safe to assume

This is just my opinion, but it seems to me that the Trump administration has demonstrated an uncanny ability to do the worst possible thing at the worst possible moment for the worst possible reasons. For example, changing the process for reporting Covid-19 cases during the biggest spike in Covid-19 cases.

Even if we give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt (stop laughing, it’s just a hypothetical example) and accept that they just want to ‘streamline’ the reporting process, it’s still a phenomenally idiotic point in time to do it. I mean, the CDC has been collecting and reporting hospitalization data for decades. Everybody is familiar with the system, everybody knows what to do, everybody knows the data is unfiltered by the government and pretty reliable. Everybody knows they can use that data as a foundation for planning.

Why are all these refrigerated trucks parked outside of hospitals? It’s a mystery.

Sure, that system is being challenged by a shocking number of Covid-19 cases. We’re talking about national daily infection rates of more than 50,000 new cases a day. A day, for fuck’s sake. Tens of thousands of cases every day from thousands of health care centers scattered all over the US. The fact that the CDC’s system is handling and publicly reporting all that data shows how stable and robust it is.

But the Trump administration has decided to route that data through a private corporation. A private corporation run by a Trump supporter. A Trump supporter and long-time GOP donor who got the US$10.2 million contract through a no-bid process. A contract that requires health care centers to learn an unfamiliar protocol that includes several additional types of data, some of which isn’t usually collected by some state health agencies. The phrase ‘recipe for disaster’ comes to mind.

The worst possible decision at the worst possible time for the worst possible reasons. Well, I’m assuming the worst possible reasons. It’s safe to assume the Trump administration is acting out of the worst possible reasons, because that so often turns out to be the case. It’s theoretically possible somebody in the administration truly and sincerely believes the shift in data collection is being done to make the process more transparent and more simple. But there are people in the Trump administration who truly and sincerely believe prayer is an effective tool in the fight against gun violence. And teen pregnancy. And climate change. And, I don’t know, forest fires. Halitosis. The outcome of football games.

This isn’t to suggest Comrade Trump is actually driving refrigerated body trucks. He doesn’t have a commercial driver’s licence.

So yeah, it’s probably safe to assume this plan to shift Covid-19 data collection from a familiar robust system used by the CDC to a new protocol created by a private company owned by a Trump supporter is designed to control what information the public gets. To turn the data into a political tool. To cook the books and make the pandemic seem somewhat less catastrophic than it is. To benefit Trump.

It’s safe to assume everything Trump does is to benefit Trump. Everything.

abuse of power

On 5 February of this year the United States Senate acquitted Comrade Trump on two impeachment charges: obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. In the 157 days since then, Trump has:

