reason to believe either of them.

    It is nearly impossible to imagine a small-town DA making his bank robbery case solely on the credibility of a female witness over a male. We are not admonished to believe women are incapable of lying, misremembering, exaggerating or making a mistake in water rights disputes. Yet “believing women” is so important in today’s politics because it allows a unitary actor to become credible by default. It preps the ground for the next evolution: substitute “CIA whistleblower” and you can see where this is going.

    Few people care a whit about Matt Lauer, or any other celebrity. #MeToo metastasizing inside Hollywood was of little lasting significance. But as the weapon of credible accusation moved into the very serious business of choosing a Supreme Court justice, or the president, it became something much more.

    The Kavanaugh case is easier to parse at this point than Trump’s. Kavanaugh stated events he was accused of did not happen. As with the Ukraine there were no “she saids” until a handful of Democrats pressed Kavanaugh to deliver a “he said.” The play was thus configured to set that always-true she said against the can’t-be-true he said. The unambiguous denials (Trump, Kavanaugh, whomever) are by definition not credible, as the inverse of Believe Accusers (aka whistleblowers) is to Disbelieve the Accused.

    Each accused will then be repeatedly asked for more details, a more persuasive denial, of something he says never happened. The trap is to prove a negative, then do it again when a new accuser is produced with an even vaguer scenario. In Kavanaugh’s case that was a third-party accuser decades late to the party. With Trump, every national security official with an axe to grind is being rolled out to take a free punch after being sidelined, fired, not listened to, etc. An aggrieved John Bolton is the new hope.

    This tracks with a dire situation in our society where people are increasingly unable to listen to different viewpoints. Forces inside America have succeeded in turning back the once-sacred ideal of free speech, that fairness thing, we once carried with us like civic geography. Speech and due process are 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. How can a self-absorbed individual leave mental space for her own thoughts to be… wrong? Announcing you are a victim creates the necessity of having an assailant. In this calculus America is simply a society of liars, rapists, racists, and their enablers, alongside victims and their allies.

    The danger is due process is the only defense against “credible accusations.” As the nation appears headed toward some sort of impeachment process, progressives and their media are positively gleeful the Constitution does not prescribe any standards or procedures, alongside not really laying out what is impeachable beyond some broad terms whose 18th century usage is disregarded. Nope, Democrats via control of the House can do Anything. They. Want.

    The Washington Post, without irony calling on former Bush lawyer John Yoo (he wrote the “legal” justification for torture) to lay it all out, says “the Constitution does not require the House to be ‘fair’ in its probe.” Yoo hopes the House will minimally play at due process before they hang the president, citing the need to make it look fair enough to convince voters to defeat Trump in the election even when the Senate won’t convict. Give enough justice for appearance sake, but not a dot more. All behind closed doors in front of Dem committees with the public informed only via curated leaks.

    That’s all a long way from the rule of law, but USAToday supports it, reminding us all that Nancy Pelosi has no obligation to hold any vote on anything, but might look better if she does (she won’t.) Others feel the Dems should just start throwing Trump officials into some 19th century House prison directly.

    Who gets what amount of due process in politics is determined today by a feedback loop among the MSM, Dems, social media, and increasingly, the intelligence community. Any sort of pretense to a rule of law applying even a little equally is as old-fashioned as settling in to enjoy a minstrel show. It is not unlike the doling out of free speech rights by progressives; who can and cannot give a lecture at a university, publish a mainstream book, tell a joke on TV or comment on Twitter (Kamala Harris wants the president banned) depends on what they have to say, and what the mob has to say about that. Same with fairness; the chance to defend oneself depends on who you are and what you want to defend.

    In the worst days of racial injustice, “credible” accusations from a white woman lynched black men. Her testimony was as unquestionable as her virtue itself in front of a Democratic House, er, all-white cracker jury. During the McCarthy era mere accusations of communist ties were enough to destroy lives, and questioning the accusations was evidence of one’s own guilt. Questioning the accusers in Olde Salem was an affront to God Himself. Today people like that find themselves under state investigation. The avenging SDNY knows where you and your kids live. Progressives drool over what may happen to Trump associates in jail showers. They demand his lawyers be disbarred. Punishment not justice. Vengeance not fairness. There are dark lessons with sharp edges here.

    Sure, the pendulum swings, but there is also the question of resiliency — how many times can a society do this to itself before something which in the past snapped back breaks? Imagine how easy it is to manipulate a group of people already terrified they are living in Wiemar and who are willing to act on pretty much anything they are told is true (witness the emotional outbursts of support for Kurdish forces 99 percent of the emoters never knew about a week ago.)

    On the other side of the equation, if a group feels it is unfairly cut out of the process, how long until they consider resolving things another way, maybe with phone calls to a few colonels, real third world stuff? Due process — justice, fairness, fighting back against the mob — is about more than rules, more than just what you can get away with via some clever lawyering. It is about a just society with a government supported by most. It is how societies work. Or fail.

     

    BONUS

    Historians of the future may trace things back to, for lack of a better definitive point, the use of the word appropriate. Appropriate has come to mean — as in that’s not appropriate, or what would be the appropriate response — what can we get away with, what won’t offend. It is a variable standard and it is defined by the mob, even if it’s a mob of one. Appropriate has come to replace right or wrong, good and bad, ideas that often come with sharp edges that are, well, no longer appropriate. So instead of asking what’s good about education (people get smarter and become better citizens) we ask what is appropriate and conclude education is about social engineering instead of reading and math.

     

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    So, Admiral McRaven Just Called for a Military Coup, Kinda

    October 18, 2019 // 7 Comments »


    Admiral William McRaven, famous for being the guy who told the guy who told the other guy who told the other guy who told that guy to go kill bin Laden, has essentially called for a military coup against the President of the United States in a New York Times Op-Ed.

    He begins with something to get the blood up, a call to the good military stuff, invoking generals who are “highly decorated, impeccably dressed, cleareyed and strong of character, [yet] were humbled by the moment” at a change of command ceremony. Then a little history, invoking the WWII Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to today’s CIA and Special Operations community, who had “faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for.” In case it wasn’t clear, they “personified all that is good and decent and honorable about the American military,” he tells his Op-Ed’s intended audience, that very same military.

    Then, invoking that oath that requires the military to protect America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, McRaven explains to them why they may soon again be called to battle: “The America that they believe in was under attack, not from without, but from within.” This is not subtle. McRaven wants everyone down to the newest private to get the message Lima Charlie (Loud and Clear.)

    McRaven continues “These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!'”

    Quick Summary: The president is destroying the Republic, from within. The last folks who wanted to destroy the Republic were the Nazis, the Commies, and the terrorists, and you know what we did to them.

     

    McRaven’s next step is reassuring the troops that whomever they are next ordered to kill, it is all for a good cause. “We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.” That leaves aside the silliness of such a statement in light of what hell the American pursuit of justice has wrought among the millions dead in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, never mind in an earlier century across Southeast Asia and the Americas. This is not about that. This is about dehumanizing the next enemy, who may look alot like you this time McRaven is hinting, to convince his shooters they are killing for freedom.

    Finally, what this is really about. You guys need to be ready to take out Trump.

    Here are McRaven’s words: “If this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office — Republican, Democrat or independent — the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.”

     

    Now everyone knows the election where Americans get to choose the next president is a year from now, no sooner. A generous soul, reading McRaven’s sentence in isolation would say that bit about “the sooner the better” maybe means he is hoping for impeachment to supersede the election, you know, get Trump out sooner without the risk and muss of allowing The People a say in it all. That’s certainly what McRaven would claim, perhaps with a wink at Jake Tapper this Sunday across the desk. But take this Op-Ed and reimagine something similar being said by a displeased colonel in the Turkish or Iranian army, or what as an intelligence officer yourself you’d be reporting about it from Moscow if it was said to you by a prominent Russian former general with deep personal loyalties into his former special operations forces at a time when a CIA officer (“the whistleblower”) is the driver behind an active impeachment process.

