Perspective on unlimited campaign money

Just to make this one perplexing fact about our political system a bit more clear.  

One billion dollars is a thousand million dollars.  It looks like this:  $1,000,000,000.00.    

Mike Bloomberg, for example, has about this amount of money:  $60,000,000,000.00.  

He plans to boldly spend at least $500,000,000.00 in paid campaigning by “Super Tuesday” when more than a dozen states are simultaneously in play, along with 33.8% of delegates nationwide..  He is already closing in on that half billion number, having passed $350,000,000.00 already.  Take out your calculator.

If candidate Bloomberg spends $500,000,000.00 for ads to help him win maximum delegates toward the Democratic presidential nomination on Super Tuesday, what percentage of his fortune does he spend?

Answer:  .0083%   That’s a shade under 1%.   If he felt like spending a billion, that would be 1.66% of his personal fortune.  An unprecedented $5,000,000,000.00 presidential campaign expenditure would be 8.3% of his wealth.

For the equivalent for the “average” citizen, with $10,000 in savings, that $500,000,000 Bloomberg expenditure is $83.   Chump change by any calculation.  If you have $1,000 the equivalent amount would be $8.30 — it would hardly break the bank.  On a personal fortune of $100 it would cost you 83 cents.

I will return to the subject of this vicious weasel-dicked motherfucker on another day.  I heard a pundit say, correctly, that this longtime Republican should be spending his fortune to secure the Republican nomination against Trump.   Mayor Mike knows that would not be possible in the fearful cult of Trump that is currently the Republican party.   So he runs as a Democrat, with the advantages of a fearful populace, a compliant corporate media (and DNC) and unlimited campaign funds, from his own money that he made entirely by himself, with no help from anybody.  

Realpolitik, baby, the name of Mike Bloomberg’s sickening game.   The practical art of attaining and wielding power divorced from moral, ethical, ideological or any other consideration, outside of gaining and maintaining power.  Only in 2020 America, kids.

 

 

 

This is Just the Way it is

Things are just the way they are.  Most people believe that since we’re largely helpless to change even the most oppressive things about our lives, particularly the gigantic ones well beyond our influence, it’s best to simply develop a stoic attitude.   It’s one thing to imagine a better world, it is a much harder thing to figure out how to bring about positive change to bring us closer to that imagined better world.  Best to accept that this is just the way it is, we are powerless to change anything, however ugly and unjust some of the details of it might be.  The best we can do is develop the serenity not to be tortured by injustice, we are taught.

Would the life of the average American be much more secure if nobody had to worry, on top of the fear over a life-threatening health challenge, about going bankrupt and becoming homeless if they get cancer or are grievously injured in a car crash?  Sure, but IT’S SO COMPLICATED!  Jobs lost, destroying lives, gigantic private companies out of business, almost two million jobs for health insurance middlemen and middlewomen lost forever… what if you like your doctor and a socialist death panel doesn’t allow you to see her?  How will socialized medicine work?  Who will decide?  Won’t millions still die while waiting to see a doctor?  Isn’t socialized medicine a disaster everywhere else in the world?  I don’t want to die.  I have good private health insurance, why should I jeopardize that, etc?

I don’t minimize any of these complications.  Those two million people will have to be retrained, and paid while they learn new job skills.   Some could probably be employed by the government administering the program that will be replacing their jobs.  How to make the transition to a better health care system is a real discussion, it will take some hard work to find workable solutions to real problems. Is it unimaginable to live in a country where nobody has to make the unthinkable choice between losing their home and seeking treatment for a deadly disease?  I don’t think so.  Particularly since every other wealthy nation has that kind of system already.

I tend to put much of America’s pessimism about positive change down to the billions spent in the corporate media to convince us that the way things are is simply the inevitable result of freedom in a democracy.   We are influenced by the often pernicious myths we are fed every day, in ads, in the way news stories are presented (what facts and voices are excluded from the conversation), by a skilled group of well-paid talking heads, speaking persuasively over corporate media, telling us how things actually are.  

Listening to this stream of persuasion we come to believe things,  Most of us succumb to this wall of inevitability that is presented to us.  Things like: it is inevitable, of course, that the boldest and the brightest, if they work hard enough, will succeed.    That the accident of your birth will be a huge factor in whether this is true or not will not be mentioned.   Though there is, by objective measure, less social mobility here in the USA than in most other wealthy nations (born poor die poor and born rich die rich are pretty much the rule, with notable famous exceptions that can be cited to “disprove” this rule) we all prefer to believe that the American Dream is attainable by anyone who works hard enough.    You can work very hard at McDonald’s, but the rewards will not be as great as if you are working very hard (or even hardly working) as the youngest executive at your dad’s billion dollar company.  [1]  That’s simply the way it is, the way it has always been, grow up and get over it, loser.

This quickly heating frog soup water we are all marinating in is, to a large extent, the result of irrefutable corporate logic.  Corporations have armies of lawyers and lobbyists, as well as public relations geniuses, making sure that the law favors their profit-driven activities, for reasons the public can understand as philanthropic.   If there is a regulation that will cost a corporation millions to comply with, a team of top shelf lawyers is sent to court to fight its enforcement.  I have a friend who spent his legal career dutifully, and skillfully, fighting this army of lawyers in case after case in federal court.  He went to court over and over to get a judge to order a US government agency to enforce its own laws, in each specific case he was forced to argue.

There was a regulation that stated that a corporation could not engage in this practice (that was destroying a habitat, dumping toxic waste, whatever) without first doing these other things that ensured certain protections for the rest of us.  The corporation had not done these things, the facts made clear.   The law was clear.  So, at the end of litigation, were the loopholes uncovered by the army of corporate lawyers who’d proceed to drive the bulldozers through those loopholes.

