What Gun? What Smoke? What Democracy?

The foulest stench in this age of open-air corruption is emanating from the barrel of the smoking gun now lying on the hearing room floor—lying there smoking. Whether the president* used the gun to “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” or to strong-arm a foreign government to do his political bidding, it will continue to lie there smoking. And his corrupt lieutenants in the White House, in Congress, on Fox “News”, and elsewhere will continue to refuse to see the gun, the smoke, the body, or anything at all except Democrats with “Trump derangement syndrome” trying to “undo an election”.

As I wrote in my letter to the Omaha World-Herald the other day, we can no longer pretend that what’s happening in Washington has anything to do with government of, for, or by the people. It is not about the law, about wrong or right, or about the Constitution or its provisions. It is a power struggle for control of a bloated federal government as cash machine and grantor of immunity from oversight. It is a contest of strength, of will, and of solidarity among a corrupt minority who has – by dint of a quirky and outmoded college of so-called electors (read: not voters) – captured the federal government under the borrowed auspices of a formerly legitimate political party (auspices now unnecessary and abandoned). The Republican Party is now a bizarre coalition, a party of alliance between the white Christian fool and the calculating oligarch. It is the Southern/Midwestern bulk of fake grievance-touting nationalists nostalgic for “white America” wielded as a deaf and dumb electoral cudgel—expertly wielded by an amoral billionaire minority in pursuit of their narrow corporate-friendly agenda of wealth redistribution and regulatory impunity. It is this coalition versus the Constitution, its laws, and the paltry few who are left to defend them.

Who are these paltry few? They are a slight majority of Democrats in the House – a little better than one half of one branch of the government’s three imposing loci of undeserved and unearned power. The other half of the House and the entire Senate is controlled by the smirking Cosa Nostra occupying the White House, such that most of Congress now consists of nothing more than amoral sycophants, lying hypocrites who desperately want to not see the smoking gun that right now—this morning—lies smoking on the floor of the hearing room.

They refuse to see the dying body politic as its life blood oozes out onto the chamber floor. They will surreptitiously wipe the blood from their shoes, blank the image out from their visual field, replace it with a jury-rigged fantasy of liberal overreach and disaffection, of a party out of power trying to “steal” an election (which they actually won, but never mind). They must claim these lies as sacred truth, as they stand over the lifeless body of America, lest they find themselves the focus of what one commentator recently described as the “unblinking eye of Mordor,” the short-spanned but witheringly focused attention of the insane narcissist Twitter bot, the aspiring despot at the helm of a so-called Republic, a man [sic] whose one unimpeachable talent is to harangue and intimidate any milquetoast “leaders” of the Republican party into utter pants-peeing submission and supplication should they dare to step even slightly out of line.

The other two power centers, the executive and the Supreme [sic] Court, are now dominated by white nationalist ideologues (in the case of the former) and corporate toadies (the black-robed latter). The executive is a would-be mobster and autocrat (and the people who voted for him have always known this and have always approved). Enough said. The Supreme [sic] Court is neither supreme nor an actual court, as its politicized “gang of 5” merely shape their “decisions” (ha ha) to the current needs of the executive and the corporate/Wall Street titans who put him in office and them in their big chairs. They are not a court at all but an imposing, marble-walled, high-talking rubber stamp. The Justices are, as the president and his minions have always dreamed, finally and unequivocally irrelevant. This was supposedly the historical “worst fear” of the Justices—to be roped into the wolverine den of bare-knuckle politics and, thus, to be subjugated to its carnivorous appetites. But it’s what happened. I guess they’re not as independent—and certainly not as clever–as they thought they were. (This doesn’t count Justices “I like beer” Kavanaugh or “Merrick Garland who now?” Gorsuch. They were Trumpers anyway, they have no reason to be proud, so they knew the score—and their place—coming in. Call them “the future” of the debased court.)

I would say (as I have said since 2016) “This is what you’re up against, America”. But America is no longer up against anything. America is dead, shot dead by an amoral idiot whose cultist followers and fearful boot-lickers love (or fear) his amoral idiocy. Out of phony patriotism or very real terror, they will defend him against all comers (looking at you, rule of law). America’s ‘leaders’ are now analogous to Caesar’s assassins, who for their own reasons have decided that they will, all together now, insert their blades into the panicked flesh of America, let out its blood, and be finally rid of their formerly towering but now vulnerable nemesis: the people’s democracy and America’s laws and democratic institutions.  