    Sure, McRaven is not ordering Seal Team Six into action today. But go ahead, convince yourself he isn’t laying the groundwork, or at least trying to remind people he could. In case you believe I am being overwrought, here’s what Tom Nichols of the Naval War College said: “I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of a retired four-star writing this piece right now. This is a watershed in American civil-military relations.” Nichols may have meant that as a good thing, but it is not.

     

    The frightening thing is McRaven’s literal call to arms does not occur in a vacuum. Once intelligent people are talking about actual civil war in America. This began after Trump retweeted a pastor saying impeachment would cause a “civil war-like fracture in this Nation.” Never mind that it was a retweet, and never mind that the original statement used “like” to make a comparison. The next headline was set: Trump Threatens Civil War If He’s Impeached. Another headline asked: “If Trump’s Rage Brings Civil War, Where Will the Military Stand?”

    This tracks with the meme that Trump will refuse to leave office if defeated in 2020, or will declare himself the winner even if he loses. “Trump Is Going to Burn Down Everything and Everyone,” reads the headline from a NASDAQ-listed media outlet. “Before Trump will allow himself to be chased from the temple, he’ll bring it down,” wrote Charles Blow in The New York Times.

    That’s just what the MSM is saying; it gets worse the further off the road you drive. “Trump is going to try everything, Fox is going to try everything, and they’re going to both further the injuring of societal reality and inspire dangerous individuals to kill and maim,” Jared Yates Sexton, a well-known academic, tweeted on September 28. “There’s a vast number of people in this, people who have been taught their whole lives that they might need to kill in case of a coup or corrupt takeover,” he continued. “Trump and Republicans signal to them constantly. They’re more than ready to see this as the occasion.” And of course this all festers alongside the relentless prattle from doctors who have never been inside the same zip code as their patient declaring the president, custodian of the nuclear codes, mentally ill, a danger to himself and others.

    That’s a nation McRaven feels might need to call on its military to intervene. Don’t dismiss this Op-Ed too quickly. Consider it instead… timely.

     

    On  a more personal note, I’ve been fired, accused, hated on by friends and relatives, and deplatformed multiple times for “supporting Trump.” I do not. But I am willing to think past him. It’s the old warning about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater; what we say and do now to get rid of Trump will survive him, and become part of the political lexicon forever. Impeach a president still widely supported by the American people three years into his term over a phone call? Sure, seems OK. Tolerate calls for violence, veiled threats of a coup in our largest newspaper? Constantly call the president dangerously mentally ill, a literal nutcase who should be institutionalized? That’s how to operate a democracy?

    And spare me the idea that Trump is not widely supported, with his low approval ratings. President Obama’s 11th quarter in office, October 2011 same now as Trump, was the worst of his administration, based on his quarterly average job approval ratings. His 41% approval average is down six percentage points from his 10th quarter in office, and is nearly four points below his previous low of 45% during his seventh quarter.

     

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    It’s Not Funny: A Brief History of the Second Civil War

    October 9, 2019 // 29 Comments »

    Looking back, it’s almost funny. We didn’t see the Second Civil War coming.

    The “newspapers” (so called because they once contained news and were published on actual paper, for the elderly) columnists at the New York Times and Washington Post, now Ministry of Truth, tried hard enough. Their statues now line the National Mall, and school kids know their names: Krugman, Bruni, and Boot. All died in the White Guilt Plague of 2026, which also wiped out most of California before its origin was traced back to the Oberlin campus and measures were taken.

    The key event in the Second Civil War, the Great Confiscation of Guns, took place even before the struggle proper unfolded. A brave woman, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (after whom the aircraft carrier USS AOC, now in the process of being handed over to the new Native American nation and casino formed out of the former state of Texas, is named) offered to sacrifice herself, standing on a stage outside Fox headquarters wearing a pink knit cap. She challenged anyone with an automatic gun and one of those banana clips to take a free shot at her. After over 200,000,000 people showed up, waves of The Beto Brigade wearing Hannity masks descended on the crowd. As the armed men and women dropped their Vietnam guns with the handle to remove lingerie or to take selfies with flip phones that needed two hands to operate, their weapons were confiscated. Additionally, several thousand faux patriots were left unable to reproduce due to pistols-in-their belt related accidents.

    It was over before it began. At the time, however, no one knew how things would turn out. The Maddow Division (you know General Maddow; her face in relief, wearing a black beret over shaggy hair, adores a million t-shirts) left its home base in New York City on Citibikes striking south. The advance was delayed when the second wave’s Ubers did not arrive on time and the black helicopters never showed up, again, but the division’s clever use of weaponized sarcasm, backed up by relentless Twitter, caused Tr*mp supporters (while we acknowledge the name is banned, for historical clarity we use here the term Tr*mp rather than “The T word”) to quit the field in droves and return to their RVs. It also turned out wearing bright red MAGA hats made for relatively easy targeting after Apple released its “Kill Kinda Kaucasians” app. Still, many of Maddow’s troops perished after being deeply offended as the MAGA line displayed photos from old Hollywood movies of white actors playing Asian roles. That was the last (paper) straw.

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg discovered the secret Fox transmitter which had been broadcasting mind control instructions to MAGA forces not only to vote Republican, but also to purchase things at Cracker Barrel, that fishing store that has way too much stuff for just fishing, and via the Internet massive amounts of Flexi-Seal they didn’t need so it’s in the garage now behind the cooler. With the transmitter knocked out, the conservative economy collapsed. The images of conservative children forced to eat soy products when their regular processed food supplies ran out haunt even the toughest Resistance fighters to this day. Thoughts and prayers.

    But those images of children are nothing compared with the nightmare unleashed when Nancy Pelosi liberated the Kids ‘N Kages camps along what used to be America’s southern border (known today as “Newer New Mexico.”) After being fed only Taco Bell products in what was assumed to be a failed humanitarian gesture by the Venezuelan Red Cross, the migrant children were each was awarded American citizenship posthumously.

    Pelosi blamed herself, wandering the woods near her home, embarking on regular “book tours” to be among her faithful, and, high on Nyquil, calling in to the Maxine Waters late night comedy show to explain how after she impeached Trump, Pence, Barr, Kavanaugh, several junior Senators, and the House Sergeant at Arms she was briefly, as Speaker of the House, seated as America’s first woman president before her untimely death at the hands of a meth-addled Hillary Clinton.

    Conservatives’ last stand took place, appropriately, on the steps of the Supreme Court. Just before losing power, the final conservative government expanded the bench to 78 judges, all cloned from the last available saliva sample from Roy Cohen Tr*mp kept in a vial around his neck. No monument marks their final battle to prevent freedom, no plaque records their final words (“lower capital gains taxes”) and even their ashes were lost in the changeover from Obamacare to a healthcare plan which provides unlimited visits to a doctor but requires travel to Germany for appointments. Once a year, under the watchful eyes of the Chelsea Handler Youth Brigades, a few old men are allowed to observe a minute of silence in honor of their fallen comrades before being forced to convert to Islam. A small coven of Republicans is rumored to exist in the jungle. Occasional broadcasts have been monitored, typically scraps of argument between libertarians and conservatives over the value of military intervention.

    Events moved quickly once fighting ended. Reparations money was mostly squandered on timeshare condos and everyone is still angry. College and IKEA furniture was made free. The subsequent collapse of the National Bank of Venmo could not be prevented once it was revealed the app really did cheat the person who just had a salad when dividing up a check. The designation as hate speech of any utterance which did not include a hashtag or the phrase “you know what I’m sayin'” clogged the courts for months, even after all immigration laws were deleted. Ed Snowden was arrested, for making Obama look bad, while changing planes in Atlanta enroute from Moscow to his villa outside Vladivostok.