We learn, because corporations, unlike us, have no feelings, no conscience, are incapable of moral judgments about anything outside of the best way to increase profits for shareholders, that it is futile to fight these monsters.  Those of us who persist in these kind of draining, one-sided battles, insisting on our “rights” (the express limitations of which are, after all, excruciatingly spelled out in the corporately drawn contracts we are forced to accept) are considered by many to be masochists madly tilting at windmills.   The corporation will almost always win.  Getting the benefit of your bargain with them, if they are intent on shortchanging you, will require superhuman patience and resilience.  Best to avoid!  Take your screwing, go have a nice dinner, go watch a comedy.

The alternative?  The new computer you bought does not perform one essential function?  Call the company, speak to polite men in India, have them run the diagnostic tests on your computer.  Wait for them to tell you that your computer has passed all the required diagnostics.  The problem is not from the “hardware”, it is a “software configuration” problem that is expressly excluded from the warranty.   They will provide a paid service to fix it, if you’d like to be placed on hold to learn more about this service.  You can’t be told the price, because the corporation does not let the technicians at the “out of warranty” department communicate that information to the warranty department.  Why is this feature out of warranty?   We will send you the warranty, sir, you can read its 15,000 tiny words for yourself.  Believe us, sir, we’d like to help, if we could.  And as to the paid service, don’t worry, the paid service is “take it or leave it”, you needn’t pay anything if you don’t like the price.

If you are willing to endure however many hours will be required to solve the problem with your otherwise nifty new computer, you can learn, eventually, that the company was misstating their warranty policy for a brand new computer. As one would hope, everything about the computer, including the configuration of the original software, is under warranty for a certain period.   No need to pay the $239 for premium out of warranty service, $169 for premium limited out of warranty service or even the $129 for a one-time fix.  Not your financial responsibility to pay the company for fixing a bug that came loaded on to their brand new machine.  No need to endure a long, aggravating hold to learn the fixed prices for this service!

Of course, the psychic price you will generally be asked to pay to learn this may be unreasonably high for most people.  I wound up screaming in uncontrollable anguish near the end of an entire frustrating day, mostly on hold, listening either to an annoying loop of upbeat muzak or to endlessly repeated ads for the computer company.   My life was temporarily ruined by my exertions yesterday, in a real sense.  Sekhnet is not talking to so far me today.  Even though the last call of the day came with good news.  My complaint had been escalated, the computer will be fixed free of charge, nobody should have been put through what I was yesterday and the night before.  Apologies all around.

Of course, I had to remember and deploy the word “escalate” before reaching this resolution.  The last supervisor I spoke to, while empathetic and apologetic, was unable to really do anything for me.  She regretted this and apologized again for her inability to be more helpful.   Until I reached into my expanding corporate lexicon and pulled out the magic word “escalate”.  Yes, that was something she could do, she would escalate my complaint.  Shortly after my issue was “escalated” I got a call back from someone who could actually solve the problem.  Like magic, after only a handful of hours of frustration.  Just the way it is.

 

 

[1]   My grandparents arrived in America twenty years before the Nazis wiped out everyone else in their families.   Jared Kushner’s grandparents were in Europe during those nightmarish Nazi years and managed to survive and reach America.   My grandparents worked very hard, every day.  Jared’s grandparents also worked very hard every day.  It would be impossible to say which couple worked harder. Jared’s grandparents started with two dollars between them, the unlikely story goes.  A generation later: billionaire owners of a real estate empire.   My grandparents, who I assume came with more than two dollars between them, died owning a one-bedroom apartment in Miami Beach and not much else.  C’est la vie, baby.

The Role of Malice in our Culture

The phrase “politics of resentment” has been used to describe the bravura style of mass influence employed by demagogues Mussolini and Hitler who harnessed the grievances and resentment of people screwed by the powerful.   What does a resentful audience respond to?  Strong expressions of undisguised malice.

We will hang these traitors from lamp posts!   (huge applause)   We will punish each of these sick and audacious criminals with a slow painful death!  (chant)   We will not let these rapists get away with their crimes against the innocents among us!  (grunts of approval)  The day of our long-denied vengeance has finally arrived!  (fists pump)  Lock her up!  (chant) etc.

Malice is all that remains when every other imaginable avenue of improving a situation is blocked.   You could call malice a  moral failing, a failure of imagination, or a character flaw, but it has its psychological uses.   Malice, which is aggressive and directed outward toward a hated enemy, is seen by most people as a more vital emotion than hopelessness, an inward focused depressed admission of defeat in a rigged game.  

Malice gives the illusion of power.  You say I’m powerless?  FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT, I’LL KILL YOU!    Feels better than “Jesus, you’re right, there really is nothing I can do after being fucked the way I was…” doesn’t it?  An illusory feeling of manliness, since malice, which feeds on a sense of worthlessness, only diminishes a person, though it’s seen preferable to an admission of hopelessness to most people, I suspect.

Arguing based on malice, which easily takes Reason out of the discussion, explains a lot about our politics today.  Mr. Trump is a master of malice.  He comes by his maliciousness the old fashioned way– hopeless envy of others.   He comes by this honestly.   He was not his father’s first choice to run the family business.   He was a spiteful little bully, and not the smartest of the five children, by a long shot.  The first born, dad’s favorite, was not cut out to be the ruthless steward of his father’s fortune, he broke his father’s heart and died a broken man himself.  The fourth born, the second male in line, the spiteful little bully who kept acting out, was sent away to military academy to learn self-discipline and to “man up”, then kept out of the wartime draft by a powerful father who was grooming him, relentlessly and demandingly, to take over his empire.    