The Purpose of Arms

I believe modern militaries have one traditional purpose (to resist foreign invaders) that is largely outmoded among so-called superpowers, and three more relevant modern purposes:

  1. to frighten the vast populations of the modern superpower/nation state into submission and apathy by virtue of the vast killing power of the superpower’s weaponry
  2. to intimidate lower-GDP nation states with less weaponry into doing the will of the regional or global superpower; and
  3. to, via occasionally hot or persistently warm ‘brush wars’ conducted in underdeveloped proxy nations, efficiently destroy excess military-industrial complex hardware and/or gain access to resources (oil) in order to stimulate new production and economic growth among favored constituents and industries.

The rest is hogwash.

Clinton Derangement Syndrome

Time for a thought experiment, Trump fans.

It’s 2019, and president Hillary Clinton is gearing up for a re-election run. Clinton defeated Jeb Bush in 2016 with the aid of, say, the Iranian government’s coordinated disinformation campaign and criminal activity such as the theft of internal Republican National Committee e-mails, which were then dumped on the Internet by a shady third party with a Bush score to settle. Bush won the popular vote, but Clinton eked out an Electoral College victory.

In July 2019,  another popular Republican is running, and polling makes it look like he’ll lock up the nomination. Meanwhile, a newly independent democratic Yemeni government that continues to be at risk from Saudi aggression has elected a new president. Because of continued bad behavior from the Saudis, Congress has cooled relations with them and authorized arms aid to the Yemenis.

But the Clinton administration puts a hold on the aid, citing “due diligence”, and just then Hillary gives the new Yemeni president a call. She wants a favor – she knows the Yemeni president really wants that new secure American communications system, not to mention defensive missiles. But she wants Yemeni prosecutors to look into some business dealings that the GOP front-runner’s son had in Yemen, asking the Yemeni president to work with her personal lawyer and her attorney general to dig up whatever they can. At this point there is no evidence of wrong-doing by the candidate’s son.

Clinton’s lawyer, as well as administration diplomats, continue to pressure the Yemenis to play ball throughout the summer, while the arms aid remains in limbo until bipartisan Congressional efforts get it released in September.

Clinton’s  White House attorneys, for some reason, decide to secure the transcript from the call on a server normally reserved for top secret intelligence data. Other administration officials are aware of this unusual behavior, but they keep quiet.

Then a whistle blower brings news of all of this to the intelligence community via the Inspector General, and despite Department of Justice attempts to keep the report under wraps, it leaks to the press. Clinton releases the transcript of the call under pressure.

Is it safe to say that this is the point where Republicans in Congress and Fox News pundits go on the defensive for president Clinton? Do Congressional Republicans insist it was a “nothing” call, a normal conversation between world leaders? Is this when they say Clinton’s accusers have “Clinton Derangement Syndrome”, and beg the country to quit obsessing over the president and get back to doing the people’s business?

Gaming the Throne

Like me, other Americans who have yet to drink the Trump team Kool-Aid may be wondering why an otherwise widely respected and successful private attorney like William Barr would want to insinuate himself into the orbit of a “man” [sic] like Donald Trump. (As we have seen with Mr. Cohen, Mr. Stone, Mr. Manafort, Mr. Flynn, Mr. Papadopoulos, Mr. McGahn and so many others, those who seek membership on the president’s much-investigated team often become the target of investigation themselves. Not to mention the indictments and convictions.)

So why would Barr submit an Attorney General “job application,” back in 2017, in the form of an unsolicited memo opining that the Mueller investigation was improper and that the president is, for all practical purposes, immune to prosecution? He had to know this would ingratiate him in the mind of a president who, at the time, had only Twitter derision on offer for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And as we know, Mr. Sessions was not long in the job thereafter.

Was it so that once he attained the job of running the Department of Justice he could effectively quash the special counsel’s report? It would seem so, given his highly controversial “interpretation” of the report as “exonerating” the president from any possible charges of obstruction of justice (controversial because we now see, even in the highly redacted version provided by Barr, that it does no such thing). Not content to “sweeten the well” with his nearly fact-free “summary” of the report (which contains not so much as one complete sentence from the report), he also made the highly unusual gesture of holding a press conference on the day of its release. This was apparently to explain away the president’s attempts at obstruction using the novel (and bizarre) “Kavanaugh” doctrine. That is, the president’s “emotionally driven” attempts to get others to end or undermine Mueller’s efforts–then in some cases firing them if they refused — were understandable given the highly partisan pressure he was under since day one of this presidency. In other words, who wouldn’t attempt to subvert the Constitution, who wouldn’t try to slow the progress of justice, when it was this same  justice that had been bearing down on one so relentlessly for so long? Who indeed.