    Microsoft went bankrupt when Windows 87 proved so bulky it required the user to have a second computer. The creation of two Internets, one for porn and one no one uses, proved popular. Starbucks raised the price of a latte to $250. That did not stop Millennials from purchasing several each day until driving themselves into bankruptcy; their blaming it on the patriarchy saved the day. The end of elections saved the nation trillions; after 2016 presidents have simply serially been impeached and a new person sworn in who is immediately placed under investigation. Someone on Twitter declaring the chief executive deranged, bonkers, off the rails, meltdown, train wreck, gone 25th, or writing “but her emails” is now recognized as grounds for impeachment.

    Of course every American remembers where they were when Secretary of Why-Is-She-Still-Around Kathy Griffin announced the transition of 97 percent of Americans to becoming trans had really screwed up the NFL and there would be no more Super Bowl. The subsequent rise in attendance at WNBA games was not foreseen. The musical Biden, translated from the original Ukrainian, replaced Hamilton on Broadway despite the controversial Obama nude scene. America’s largest industry is still creating Patreon accounts as Etsy devolved largely into a market for the wealthy to purchase human organs. The U.S. government is currently looking for a new place for the capitol building, because after the move out of Washington to Brooklyn rents have really gone up.

    Most important decisions are still made by the heads of the intel agencies when they meet at Jeff Bezos’ house. And American troops are still in Afghanistan. Even after a second civil war some things don’t change.

     

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    I Miss Journalism

    October 5, 2019 // 9 Comments »

    stripper with money

    I miss journalism. I used to enjoy the news. People said things, events happened, and the “news” told me about that. Some were better at shrinking away human bias than others, but by sticking to a solid handful of outlets you could get a decent sense of what was happening.

    Now, columnist Max Boot in the Washington Post has finally put into writing what we have all known for some time: that sort of journalism is dead. The job has shifted to aspirational writing, using selected facts alongside made-up stuff to cause something to happen.

    What Boot made black and white is he does not commit journalism anymore to create Jefferson’s informed public. He writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, regime change, my bitches. Max: “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.” While reasoned editorials and Op-Eds supporting and opposing policies have always been a part of journalism, what Boot spent the last few years doing was creating and supporting others who created narratives designed to drive Trump himself from office. They manufactured reasons for him to resign, to drive actual impeachment, or at last resort, influence voters too dumb to know what’s good for them.

    We more or less knew this was true even before senior staff at the New York Times had to remind reporters they were “not part of the f*cking resistance,” or before CNN advised the House “go for the jugular vein” and impeach Trump, but it is helpful to see it in daylight. After all, democracy dies in the darkness.

    The uber-created narrative was Russiagate. None of the core substance was true. Trump wasn’t the Manchurian Candidate set in place by Putin in a long con, nor was there a quid pro quo for Russian election help. Yet the media literally accused the president of treason by melding together otherwise unrelated droplets of truth — Trump wanted a hotel in Moscow, some ads were run on Facebook — that could be spun into a narrative which would bring Trump down, if not send him to SuperMax. What was true was of little consequence; what mattered was whether the media could create a narrative the rubes might believe.

    The critical flaw in Russiagate (other than it did not actually happen)) was the media creating an end-point they could not control, Robert Mueller. Mueller, an old school, Deep State man to his core, was made into an Avenger, the Last Honest Man, the Savior of Democracy as the narrative first unfolded and then fell apart like cardboard box in the rain. After Michael Cohen’s Mueller’s dismal testimony, promoted to a crescendo for three full years across the media, there was nowhere to go.

    A much better example which follows the same Bootian construct but which will play out without end is the mash-up story Trump is manipulating both the inner workings of government in the specific and American foreign policy on a global scale for personal gain via… hotel fees.

    At first glance it seems like a non-starter. Trump’s hotels are as much a part of him as the extra pounds he carries. He campaigned as a CEO and announced early on he was not going to leave any of that behind and divest.

    But even as the first cold slap of Trump’s election victory filtered past nascent attempts at unseating him, claiming he lost the popular vote (in baseball and the Electoral College, you win with the most runs, not the most hits, kids), or that votes were miscounted (they were not) or that the sleepy EC would rise from Hamilton’s grave and smite Trump (it did not), a narrative was being shaped: Trump could not become president because of his business conflicts of interest. Some went as far as to claim swearing him in would itself be an unconstitutional act.

    An early proponent was Harvard professor Lawrence Tribe, who dug around in the Constitution’s closet and found the Emoluments Clause, a handful of lines intended to bar office holders from accepting gifts from foreign sovereigns, kings and princes to prevent influence buying. Pre-Trump, the last time the issue was in actual contention was with President Martin Van Buren (no relation) over gifts from the Imam of Muscat.

    The media ran with it. They imagined out of whole cloth any foreign government official getting a room at any Trump hotel was such an emolument. Then they imagined whatever tiny percentage of that room profit actually went to Trump himself represented a bribe. Then they imagined despite the vast complexity of U.S. relations, Trump would alter course against America’s own interests because some guy rented a room. It was Joker-like in its diabolicalness, the presidency itself merely a prank to hide an international crime spree!

    Then they made it happen. The now-defunct leftist site Think Progress ran what might be Story Zero. It was based on an anonymous source claiming before Trump even took office, under political pressure, the Kuwaiti Ambassador canceled a major event at one hotel to switch to Trump’s own DC hotel. It all turned out to be untrue. “Do you think a reception of two hours in the Trump hotel is going to curry favors with the administration when we host thousands of U.S. troops in Kuwait? When we have in the past and still do support American operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?” the Kuwait ambassador asked when some other outlet got around to his side of the story. But no matter.

    Though the Emoluments Clause is quite specific, the media then decided every time anyone stayed at a Trump property it was corruption. Even when Trump visited one of his own homes it was corruption because the Secret Service paid Trump for the privilege!

    Now none of that should have mattered. The Secret Service has always paid for the facilities they use for their work because the government cannot commandeer private property or demand/accept free stuff (which of course, ironically, could be seen as a bribe), not from Marriott and not from the Trump Organization. Joe Biden still charges the Secret Service rent on a cottage he owns, so that they can protect him when he visits home in Delaware. Taxpayers shelled out for eight years of Secret Service protection so his spouse, Jill, could hold a paid teaching job at a Northern Virginia community college.

    Never mind. When a business executive stayed at a Trump property, it was corruption. For example T-Mobile booked nine rooms at a Trump hotel, ostensibly to influence a $26 billion merger’s federal approval. Those rooms were worth about $2700. Of course the president, who can shift the stock market for millions with a tweet, prefers to make his illegal money off jacked up hotel bills. Think small has always been a Trump trademark.

    Reuters headlined how foreigners were buying New York condos from third party owners (i.e., not Trump or his company), but it was in a Trump-managed building after all and maybe the monthly maintenance fees would qualify as mini-emoluments? Every apartment sold to a Russian-sounding surnamed individual was corruption fodder. Trump was accused of “hiding” foreign government income at his hotels when servers at the bar failed to ask cash customers if they were potentates or princes (the headline: “Trump Organization Says It’s ‘Not Practical’ to Comply With the Emoluments Clause.”)

    And of course that Air Force crew staying at a Trump place in Scotland. That the hotel forged its relationship with a nearby airport long before Trump became president, and that the Air Force had been using the same airport and hotel hundreds of times long before Trump became president, didn’t stop the New York Times. Another piece speculated the $166 a night the Air Force pays for rooms was always part of Trump’s financial plan for the floundering multi-million golf course.

