manafort, the torturer’s lobby, & an otherwise blameless life

Paul Manafort has spent his career–his entire adult life, really–serving the very worst people in the world. I’m not being hyperbolic here; I’m being literal. He has literally served the literally worst people in the world.

In 1992 the Center for Public Integrity released a report detailing how nations having long, verifiable records of serious human rights abuses paid Washington lobbyists to press Congress for financial aid. By ‘serious human rights abuses’ I mean everything from intimidation of political opponents, to political imprisonment, to physical and mental torture, to systematic rape as a strategy, to extrajudicial murder. The CPI report was titled The Torturer’s Lobby. The firm of Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly (BMSK) features heavily in that report.

BMSK’s client list has included:

Jonas Savimbi — whose guerrilla army forcibly ‘recruited’ child soldiers, forced women and girls into sexual slavery, killed and mutilated tens of thousands, and whose indiscriminate use of landmines created “one of the largest amputee populations in the world.”

Mobutu Sese Seko — whose brutal authoritarian rule “became notorious for corruption, nepotism, and the embezzlement of between US$4 billion and $15 billion during his reign.” Before executing one of his rivals, Sese Seko had his eyes gouged out, his genitals torn off, and his limbs cut off one by one.

Ferdinand Marcos — who in addition to illegally amassing a fortune of between five and ten billion dollars, abducted and imprisoned somewhere between 70,000 to 120,000 people, tortured at least 35,000 people, and murdered more than 3500. One report listed 19 different types of physical torture used by Marcos’ forces, four types of sexual torture, and five types of emotional torture (one of which was described as “government units mutilating, cooking and eating the flesh of victims in front of their family and friends to sow terror”).

Sani Abacha — whose security forces, according to the US State Department, routinely “tortured prisoners with whippings, suspension by the limbs from the ceiling, burning with candles, and extraction of teeth.”

Manafort’s foreign client list gradually became more sophisticated, but no less corrupt, cruel, and malevolent. He found work with Putin-friendly clients in former Soviet nations who were less bloodthirsty, but equally cold-blooded. At the same time, BMSK worked for US entities (like the Tobacco Institute) and were deeply involved in Republican politics. The BMSK business model was based on the notion that anyone seeking to get and keep power ought to have a lobbyist. Corporations, African warlords, special-interest groups, regional strongmen — if they had a LOT of money, Manafort would work for them.

By 2005, Manafort had winnowed his client list down to essentially one client: Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine. There was none of that ugly mutilation or gross torture with Yanukovych; if he needed an opponent dead, a little dioxin would do the job without all the fuss. Manafort was able to construct a shadow government within the Yanukovych regime; he had intelligence assets in just about every governmental agency. Unfortunately for Manafort, the citizens of Ukraine grew weary with the scale of the corruption; in 2014 Yanukovych had to flee for his life. The money soon dried up.

Manafort desperately needed a new client — preferably who was open to the idea of shady business transactions. Comrade Trump, who had his own Russian connections, needed a campaign manager. Bingo. It’s no coincidence that once Manafort joined the Trump campaign, the GOP platform on support for Ukraine changed.

(Photo by Alex Wong)

Let me say it again. Paul Manafort has spent his life working for the worst people in the world, and he got rich doing it. He may not have personally tortured anybody or raped anybody or mutilated anybody or kidnapped anybody or murdered anybody, but he willingly, knowingly, and effectively worked for people who did.

Judge T.S. Ellis had to know this about Manafort when he sentenced him to 47 months (with credit for time served). He had to know this about Manafort when he claimed Manafort “has lived an otherwise blameless life.” Ellis had to know all this. But let’s face it — Ellis belongs to the same culture as Manafort. He was appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan, who was also one of Manafort’s early clients. But before his judicial appointment, Ellis worked for the firm of Hunton and Williams, who made billions of dollars facilitating the corporate practice of outsourcing and offshoring. Ellis, I’m sure, feels he himself has lived an otherwise blameless life.

There’s a lot of blamelessness going on in the world. It just isn’t evenly distributed.

Addendum: The same applies to Roger Stone, by the way. The Stone in Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly is Roger.