But why would Barr do that?  Why would he venture beyond mere flattery and submissive/sycophantic rhetoric to willingly putting himself on the list of those actors who, in the end, may be found to have aided a presidential law-breaker? Surely Barr knows that although Nixon walked away from his crimes, Dean and Haldeman and  the rest did some time.

As always, there is an answer, and the answer is that Barr himself has a personal interest in permanently shelving the results of the special counsel’s inquiry. According to an April 15 article by Cristina Maza in Newsweek: “This much is known: On Barr’s public financial disclosure report, he admits to working for a law firm that represented Russia’s Alfa Bank and for a company whose co-founders allegedly have long-standing business ties to Russia. What’s more, he received dividends from Vector Group, a holding company with deep financial ties to Russia.”

Remember Alfa Bank? The Russian Oligarch-controlled entity that was found to somehow be in regular, secret communication with the Trump campaign’s server located in Trump Tower back in 2016? Barr worked for the firm that represents Alfa right up to his confirmation. And as for the Vector Group, according to Maza, “The company’s president, Howard Lorber, brought Trump to Moscow in the 1990s to seek investment projects there. The trip is widely seen as the first of many attempts to establish a Trump Tower in Moscow.” And Don Jr. is said to have been communicating with Lorber as recently as during the 2016 campaign (when, we recently learned, contrary to their earlier claims the Trump’s organization was still talking to Russian interests about the proposed Moscow project).

As with so many other Trump “associates” we’ve known, in the end it doesn’t take much digging to connect the dots that connect William Barr to the same Russian financial and government interests that were so famously represented at the Trump Tower meeting attended by Don Jr., Jared, Manafort and, of course, Russian operatives waaaay back in the olden days of 2016. What is difficult to understand is how none of this came up during Barr’s “lightning round” Senate confirmation.

Then again, it’s not as if rife incompetence,  disdain for democratic norms, not to mention fear, naked self-interest and shameless self-promotion only pervade the one half of Congress. There’s more than enough of that disease infecting both parties’ representatives on Capitol Hill, not just in the White House these days. This is not to mention the newly politicized, Garland-free Supreme Court. We seem to have drifted completely away from the idea of actual accountability and this quaint old notion called rule of law, toward an endless parade of grandstanding, toward tiresome identity politics mixed with careful political maneuvering, toward basic acquisition of power for one’s own tribe, for one’s own selfish purposes and one’s own exclusive ideology.

Trump likes to trade in “Game of Thrones” memes, because he sees American society and American government in the stark transactional terms he learned in the bare-knuckle world his family inhabits–one of conquest, dominance and submission of the type that pervade that HBO fantasy. It is a strongman’s world where one’s reputation is forged not by one’s character or actions but by one’s ability to control or successfully manipulate  the actions and words of others toward one’s own advantage. “Rules” and “law”—”ethics”—those are for the powerless, for weak ineffective nobodies to worry about. But while TV shows come and go, the question for the rest of us—as Trump collects his campaign fortune, builds his base and secures his independence from a weak and feckless Congress, as he secures the courts—is whether we citizens want our elected representatives to play their roles as if they are starring in a winner-take-all TV game. Because they are playing their game in our real world, and it appears playing for keeps. It seems to me the question is being answered for us, by people who’ve forgotten how to represent us, people who’ve abandoned the idea of governing and now settle for the chance to win their portion of the tawdry spoils of our pointless internecine war.

Rather than effectively represent the interests of those who put them in office, or even simply uphold the rule of law on which this society was founded, our so-called leaders and “arbiters of justice” appear content to act as low-level players in a greedy simpleton’s lawless, zero-sum game.

This is Your October Surprise

Feeling paralyzed by the endless string of horrific events, deranged world-views, endless lies, and soul-killing policies? Feeling powerless? If so, then their plan is working. It’s how every fascist movement works–by intimidation and a constant wearing down of a weary electorate.

You have one great power left – use it now.

Coming on the heels of last week’s right-wing mail bomb terror campaign conducted against the president’s declared enemies, the race-hatred murders this week of two African Americans out shopping and eleven Jews practicing their faith–this is your October surprise. The president’s bid to upend the Constitution by fiat is just the kicker, timed to exploit these events for maximum hate-mongering.

Blame is meaningless. VOTE accordingly. You can vote for reason, or you can vote for white nationalist authoritarianism unleashed on a soon-to-be-former democratic republic.

There is no equivalence. Unless you consider it a crisis of law (or even formal Democratic party policy) that a few unhinged leftist protesters have verbally harassed public officials in elevators and restaurants, or that a few anti-fascist rebels meeting the “fine people” with swastikas on their helmets in mutual battle is a crisis of law—unless you believe that lie–you know from documented events that only one “side” is conducting a coordinated war on American norms and values, ginning up white paranoia and spreading bald-faced lies for political gain,  then refusing to respond when their lies are corrected by the press.