  1. Fired Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence (‘acting’ because Trump fired DNI Dan Coats in August, 2019) because his subordinate Shelby Pierson, an expert on election security, had briefed members of the House Intelligence Committee saying Russia interfered in the 2020 election to help Trump. Maguire was replaced by Richard Grenell, a vocal Trump supporter.
  2. Fired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Director for European Affairs for the National Security Council, who testified in the impeachment trial. He also fired Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman.
  3. Fired Gordon Sondland, the Ambassador to the European Union, who testified in the impeachment trial.
  4. Fired John Rood, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, who had certified that Ukraine had met all the anti-corruption standards, making it eligible for the foreign aid Trump wanted to withhold in exchange for ‘a favor’.
  5. Fired Michael Atkinson, Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, because he found a whistleblower complaint involving Trump’s Ukraine call to be credible and forwarded it to Congress, as required by law.
  6. Fired Glenn Fine, acting Inspector General of the Department of Defense, who’d been appointed to head the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee which oversaw the spending of Covid-19 funds voted by Congress.
  7. Fired Christi Grimm, the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services who’d filed a report saying that the nation’s hospitals were suffering from severe shortages of personal protective equipment and testing supplies, contrary to Trump’s claims.
  8. Fired Steve Linick, the Inspector General of the State Department, who was conducting an investigation into whether Sec. of State Pompeo had used government employees to run personal errands for him.
  9. Fired Mitch Behm, the acting inspector general for the Department of Transportation and a member of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, who was investigating a claim that DOT Secretary Elaine Chao had given preferential treatment to the state of Kentucky, which is represented by her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  10. Pardoned 1) Lt. Michael Behenna, who’d been convicted of murdering an Iraqi civilian and sentenced to 20 years, 2) Conrad Black, a friend/supporter/biographer of Trump, convicted of mail fraud and obstruction of justice, sentenced to 3.5 years, 3) Pat Nolan, Republican lawmaker convicted of racketeering and soliciting illegal campaign donations, sentenced to three years, 4) Maj. Mathew Goldsteyn, charged with murdering an Afghan citizen, pardoned before trial, 5) Lt. Clint Lorance, convicted of two counts of murder, attempted murder, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice, sentenced to 19 years, 6) David Safavian, Republican lawyer/lobbyist, Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, convicted of obstruction of justice and three counts of perjury, sentenced to six years, 7) Bernard Kerik, Trump supporter, former NYPD commissioner, Fox News consultant, convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to four years.
  11. Commuted criminal sentences for 1) Ted Suhl, who ran faith-based behavioral healthcare treatment centers for juveniles in Arkansas, a friend of Trump supporter Mike Huckabee, convicted of bribery, sentenced to seven years, 2) Rod Blagojevich, former Gov. of Illinois and contestant on Trump’s Apprentice reality show, convicted of extortion and 10 counts of wire fraud, sentenced to 14 years, 3) Judith Negron, friend of Kim Kardashian, convicted of multiple counts of healthcare fraud and money laundering, sentence to 35 years and US$87.5 million in restitution, 4) Roger Stone, friend and associate of Trump and career Republican ratfucker, convicted of seven felonies, sentenced to four years.

That’s what Trump has done in the 157 days since Republicans in the Senate voted to acquit him of abuse of power. There are still 115 days until the presidential election. There are 79 days between election day and inauguration day. Assuming Trump loses the 2020 election, that means he has 194 days to continue to abuse his powers.

(Photo: Jim Vondruska)

We know Republicans in Congress won’t act to stop his abuses. We know Attorney General William Barr will enable Trump to continue to abuse his power. We know that Democrats in Congress will be outraged and complain, but are either too timid or too disheartened to even try to hold him accountable.

That means the only real resistance will come from us, from the people, through whatever legal and semi-legal means we have available. If we give up as well, then there’s really no hope left for the United States.

more than a little odd

First thing this morning, a text: Greg, old sock, this Berman thing, it’s a little odd, don’t you think? I think you should stop calling me ‘old sock’. But yes, it’s a little odd. Well, it’s odder than that. It’s really seriously odd.

Late on Friday Attorney General William Barr announced, “Geoffrey Berman is stepping down as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.” Later on Friday, Berman announced, “Nope.”

US Attorney for the Southern District of New York ain’t going nowhere, thank you very much.

That just begins to touch the surface of how odd this is. Normally (and c’mon, nothing has been normal since Trump slithered into the Oval Office) a US Attorney is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. That pretty much gives POTUS the ability to fire a US Attorney if he wants to. And that’s exactly what Trump did to the prior US Attorney for SDNY, Preet Bharara (which is a whole nother scandal). Trump being Trump, after he fired Bharara, he wanted to put his own guy in the SDNY slot. He made an interim appointment of a guy who’d done some part-time volunteer work for the Trump transition team. Geoffrey fuckin’ Berman. That’s right, the guy Trump is now trying to fire.

But here’s the thing (in case you were wondering what the thing is): Trump being Trump, he got distracted by some shiny object and never bothered to actually nominate somebody to fill the SDNY position. That meant the Senate never had anybody to confirm. So after about four months, the Chief Judge of SDNY “entered an order on behalf of a unanimous court appointing Berman U.S. Attorney pursuant to its authority under 28 U.S.C Section 546(d).”

This probably means Berman has the appointment indefinitely, until the Senate confirms someone nominated by the president. Since he was appointed to the gig by the federal court, he can probably only be fired by that court. (I keep saying ‘probably’ because I don’t think this has ever been tested; no other administration has been this incompetent.) The only other way for Trump to get rid of Berman is to formally nominate somebody to be the US Attorney of SDNY, and for the Senate to confirm them.