    Along the way all sorts of other co-joined narratives were tried and dropped: Stormy and Avenatti, the SDNY as Savior, Sharpiegate, something about security clearances, Trump outing a CIA asset inside the Kremlin, imminent war with ChinaIranVenezuelaNorthKorea, a recession that never seems to catch on, the Battle of Greenland, shady loans from Deutsche Bank that never materialize, taxes! taxes! taxes! and more. Some appear and disappear before a rebuttal can even be written. Others die out for awhile with the embers blown to life as needed, such as the idea diplomacy is “earned” by bad guys; that falsehood has impeded progress with North Korea and now on ending the war in Afghanistan (but was OK with Obama and Iran.)

    Places like CNN simultaneously claim Trump is a warmonger and incapable of diplomacy while mocking his efforts to practice it. They claim he has weakened the State Department and then are incredulous when he tries to use it. Forgotten is how around this point in the Bush admin we had started wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was the abandonment of a great American city to Katrina. The Patriot Act stripped us of our privacy. Torture, kidnapping, and indefinite prison without trial became US government policies. With Obama we had around this point attacked Libya triggering a massive refugee crisis which killed so many and is still disrupting Europe, ignored the Arab Spring, laid the groundwork for civil war in Syria, drone murdered several American citizens, and spent trillions to dig out of the financial crisis Bush let happen.

    But to really see how weak the corruption narrative is, you have only to compare it to how the media chose to cover similar questions in the past.

    Outside of anti-war outlets, the Bush family’s long involvement in the oil industry in general and closeness to the Saudis in particular was never really tied to two generations of Bush presidents making war across the mideast. Vice President Dick Cheney’s job running Haliburton and accepting delayed compensation from them even while in office had nothing to do in the MSM with his encouraging no-bid contracts for his old company to run the backstage parts of Iraq War II. There were certainly no talks of impeachment.

    Imagine if the media treated every appearance by Obama as a book promotion? What if each speech was slandered across the channels as corruption, Obama just out there selling books? Should he have been impeached for commercializing the office of president? At the very least this issue should have been discussed by Max Boot on cable news shows.

    The Trump Organization pays to the Treasury all profits from foreign governments. In the 2018, $191,000. The year before the amount was $151,470. So Trump’s in-pocket money is zero.

    Meanwhile Obama’s profit was $15.6 million as an author during his time in office (he has made multiples more since leaving office, including a $65 million book advance.) In the two weeks before he was inaugurated as the 44th president, Obama reworked his book deals. He agreed not to publish another non-fiction book during his time in office to keep anticipation high, while signing a $500,000 advance for a young adult version of Dreams From My Father.

    Obama’s books were huge sellers in China, where publishing is largely government controlled, meaning Obama likely received laundered payments via his publisher of Chicom money (Emoluments Clause!) while in the Oval Office. Obama’s own State Department bought $79,000 worth of his books to distribute as gifts abroad.

    As with Trump, nothing Obama did was illegal. There are no laws per se against a president making money while in the White House. Yet no one bothered to raise the Emoluments/corruption question for Obama, and the State Department purchasing $79,000 worth of his books was forgotten fodder for FOX. No one ran stories Obama sought the presidency as a bully ATM machine. No one claimed his frequent messaging about his father was designed to move books. No one demanded hearings on his profits or inquiries into how taxpayer funds were used to buy up his books.

    Only Trump, and Max Boot has confessed why. The media has created a pitch-and-toss game with Democrats, running false, exaggerated or purposely shallowly-reported stories to generate calls for hearings, which in turn breath life into the corruption story for another round.

    “Undeterred by lackluster public support for impeachment,” the New York Times reports, “Democrats have sketched out a robust four month itinerary of hearings and court arguments that they hope will provide the evidence they need to credibly portray Mr. Trump as corrupt and abusing his power.”

    Like Russiagate, this is all an assemblage of droplets of truth which will not lead to criminal charges or impeachment. Unlike Russigate, however, there is no Robert Mueller buzz kill to come, only a vague narrative which can be refreshed as needed, with the only end in sight being Trump somehow driven from office before November 2020, or beaten in the election. Until then, Max Boot and his ilk still have journalism’s new job to do. Journalism is now all for resistance, for condemnation and arousal.

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    Ukraine-O-Rama!

    October 3, 2019 // 14 Comments »

     
    Was it only a week ago we were going to investigate and impeach over the hotel in Scotland, corruption and emoluments? What was the one before that, Greenland or loans from Deutsche Bank? What about Stormy? Avenatti? Michael Cohen, the Consigliere, his accusations of tax fraud? Who was gonna flip, Flynn, Manafort, which one was Fredo in all this? Robert Mueller? I can’t remember, was there a Trump blackface scandal along the way? Or was he the one who made racist Asian jokes. Whatevers, now, on to the Ukraine.
     
    There are few hard facts. There are leaks, and the MSM to amplify them into the fetid stew as we have it today: a whistleblower (more on that later) in the intelligence community claims Trump made unspecified “promises” to the president of the Ukraine for help in investigating corrupt acts by the Biden family. This took place during a late July “populated” call between Trump and the Ukrainian president (“populated” calls are between world leaders with the understanding staffers will be listening in, as opposed to private 1:1 calls between leaders.) No one knows if the whistleblower was listening to the call, read a transcript or summary later, or heard about the call from another party. CNN says he did not have direct knowledge of what was said.

    Nonetheless the story blossomed like chlamydia at band camp. At last report, Trump withheld military aid from the Ukraine in a quid pro quo for the Ukrainians finding dirt on Biden usable in the 2020 election. That was then refined into a more tweetable “Trump is again inviting foreign influence into our democratic process.” From there it took the New York Times only 48 hours to question whether the “president can get away with weaponizing the federal government to punish political opponents.” Carl Bernstein ritually invoked Watergate. Special prosecutors were called for, impeachment demanded, and Twitter voted for the death penalty.

    Democrats also decided all sorts of procedural and legal stuff the public cannot understand and will not pay attention to has been violated because the whistleblower complaint has not been handed over to the clowns to parade around the midway, and this is again the end of the rule of law, a Constitutional crisis, the end of oversight, and so on. It’s all a kind of a set piece now. Like a dog hearing he’s going for a car ride, with that first leak the Dems and the MSM couldn’t wait to hang their heads out the window for another ride around the block.
     
    In the sideshow, Rudy “The Joker” Giuliani left a snail trail of slime across the teevee shows, throwing up smoke in the same role Trump used him for throughout Russiagate. It’s evidence of nothing, for far from the Colonel Jessup “Few Good Men” moment the media is portraying Giuliani’s screaming as, none of it was under oath and all of it has the legal lasting power of a soap bubble.

    To sum up: No one in Congress or the media has seen the whistleblower’s allegation or the transcript from Trump’s call that underlies it. Everything written and said has been based on a leak. We don’t know if the whistleblower directly heard Trump or learned about the call second or third hand. The little that seems to be known is Trump wanted Ukraine’s new president to continue a corruption investigation into Joe Biden. We have no specifics Trump promised anything after that request, or that if he did, that it was anything illegal. The Constitution gives near total unanimity to the president in foreign policy. So, a Hatch Act violation maybe?

    Meh. Facts are no longer needed; “Many elements are murky, but something clearly stinks” said the NYT, suggesting that’s good enough as a standard. The Dems and media are demanding impeachment based on that. Whether we like it or not, the Constitution does not include careless, abusive, cheaply corrupt, or even otherwise dishonorable conduct as grounds for impeachment.
     
    So what’s really going on?

    It takes a lot of guts at this point to claim impeachment is coming. Post-Russiagate, the American people are tired of constant accusations which turn out to be largely empty. The false sense of hope Dems are celebrating today is matched by a strong sense of “We’ve Got Him Now!” Episode 123. The big difference this time is here’s no holy grail pee tape to quest after for three years. A call between Trump and the Ukrainian president did take place and a transcript exists. That changes everything, right?