Only one side’s populist figurehead is exhorting racial animus and fanning its flames at Nuremberg-style populist rallies soaked in hate–and has been for years. Only one side’s figurehead tried for eight years to spread “birtherism” nonsense about an African-American president, convincing a sizeable (racist) portion of  the country that the president was “not a real American”–not because of where he was born, but because he is black.

Only one side’s figurehead is celebrating political violence and hate speech at these rallies, later reading condemnations of the same, in a listless monotone, a teleprompter’s canned words rather than his own, when such violence is carried out in his name. These condemnations are read in that slow, robotic manner as if to impart the coded message that “They’re making me say this snowflake stuff – for now”. And for all that, such statements are usually undermined quickly with an impromptu speech from the “heart” [sic] that erases any vestiges of human feeling that might have been found in the original statement prepared by his handlers. Because the president does not really believe in mercy or tolerance or sympathy–these are the qualities of the weak. He believes only in strength, power, and dominance over one’s enemies. 

Only one side is characterizing refugees fleeing violence and crippling poverty as some kind of military invasion requiring a military response. This tactic supports American white nationalist/neo-Nazi philosophy as promulgated through “Storm Front” and other hate groups—i.e., that multicultural Democrats led by “globalist” Jews like George Soros are organizing immigrants/refugees to “take over” the US and wipe out the “white race,” whatever that is. It matters not that the president’s son-in-law is a Jew; Jared and the kids are safe in the White House, and the president believes he can “use” such support to maintain his power–the only thing that matters–which is why he has praised white supremacists and neo-Nazis as “good people” and recently referred to himself as a “_____ Nationalist” (fill in the blank). He does not waste time pondering how the cavalier political use–and social elevation–of dangerous shadow groups dedicated to mayhem steeped in anti-Semitism may affect–or in the case of this week, how it has affected–the lives of “ordinary” American Jews.

Only one side is ignoring the Constitution in its pursuit of power, threatening extra-Constitutional executive orders and legislation to strip Americans of the rights they are born with. Only one side abrogated their duty under the Constitution by ignoring a Supreme Court nomination by the sitting president in order to steal that seat for Republicans. Only one side is seeking to disenfranchise minority voters and actively suppressing their right to vote, then defending this criminality as a remedy for a proven-to-be-fake “voter fraud” crisis they refuse to acknowledge is fake (because they don’t want to). Only one side is ignoring the clanging alarm bells of global climate change in favor of the next quarter’s balance sheet. Only one side risks bankrupting the nation with irresponsible, unnecessary tax cuts, transferring over a trillion dollars in (borrowed) wealth from ordinary citizens’ future earnings to their ultra-wealthy donors who prop them up in Congress. Only one side is systematically dismantling women’s access to reproductive health care bit by bit–endangering millions of non-wealthy women’s lives–all in the name of “life”. Only one side is publicly calling the other side “evil” and “corrupt” at its figurehead’s political rallies. Only one side’s frothing arena denizens scream “LOCK THEM UP” about former US leaders and the press, indeed about any and all political opponents the figurehead cares to name, people guilty of no crime save being a political threat to the promised new order. Only one side’s figurehead is fomenting widespread mistrust of the free press in favor of his proven lies. Only one side is encouraging the belief that the free press is the “enemy of the people.”

This is not a culture war with two “sides” seeking political advantage. This is an assault by a white nationalist insurgency, which has captured a major political party and, with help from America’s geopolitical foes, installed a selfish, uncaring, willfully ignorant narcissist figurehead in the White House. It is an assault by a powerful, paranoid minority on the principles and institutions of the United States, a group that has decided the only way to preserve white power is to bring about an end to democratically administered rule of law via a “post-truth” philosophy of white hegemony at all costs. They mouth support for the “rule of law” only in regard to laws they like, laws that restrict freedoms rather than grant them. The first and fourteenth amendments are suspect. Non-corporate speech should be “controlled,” mosques “monitored,” protests “outlawed”. Citizenship is fluid, not defined by the Constitution; it is to be defined by them once power is consolidated. Laws enacted by the “evil” Democrats and bench legislation from “activist” (i.e. liberal/moderate) judges are suspect. The very truth of the law is suspect–their may be “alternative facts” to support another interpretation of its plain words.

