The News Conference

I think what he’s trying to say is that climate change is a Chinese hoax, the Ukraine and Democrats rigged the 2016 election for Hillary, this virus thing is a Democrat take-down attempt, the Stock Market has been in freefall because Democrats and the “enemy of the people” NYT and Democrats are evil Democrats tell Democrat lies destroy the country Democrats want millions to die just go to work you’ll get better Hillary Obama Soros Bernie Chinese Impeachment hoax should get the nomination Schumer Pelosi false teeth Burisma Bernie not Biden Hunter Lyndsey Rudy Russia are you listening to the impeachment hoax no quid pro collusion biggest hands ever and the election victory historic ’cause the mall was packed inauguration bigger than Obama tapped my phone crooked Hillary e-mails Melania’s a ten Obama where’s your birth certificate anyway Kenya shit-hole 3 million illegal Mexicans voting for her massing at the border an INFESTATION I know all about viruses it’s like a cold latest hoax it is nearly contained because fake tan hair teeth brain healthiest president to ever serve hamburders most successful presidency ever in millions of years your favorite president fake news stable genius flush the toilet 20 times tariff windfall coffers exploding trade deficit bad bad bad crafty Xi biggest tax cut in the universe “very low IQ person” shit-hole Baltimore racist civil rights hero stupid Maxine what have you got to lose? top advisers and fixers in jail ’cause Cohen’s DISLOYAL but not Roger Stone punch up counter punch how’d ya like a nice Hawaiian I like heroes who aren’t captured so cover that boat name he’s in Hell they’ll follow my illegal odors I think I’m the chief law enforcement water board the shit out of them blood coming out of her whatever rat-infested “urban centers” you can’t die from the flu I gave those veterans the money and the kids cancer charity too naked Miss Teen America it’s my right and when you’re famous they’ll let you do it anything I want as president no you can’t see my taxes Two Corinthians am I right Franklin? I’m a nationalist Mexican judges born in Michigan can’t be fair Trump University drugs and rapists Muslim ban and killers maybe some good people too I don’t know on both sides Secret Service Mar-a-Lago $550 a night that’s fair and balanced #MAGA I heart dictators Kim we fell in love and Putin never lies why would he? And neither do I said “wouldn’t” at Helsinki but the Washington Post and CNN and never Trumpers Cryin’ Chuck and Crazy Nancy Shifty Adam Shitt Pocahontas sad because they’re losers it was a perfect call NOBODY testifies and NO BREAKING RANKS counterpunch and whatabout that guy who shot Scalise fast and furious Solara pizzagate Benghazi FBI SCUM traitor Sessions “Justice” Dept intelligence my ass sons of bitches stand up for my song better go back to school deep state conspiracy CIA never-ever-Trumpers push me out and my friends in law enforcement and the biker gangs Breitbart and Fox who knows nobody wants it but maybe we’ll have a civil war it could happen probably not would be a shame but overturn the vote and I know more about it than anyone only the best people tweet you’re fired droned blown to bits whimpering like a dog so lonely stable genius with only my phone and no one to hold my little hand.

A Republic—If We Can Keep It

I hope Democrats (I’m not one) and their allies (I am one) will be at least somewhat rational about the primary process and, to the extent it’s possible here in MoneyWorld®, let the voters decide who their candidate will be. As we watch centrist candidates leave the race and coalesce around Joe Biden, we are not watching a “conspiracy” to deny someone else the nomination. We are watching the political process, messy as it may be, which involves people with like minds working together and coming together to advance their agenda, and to do so behind the person they see as best able to help them do that. As a very wise person said, your vote is not a love letter – it’s a contract offer. We vote for the best flawed candidate, or if it comes to it the least-worst flawed candidate. Name-calling and other hateful rhetoric is not  helpful to the process (although it’s helpful to the opposition party). The media reporting the heretofore obscure facts of a candidate’s history when they have earned that level of scrutiny accorded to the front runner is not a “hit job.” It’s unfettered journalism. It’s the Fourth Estate, itself flawed as it has always been but still a vital component of any democracy.