    That transcript could leak this afternoon, or a bureaucratic fight could keep it buried for a long time. So what did Trump say? The Ukrainian government version, which is as close as we have to an actual fact at present, has been online for two months and says “Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA. [sic]”

    OK, so maybe there is more than that in the real text. But for whatever was said to be a smoking gun, for it to fulfill the headlines stating Trump pressured the leader, or extorted him, or bribed him, or manipulated U.S. foreign policy to bring a foreign government into the 2020 election, the actual words matter. If this whole thing turns out to be an attempt to shoehorn another broad or flippant statement by the president about investigating corruption which may involve the Biden family into a quid pro quo accusation, it will fail more than spectacularly. The Dems and MSM better have something dead solid perfect this time or the game is really over well ahead of 2020, because no one will be listening to them any further.
     
    And yet while the actual words matter, it should not be lost that none of what Trump was supposed to have really done, withholding military aid, or getting dirt on Biden, happened. We’re talking about talking about maybe burning the Reichstag but not in so many words. The outcome that nothing in the end happened sharply echoes Russiagate’s lack of collusion and the sad fallback to failing to obstruct an investigation which cleared Trump.

    The military aid to the Ukraine was delayed but then paid out (and amusingly, some claimed at the time it was withheld as a favor to Putin whereas now that accusation has been deep-sixed to say it was withheld to extort the Ukrainians. And the idea military aid to the Ukranie, as delivered, is actually something bad Trump did against Putin is forgotten.) Dems and the media love the idea the aid might be wiggle-waggled into being a “bribe,” in that bribery is one of the specific crimes mentioned in the Constitution as impeachable. Trump though is apparently bad at bribing; even though he made the decision to temporarily withhold the aid, the Ukrainians were never even told about it until weeks after the “extortion” phone call, meaning nobody’s arm got twisted when it should have for impeachment fodder purposes.

    So no bribe was given, or to the Ukrainian’s knowledge, withheld. At the same time no one has claimed the Ukrainians investigated Biden or will be doing so at Trump’s demand. No new dirt has surfaced on Biden or his family dealings. As with all the things Trump was supposed to do to get his Moscow hotel and then there was no Moscow hotel, the Dems claim they see a smoking gun but there is no body on the ground under the muzzle. So will this devolve into another complicated thought crime, another “conspiracy” to commit without the committal? “No explicit quid pro quo is necessary to betray your country,” helpfully tweeted Adam Schiff. But there’s gotta be more, right? Because the collapse of Russiagate shifted any benefit of the doubt towards Trump; the gray areas fall to him. Three years ago “almost” might have worked but not anymore, we are far too burned out and cynical for that.
     
    Meanwhile, we are not discussing what really did go on between Biden and the Ukrainians. The Dems have been too quick to announce Biden did nothing wrong, creating a loop of hypocrisy saying no investigation is needed because no investigation has uncovered evidence of wrongdoing worth investigating. So don’t even imagine a President Biden held hostage to Ukrainian kompromat. We’ve heard something like that concerning a pee tape, haven’t we? “Oh, you oppose investigations into corruption by the guy potentially the next president? You want him in office knowing he could be blackmailed by Slavs?”

    What about Biden anyway? During the last year of the Obama administration Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine to convince the government in Kiev to fire its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, claiming he was corrupt. Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in loans, and his threat worked: Shokin was removed. The funny part is just as he was fired prosecutor Shokin was in the middle of investigating a natural gas company, one of which’s board members was Hunter Biden. Hunter was collected $50,000 a month for that non-job. Golly, would Joe Biden have used the power of the United States to help his son keep that sweetheart job? Hunter had no previous experience in the Ukraine, and snagged the job there just after being thrown out of the Navy for using cocaine, so really, nothing to see. Biden still had the gaul to accuse Trump of using the power of the United States to extract “a political favor” from Ukraine.
     
    Now don’t be distracted by the way the words “credible” and “urgent” are being slung around by the media.

    “Urgent concern” is merely another bit of legal nomenclature turned into a breathless headline defined as: “A serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of the law or Executive order, or deficiency relating to the funding, administration, or operation of an intelligence activity within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence involving classified information, but does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters.”

    But as for “urgency” itself, the phone call likely at the heart of all this was made July 25 (here’s a public Ukrainian government summary which refers to a “complete investigation of corruption cases”) The whistleblower complaint wasn’t filed until August 12. It was two weeks after that it reached the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who did nothing with it we know of. Congress requested a copy September 10, which was refused (that new obstruction thingie) and the whole thing leaked September 18, of course in the Washington Post.

    Like credibility, urgency in this specific usage refers to whether or not the complaint falls within the boundaries of the IC whisleblwoer laws, something in contention as the subject matter appears to have very little to do with the work of the IC or its employees and much more to do with the conduct of the president. As such, the matter may not be “urgent” as defined by law and the president correct to withhold information according.

    We are also not going to discuss foreign spying around the edges of the 2016 Trump campaign, the role “retired” MI6 British spy Christopher Steele played in Russiagate, or the as yet undiscovered contributions by the British version of NSA made surveilling Americans outside the legal reach of the United States. An Inspector General report from the Justice Department is due out very soon which may disclose the role those foreigners played.

    We are also not going to talk about whatever the State Department was doing to assist presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s contacts with Ukraine’s government. Giuliani’s contact with a close Ukrainian presidential advisor this summer was encouraged and facilitated by the U.S. State Department. Giuliani even didn’t initiate it. A senior U.S. diplomat did.

    Among other things we won’t be talking about his how the Trump administration’s withholding of the whistleblower complaint — that death to the rule of law thing — is consistent with the stance taken by both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and is far from new. In 1998, President Bill Clinton wrote, in a signing statement accompanying the original whistleblower protection act, that it “does not constrain my constitutional authority to review and, if appropriate, control certain classified information to Congress.” Obama restated this caveat in 2010. Trump is in fact the third president to assert that simply filing a whistleblower complaint does not grant the filer the right to force classified, privileged information into the public sphere. As in all other instances, that right rests with the president himself — Clinton, Obama, Trump, as well as the next one.
     
     

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    Will Congress Impeach Over the Ukraine?

    October 2, 2019 // 12 Comments »


     

    Like a dog hearing he’s going for a car ride, with that first leak the Dems couldn’t wait to hang their heads out the window for another ride around the block.
     

    There are few hard facts: a leak claims a whistleblower in the intelligence community believes during a July 25 phone call Trump made unspecified “promises” to the Ukrainian president in return for his investigating Biden family corruption. The whistleblower did not have direct knowledge of what was said, and may have read a transcript or summary. Trump knew the call was monitored by multiple people and said whatever he said anyway.

    Despite the lack of real information, the story blossomed like chlamydia at band camp to soon say Trump illegally withheld $391 million in military aid from the Ukraine in a direct quid pro quo for the Ukrainians finding dirt on Biden. Correlation was turned into causation and a narrative was created in mid-air. That was then crowd-refined into a tweetable “Trump is again inviting foreigners into our democratic process.” From there it took the New York Times only 48 hours to question whether the “president can get away with weaponizing the federal government to punish political opponents.” Impeachment was called for, and one nominal Trump challenger literally demanded on MSNBC execution be considered.

    Democrats also decided all sorts of procedural and legal stuff the public will not pay attention to has been trod upon because the whistleblower complaint has not been handed over to them. In sum, “many elements are murky, but something clearly stinks” said the NYT, suggesting that’s good enough as a standard for demanding regime change in the middle of an election.