Attorney General William Barr after meeting with President Trump checks to make sure he still has his wallet.

So there’s that. Now the real question is this: why does Trump (through Barr) want to get rid of Berman five months before the presidential election? We can only speculate, of course, but the speculation can be based on what we know Berman has been investigating. For example:

  • campaign finance violations that grew out of the indictment against Michael Cohen
  • the Jeffrey Epstein case and any allegations that Trump may have been involved
  • Rudy Giuiliani’s potentially illegal campaign contributions as well as his shenanigans in Ukraine.

That suggests Berman may be on the verge of announcing some legal action against one of Trump’s associates. Or one of Trump’s children. Or Trump, though that seems the least likely possibility. In any event, firing–or attempting to fire–Berman at this point in time seems like the act of a desperate administration.

Just as important — no, wait. More important is that the attack on Berman is just the latest of AG Bill Barr’s blatant attempts to interfere with the course of justice to benefit Comrade Trump. In the 16 months since he was appointed, Barr 1) misrepresented (okay, lied about) the Mueller Report, claiming it found no evidence of obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation, 2) interfered in the sentencing of Roger Stone (also regarding the Russia investigation), 3) is attempting to dismiss the case against confessed felon Michael Flynn in regard to the Russia investigation and related corruption, 4) is dropping the case against the Russian individuals and agencies known to have interfered with the 2016 election, 5) authorized a political appointee to conduct a second investigation into the investigation of Russian interference apparently because he didn’t like the result of the DOJ Inspector General’s earlier investigation of the investigation, 6) issued a DOJ opinion that extorting a foreign nation to investigate a political opponent was NOT a violation of the law, 7) lied about the peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square AND 8) deployed armed DOJ personnel from various agencies (with their affiliation deliberately masked) to clear those protesters from Lafayette Square in order for Comrade Trump to hold a three minute photo op.

So yes, this situation is a little odd. Everything about William Barr is odd. Everything about the entire Trump universe is so fucking odd that the scale and scope of the oddness is impossible to understand without a spreadsheet the size of Utah.

The good news, though, is that Berman doesn’t appear willing to go quietly. Or at all. The bad news is, just like everything else related to the Trump administration, this ugly situation is going to get even uglier before it’s resolved.

Note: Just learned that Jay Clayton, who Trump and Barr wanted to replace Berman, has absolutely NO prosecutorial experience. Worse, Clayton used to represent Deutsche Bank, the only western bank that would lend Trump money after his numerous bankruptcies. Deutsche Bank has been in trouble for laundering money from Russian organized crime.

Odder and odder by the minute.

president uxb

Remember a couple of years ago when the US seem to bumble from one crisis to another? One crisis would end, then as soon as we caught our breath, another would start? And remember how the number of crises expanded and the time between them contracted, so we had more crises more often, without any time to catch our breath between them? And now here we are, dealing with multiple crises happening all at the same time.

It was predictable. Hell, it was almost inevitable. This explosion of crises has been building since 1995, when Newt Gingrich began to mix the hydrogen of politics with the chlorine of partisanship, which eventually turned the Republican Party into a fucking time bomb. Max Bodenstein would have seen this coming.

I say it was ‘almost inevitable’ because Republicans could have defused the bomb. They could have stabilized the process, reduced the partisanship, and impeded the likelihood of explosion. They had an excellent opportunity after Gingrich was forced to resign from Congress for ethical reasons. They had an even better chance after the tragedies of the 9/11 attacks. Given the extraordinary circumstances–a period in which most Americans were eager to band together as a nation–setting aside partisanship would have been not only politically astute, but would actually further national interests.

President UXB, not yet rendered safe.

But they didn’t. They have not only refused to try to unite the nation, they have exacerbated minor political predicaments into crises (numerous government shut-downs over partisan policy issues), and created crises where none existed (Hilary’s emails). They have chosen to accelerate the explosive process Each crisis leads inexorably to the next, and the crises have cascaded one after the other more and more quickly. Each smaller explosion has led to a larger, more powerful explosion as the various crises build on each other.