Mr. Trump squandered everything his father gave him, more than $400,000,000 in today’s dollars.  Then he tried to take control of the family fortune before his father was dead (he was deep in debt and needed the money).  His father exerted himself one last time, had his lawyers stop his impetuous and hotheaded son from wasting the rest of the family fortune.  When the old man died, Mr. Trump ignored his father’s wishes that the Trump properties stay in the family and sold off his father’s entire empire at a loss.  He needed the money.  Taking a hit of a few hundred million did not seem that big a deal, in light of the circumstances.  He and his sisters and little brother all did very well, the proceeds of the sale, although the properties were sold at a steeply discounted price, made all of them very, very wealthy.  Vast wealth is never enough for someone filled with malice.

Trump has to realize, on some level, that he is not a very good businessman.   He was a blustering snake oil salesman, trying one scam after another to increase his fortune, to shore up his losses in bad deals and foolish decisions in his other businesses.  He was a failure in every business he set up, declaring bankruptcy several times.  He had the fabulous good luck of “Reality TV”.   At the time he was approached by TV producers about fronting a show about his fabulous life he admits he was virtually broke.  Pointing to a homeless bum on the street near Trump Tower he reportedly told his daughter Ivanka (according to them both) that he was basically in the same boat as that worthless fucker.

Then he got to play his dream version of himself on TV.   A winner who never made a wrong move, ever.  A sought-after mentor to the most ambitious contestants on his zero-sum winner-take-all show.   He was transformed, by “reality TV”, from a wealthy attention seeking jackass to an icon of American success, America’s greatest winner.  Millions watched him play this character on TV, waited for him to deploy his winning catch phrase every week as he eliminated another contender to be his apprentice.  Somehow “you’re fired” resonated with millions of downtrodden Americans who apparently lived vicariously through Trump’s gold-plated persona.  Go figure.  Building this carefully stage managed image of himself as the smartest businessman in America was his greatest achievement.   He owes his great success to a great network television production team and to his own his ability to harness and channel malice.   At malice, he is simply the best.

The Brutal Politics of US vs. Them

Yale Historian Timothy Snyder, author of the 2016 On Tyranny,  has been all over media lately, analyzing our ravaged nation’s rapid slide toward open autocracy.   His quote on the lesson of history resonates strongly with my own view on the matter — since the future is entirely an exercise, to those who still insist on our agency as citizens of a democracy, in imagining possibilities, informed by knowledge of the past:

[H]istory does not repeat. But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance.[19]

I recently saw his 2018 talk at Harvard on youTube.  Snyder lays out the recent history of the politics of US vs. THEM, the dividing line of current Western politics (not only in the U.S. but Hungary, Turkey, UK, Brazil, India, etc.)  He discusses how a politics based on defining friend and enemy, (with the appropriate treatment for each category), is antithetical to  the democratic goal of a rules-bound politics of consensus, a system of institutions and laws designed to protect the weak and restrain the impulse of the powerful to favor friends and punish enemies. 

Snyder cites our increasing reliance on the internet as the biggest single factor fostering this Us and Them oversimplification of the world and the rightward distortion of our politics.  He argues that the unreal online world of the internet has been the biggest single factor in flattening a complicated three dimensional world into a largely self-affirming two-dimensional one.   

Rather than increasing our critical abilities, with our unprecedented access to the total accumulated information of the world, our online lives have flattened our range of exploration by instantly and robotically providing us opinions and glosses that affirm our preconceptions.   The internet now serves us personalized content tailored to what the algorithms know we already prefer.  The hours most of us spend on online every day deaden our ability to reason our way to conclusions based on actual facts, real things that actually happened in the real, three-dimensional interactive world.  Time spent online, in a virtual cocoon of like-minded opinion, also saps our will to meet other humans in the real world to strategize with and take concerted action with.  

In cyber space it is easy to magnify certain things while disappearing others.  In an immersive cyber world it is fairly easy to erase the very real problems confronted by the actual humans who make up the abstract, hated “Them” — rendering “them” nonexistent.  Millions of desperate refugees fleeing real atrocities and climate disasters in far away countries?  Their existence and their terrible dilemmas can easily be erased on the internet, reducing them solely to their emotional use in tropes, memes and bots shaping “our” opinion toward “them.”

If you stay in your internet silo the chances for real-world participation start to seem less real than the stimulating and addictive interactions (with humans or bots, one never knows) you can constantly have on-screen.   I had a dramatic example of this recently, in trying to leave the online space for human interaction in the real world.  I was disappointed by the website of the large militant Brooklyn and D.C-based nonprofit clearinghouse that I’d visited with great anticipation that it would provide local options for live participation in the struggle to retain democracy. The end user (me) was offered no possibility of live interaction with other human activists, only online petitions and donation buttons. There were also great press releases about the many successes by this well-funded group in fighting back against oppressive policies.   Leaving me with only online options for “action”.

To complicate matters, and make the determination of what is fact and what is fabricated bullshit supremely hard, on-line there’s no way to know which comment is from a like-minded human being (or one you don’t agree with) and which is simply a comment fabricated for influence, generated per algorithm, expressed and personally delivered by a bot. The influence of this false “Us” is huge.

The human troll plays an outsized role in political outcomes on the internet as well.  The troll can sit anywhere in the world.   Snyder gives the example of Michael Flynn and Russia, how Flynn found himself citing numerous Russian troll- bots for definitive answers to questions of American political opinion.

Our addiction to the cyber world is, at this moment in time, moving us toward a fascistic view of the world as the battlefield for eternal war between irreconcilable enemies, away from increased liberalism or the interconnectedness humans require to solve perilous ecological and economic challenges.

In order to understand the potential of the internet to move toward greater human understanding and freedom we need to see it through the lens of history. Snyder says.  The printing press (driver of protracted religious warfare) and the radio (instrumental in the rise of fascism) were at first very destructive social forces as well.   The current polarizing power of the internet can be fixed over time, perhaps, but it is best to understand and be wary of its outsized power to evoke and affirm strong feelings to drive political outcomes.  At present human emotions are being manipulated by robots, mechanized entities brought into “existence” by coders.  This is a one way transaction in evoking strong feelings from targeted humans, since the robots stoking these feelings are incapable of any feelings at all.