    The big difference this time around is there’s no holy grail pee tape to quest after for three years. A transcript of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president exists. What did Trump say? The Ukrainian government version, which is as close as we have to an actual fact at present, has been quietly online for two months now and reads “Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA. [sic]”

    For whatever Trump said to fulfill the headlines stating he pressured/extorted/bribed the Ukrainian leader, or manipulated U.S. foreign policy to (again?!?) bring a foreign government into the 2020 election, the actual words matter a lot. If this whole thing turns out to be shoehorning some broad or flippant statement by the president about investigating corruption which may involve the Biden family into a quid pro quo accusation, it will fail spectacularly with voters. If we all have to become whistleblower law experts the same way we all were obstruction experts just a few weeks ago for this to matter, it fails. The Dems might as well bring Congressman Wile E. Coyote onto the floor with his Acme Impeachment Kit.
     

    And yet while the actual words matter, it should not be lost that none of what Trump was supposed to have really done — using military aid to get dirt on Biden — happened. We’re talking about talking about maybe burning the Reichstag, just not in so many words.

    No one claims the Ukrainians investigated Biden at Trump’s demand (and Dems insist there was no wrongdoing anyway so an investigation would be for naught anyway.) It is thus a big problem in this narrative that the long-promised military aid to the Ukraine was only delayed and then paid out, as if the bribe was given for nothing in return, which hardly makes it a bribe. Trump is apparently bad at bribing; even though he made the decision to temporarily withhold the aid for some reason, the Ukrainians were never even told about it until weeks after the “extortion” phone call, meaning nobody’s arm got knowingly twisted. So no bribe was given, or to the Ukrainians’ knowledge, no money withheld.

    As with all the souls Trump supposedly sold to get his Moscow hotel but then there was no Moscow hotel, the Dems claim they see a smoking gun but there is no body on the ground under the muzzle. So will this devolve into another complicated thought crime, another “conspiracy” to commit without the committal? “No explicit quid pro quo is necessary to betray your country,” helpfully tweeted Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Three years ago “almost” might have worked but we are far too cynical now following the collapse of Russiagate. The gray areas will fall to Trump in the court of public opinion.
     

    Sigh. This will drag on for a while anyway. So the next step is for someone to see the actual whistleblower complaint, or, better, the transcript of the call itself. Because absolutely everything swirling around Washington otherwise today is just based on a leak.

    Prying things loose if Trump wants to keep them from Congress will not be easy. The law sets conditions for disclosure of the whistleblower compliant itself, based on the specific legal definitions of credible and urgent; the media is mangling this part of the story by using vernacular definitions. How to apply those criteria can be argued over to Kiev and back. For example, the complaint itself seems to have nothing to do with intelligence operations except that it was allegedly filed by an intelligence staffer. That could make it not an “urgent” matter in the definition of the law and thus not available to Congress.

    Trump’s withholding of the whistleblower complaint is also consistent with the stance taken by both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Bill Clinton, in a signing statement accompanying the original 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, wrote this “does not constrain my constitutional authority to review and, if appropriate, control certain classified information to Congress.”

    Obama also reserved the right to withhold information from Congress “in [undefined] exceptional circumstances” when the original Act was updated as Congress created the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General in 2010. Trump is thus the third president to assert a whistleblower complaint does not grant the filer the right to force classified, privileged information into the public sphere. That right rests with the president — Clinton, Obama, Trump, as well as the next one. Citing long precedent, the courts would likely agree if asked.

    While there is room to argue over the release of the complaint to Congress, there are nothing to compel the release of the presidential call transcript itself. What presidents say to other world leaders with the expectation of privacy is at the core of conducting foreign policy. No world leader is willing to interact frankly with the American president today wondering if the conversation will be on CNN tomorrow. That was one of the arguments used to assess the damage whistleblower Chelsea Manning did revealing State Department documents containing such conversations. So, never mind the Ukraine, no president would readily turn over a transcript without a fight, a fight he’ll likely win given the long standing unitary role of the executive in foreign policy.

    Law and precedent are thus on Trump’s side if he chooses to withhold the complaint and transcript from Congress. If no one can see those documents, there is no means to move any investigation decisively forward, though theatrical hearings are always possible. A full leak of those specific, highly classified materials would be unprecedented. It would then be a true Constitutional crisis if illegally obtained, leaked docs were used at the heart of an impeachment process.
     

    There’s more. As a whistleblower myself I know well the personal cost of telling the truth. It requires enormous courage to place yourself at odds with the full power of the government. You risk your job, your life as you knew it, and your freedom. Our democracy requires such people to come forward despite all that. So it is with some mixed feeling I record my skepticism here. At the core whistleblowers are different solely in motive; whistleblowers act because conscience tells them they must. They understand their allegiance is to The People, not a party (leakers) or self-interest (traitors.)

    If the whistleblower here is someone who wrapped themselves in hard-fought legal protections to score points snitching over a difference in partisan politics, it will contribute to ending what little faith the public has in the vital process of revealing the truth at whatever cost, and will cause someone with legitimate concerns now trying to decide what to do to sit down. I hope with all of my soul, and with respect for those like Ellsberg, Manning, and Snowden, that this whistleblower proves worthy to stand next to them. And God help his soul and our country if not. 

     

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    Corruption in Journalism

    September 30, 2019 // 18 Comments »


     

    Columnist Max Boot in the Washington Post put into writing what we have all known for some time: real journalism, Jefferson’s informed citizenry and all that, is dead. The job has shifted to aspirational writing, using manipulated droplets of facts and just plain made-up stuff to drive events.
     

    Boot (pictured) writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election. Max: “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.”

    Boot has spent the last years creating and circle-supporting others who create false narratives. They manufacture reasons for Trump to resign, to press Democrats to impeach, or at last resort, to influence voters they otherwise hold in contempt for not knowing what’s good enough for them. We kind of figured this out after senior staff at the New York Times had to remind reporters they were “not part of the f*cking resistance,” but it is helpful to see it in daylight. After all, democracy dies in the darkness.

     

    The uber-false narrative Max and others Frankensteined into existence was Russiagate. Trump wasn’t the Manchurian Candidate and there was no quid pro quo for Russian election help. Yet the media literally accused the president of treason by melding together otherwise unrelated truthlets — Trump wanted a hotel in Moscow, some ads were run on Facebook — that could be spun into a narrative to bring Trump down. Correlation was made into causation in a purposeful freshman Logic 101 fail. What was true was of little consequence; what mattered was whether the media could collectively create a story the rubes would believe, and then pile on.

    The critical flaw in Russiagate (other than it didn’t happen) was the media creating an end-point they could not control. Robert Mueller was magic-wanded into the Last Honest Man, the Savior of Democracy, as the narrative first unfolded and then fell apart like a cardboard box in the rain. After his dismal testimony there was nowhere for the story to go.
     
    This autumn’s empty box of a narrative is upgraded to play out without end: Trump is manipulating domestic and foreign policy for personal gain via… hotel fees.

    At first glance it seems like a non-starter. Trump’s hotels are as much a part of him as the extra pounds he carries. He campaigned as a CEO and announced early on he was not going to divest. But with the first cold slap of Trump’s election victory a narrative was being shaped: Trump could not become president because of his business conflicts of interest; it was danged unconstitutional.

    Early proponents of this dreck dug around in the Constitution’s closet and found the Emoluments Clause, a handful of lines intended to bar office holders from accepting gifts from foreign sovereigns, kings, and princes to prevent influence buying. Pre-Trump, the last time the issue was in actual contention was with President Martin Van Buren (no relation) over gifts from the Imam of Muscat.

    The media ran with it. They imagined out of whole cloth any foreign government official getting a room at any Trump hotel was a “gift.” Then they imagined whatever tiny percentage of that room profit which actually went to Trump himself represented a bribe. Then they imagined despite the vast complexity of U.S. relations, Trump would alter course because some guy rented a room. It was Joker-like in its diabolicalness, the presidency itself merely a prank to hide an international crime spree. Pow!