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pants on fire

For a decade Michael Cohen was Comrade Trump’s fixer — the guy he went to in order to get ugly shit done. Pay off a porn star, bully a business partner, threaten a reporter, kill an unflattering story. If ugly shit needed to be done, Cohen was willing to do it. He was actually proud of his ability to ‘protect’ Trump from the consequences of whatever ugly shit Trump had done. By any moral or ethical standard, Michael Cohen is a flaming asshole.

But yesterday, through the magic of hypocrisy fueled by stupidity, the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee actually managed to make Michael Cohen look like a sympathetic figure. The Republicans, like Cohen for the last ten years, were hoping to ‘protect’ Trump from ugly shit. Unlike Cohen, they weren’t very good at it.

Their approach was flawed. It depended almost exclusively on 1) attacking Cohen’s credibility, 2) yelling at him, and 3) arguing the hearing itself was a waste of time. Here’s why that didn’t work. First, Cohen entered the hearing room and set his own pants on fire. He baldly stated Comrade Trump was a racist, a con man, and a cheater. Then he said, “And yet I continued to work for him.” Boom. The most effective line of the hearing. It was effective because it was in the past tense, because it implied “I’m done working for him.” You can’t damage a person’s credibility when that person openly shreds it himself and says, “Lies got me into this mess, lies can’t get me out of it, believe me or don’t believe me, all I have left is the truth as I see it, and here it is.” It was a raw admission by Cohen. But I don’t think it would have been as effective if the Republicans hadn’t been such dicks.

Second, yelling at Cohen was pointless and massively stupid. You yell at people to rattle them, to make them so upset they can’t think straight, to keep them off-balance. But c’mon, Cohen worked for Trump for a decade. He’s been yelled at by the best. The yelling only served to make the Republicans look more dickish.

Third, a number of Republicans used their allotted five minutes to claim the hearing itself was taking them away from more important matters. Instead of wasting valuable Congressional time talking to a known liar about the possible criminality of the President of the United States, they claimed the committee should focus on the gang members of MS13 who are storming the Southern border bringing in drugs and disease in an effort to weaken Americans by giving free late-term abortions to people who believe in climate change. Or something like that. Seriously, some of those people are off their meds.

There’s another reason the Republicans failed yesterday. They didn’t even try to claim Comrade Trump was innocent of any wrongdoing. They didn’t even try. Seven hours of testimony and questioning, and not once did the House Republicans attempt to defend their president. Not once.

Were the Democrats any better? Surprisingly, yes. I mean, sure, there were a few mooks trying to score political points or get in a soundbite they thought would play well on their local news station, but most of the Democrats were actually prepared and focused. Most of them asked at least one intelligent question.

Here’s something else to think about. Yesterday we only heard testimony about the stuff Cohen could talk about in a public hearing. There’s more stuff he can only discuss with members of Congress in closed sessions. Stuff he’s only allowed to discuss with the folks building a criminal case against Trump.

And in other news, Comrade Trump, the current President of These United States, is returning to the US after the failure of his second summit with Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean dictator who has been starving his own people, and who had his own brother assassinated using a nerve agent in a busy airport, and who ordered his uncle Jang Song Thaek (and his uncle’s aides) to be executed with a damned anti-aircraft gun (after which they were reportedly dismembered and fed to dogs), and who had his uncle’s children AND grandchildren executed (though not, apparently, fed to dogs), and who executed at least one of Jang’s supporters (O Sang-hon) with a fucking flamethrower. That’s how Kim does pants on fire.

Comrade Trump, who repeatedly says the free press is the enemy of the people, calls Kim Jong-Un ‘my friend’.

with an emphasis on the ass

The revision list informs me I starting writing this post on August 21, 2018. I’ve revised it eight times in the intervening months without publishing it. I chose not to publish it because the supporting evidence was too complex to fit conveniently in a blog post and I didn’t want to assert that Comrade Trump was an intelligence asset without backing it up. Happily, the New York Times has finally done all that, and I can simply link to their article:

Here’s the meat of my original much-revised post. I’ve edited out all the supporting material, I encourage you to read the Times article, and a rather good summary of the evidence by Politico.


My opinion? Comrade Donald J. Trump is a Russian intelligence asset.

I know that sounds like some conspiracy theory shit, but I’m serious. It’s probably a good idea to define ‘intelligence asset’. An asset is someone or something intended, developed, cultivated or utilized to gather or disseminate information that might be useful to an intelligence service. That’s all it means.