Snyder calls for the  “revalorization of factuality” — the notion that it’s actually heroic to analyze and understand the world based on facts, discoverable in the three-dimensional world, easily compressed into unreality in a two-dimensional world.   The project of all tyranny begins in the destruction of “fact” in favor of a strong, emotional call to fight an inhuman enemy.   Good local news coverage by independent reporters, increasingly hard to come by, is one antidote to this trend that Synder singles out as something essential to support.  He urges us all to subscribe to and support our valued news sources.

The US and Them distinction powerfully cuts across all discussion, debate, every chance of human understanding.   It’s hard to even have a discussion about justice without immediately falling into one of two artificially drawn political camps. 

A recent email I wrote discussing institutional injustice, opposition to it and the debate between moderate incrementalists vs. urgent “justice delayed is justice denied” types (especially in the context of acting to save the planet before it is actually uninhabitable), and my strong sympathy for the latter, convinced an old friend that I had to be “all in for Bernie”.  This immediately caused him to fear an ugly confrontation with me, as he’s had with other Sanders-supporting friends lately, since he feels the only pragmatic and realistic thing is to hold one’s nose and vote for whoever the DNC selects as a candidate, rather than dogmatically fighting for what can never be.   Trump, he says (and I don’t disagree), must be defeated if we are to avoid truly terrible outcomes and it’s as simple as that.

So instead of he and I being able to have a reason-based back and forth discussion of principles, we are instantly reduced to arguing about our feelings towards the mass-marketed individual celebrity horses in a zero-sum celebrity horse race, covered mainly by dishonest brokers serving a profit-driven corporate agenda. 

Here, of course, with no intention to do it, I’ve indicated my preference for a Sanders or Warren, who openly point out and have plans to attack institutional injustice, and my extreme distaste for a “moderate” like Bloomberg [1] or Biden.  As we are simplemindedly taught to do here, on the politically “reasonable” side of the aisle, nobody’s totally right, nobody’s totally wrong, the main thing is to defeat a dangerous would-be autocrat and his powerful backers, let’s split the difference and have someone “electable” who won’t upset anybody as much as a “radical” harping on vast, long-time inequalities of opportunity.   It’s US vs. THEM after all, and the main thing is not to let those Nazi fuckers cheat, and win, again.

A rant full of sound and fury mostly,  a fearful cry of pain and frustration at the powerlessness we all feel as isolated citizens with extremely limited say (we’re not corporations, after all) staring at our screens for hope, or at least affirmation.   The best thing to do to deny Nazis their ultimate triumph, is to fight them where they stand — based on superior and infinitely more moral ideas about the future of humanity.  The enemies of progress, those who want to turn the clock back to 1953, stand strongly online, to be sure, but they also stand everywhere else.   We need to gather together and stand against them in the real world (he said firmly, online).

 

[1]  Mike Bloomberg is a supremely foul piece of shit that we in New York City got to see close up for three terms (though non-billionaire mayors are limited to two terms).   I will lay out some of this motherfucker’s more alarming “peccadillos” in another post.

A Cabinet of Sycophants and Acting-Idiots, Bill Barr edition

Donald Trump, as part of the unsolicited expert advice he gave to businessmen while he was campaigning for the presidency in 2016, advised would-be titans of industry to surround themselves with people less intelligent than themselves.   This way, he pointed out, you can always literally be the smartest man in the room, an important advantage for the boss.  Particularly if you’re the boss of a family business given to you by a demanding and ruthless father who never really had faith in your smarts.

In office, Trump’s been as good as his word, if we add the important caveat that if you are smarter than the smartest man in the room, you must hide your intelligence behind heroic loyalty to even the boss’s most idiotic and indefensible whims and policies. 

This caveat, obviously, does not apply to people like Betsey DeVos.  It applies directly to the most dangerous man in America: Bagpiper Bill Barr.   Follow the chain of events:

When, on May 17, 2017, after lawfully firing FBI director James Comey to end the Russia thing and the Flynn thing, and, obviously, the Comey-loyalty thing,  the president was confronted with the awful news that traitorous Acting A.G. Rod Rosenstein  (who stepped into the role after AG Sessions followed the advice of DOJ ethics lawyers and correctly recused himself from the Russia investigation — his recusal was seen by most lawyers and legal observers as mandatory) had appointed a Special Prosecutor, Trump was beside himself.

“Oh my God,” a note-taking witness quoted Trump as saying, “This is terrible.  This is the end of my presidency.  I’m fucked.”   He became angry and lambasted A.G. Sessions “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”   Trump said “Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels [sic] it ruins your presidency.   It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything.  This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”   source

To grasp the full weight of these words, here is John Lithgow’s excellent dramatic reenactment. 

The Mueller Report, Volume Two, details the undeviating pattern of presidential actions intended to obstruct the investigation into presidential obstruction of justice.   Don McGahn, Trump’s White House counsel, refused to fire Sessions, as he was asked to do by the president, and refused to write a knowingly false letter for the files at the president’s request, a letter denying that Trump had ever asked him to fire Sessions.  Trump pressured Sessions, accepted Sessions’ resignation letter, refused the resignation, but held on to the letter for leverage against his disobedient but very loyal AG.   

He called on several other people, including the pugnacious Corey Lewandowski who was not in the government at that time (a “back-channel,” just like unofficial Rudy in Ukraine), to deliver coercive messages to Sessions about his refusal to “unrecuse” and to fire the Special Counsel.  That his servants did not carry out his orders was later used by the president’s defenders to justify the lawfulness of Trump’s actions under the absurdist rationale that mere attempted crime is not a crime.   After all, as every schoolchild knows, there’s no such crime as attempted murder.