Facts are not enemies or traitors, as the one in the White House would have it. They are just facts.

We are in a populist era. I don’t consider that a good thing — it’s the ideology that brought the current administration and it’s damaging agenda into being, the notion that “I alone” can fix everything, like some modern-day Messiah. Bullshit. Nothing difficult politically is ever achieved by one person alone.

But popular ideas, as opposed to populist politicians, have a way of overlapping party lines and developing a staying power that can’t be denied. Abolition, the national parks, anti-trust laws, the EPA, the end of the Vietnam atrocity: all brought into being by Republicans under popular pressure. And of course it was the Democrats of old who upheld slavery, then Jim Crow, then redlining and school segregation: until popular pressure largely ended these practices. (Yes there’s still a long road ahead on this, and there’s no irony in the fact that it’s now Democrats who lead the way against a newly Republican Solid South.)

Unless this society slides from populism into authoritarian rule — and that remains a distinct danger — what this democratic society really wants will not be denied by any party or any interest group, nor by the intransigence of their entrenched infrastructures or party leaders. It might not happen tomorrow, or next year. But if we insist it happen, it will happen. I believe that.

Does this mean America wanted Donald Trump? No. The Electoral College wanted Donald Trump. And for that matter, it was not the people who put George W. Bush in office — it was a right-wing Supreme Court majority. Things to fix if we can, among many others.

It’s only natural and right to want the fair society you want. I know this society is miles and miles away from the one I would want, and I’m not foolish enough to think it will become a utopia any time soon. But in this ongoing experiment in self-rule, at least for now, you and yours have one tool, your votes. If you don’t have the collective votes to get exactly what you want, or the platform to get more of those votes, it’s not the fault of others earnestly striving for a similar vision. (But by all means–keep trying. Keep pushing. That’s what this whole thing is about.)

What’s the alternative to self-government, democratic traditions and the rule of law? Rule by the  loudest and angriest, by those most ignorant of history, by those most talented at whipping up a mob? Not if I can help it. 

Fate’s Blueprint: The New Populism

For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. – T.S. Eliot

They will call it “the new Populism”, comparing Sanders in the early 2000s to Nebraska’s own William Jennings Bryan a century earlier. Bryan was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1896, with his surprise nomination bringing many of his “Populist Party” supporters flooding into the ranks of the Democratic party. Bryan’s nomination was in fact a populist repudiation of incumbent Grover Cleveland and his “Bourbon Democrats” (i.e., the business-allied Democratic establishment). 

Of course, Bryan lost to Republican William McKinley in 1896, but he had become well-known nationally as a fiery public orator, galvanizing his followers with his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, and pretty much inventing the extended cross-country stumping tour (which Teddy Roosevelt copied, Truman also exploited to great effect with his “whistle stop” tour, and which right-wing populist Donald Trump has effectively adopted as his “permanent campaign” approach to the presidency). 

The Democrats put Bryan up against McKinley again in 1900, believing their anti-imperialism stance would galvanize his populist following. And Bryan lost again. 

But by 1904, progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt had been in office a few years (after McKinley’s 1901 assassination), and with his support for anti-trust activism and widespread reforms he beat the Democrats’ new “Hail Mary” conservative nominee (Alton Parker) handily, thus rehabilitating Bryan’s stature among Democrats. Because by this time, the national popular  opinion had swung toward Bryan’s/Roosevelt’s ideas, such that after the 1904 election both parties were embracing the progressive reforms that had been championed by Bryan and his populist zealots for years. (In fact Bryan was once again the Democratic presidential candidate in 1908.) 

As usual, I think history has a lesson for us here – and it’s echoed in the words of T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets, in a line I recently heard quoted by a brilliant man and poet at the University of Nebraska commencement. “For us,” Eliot wrote, “there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” With this quote, the speaker was telling the new graduates that unlike in our favorite movie endings, the good will not always be ultimately ascendant or triumphant. But that is not our shame, nor is it even our defeat. As individuals we are not responsible for the broad shapes that form the contours of the tides of history; we are not responsible for the victories of the undeserving. Rather, it is our sole responsibility to TRY on behalf of the greater good—here and now. 