It doesn’t mean Trump is a Russian spy. It doesn’t mean he’s intentionally working for his boy Vlad Putin. It just means Putin is using Trump to further Russia’s geo-political agenda, and has been doing so since Trump began his campaign. It’s possible — even likely — Trump isn’t aware he’s being used.

Comrade Trump meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov & Ambassador Sergei Kislyak the day after he fired FBI Director Comey. During the meeting Trump disclosed classified material obtained from a US ally.

Let’s face it, Comrade Trump is a classic example of the Dunning-Kruger effect (which, for some reason, I always read as the Freddie Kruger effect). The D-K effect is defined as ‘a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.’ In other words, the D-K effect describes folks who actually aren’t terribly clever but believe they are. Comrade Trump has claimed expert knowledge of: international trade, politicians, social media, ISIS, campaign finance, television ratings, taxes, the visa system, governance, debt, renewable energy, the law, infrastructure, finances, drone technology, science, border security, and the economy. In fact, he’s shown himself to be painfully ignorant in those areas.

Because of the D-K effect and his massive ego, Trump is easily manipulated. And let’s not forget, Putin is a former intelligence officer who has worked undercover and has been trained by experts in social manipulation. But it’s not just a matter of Trump being a dupe; there are a lot of other reasons he may be acting as a Russian asset.

He’s vulnerable to kompromat. I mentioned this back in July of last year. It seems probable that Putin has something on Trump. It could be his shady business and banking transactions with Russian and former Soviet states have made him vulnerable to blackmail. It could be money laundering in the US; we know a LOT of Russians have purchased Trump condos and apartments for millions of dollars (and real estate is the money launderer’s favorite tactic). It could, I suppose, be the infamous pee tape, though I think that’s unlikely. I’m inclined to think the Trump kompromat is more criminal than salacious. 

It really doesn’t matter what his motives are; what matters is that Donald Trump, the sitting president of the United States, is furthering the geo-political agenda of a hostile foreign nation. What matters is that one of this nation’s two major political parties is complicit in Comrade Trump’s offenses. 


Again, the reason I didn’t publish this back in August was that I wanted to include evidence to support the claim — but all that evidence made for an awkwardly long blog post. Over the past several months, even more supporting material has become known and has been reported by major news sources.

Even so, it still sounds incredible to state that the President of the United States is a Russian intelligence asset. But I can’t find any other explanation for Trump’s behavior, for his pro-Russian policies, for his reluctance to impose sanctions against Russia or Russian oligarchs, for his willingness to remove those sanctions, for his campaign’s frequent inappropriate interactions with Russian agents, and for his consistent attempts to undermine US law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

It seems clear the guy is helping the Russians and damaging the security of the nation he’s sworn to defend.

a certain regard for audacity

Okay, I know this is going to sound weird. But I have a certain regard for Melania Trump’s red Christmas trees. Don’t get me wrong–they’re horrible. But they’re also bizarrely beautiful. If we saw those crimson trees in a movie with subtitles, outside of the context of Christmas, they could win awards for set design.

But what I really appreciate about those trees is Melania’s deliberately in-your-face approach to holiday decoration. She had to know how ordinary folks and the media would respond to them, but that didn’t dissuade her. It’s as if Melania Trump is saying, “You make fun of me? You mock me? Pffft, your opinion means nothing. I will not shrink away. I will cover your Christmas trees in the blood of innocents. I will create in the hallways of your presidential palace a nightmare so hellish it can never be cleansed. I will crush your soul through fashion. This I will do to your Christmas, and though you may weep and rend your clothes, there is nothing…nothing…you can do to stop me. I will have my revenge; you will look into my narrow eyes and cower on your knees before me.”

Comrade Trump, of course, is a buffoon, but Melania is not. She has the elegance and audacity of a Bond villain. Trump may shout and threaten and bluster; he could destroy the nation as much through accident as intent. But Melania would set fire to the entire world with cold, casual contempt. She’d cut your throat with exquisite precision using a Danish-designed scalpel, then she’d kick you once–just once–very carefully and methodically, directly in the balls for bleeding on her Christian Louboutins. She may be terrible, but she’s terrible with deliberation and a flair for the dramatic.