Trump later lawyered up and (following new AG Barr’s advice in a letter that was published) asserted a ridiculously broad and audacious privilege (one that would require a major 5-4 Supreme Court reversal of strong unanimous precedent if Trump’s claim was to be upheld) against ever, under any circumstances (including during his impeachment), allowing testimony or evidence that could be adverse to his interests in remaining the Unitary Executive and the businessman most well-shielded from investigation in the world, as long as he remains POTUS.   

Volume Two of the Mueller Report was a catalogue of the president’s seamless pattern of guilty-looking actions to obstruct an investigation into his obstruction of justice, a pattern that contained all the elements for sustainable obstruction of justice charges.  Take a few moments to go watch a bit of that marvelous dramatic reading of the Mueller Report, Volume Two.  Mueller famously wrote that he could not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, even as he was prevented, by an OLC legal directive, from charging him with a crime, regardless of the seeming weight of the evidence that Trump had actually done what the sworn witnesses said, as long as Trump was the sitting president [1].   

Enter Bill Barr, the new AG, the man who took the AG job just in time to make the Mueller findings disappear, as he’d promised to in his published audition for the job.  There were calls for Barr to resign the other day after some public, transparently partisan presidential DOJ ass-licking on Barr’s part (no judgment, Barr clearly just likes the taste).  1,100 former federal prosecutors had signed a letter calling for his resignation, citing his unfitness to oversee all federal law enforcement.   I went on-line to read their letter.   

The letter that came up first was another letter signed by more than 1,100 former DOJ prosecutors,dated May 6 2019.  It was a reaction to Barr’s lies about the findings of the Mueller Report as well at least one lie to Congress,    That letter, which will be familiar to many, is here.

As for lying to Congress, Barr famously pretended, under oath, not to have received the politely indignant letter Mueller sent him immediately after Barr publicly, and deliberately, mischaracterized the findings of Mueller’s report.  Barr claimed he had no knowledge of how Mueller felt about Barr stating that Mueller’s report had, basically, completely and totally exonerated the president, an innocent man whose innocence completely justified all the lawful actions he took to try to end the baseless investigation into his obstruction of justice.   Mueller had written Barr with his strong objections to Barr’s mischaracterization immediately after Barr’s public dismissal of Mueller and his findings.   So?

Barr’s successful obstruction of public knowledge of what Mueller’s report actually contained about Trump’s obstruction of justice made the contents of the report a dead letter in the public mind.  Nothing to see here.  Just angry, loser partisans going after an innocent and all-powerful man, based on their own crippling loser inadequacies.   

Mueller’s fully-redacted summary of Volume Two, which was made available to Barr along with the report itself, was withheld by Barr for a month while Barr’s own “summary” publicly substituted its far-fetched story-line for the one Mueller’s sworn witnesses had told under oath. 

Mueller, by all accounts a good and honest man, a Boy Scout who believes in the rules,  is said to have shit the bed by writing his report with the prissily ornate disclaimer-laden legalistic prose that requires a law degree to parse (read the report, counselor!) , and in a real way he certainly did, At the same time, as was he charge, Mueller also preserved a trove of eyewitness testimony and other evidence, indicted and secured the convictions of several of the president’s closest associates (Flynn, Manafort, Cohen and Stone come to mind).   In a functioning participatory democracy, one whose chief law enforcement officer is not an unprincipled God-fearing toady, Mueller’s report would have performed the duty that had been entrusted to Mueller’s team, by turning over an impressive pile of evidence and letting the facts speak for themselves to the American people.

Barr’s disinformation campaign to squash Mueller’s findings to protect the president was so successful it convinced iron-willed Nancy Pelosi, the most powerful Democrat in the country, that most Americans are already too brainwashed, too stupid, or both, to understand the immense gravity of the facts Mueller set out, the ones Barr successfully made to disappear.   She made a political calculation and restricted the impeachment to very limited, much weaker grounds, although there was the planned benefit of a relatively straightforward, easy to follow story, Trump’s shakedown of the new president (of a country nobody in America can find on a map [2]) to get dirt on a political rival. 

In my mind, Pelosi used her outsized power (which I compare to Moscow Mitch’s awesome power in the Senate — in neither case does it speak well of democracy to have a single strongman in each House speak for the will of the People) to silence the voices of anyone who argued for a third article of impeachment — Obstruction of Justice, a federal crime-in-progress by our untouchable, lawyered up Boss-in-Chief.  In the context of a three year continual process of obstruction and abuse, of court processes as well as subpoenas from Congress and attorneys general all over the United States, the president’s actions in Ukraine actions could be seen in their proper perspective, as part of an ongoing pattern of the president committing the federal crime of obstruction of justice.   Pelosi made a strategic decision to play a weaker, but  arguably more straightforward, easily understandable, number card instead of the most powerful face card in her hand to play.  Oh well.

In December 2019, at the end of the Inspector General’s  investigation into the sordid origins of the what, unaccountably became the vicious partisan Mueller Witch Hunt conspiracy against Mr. Trump, the Bagpiper sucked his own bagpipe, as follows:

Screenshot_20191213-150447_NYTimes

The “intrusive investigation”  started on the “thinnest of suspicions,” suspicions in Barr’s view “insufficient” to start the Mueller probe (and, of course, in fairness, the investigation only only led to the conviction of a mere six (6) of Trump’s many close 2016 campaign associates for crimes related to a cover-up of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and other improprieties.  Just yesterday the innocent, unfairly persecuted Roger Stone was unfairly sentenced for several arguable non-crimes, including jail time for the non-crime of “Obstruction of Congress.”  Horrible and very unfair, according to our nation’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer, Donald Trump. 