Reason and fealty to the law are not their priorities–the constant lying about what the law is demonstrates this. They are driven by fear–fear of the “other”, fear of retribution at the hands of those they now oppress and relegate to the margins of society, a fear stoked daily by their former reality show star and leader, fear that has–as it has in so many places in the past–metastasized into a deep hatred of all who oppose them. And wherever this philosophy of a “strongman” who will protect Us from Them presides or looms large–be it Russia, North Korea, Poland, Hungary, Brazil, the Philippines or anywhere else–they find fast friends. Where freedom reigns–Canada, the EU, Japan, France, Germany–they see the enemy.

The other “side”—though nearly powerless at this point—is simply trying to stop them. No amount of threats, ridicule, sarcasm, lies or “whataboutism” changes these truths. One side is trying to destroy what we are and remake us in the fear-mongering, hate-filled, paranoid image of their irrational, ignorant, lying reality show star. The other is trying to preserve our freedoms and our dignity, and to prevent this descent into authoritarian nationalism. It is not a Republican thing. It is not a Democrat thing. It is an American thing.

Don’t vote like a party member. Vote like an American–like a Pennsylvania Jew at worship or an African-American out shopping. Vote like an American Muslim whose mosque was burned down. Vote like a journalist, caged in Trump’s arena with thousands mocking you, threatening you for telling the truth about their golden calf. Vote like a poor working single mother with a pre-existing condition. Vote like a senior depending on Medicare. Vote like a refugee fleeing violence, locked in a cage, your children locked in another cage, a “kinder” cage. Vote like your life depends on the outcome. Because it does. 

Another Day on the Edge

Mobsters are comfortable under pressure. By definition, they are used to high-risk scenarios where they could either win big or go down in flames. Just another day for them. In fact, because of their personalities and backgrounds, they tend to enjoy the pressure, because they know that for them it’s like a star athlete’s muscle memory, not a debilitating factor but an advantage – the pressure only rattles amateurs.

But for the rest of us, the average folks, having the fate of the world dangling by a thread every other week is not fun, it’s not exciting, it’s just kind of nauseating. Because unlike them we don’t have anything to gain, really, but we still have everything to lose. We lose if the mob wins, because we know that no matter what it may look like on the outside, it’s the chaos of amoral greed  on the inside. It’s a slow-motion heist. It’s a grand con.

It can’t last, they know it, and as learned mobsters they will simply grab all they can before the alarms go off. If they’re lucky, they’ll manage to muffle the alarms and just get gone with the goods, leaving the rest of us holding the bag. That bag will have been emptied. As we speak, they’re grabbing the last few bundles of c-notes out of the bottom and stuffing them into their jacket pockets. The car is at the curb, running, the driver white-knuckling the gear shift knob. I think I hear sirens in the distance.

 

 

How Do You Like Your Blue Eyed Boy Mr. Death?

(Reposted from icky Facebook)

Regarding Pete Ricketts, our bloodthirsty “Catholic” governor, and his pious [sic] God the Father Joe Ricketts: you both can feel good today about having put to death a helpless prisoner of the state for no reason other than that you desperately wanted to. You did it despite a legislative veto override by usurping the legislature’s constitutional authority to make law. You spent hundreds of thousands of dollars – of your own money and ours – to do it.

You did it despite the courts ordering you to divulge the source of your illegally obtained drugs, an order you never obeyed because it would have legitimized the lawsuits brought against you by the drug companies you stole your death drugs from. You broke the law to do it. You admitted the drugs you are using were improperly (and incompetently) stored at room temperature and may be corrupted – you did it anyway.

You did it despite your faith’s universal condemnation of the death penalty – in all cases – calling this church doctrine “the pope’s opinion,” which you somehow “respect” but ignore, thus demonstrating your defiance of your faith’s commandments when they do not fit your agenda. In fact, you did it despite your membership in a diocese group that pledges fealty to the pope’s teachings (time to resign from that one). You did it despite the last-minute pleadings of your Bishops, your Priests, your Sisters – despite the desperate pleadings of some 600 clergy, in fact, comprising the bulk of the Catholic faith community in Nebraska. You did it despite pleas from tens of thousands of ordinary Nebraskans.

You did it despite the academic community having soundly debunked your garbage theories on “deterrence,” which you know have always been garbage theories.

You have no reasoning to stand on. You are not reasonable.

In the end, you did it for one selfish reason: to demonstrate that you arbitrarily wield the power of life and death over us powerless peasants. And you believe if you can hold that terrible power over us, you hold complete power over us. You can kill the state’s prisoners—or not kill them—for your sport, for now, and that probably feels like the ultimate power, like the power of God. But we all know how history ultimately treats would-be tyrants who ignore their conscience, abuse their powers and defy the law they were elected to uphold. It’s too late for justice – vengeance has owned the day. But I believe that one day, justice will be served.

And you won’t like how that feels.