    It was also ridiculous on its face, but they made it happen. The now-defunct leftist site Think Progress ran what might be Story Zero before Trump even took office. An anonymous source claimed the Kuwaiti Ambassador canceled a major event at one hotel to switch to Trump’s own DC hotel under pressure. It all turned out to be untrue. “Do you think a reception of two hours in the Trump hotel is going to curry favors with the administration when we host thousands of U.S. troops in Kuwait? When we have in the past and still do support American operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?” the Kuwait ambassador asked when someone got around to his side of the story. But no matter, the narrative was set.

    Then it grew. Though the Emoluments Clause is quite specific, the media decided every time anyone stayed at a Trump property it was corruption. Even when Trump visited one of his own homes it was corruption because the Secret Service paid Trump for the privilege. Of course the Secret Service has always paid for the facilities used in their work because the government cannot commandeer private property or accept free rooms (which, ironically, could be seen as a bribe), not from Marriott and not from the Trump Organization. Even Joe Biden still has to charge the Secret Service rent on a cottage he owns, so they can protect him when he’s home in Delaware.

    More? T-Mobile booked nine rooms at a Trump hotel, in media hive minds ostensibly to influence federal approval of a $26 billion merger. Those rooms were worth about $2700. Of course the president, who can influence the Dow with a tweet, prefers to make his illegal money off jacked up hotel bills. Think small has always been a Trump trademark.

    Reuters headlined how foreigners were buying condos from third party owners (i.e., not Trump or his company), but they were in a Trump-managed building and maybe the monthly maintenance fees would qualify as mini-emoluments? Trump was accused of “hiding” foreign government income at his hotels when servers at the bar failed to ask cash customers if they were potentates or princes (the headline: “Trump Organization Says It’s ‘Not Practical’ to Comply With the Emoluments Clause.”)

    And of course that Air Force crew staying at a Trump place in Scotland. No matter that the hotel forged its relationship with a nearby airport long before Trump became president, or that the Air Force had used the airport and hotel hundreds of times before Trump became president (going back to WWII), and or that a decision by the Pentagon to have flights stop more frequently there was made under the Obama administration, nope, none of that stopped the media from proclaiming corruption. One piece speculated the $166 a night the Air Force pays for rooms was always part of Trump’s cornerstone financial plan for the floundering multi-million golf course.
     
    But to see how much the corruption narrative really is a media creation, you have only to compare it to how the MSM covered what might have been a similar question in the past. Imagine if journalists had treated every appearance by Obama as a book promotion. What if each speech was slandered across the channels as corruption, Obama just out there pimping his books? Should he have been impeached for commercializing the office of president?

    Follow the money, as Maddow likes to say. The Trump Organization pays to the Treasury all profits from foreign governments. In the 2018, $191,000. The year before the amount was $151,470. So Trump’s in-pocket profit is zero.

    Meanwhile Obama’s profit as an author during his time in office was $15.6 million (he’s made multiples more since, including a $65 million book advance.) In the two weeks before he was inaugurated, Obama reworked his book deals to take advantage of his new status. He agreed not to publish another non-fiction book during his time in office to keep anticipation high, while signing a $500,000 advance for a young adult version of Dreams From My Father.

    Obama’s books were huge sellers in China, where publishing is largely government controlled, meaning Obama likely received Chicom money in the Oval Office. Obama’s own State Department bought $79,000 worth of his books to distribute as gifts.

    As with Trump, nothing Obama did was illegal. There are no laws per se against a president making money. Yet no one bothered to raise ethical questions about Obama. No one claimed he sought the presidency as a bully ATM machine. No one claimed his frequent messaging about his father was designed to move books. No one held TV hearings on his profits or into how taxpayer funds were used to buy his books. It’s not “everybody does it” or “whataboutism,” it is why does the media treat two very similar situations so very differently?
     
    Max Boot confessed why. The media has created a pitch-and-toss game with Democrats, running false, exaggerated or shallowly-reported stories to generate calls for hearings, which in turn breath life into the corruption stories they live off. Max Boot and his ilk are doing a new job. Journalism to them is for resistance, condemnation, arousal, and regime change. And that’s one way democracy does die.
      

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    Five Questions for Joe Biden

    September 19, 2019 // 15 Comments »


     
    I was inadvertently left off the list of pundits encouraged to submit questions for the last Democratic debate; meh, my questions were all for Tulsi Gabbard anyway. But in the spirit of open inquiry, I put together some queries directed at the front runner, Joe Biden, anyway.

    Q: Joe, how’s the asthma?

    Reason why I’m asking is you received five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War draft, the same number as Donald Trump and Dick Cheney, and in 1968, when your student status was wrapping up, you were medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma as a teenager. In your autobiography, you described your active youth, you being a lifeguard and playing high school football and all. You also lied (note Biden lies are usually called gaffes) about being on the University of Delaware football team. Was all that hard with asthma? Were you diagnosed for asthma in 1968 by a podiatrist? Your vice presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no.

    Let me read you a quote, Joe. “You have somebody who thinks it’s alright to have somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country.” Pete Buttigieg said that about President Bonespurs. Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was wounded in Iraq, called Trump a “coward” over the draft. Do you agree with those quotes?

    Q: Joe, can you explain your recent financial success?

    In 2008 you earned $165,200 salary as a senator, supplemented with $20,500 as an adjunct professor at Widener University Law School. You got an advance of $112,500 for your book Promises to Keep. Your wife Jill taught at a community college while you were Vice President. You two reported a combined income of $396,000 in 2016, your last year in the Obama administration.

    Then you and Jill made more than $15 million since leaving the Obama administration, mostly via a new book deal. In fact, you and your wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 than in the previous 19 years combined.

    Now we know about inflation and everything, but you were given $10 million for your 2017 memoir, Promise Me, Dad, roughly ten times what your first book pulled in. Jill was paid more than $3 million for her book, Where the Light Enters in 2018, same publisher as you, Joe.

    We all know how publishing works: The publisher, Flatiron, pays you, the author, an advance. Profits from book sales are subtracted from that advance. For a publisher to be successful, they need to sell more than they paid out for the advance, and because of this successful publishers like Flatiron get pretty good at estimating those numbers. Forbes reports your new book sold 300,000 copies against that $10 million, meaning you, Joe, took home about $33 per copy on a book Amazon is selling for only $13.99. Of course it is more complicated , but off the cuff do you feel you pocketing $33 on a $13.99 sale is a good deal for you?

    And speaking of which, a friend passes along her respect. Hillary Clinton only earned around $5 million from her campaign book.

    Your teaching pay went up nicely as well. You got $20,500 for teaching when you entered the White House. After you left the office, the University of Pennsylvania gave you $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to offer you indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching anything while you campaign. And you got signed for that gig only a month after leaving the White House. Side question: did you post your resume on Monster or Indeed.com?

    What role do you think your being the likely nominee played in how much you were paid? It’s almost as if people are giving you free money to be your friend. Is there a definition of corruption which might encompass that?

    Another friend sends his respect, too, Joe. He’s jealous almost no one talks about how you charge the Secret Service $2200 a month rent for a cottage on your property so they can protect you! He wants to ask if you jokingly call the cottage “Biden Tower.”

    Q: The cost of higher education is a major 2020 campaign issue. How much have you contributed to raising the price? No, no, sorry, that’s not fair. Joe, can you name a speaker you think is worth $180,000?

    The reason I ask is because Education Next calls you the “Higher Education Millionaire” based on the fees you and your wife collected from various schools. Those include Drew University $190,000, Lake Michigan College $182,679, Vanderbilt University $180,000, University of Buffalo $179,489, Southern Connecticut State University $124,515, Long Island University $100,000, Brown University $92,642, and Jill at Foothill-De Anza Community College District $66,400, Stanford University $37,853 and Loyola University of Chicago $36,000. Jill had some more speaking engagements and other gigs as well, for a total income of $560,000. There’s a full accounting here.