The country’s other, secondary Chief Law Enforcement Officer, Bagpiper Bill Barr, continues to stand by his arguably untruthful positions.   The conclusion by Mueller, our intelligence agencies and even in McConnell’s own Senate Report, that Russian efforts to sway the outcome of the 2016 election in favor of Donald John Trump were “sweeping and systematic” — SO?  That the efforts are ongoing and absolutely planned for the 2020 election, in progress now, urgent, danger, Will Robinson.   No action whatsoever needed to protect the integrity of the American electoral system, according to no less an authority than Moscow Mitch … puzzling, isn’t it?

The February 16, 2020 letter from 1,100 ex-DOJ officials calling for Barr’s resignation (that number is now over 2,000)  the one I was actually looking for is here.      The outcry came about when Trump whined on twitter that his friend Roger Stone was facing a long prison sentence for his numerous so-called crimes to protect the president, totally SAD! horrible and very unfair!  After the tweets DOJ withdrew its sentencing memo, a memo that asked for the seven to nine years prescribed by law for those serious crimes of lying and corruption to advance a corrupt scheme.  Not to mention witness intimidation (pretend I didn’t mention it) and defying a judge’s gag order.  (The charges in that case were based on Stone’s repeated lying and obstruction in connection with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.  Talk about grounds for twitter recusal, Mr. President…)

The lawyers formerly employed by the Department of Justice make another excellent case in their recent letter calling for Barr’s resignation.  It is a case that  the DOJ should really look into.  Whoops.  (ROTFLMAO!)

When Trump was in his moment of political and personal agony, on May 17, 2017, when he cried out to his inner circle that he was “fucked”, in his anguish, he cried out rhetorically for his Roy Cohn.  The evil and self-hating Roy Cohn, among his other destructive life achievements, was, for years,  the unbeatable attorney to all five major organized crime families in the United States.  The Trump family business was a long-time client of Roy Cohn’s.

Cohn was the man who taught Trump how to use the law as a sword and a shield.  Countersue audaciously, when you lose, appeal, drag it out, make them go bankrupt, break their balls with motions, kill them with process, make ’em spend millions if they want to try to beat them, make them pay while at the same time destroying them in the press.  Cohn’s taught Trump that unscrupulousness was no vice, if your aim was to keep a guilty person out of prison.  He showed Trump how to use the mass media to influence public sentiment, introduced him to friendly contacts at the tabloids, showed him how to publicly bully foes real and imagined and how to lie confidently (Trump probably didn’t need tutelage in that, he’s a Hall of Famer in that category).   In the end, when Cohn was disbarred, indicted, dying alone of AIDS he swore was cancer because everyone knew he hated fucking fags (don’t ask…) Trump, a man known for loyalty and his many deep friendships, turned his back on his longtime mentor. 

But in that moment of agony, on May 17, 2017 when Trump cried out for his Roy Cohn, the unprincipled Bill Barr’s ears pricked up.   Opportunity was knocking, history was knocking, Barr’s destiny was knocking.   Barr presented himself, a fatter, slicker version of Roy Cohn.  You an picture his courtly bow “at your service, my liege.”

Barr, the president’s current Roy Cohn, is a long believer in the infallible authority of the powerful and well-connected.  He is ever mindful of his own righteous version of truth and justice.  His public credibility (among the credulous) is bolstered by his sober demeanor: judicious in his pauses, utterly certain in his pronouncements, his cynical but authoritative-sounding use of legal chicanery. 

He argued to the American public, during a live appearance after he told America what Mueller’s report had actually concluded (while concealing Mueller’s actual summary for weeks), without betraying the slightest hesitation or irony, that Trump’s innocence was apparent, from the report itself.  Barr said that the crucial element of corrupt intent, necessary for proving the crime of  “obstruction of justice” could not be established.   Barr said, without breaking expression, that the president was simply understandably angry and frustrated at the persecution by Mueller and so did what any of us — knowing we were 100% innocent victims of a vicious conspiracy — would have done– used every one of his legal, self-defending powers to intentionally protect the rights of an innocent man.

Barr looked at the camera calmly, feeling no need to add at that moment what a weaker person would have blurted out:  so suck it!

Barr is Trump’s Roy Cohn, not much more to say about that.  Truth, particularly if potentially incriminating, will not be allowed to stand in the way of carrying out God’s will on earth, and God, clearly, demands a Unitary Executive to rule over these corrupt and evil generations.  Without vast powers to enforce the will of God, the soul of America will be lost to the invading haordes and wicket “social justice warriors”.

 

20191211_155337 (1).gif

 

[1] It’s fair to say Mueller punted in his noncommittal report, turning the ball over to the Congress for impeachment, after he performed an insanely legalistic ballet that enabled him to remain civil, polite and scrupulously unbiased, even when his investigation was documenting clearly very bad behavior by the president and his inner circle. 

[2] Not to get too far afield here, but Paul Manafort made tens of millions in Ukraine using his brilliant campaigning techniques to help get a Russian-backed thug named Yanukovich elected president of Ukraine.  (Unfair to call him a ‘thug”, I suppose, it was decades before his election, the convictions and two prison terms for assault)   Manafort’s efforts succeeded and Yanukovich was elected president of Ukraine, only to be ousted a few years later by a popular uprising.   After Yanukovich fled to Russia he was tried in absentia in Ukraine and found guilty of treason.   Manafort’s next client was Donald Trump, for whom he worked for free and on whose behalf he gave polling data to Russian agents.  Just sayin’… Nothing to see here!!!

Perfect President

If your goal is to destroy the administrative state, end all regulation and stop the enforcement of coercive laws that protect only the poor, those demanding and parasitic “takers”, while ensuring maximum liberty for the most privileged to enjoy the unfettered pursuit of happiness, the shambolic [1] Mr. Trump is the perfect president  for you.  Mr. Trump, shameless showman and all-star sower of chaos, is the perfect president for those interested only in preserving, or enhancing, their own vast privilege.   

