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.

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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.

 

 

End the Charade

It’s time for journalists to stop pretending the president doesn’t know what he’s doing – that his egregious policies are somehow “blunders” or based on a faulty understanding of how the world works.

That’s a cop-out. I don’t believe that. I think the president knows exactly what he’s doing: he’s weakening this nation economically (stupid tariffs) and in the eyes of its allies (stupid NATO belligerence), and undermining the rule of law (attacks on the Justice Dept.) all while cozying up to dictators (Kim, Putin, Xi)  with whom he identifies and shares values like strength and dominance over enemies (so many enemies). The president is not “ignorant” about democratic traditions and principles (like telling the truth or not enriching oneself via federal office, for example). No, he is simply antagonistic towards them. Whether this is based on learning, persuasion or his famous “instincts” does not matter. He is the anti-American president and he’s not shy about that. His supporters rejoice when he pardons criminals like Joe Arpaio and the insurrectionist ranchers. They don’t like the government, and neither does he.

Instead of “explaining” to the president how his policies threaten the very core of this society, journalists should start asking WHY the president and his allies in Congress are taking positions and implementing policies that threaten this society. The question they must answer: Why are you hurting your own society?

  • We have a trade war with zero stated goals or expected outcomes. Why? Why have a trade war and not say what you want? Vague accusations of “unfairness” are not something the Chinese can work with, especially when the stick (tariffs) is wielded before even attempting the carrot (negotiations). For that matter, there are no established lines of communication or designated teams on either the US or Chinese  side dedicated to negotiations from here on – all we have is the war. For what reason do you start a trade war – one that is sure to damage your own economy – when you have no stated demands which, if met by China, would end the war? One answer: the president is simply doing what he can, with the tools he has, to cripple the American economy.
  • We have repeated accusations that NATO countries aren’t “paying their fair share” – likening the countries of Europe to Trump’s deadbeat apartment tenants in Queens. Over and over, the president repeats the lie that NATO countries are “delinquent” when they are no such thing. The 2% GDP defense spending goal was just that – a goal. Not a commitment, not enforceable by any means, and most certainly not an amount “owed” to the president or anyone else. The 2% goal was a shared policy goal among sovereign democracies, not a “promise” to the United States. Why do we allow the president to keep pretending he does not know this?  It’s a simple thing to learn, and for my part I don’t believe he does NOT know this. He is simply using this lie as an excuse to do the dirty work of tearing down a post-WW2 alliance that has kept Europe (and America) protected from Russian expansionist policies for decades. He is actively weakening the alliance for no reason that could possibly help America or Western societies in general. Why? And who DOES it help when NATO is weakened?
  • As for the Justice Department – is America ready to concede that our own Justice Department is a secret society of Hillary worshipers and Deep State luminaries who “really” run the department for the sole purpose of continuing Obama-era policies and de-legitimizing the icky Republican president for purely partisan reasons? After firing FBI director James Comey for the stated reason that he was “thinking about the Russia investigation” (this is obstruction of justice, for those interested), the president has proceeded on a “witch hunt” of his own, transforming an obedient, feckless Congress into his own personal Spanish Inquisition bent on prosecuting a “corrupt” Justice Department. Yes, as the Mueller investigation racks up confessions, indictments and guilty pleas from the president’s campaign staff, the Justice Department overseeing that investigation is all of a sudden a quagmire of corruption and lies requiring Congress to intervene and “fix” it. That’s right. The president and his crew, under multiple investigations which have turned up multiple instances of criminal wrongdoing threatening the very existence of this nation –they are the ones being persecuted. It is the Justice Department and the FBI that are now criminal, because of course in this scenario, where they are piling up the evidence against you – they have to be. This is what’s known in lawyer circles as “putting the police on trial.” When your client is obviously guilty, you find a way of making the police look even more guilty by virtue of the methods they used to uncover and prosecute your wrongdoing. And abuse of power, you know, is much more serious an offense than – what – having a conversation or two with some Russian friends who just want to help both nations break through this silly Crimea annexation sanctions business and start making deals? And when you have a devoted throng of willfully ignorant followers in Congress and at your endless “love me” rallies (who hate your new enemies as much as you do, they just need you to point them out), it’s even easier to make the prosecution of your illegal behavior look like a partisan smear job. But again, it is incumbent on us to ask: Why destroy the American public’s faith in its institutions devoted to the rule of law just to provide cover to a president whose campaign for office was a hotbed of criminal traitorous activity, a man who lies to the American public every single day and will continue doing so? How is that a trade-off that ‘s good for the nation? Or if it’s not good for this nation, who IS it good for?