The thing is, she can’t burn the world. She lacks access to real power, for which we should be grateful. She is mocked and scorned and ridiculed, and her only weapons of reprisal are fashion and set design. I can’t find it in me to like her or feel much in the way of sorrow for her; to some extent she’s earned the mocking and scorn and ridicule. But at the same time, I feel compassion for her. She made a deal with the devil, and I suspect it’s cost her more than she bargained for.

In a weird way, I respect the fact that she’s fighting back. There may not be anything very Christmasy about those red firs, but they’re delicious as a gesture of defiance. I only wish she’d made her walk down that hallway while drinking from a red Starbucks cup.

dude, not my fault

Years ago, before Academia and I decided we weren’t really compatible, I taught a variety of criminology and sociology courses — including courses on criminological theory. You know — what is crime, why do folks commit crime, how do we explain what’s going on? That sort of stuff. One of the theories I taught undergrads was Matza and Sykes’ theory of neutralization.

Matza and Sykes studied juvenile delinquency back in the 1950s. People, they said, are aware of their obligation to follow the law, so in order to skirt that obligation and do stuff they know they’re not supposed to do, they concoct a series of techniques to neutralize that obligation. In other words, they find ways to escape responsibility.

I mention all this because if you paid any attention to the news over the last week, you saw Matza and Sykes’ theory in action. Here are their five techniques of neutralization:

  • Denial of responsibility — Dude, it’s not really my fault.
  • Denial of injury — Dude, nobody really got hurt.
  • Denial of the victim — Dude, really it’s their own fault.
  • Condemning of the condemners — Dude c’mon, it’s not like you’re innocent.
  • Appeal to higher loyalties — Dude, I did it for my friends (or family, or god).

We saw ALL of these techniques in play over the last week. Every single one of them. We saw them employed by Comrade Trump, by his followers, and by most Republican politicians. Denial of responsibility: “Dude, Trump didn’t mail any of those bombs.” Denial of injury: “Dude, the bombs weren’t even bombs; they didn’t detonate and nobody got hurt.” Denial of the victim: “Dude, the people who got the mail bombs wouldn’t have gotten any mail bombs if they hadn’t tried to undermine the president like that.” Condemning the condemners: “Dude c’mon, it’s not like Democrats are innocent; I mean, a Bernie supporter shot a Republican congressmen who was playing softball, right? And people were rude to Sarah Sanders in a restaurant.” And yeah, even an appeal to higher loyalties: “The people who got the mail bombs were traitors and the real enemies of the people.”

Dude, don’t look at me, it’s not MY fault.

Even this morning, Trump was obliviously tweeting out neutralization techniques with all the desperate need of a spawning salmon.

There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!

He really can’t help himself. Trump seems to be completely incapable of accepting the notion that by labeling the news media as ‘fake’ and the ‘true Enemy of the People’ he’s not only inciting the anger he’s condemning, but also emboldening his followers to act on that anger.  Dude, it’s not my fault if the Enemy of the People get hurt; I’m just talking and words can’t really hurt you; besides, it’s the Enemy of the People who are at fault for being the Enemy of the People; and it’s not like they’re innocent, just look at how mean they are to me; and if I call the Enemy of the People the enemy, it’s because I want peace and harmony. Bitches.

It’s sad and infuriating that the only way to explain the behavior of the President of These United States is to rely on theories developed to explain criminality. Jeebus in handcuffs, we used to be a semi-decent nation.

People, you have GOT to vote. If you value decency and truth and science and integrity and compassion, you have GOT to fucking vote.

keep saying it

There’s too much to say today, and it feels like there’s not much point in saying any of it. We’re dealing with yet another mass shooting, this time a hate-inspired attack on a synagogue. We’re dealing with this just a day after the arrest of a hate-inspired series of bomb attacks on prominent critics of President Trump — which took place just a couple of days after a hate-inspired double murder of African-Americans in a Kentucky grocery store (after the shooter failed to gain entry into an African-American church).