Trump’s manifest lifelong unconcern with law, rules and norms, his constant pursuit of self-interest above everything else, his mania for “winning”, coupled with his very limited attention span,  makes him the perfect man for the job.   His inattention to detail is catnip for those who have specific targets of  attack to cripple the impediments to their complete freedom from government coercion.  He is always happy to do nothing, if it benefits his biggest donors.   The devil in any regulatory scheme is in the details, as any high-stakes white collar criminal knows, so create enough havoc and certain key details will get lost in the shuffle.  Leave open appointments for agency heads, don’t fill government jobs as they become vacant, employ acting-directors so as not to require Senate confirmation, and so on. 

For example, we learn (from the excellent investigative podcast Trump Inc.) that the Federal Election Commission is currently unable to enforce federal campaign finance law.  All the perfect president has had to do to ensure this is nothing.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an independent regulatory agency whose purpose is to enforce campaign finance law in United States federal elections. Founded in April 1975, after adoption of the 1974 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Washington, D.C. based agency employed 339 Americans as of 2006 and, as of 2017, an annual budget of $79,000,000.  Its six commissioners, three from each major party, are appointed by the President.      See: Wikipedia

In order to vote to refer a criminal prosecution for violations of campaign finance law, a law the president himself appears to have violated when he was named as Individual One in a campaign finance violation that put his personal lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen in prison, the six commissioners, three Democratic, three Republican, must vote do do so [2].  Republicans have been historically reluctant to bring these complaints to enforce campaign finance laws, which require, at minimum, a quorum of four to vote on.  

There are currently only three FEC commissioners, making it impossible to have a quorum.  No quorum, no vote to enforce the federal campaign finance laws.   So all Trump had to do to ensure that there is no enforcement of federal campaign finance law, and, obviously,  no penalty for its violations, was — nothing.   Which he always does with aplomb.   He has been otherwise very busy, since the day he was inaugurated in 2017, focusing on his reelection campaign and driving huge rally crowds into continual frenzies.

Interesting note: Don McGahn is a former FEC commissioner, nominated by George W. Bush in 2008 and confirmed by the Senate for his six year term.  He was elected FEC chairman soon after his confirmation.   Read all about it:   Here is a  beautiful example of Mr. McGahn’s legal prose, an opinion in a 2013 enforcement case ruling that Trump, Michael Cohen and the Trump organization did absolutely nothing wrong in connection with the 2012 presidential campaign.

 

As Wikipedia puts it: Due to multiple members resigning and no confirmed replacements, the commission lacks a quorum and cannot conduct most of its regulatory functions.[5]

Before we get too excited, there is powerful criticism of the FEC, summarized here:

Critics of the FEC, including campaign finance reform supporters such as Common Cause and Democracy 21, have complained that it is a classic example of regulatory capture where it serves the interests of the ones it was intended to regulate. The FEC’s bipartisan structure, which was established by Congress, renders the agency “toothless.” Critics also claim that most FEC penalties for violating election law come well after the actual election in which they were committed. Additionally, some critics claim that the commissioners tend to act as an arm of the “regulated community” of parties, interest groups, and politicians when issuing rulings and writing regulations. Others point out, however, that the commissioners rarely divide evenly along partisan lines, and that the response time problem may be endemic to the enforcement procedures established by Congress. To complete steps necessary to resolve a complaint – including time for defendants to respond to the complaint, time to investigate and engage in legal analysis, and finally, where warranted, prosecution – necessarily takes far longer than the comparatively brief period of a political campaign.

My advice to anyone outraged by the kind of nonchalantly autocratic moves Mr. Trump routinely makes to weaken regulations, oversight and democracy itself, look away, vote for whoever the DNC puts up as a “centrist” presidential candidate.  Nothing you can do about any of it anyway, you powerless, worried citizens, short of doing the near impossible thing of figuring out how to join with others to organize and have a voice.  Just keep looking away.  You’ll hardly feel it when the bottom drops out from under us all.   The world is being destroyed anyway, and will be beyond salvaging shortly at the present rate of destruction, so no worries.

 

[1]  Just learned this great word from James Risen.  Shambolic:  chaotic, disorganized or mismanaged, (syn: muddled, confused, in total disarray).

[2] National disgrace Bill Barr (who recently joined the line of bagpipers at a police rally, so help me God) made the case against Trump in the Southern District go away, though Cohen, now in federal prison,  was reimbursed the $130,000 he paid porn-star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 (the campaign finance crime) and produced the $130,000 personal check Trump signed in his now familiar jagged Sharpie scrawl to reimburse him for the criminal act.  Oh, well.  That’s the Unitary Executive for you!

 

A lesson from the murder of Malcolm X

Adults forget how hard certain things can hit a child.   I had a strong reminder of this last night while watching the excellent and compelling Who Killed Malcolm X? on Netflix.  A tip of the cap and much respect to Abdur-Rahman Muhammad for his long, tireless investigation and the important work he accomplished in the face of discouragement by virtually everyone he knew and met.

In the documentary, a black and white news clip panned past the Allied Chemical Building at the foot of Times Square.   I don’t know what this building is called today, but it’s the one they drop the ball from every New Year’s Eve.   I suddenly had a vivid memory, from around the time I heard the news that Malcolm X had been murdered, making me around nine years old at the time.   My mother, my father, my little sister and I were walking past that building, which had a showcase at street level.   We must have been strolling after seeing a Broadway show, which we did from time to time in those days.

Behind a gigantic glass window was a collection of magazines on display.  The cover of one showed a black and white photo of a pile of naked, emaciated corpses, intimately entangled.   It was essentially the still image of a movie clip that had caused me to sprint out of an auditorium to projectile vomit at the age of eight, or maybe seven and a half.   A child never entirely gets over the shock of the first knowledge they receive of the unimaginable evil humans can be so nonchalant about participating in.  