    And hey, Joe, did you know your 30 minute speech at the University of Buffalo was partially funded by “voluntary” student government ticket purchases? Anyway, at a total cost to the school of $230,000, that works out to about $7,600 a minute for your time in Buffalo. By comparison, a high-class escort there runs, albeit at a one hour minimum, about $400 (link NSFW.)

    Overall you are quite a talker, Joe. Since leaving office you made $1.8 million on book tour events and $2.4 million over 19 speaking engagements.

    Actually you were paid a lot more for your speaking than those disclosed fees would have us believe. Your gassing at the University of Buffalo, for example, included $10,000 for travel expenses. Your speech at Southwestern Michigan in October 2018 included $50,000 in travel expenses. Do you order a lot of room service, or are you padding your speaking fees with exaggerated travel expenses that you do not have to claim as income for tax purposes?

    Now we all remember Old Man Bernie chastising Candidate Clinton in 2016 for the large sums of money she received for private speaking engagements, what some called “Pay to Play” as powerful organizations, donors, and lobbyists paid jumbo fees to a candidate for a speech in lieu of simply bribing them directly by handing cash over in a paper bag. Can you explain how what you and Jill are doing is different?

    Q: Joe, do you remember the tax loophole you and Obama tried to close, S Corporations? Since leaving office you and your wife laundered money through S Corps to save millions in taxes ordinary Americans have to pay. Why the change of heart, Joe?

    In 2012 you said paying higher taxes on higher incomes was patriotic. You told us “We’re not supposed to have a system with one set of rules for the wealthy and one set of rules for everyone else.” Along those lines, you and Obama sought to end a well-known dodge, the use of S Corporations to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes.

    You remember, Joe: By creating a paper S Corporation, an individual receives money for things like book advances and speaking fees not directly, which would cause him to have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as with salaries, but laundered as divestitures from a corporation he owns. As corporate money, nasty personal taxes are fully avoided, and the corporation can claim nearly unlimited “business expenses” to be deducted against those profits, as well as benefit from other tax rules which favor companies over individual earners.

    So Joe, it seems after trying to close that S-Corp loophole while in the White House you and Jill are now fans. In fact, your lucrative deals are funneled to you through two S-Corps, CelticCapri for Joe and Giacoppa for Jill. Your S-Corp is registered at 1201 North Orange in Wilmington, Delaware. That’s a popular block; right nearby is 1209 North Orange, the legal address of 285,000 separate businesses. Delaware, in fact, is ground zero for corporate tax shell companies; Michael Cohen had his there for Trump’s use as well.

    Delaware has more (paper) corporate entities than people. Joe, you of course were one of Delaware’s senators for decades. So you knew how things worked when you established your his-and-her S-Corps only days after leaving the White House. As a corporate entity, S-Corps can also make political contributions. Joe, your own S-Corp did so, neatly donating money to your own political PAC, American Possibilities.

    So Joe, the question is: is everything regarding your taxes a load of malarkey?

     

    Q: Final question, because I know you’re getting tired. How do you intend to debate Trump when corruption, tax fudging, and skipping out on military service come up?

    Are you just going to rely on the MSM not to ask about those things? Or are you going to go with Trump’s sleaze is worse than yours and you’re the lesser of two evils candidate because that worked out so well as a strategy in 2016?

     
     
    Bonus Sixth Question! Joe, name a couple of substantive accomplishments for your eight years as Vice President.

    Cat got your tongue? The Obama White House official archives include some of these as your accomplishments, Joe. Ring any bells?

    You led the Administration’s Skills Initiative to improve effectiveness of federal workforce training. Big one. You chaired the Middle-Class Task Force, which was “a guiding force in the Administration’s efforts to improve the livelihoods of middle-class families.” How’d that work out? You “unveiled” It’s On Us, a campaign to engage students and bystanders in preventing sexual assault. You also lead a national “Cancer Moonshot” to dramatically accelerate efforts to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer. Any luck with that? You “engaged the leadership in both Japan and the Republic of Korea to improve relations among two of the United States’ closest allies.” That’s going well, right? Do you plan to feature any of these accomplishments in your debate presentation?

      

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    Trump Hotels (and Trump!) for Sale

    September 5, 2019 // 11 Comments »


     

    One of the more amusing created narratives of the Trump era has been the media’s obsession that Trump is raking in corruptive levels of undeserved money from his hotels. The latest mini-adventure has been over Mike Pence staying in a Trump hotel in Ireland.

    The myth had its origins in one of the many early plans to drive Trump from office: the Emoluments Clause. Pundits dug up an obscure part of the Constitution about presidents not accepting gifts from foreign leaders. Here’s a full explainer on the Clause.

    They then imagined a foreign government official getting a room for the night at a Trump hotel was such an emolument (never mind the concept has never been defined or tested in court in some 230 years) and whatever tiny, tiny percentage of that room profit actually went to Trump himself represented a bribe such that the president would alter policy against the benefit of the United States in return.

    That latter bit is also one of the “best” arguments Dems have come up with to demand Trump’s taxes, by the way.

    So the argument is despite the vast complexity of U.S. relations in the Middle East, Trump would alter course against America’s own interests because some Kuwaiti rented the bridal suite at one of his hotels for a night.
     

    My goodness, in the case of Mike Pence running amuck in Ireland, we have a U.S. government official staying at an American owned property instead of a foreign one?!?!? But even that shocker may someday come to an end. Democrats with nothing else to do have proposed the The Heightened Oversight of Travel, Eating and Lodging Act (the HOTEL Act, get it?) in Congress which would forever ban the use of any public funds at a Trump property.

    That wouldn’t stop such rampant corruption as T-Mobile booking all of nine rooms at a Trump hotel, ostensibly to influence a $26 billion merger. Those nine rooms are worth almost $2700 a night, so, righteous bucks! Now of course the Trump hotel being located next door to the government building T-Mobile has business with has nothing to do with this all — their staff should stay in Ireland and fly daily to Washington to prove there is no quid pro quo!

    And course the president, who can shift the stock market for millions with a tweet, prefers to make his illegal money off jacked up hotel bills. Think small, go for the small take, have always been Trump trademarks.

    Of course it makes no sense financially, legally or otherwise, but the media has fully swallowed this “story” as a perennial.

      

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    Dear People Wishing for Stock Market Trouble

    August 26, 2019 // 20 Comments »


     
     
    NOTE: I’ve been re-running this article every time over the last three years a temporary downturn on Wall Street causes progressive idiots to celebrate. The last run was in January 2019, but here we go again.

     
     

    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!

    First of all, that is not what is happening. But if people want to panic based on panic journalism, by all means go ahead.

    But for the rest of us from 1929 to 2018 the S&P averaged 8-10% gains. It is up well above that for this year, so declines are expected and normal. Recessions on the other hand are CAUSED by things, they do not happen in cycles per se just because it is time. Or because the MSM wants “recession” to replace “Russia” as the magic bullet to end Trump.

    Everything tangled by US-China can be untangled, suggesting its long term effects are able to be mitigated directly. You can spend as much time as you like blaming/congratulating whomever that the fundamentals are strong, but they are and that speaks better to longer term trends than other factors. Even in the short term there is money to be made; if you bought on Friday’s drop you are already making money on today’s rise.

    If you are learning about inverted bond yields roughly the same way you learned about Emoluments and the 25th Amendment and Russiagate, you are still listening to the wrong people.

     

    But let’s look into what progressives are cheering for, hoping to happen, a real live recession. 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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    Posted in 2020, Democracy, Post-Constitution America