 

Divided We Stand

I was going to link to an Omaha World-Herald article here, but now can’t find the confounded thing. It’s an article by Erin Grace, a great reporter. But she was apparently given the assignment to write about the “common ground” between conservative and progressive neighbors in the Field Club area as they prepare for their non-political July 4th parade. What she found there were a progressive gay couple who try not to talk politics with their clients, and a Republican woman who is a stay-at-home mom (and she recycles). Her husband, a more politically active Republican, wasn’t home. Also, they were interviewed separately, not together. Hm.

 

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The article was an earnest attempt at completing the writing assignment, so why did it just make me more pessimistic about this society’s future? Maybe because the very few (3) subjects in this article really don’t represent the enormous gulf that has opened up between those of us who want a compassionate government and those who want a Trump-style regime of fear and intimidation. The two progressive men seem reasonable enough, to be sure – they are tolerant of their conservative clientele and “listen” more than talk with them. Who wouldn’t? And the “conservative” woman (who recycles?) seems normal enough – but of course her “politically active” conservative husband wasn’t available for comment. What would he have to say?

So – three Omaha neighbors, none of them straight white males, trying to put on a no-politics parade, working hard trying not to hate one another. Good stuff. But what if the journalist went beyond the niceties and started asking the progressive guys how they feel about kids in cages at the border? About the EPA being run by a flagrant criminal who hates the EPA? About Flint or Puerto Rico? Trump-Putin “summit” coming up and zero action on Russian election meddling? The millions of tax dollars being spent each month at Trump golf courses? The $82 million Jared and Ivanka made last year as “administration officials”? Continued insults to our allies and continued praise for dictators like Kim, Putin, Xi, Duterto? The economy-killing Trump trade war? Or how about the administration ignoring Pride Month, weakening LGBTQ legal protection, and trying to rid the military of trans people?

And how would the “conservative” woman defend these policies and this president? Would she defend them? We’ll never know. Perhaps it was incumbent on the World-Herald to go out and find some real Trumpers to provide the (civil?) “counterpoint” to the gay men’s politics of inclusion and tolerance (or even the Republican woman’s recycling)? I’m sure that a true Omaha Trumper (there are thousands out there) would have had a full-throated response consisting of lively arguments supporting the Trump agenda. They would also have let the reporter know exactly how they feel about liberal gay people and their wedding cakes, and I’m gonna go out on a limb here and predict that their defense of the administration and their ideas on liberals would not sound like “civility” to anyone not on board the Trump train. Go find some of those Nebraska boys in the MAGA hats “rollin’ coal” with their modified diesel trucks—the anti-environmentalists this state is famous for–sticking it to the libtards in their rice-burning Priuses. Or you could go to Lincoln and interview that Nazi student. Or if that’s too tough, just go talk to the governor and his cronies in the legislature. They’ll be happy to tell you what’s wrong with liberals and Democrats, and that they really ought to just keep quiet and leave the running of Nebraska to the GOP patriots.

The problem, I guess, is that the reporter was sent to interview “liberals” and “conservatives” about tolerance and partisanship. They left out the group actually running the country — the Trumpers.

America

It’s like when a loved one dies. Maybe you saw it coming, trying to prepare, but then it just rushes up into reality and becomes real and undeniable much more quickly than you were ready for: they are dead, and they are never coming back. Rest in Peace.

You look outside the window of the hospital waiting room after the team of doctors quietly leaves – the sun is shining, birds are singing, in the streets people come and go, traffic lights blink on and off. Why? Why does everything insist on continuing when your world is crushed like this? Everything should stop, and mourn with you. Because things will never be the same.

But it won’t stop. The world is the world, a machine, it runs even when we are broken down. It will run and run. Maybe it will do some recognizable things – day, night, winter, spring. But we’ll be different, changed, having lost some part of us we can’t really define, though we know it was an important part. The reality we occupied is gone, killed by a disease we are powerless to fight alone. And right now we all feel terribly alone.

It’s gone. It’s not coming back.

Rest in Peace.