I will never forget watching the short, stocky man in the cap, impassively wheeling the giant wheelbarrow full of jiggling skin-covered skeletons, tipping the wheelbarrow to direct the skinny corpses down a chute, into an enormous mass grave.   Perhaps because he knew he was being filmed, and could not resist a theatrical gesture (or maybe he’d been directed) he tossed the butt of his cigar in after the cadavers, before turning to pick up his next load.  I’d seen enough, and I left the screening room, running up the aisle, through a crowd of crying teenagers in a room full of cigarette smoke.

Seeing that horrific photo in the window of the Allied Chemical Building I turned to my father.   His response was something to the effect that there are “some very sick people in the world” (that phrase remains).   I don’t know if he was referring to the Nazis, the publisher of the magazine with the horrific picture on its cover, the magazine’s audience or the management of the Allied Chemical Building who had decided to place that nauseating image in its ground floor window for children of all ages to see.  It makes no difference, really, which very sick people he was referring to.

Around this time, in the late afternoon of February 21, 1965, I was sitting on the foot of the bed in my parents’ room, looking for something to watch on TV.   The radio was also on in the room, for some reason, tuned to the news station my father always had on his alarm clock.   I remember the news coming out of the radio.   Malcolm X had been shot in the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, shot many times and killed.   Even at my young age I immediately understood the terrible immensity of the moment, I was struck by the sickening thought of how violence can end a righteous debate in favor of the murderous.

My father had long been involved in what is now known as the Civil Rights Movement.   He was a fierce integrationist who’d been screamed at and pelted by angry New York City parents and teachers in the first school where he spoke in support of Brown v. Board of Education, the ruling that overturned the long racist doctrine of “Separate But Equal” in racially segregated education.   After the angry reaction to my father’s first speech he was accompanied by police when he went to speak to these agitated PTA groups.   I learned about this only after he died, when my mother told me the story as I was working on his eulogy.  

Malcolm, it turned out, had no police protection on the day of his murder, a week to the day after his home was destroyed by three molotov cocktails thrown through windows in the middle of the night (the press suggested that Malcolm himself had set his home on fire, in some kind of insane publicity stunt — what do you expect from a desperate, hyperbolic, race-baiting rabble rouser? — the mainstream media asked).   The phalanx of cops who arrived after his assassination to wheel Malcolm’s dead body to the emergency room of the hospital across the street had been stationed on the other side of six lanes of Broadway that afternoon, far from the packed ballroom where the killing was done.  Only one of Malcolm’s five killers was apprehended at the scene.  The other four, including the man with the sawed off shotgun whose blasts the coroner ruled had caused Malcolm’s death, never even faced arrest, let alone trial.  Two men who had not even been present during the execution were convicted of Malcolm’s murder and served twenty year sentences as the murder investigation was quickly wrapped up.

My father clearly admired Malcolm X.   There was, as far as I could see, much to admire.  Malcolm spoke clearly and forcefully, and never without wit.  He talked about things nobody was allowed to speak of, calling for long-denied rights every human being should be entitled to from birth in a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  Malcolm stressed that waiting another generation or two for incremental change in an inhuman system was not an option. He fearlessly debated everyone who wanted a piece of him.  Malcolm, in the last year of his life, was increasingly willing to work with anyone of good faith to advance the cause of human rights in America and worldwide.  At the time of his assassination he was treated, in many countries, as an ambassador for America’s millions descended from former slaves.

At the same time, during Malcolm’s Nation of Islam years, my father often chuckled recounting Malcolm’s robotic insistence that everything he knew was the teaching of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.   I recall chuckling with my father over Malcolm’s dutiful recounting of the true story of how the evil scientist Yakub had, as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught, created the evil White Race and set those devils upon the other races.  The image works as metaphor, not as “science,” though to the faithful this is a distinction without a difference.

The larger point is that black and brown men like Malcolm, like millions of despised children born in the wrong neighborhoods today, are born facing a system of murderous injustice.   It was Malcolm’s articulate struggle to fight effectively for long-denied Human Rights that inspired my father.  By the time Malcolm was murdered by five Black Muslim fanatics, with the active complicity of the New York City Police, J. Edgar Hoover’s reactionary FBI and the rest of them, I was well aware of the impossible, crucial things Malcolm was attempting to do.   I admired him myself.  In the fifty-five years since his murder, and many books later, I admire him no less.

The lessons of his life, and the “necessity” of his killing, live on in anyone ever touched by Malcolm’s powerfully articulated efforts to change an evil system.  The deepest horror to me, in our angry, divided, tribal society where even old, long-cherished friendships are in peril when politics raises its hideous head, is that human beings, capable of kindness, empathy, creating things of transcendent beauty, are unable to unite in our universal desire to live in a better, more fair world.  We may argue angrily about what justice is, but we all know injustice when it is personally thrust into our faces.

We are deliberately divided about the most basic things in our lives.  Living at a time when humans are unable to unite, even  in our desire to continue to live on a habitable planet, I think of Malcolm’s heroic, doomed fight.   Instead of concerted worldwide action toward solutions there is an angry “debate” over whether the unprecedented violence of rapid climate disruption observable by everyone, after every recent “hundred year” natural catastrophe, has anything to do with a century of increasing pollution from burning fossil fuels and cutting down the earth’s forests to graze cows for beef.   The “argument” benefits only those already wealthy and powerful “persons” who profit directly from the destruction of the habitable earth.

We are not doomed to these awful fates, until we are.   The horror of that magazine cover in the window of the Allied Chemical Building is no different to me now than when I was nine, no different than the public execution of Malcolm X, El-Hadj Malik El- Shabazz felt when I first learned of it.   Whatever the intent of some “very sick people,” these horrors should stand for only one thing— people of good will need to stand as one against all such organized hatred and mass deception, everywhere.   That as a rule we don’t is our eternal shame as humans.