Because sometimes, false prophets and immoral agendas will command the world’s stage despite the efforts of good people to contain them. Power is their only goal, so these people will then do whatever it takes, regardless of law or morality, to consolidate and cement their gains. They will then try to convince us morally inclined nobodies that there’s no use resisting their power, that we are impotent and alone in the dark, that we have lost and they have won. But there is no victory more fleeting than political victory. Immoral times produce their inevitable disastrous outcomes, yes, and then it is left to us morally inclined nobodies to pick up the pieces. But whatever the outcome this time, we will know that we, as individuals of conscience, did what we could to try to make the world a better place for all. That is our only responsibility. 

Our lives and our worth are not defined by the era we live in, they are defined by how we live in our era. Like a batter at the plate or a pitcher on the mound, or a poet with his pen: whether we are successful or not, the job is always the same. To try. 

L’État N’est Pas Nous

Here’s the thing about political power in America in 2020, from a pragmatist/realist viewpoint: 

When you hold as much power as the Republican Party currently does, you hold the actual levers of power in this country – Congressional, Executive, and Judicial power. Rather than a representative government, where a Congressman or Senator works on behalf of constituents, the government begins to revolve around this party’s central power base, to which these so-called representatives must show fealty. The party becomes the power. And when the interests of this small power base clash with the interests of the people, the politicians of this party who side with the people become  apostates, they are banished from the halls of power. As we’ve seen, no current member of the party in power has the wherewithal to defy the power base. And therefore the people hold no power.

As we are witnessing this week, it becomes difficult-to-impossible for a small majority in one half of one branch of government to hold the other party to account when that party, basking in its power,  decides it is not subject to the Constitution’s accountability measures—its so-called “checks and balances”.  

That is our American irony. No one is interested in checking or balancing their own power.

In this situation, the pejorative “above the law” can cease to be a pejorative from the perspective of the few who wield the vast power undergirding law and its enforcement. “Létat,” the French king said, “c’est moi.” The law becomes what they say the law is. It exists to serve them, not to restrain them. In the common tongue, the question being posed by a party whose primary long-term goal is to retain and consolidate that power into permanence is, “Who’s gonna stop us?” We are witnessing the answer to that question this week. That is, we are watching a proceeding called a “trial”, the outcome of which — acquittal — we already know. It is assured. Because a power advantage, not facts or law, will determine that outcome.

“We have the vote”, we say, but who are “we”? One party is steadily gathering to itself the power over who votes, and how, and where, and in what gerrymandered district. I submit that a newly emboldened narcissist madman, with fresh confirmation that he can do “whatever he wants as president”, will have his people get right to work on expanding that advantage (with welcome help from his friends in the East). They will choose which voters they want to vote, and if your profile matches those on the other side, or even those on the fence–they won’t choose you. 

They vote in Russia. They vote in Iran. Those bastions of democracy. But only the approved candidate wins. Remember the last “election” for Saddam Hussein? Iraqi officials declared Saddam had been re-elected by a 100% unanimous vote of all 11,445,638 eligible Iraqi citizens.

I’m just figuring this out for myself, not preaching. I am over the shock of this realization. I’m neither Democrat nor Republican, I feel no hatred or need for vengeance, though I do feel some pity and disgust at unchanging human nature. At this moment I feel, maybe for the first time, that Martin Luther King’s optimism for the future of America was misplaced. It appears that the arc he spoke of does not, in the end, bend towards justice. It bends toward greed and malice. And that seems to be the way the minority of this society, clinging to power by whatever means necessary, wants it.

I’ve always been an observer first, and I have no illusions regarding the extent of my own political power, which is negligible (like any American who is not very wealthy or in office).  I am aware that even my presidential vote (thanks to the antiquated Electoral College) is powerless. I am aware that power in this country, rather than resting with the people as the old document says, rests with those ravenous and ruthless enough to crave it beyond the pale of all moral or legal restraint. And that is not me.

And so the question hangs unanswered in the air – who’s gonna stop them? 

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?