In the face of all this hate, President Trump has once again proven himself incapable of performing the basic functions of his office. Instead of trying to unify the nation against this hate, he’s continued to encourage the anger and resentment of his followers. Instead of showing compassion for the victims of this shooting and offering comfort, he blamed the temple for not having an armed guard at the door. Instead of making a sincere call for unity, he continued to fuel the bitterness and the hate. He has falsely indicted Democrats and the news media for a lack of civility while absolutely refusing to acknowledge that his rhetoric plays any part in the problem.

Many of Trump’s supporters insist that all the hate and violence being inflicted on the public — including this mass murder — is a product of false flag operations conducted by Democrats and the Deep State, intended to hurt Republicans in the midterm elections. Instead of decrying this, Trump has fed into it, insisting that he is a victim of some sort of conspiracy. In doing so, the president has deliberately undermined public trust in many of the fundamental systems of representative democracy — law enforcement, the courts, the news media. And he’s done it purely in the interest of political expediency.

Again, there’s too much to say today. And right now  it feels like there’s not much point in saying any of it. But I still think it’s important to say it. And to keep saying it. Over and over and over. Even if it doesn’t seem to do any good, it’s important to keep saying it.

bombs, for fuck’s sake

You know, it was bad enough when our president was just ignorant. I mean, yeah, he was ignorant about the world and about how government worked, but it was just plain old ignorance. And it was bad enough that the president was an inveterate liar, who showed no compunction about making shit up on the spot and acting as though it was accepted truth. Sure, only his supporters actually believed them, but most of his lies were really obvious, so folks could ignore them. And it was bad enough that Comrade Trump was a hateful bully. But hey, he bullied everybody he thought he could get away with bullying, his friends and supporters as well as people who opposed him.

All that was bad enough. But now we have bombs. Actual bombs.

Now we have bombs sent to men and women who’ve publicly criticized Comrade Trump. We have bombs sent to people Trump considers to be enemies. Now we have bombs sent to two former presidents, a former vice president, a former Secretary of State, a former head of the CIA, a former Attorney General, a senior member of Congress, and others. Bombs, people.

Crude bombs, yeah, but fucking bombs. None of them detonated, yeah, and nobody got hurt, but the fact remains that somebody sent bombs to people who criticized Comrade Donald Trump. Somebody considered how to keep the weight of the bomb low enough to send through the mail, considered what materials could be used to make a bomb that would escape metal detectors. Somebody gathered the components to make the bombs, manufactured them, prepared the envelopes, delivered a couple by hand and sent the rest of the bombs — sent bombs, people — through the mail in order to kill or maim critics of Donald Trump.

Before, Trump or his followers would do or say something that was ridiculous or offensive or crazy, and we’d all repeat the mantra ‘This Is Not Normal and Must Not Be Seen as Normal’. But bombs? Bombs in the mail is so far outside of normal that you’d need the Hubble Space Telescope to find the galaxy where normal still exists.

Make no mistake, this is driven by Comrade Trump. No, of course, he didn’t tell anybody to make bombs and send them to people he considers to be enemies. What he did was repeatedly claim the people he considered as his enemies were enemies of The People. Enemies intent on destroying…well, whatever Trump happened to stand for at the moment.

In his recent rally speeches, Trump has taken to calling Democrats “the party of the mob.” Seriously. He stands in front of an angry, disorderly crowd (which, by the way, is pretty much the fucking definition of ‘mob’), encouraging them to become angrier, and then he accuses Democrats of being an angry, disorderly crowd. He actually said this at a recent rally:

“You don’t hand matches to an arsonist, and you don’t give power to an angry, left-wing mob. And that’s what the Democrats have become.”

It’s no surprise that one (or more) of Trump’s followers, having been told that an enemy exists, having been told that the enemy is dangerous, having been told the enemy is intent on causing harm, and having the enemy identified by name, decided to act.

To act by sending bombs. 

Comrade Trump bears some responsibility for this, though he’ll never acknowledge it. The Republicans in Congress bear some responsibility for this as well, because their only response to a couple of years of the president lying, threatening, and making appalling personal attacks has been to occasionally issue a bland disagreement.

The primary responsibility, of course, lies with the criminal fuckwit who believed Trump to the degree that’s he (and yeah, I’m assuming we’re talking about a man here) was willing to put together a group of bombs and send them on their way to kill or maim.

Bombs, for fuck’s sake. That’s where we are now in this nation. Bombs. We’re sending bombs through the mail.