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    Julian Assange Will Die Alongside Your 1st Amendment Rights

    April 11, 2019 // 26 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Rachel Maddow is Russiagate’s Poster Child

    April 8, 2019 // 13 Comments »

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

     

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

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

    March 30, 2019 // 20 Comments »


     
     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    So Why Did Trump Fire Comey?

    March 27, 2019 // 12 Comments »

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

      

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    Media, Suck My Balls

    March 26, 2019 // 14 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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    Mueller: End Game, Das Reckoning Gotterdammerung Fin Apocalypse

    March 25, 2019 // 3 Comments »


     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      

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    Trying to Understand the Democratic/Media Argument…

    // 3 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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    Economics, POC, and Who You Should Support in 2020

    March 23, 2019 // 15 Comments »


     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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

    March 11, 2019 // 10 Comments »


     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So, so much for all that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Is Michael Cohen Impeachment’s Smoking Gun?

    March 1, 2019 // 11 Comments »


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

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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    The FBI’s Coup Attempt Failed

    February 20, 2019 // 15 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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    But Why Do You Hate Me?

    February 19, 2019 // 4 Comments »


     

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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    Blackface: Confronting One’s Integrity in the Past

    February 6, 2019 // 19 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      

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    Seriously WaPo?

    February 4, 2019 // 5 Comments »

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

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

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

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

      

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    Venezuela: What Happens in an Evacuation?

    January 30, 2019 // 7 Comments »


     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    January 25, 2019 // 11 Comments »


     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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

    // Comments Off on What if Political Journalism Can’t Snap Back from Tabloidization?


     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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    I Wanna Sit With the Cool Kids at Lunch Again

    January 21, 2019 // 14 Comments »

    Never Again
     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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

    January 18, 2019 // 14 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    January 14, 2019 // 21 Comments »


     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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    Wall B.S. and the Politics of 2020

    January 11, 2019 // 27 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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    Exaggerated Terrorist Threats on the Southern Border!

    January 9, 2019 // 5 Comments »


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

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

     
     

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    The Democratic Party Has One More Shot at Relevancy

    January 8, 2019 // 34 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     
     

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    Dear People Wishing for Stock Market Trouble

    January 3, 2019 // 19 Comments »


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

     

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

     
     

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    Looking out the Window at 2019…

    January 2, 2019 // 4 Comments »

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Tiresome Things of 2018:

    December 31, 2018 // 12 Comments »


    Tiresome things of 2018:

    “News” that is just stuff someone tweeted;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Over-use of the word “folk”;

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

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

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

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

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

    December 25, 2018 // 20 Comments »



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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

    Anyone? Bueller? Mattis?

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

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

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

    A New Lens

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

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

     

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    This Year’s Top 10 Hottest Holiday Gifts

    December 24, 2018 // 16 Comments »


     

    This Year’s Top 10 Hottest Holiday Gifts

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

     

    Middle East Lego Playset

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

     

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

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

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

     

    Trump: The Foreign Policy Game

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

     

    The Amazon Alexa Ocasio-Cortez Plug-In Adapter

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

     

    Speak to Me Millennial Doll

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

     

    CLUE – the 2020 Democratic Presidential Edition

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

     

    Grow Your Own Putin

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

     

    Mueller Supercut, Hero Edition

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

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

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

     

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

     

    Your Own GoFundMe

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

     

    …And some bonus items!

    Media Critique Kit

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

     

    The Mar-a-Lago Experience

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

     

    Military Leadership: From Battleground to Boardroom

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

     

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

     

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

     

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    Seeing the Promised Land: Springsteen on Broadway, a Review

    December 18, 2018 // 10 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    December 12, 2018 // 14 Comments »

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

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

     

    Indictment?

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

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

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

     

    A Tale of Two Women

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

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

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

    Let’s start with Stormy.

    Stormy Daniels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    Karen McDougal

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

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

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

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

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

     

    The Jury of Us

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

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

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

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

    Politics

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

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

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

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

     

    BONUS

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

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

    BONUS BONUS

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

     

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