Contest of Wills? No, a Developing Constitutional Crisis

The news is so frustrating. The media – out for ratings, just like the reality show star in the White House – portray our developing constitutional crisis as some kind of battle royal between two outsized personalities. The sense we get from the media is that we’re watching the trash-talking preliminaries of a heavily anticipated title match (although, of course, only one party to the fight is engaging in the trash talk). The idea is that we’ll have this big battle, and the winner will take all as he is showered with accolades by his loyal fans. The loser will vow to rise again, saying “wait till next year”. Then it will all be over, and we will shut off the TV and go to bed, satisfied that it was a very exciting man-to-man contest.

But that’s not what’s happening, not at all. What’s happening is we have a secretive, lying, cult-like, bullying, paranoid, ignorant, truth-averse, and very likely criminal gang squatting uneasily on what should be a presidential administration. They fear the revelations of truth and the application of the law so much, they and their co-conspirators in Congress appear willing to go above the law, to exercise raw power in challenging hundreds of years of legal and institutional precedent, in order to protect themselves and their cash cow – what the rest of us call the federal government. Anyone who threatens to reveal the truth they eliminate if they can, or try to intimidate into silence if they can’t (yet). They are not administrators, they are a modern day confederation of mobsters. They are looters and anarchists who demonstrate on a daily basis their utter contempt for the rule of law and for our democracy’s institutional norms.

Should they prevail, there will be no “next year” for this republic and its few dedicated defenders. We know how the “five families” ended up in the long run – they took everyone else down with them.

And opposed to them, we have a dedicated REPUBLICAN war veteran and prosecutor of lawbreakers, an administrator of justice, who has served honorably and with distinction for decades under Republican and Democratic presidential administrations alike (real ones). He runs an experienced legal team working quietly, professionally, humbly and methodically in the cause of justice.  The team has already secured guilty pleas from several of the administration’s former foot soldiers and lieutenants. There will be more. But, as opposed to the unhinged daily stream-of-consciousness tweets (mostly lies and fabrications) from the reality show star, their story is as yet untold. Seizing on that legally and procedurally necessary information vacuum, the mob attempts to explain the character of the investigation  to us as a witch hunt (without explaining to us why a Republican career legal professional would conduct a witch hunt against a presumably innocent Republican president).

The media should stop pretending this is a contest of wills devoid of legal or moral context. Based on all we’ve seen and heard, this is people at the top levels of government—in concert with an antagonistic foreign power and self-aggrandizing criminal leak weasel–attempting to bring down this republic and everything it stands for. They do it all in the name of ego and personal gain, allied with the most ignorant and self-serving among our citizens, their hallmarks being contempt for truth, ethics, morality, justice, or any other admirable quality that exhibits even the smallest trace of human decency.

Saint Putin

I keep encountering people who seem to think Putin is some kind of heart-pure Diogenes, coming on American TV and telling us how screwed up our system is, and how our political system is the SOLE reason for all our problems. Never mind that he was actually here, as is his and the KGB’s tradition, to rub it in for his own amusement (and his people’s). He’s to be admired by Americans now. Because Megyn Kelly (or whatever her name is) sat there dumbstruck (emphasis on dumb) while he rattled off a string of spying/meddling/etc. accusations (which are true for both countries, of course, not just the US).

So for the record: Putin denies any and all involvement in the 2016 campaign (which is a denial of documented fact). He – in a Trumpian move – instead offers up that it is YOU who are guilty of (insert crimes here). I guess he showed us! Just not with any evidence.

We seem to have come to a place where Trumpers have had to manipulate their brains into thinking that the president was right when he (under orders)  excoriated the US for its own “evil deeds” whenever Russia’s 2016 Trump campaign (Moscow branch) was brought up. To do this, you also have to believe – Trump-like – that it’s a zero-sum game, that “both countries do it” so “both countries” are equally “evil.” Just two powerhouses duking it out for the spoils, right? To the president, who remains to this day “neutral” on Russia (!) there is no moral question. After all, he just appointed a CIA director who not only willingly tortured American prisoners, but who participated in a cover-up after mistakenly torturing an innocent person. What morality? It’s all about WINNING.

And that is somehow patriotic and in line with traditional Republican attitudes on Russia, yes? That there is a moral equivalence between the Russian kleptocracy/dictatorship and (what’s left of) American democracy? Or, if we’re not equivalent yet – we’ll get there?

Yes. That’s the new patriotism – Putin is all right, just looking after his “Russia First” interests, murdering rivals and invading neighbors. This paves the mental pathways for accepting a morally bankrupt president as legitimate. Because in the Trumpian world, everyone’s equally morally bankrupt. And everyone’s legitimate – until proven guilty.