This is going to continue until November when, it’s to be hoped, Comrade Trump will be defeated in the presidential election. Even if he is defeated, the potential for some sort of political kinetic disassembly will continue until January, when the transfer of power takes place. A big bang is almost certainly coming. The only questions are how bad the explosions will be, and whether any remnants of representational democracy will survive.

NOTE: uxb = unexploded bomb.

the bluto party

You know what? It’s time we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘anybody who is paying attention to what’s happening right now in the United States’) stopped thinking of the Republican Party as a legitimate political party — because they’ve stopped acting like one. A political party is just a collection of people who share the same general ideology and hold the same general political positions in regard to governance. The operative term there is ‘governance’. Based on their behavior, Republicans no longer believe in governance; they only believe in ruling.

Seriously. The folks who represent Republicans now have abandoned the notion that every political party should be subject to the same rules and laws. Since Trump took office, Republicans have gutted congressional oversight, they’ve perverted the advice and consent process, they’ve twisted the concept of judicial review. Worst of all, they’ve changed the executive branch from being just one of three co-equal branches of government into…well, Bluto. What Bluto wants, Republicans deliver.

In fact, Republicans have become the Bluto Party.

Bluto, if you’re not familiar with him, was Popeye’s nemesis. A loudmouthed, blustering, bully who tries to get what he wants through brute force and/or trickery. In the Popeye cartoons Bluto takes on a variety of guises — sometimes he’s a fellow sailor, but he’s also shown up as an evil professor, a wicked hypnotist, a lecherous lifeguard, a devious sheik, a generic thug.

It’s the same with modern Republicans. They take on various guises, but they all behave like Bluto. You can put Bluto in a suit and a tie, but he’s still Bluto. You can put him in a drawing room or an orchestra pit, but he’s still Bluto. You can spray him with a gentleman’s cologne, he’s still Bluto. You can dress him in judicial robes, still Bluto. There is absolutely nothing you can do to unBluto him. He’s Bluto to the bone.

“You’d better lock up your doors today.
‘Cause Abu Hassan is on his way.
Go in hiding when I come riding
from me and my forty thieves.

Your wife and children, your money too,
I’ll steal them from you before I’m through.
I’m out gunning, so start in running
from me and my forty thieves.

My gang’s the roughest,
But I’m the toughest,
and that’s no lie.
You’ve got to hand it
to this bad bandit,
because I’m a terrible guy.

Comrade Trump, of course, is the bull goose Bluto. All lesser Blutos must bow to him. He’s released the inner Bluto in every Republican in government. For example, Bluto says it’s perfectly okay to ignore subpoena if it’s issued by congressional Democrats. Bluto argues (in front of Bluto-dominated courts) that a congressional subpoena MUST have a legislative purpose. But Bluto Republicans in congress have a long (long, long, long) history of issuing subpoenas for purely investigative purposes — even when those investigations have repeatedly turned up nothing.

I’m basically saying ALL Republicans in government now are Bluto. Republicans in Congress — Bluto. Republicans in the Justice Department — mad Bluto. Republicans who’ve been place in federal courts even when rated unqualified — totally Bluto. You may say that it’s not fair to paint all Republicans with the same brush, and I suppose you’d be right. But I’m of the opinion that if they’re benefiting from Bluto Republican behavior and not calling it out, then they’re Bluto too, and just as guilty as every other Bluto.

The only comfort to be found in this is that Bluto always gets his ass kicked in the end. I mean, it works that way in the cartoons. So I’m sending spinach to Joe Biden and every other Popeye motherfucker running a campaign against Bluto.

really most sincerely dead

Well, that’s it then. The rule of law is dead. Officially dead. Medically dead, legally dead, dead in every meaningful way. Stone dead. Dead as Marley’s ghost. Deader than that, in fact, since Jacob Marley at least came back in an attempt to set things right. That’s not going to happen here. The rule of law in the United States is as dead as the Wicked Witch of the East. Not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Comrade Donald Trump killed it. Attorney General Bill Barr helped. Trump pushed it out the window and left it crippled and bleeding in the gutter; Barr finished it off by dropping a cinder block its head. 

I’m not a fan of the FBI, although I recognize their dedication and, to some extent, their sincerity of purpose. What they did to Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was no different from what law enforcement officers at all levels–federal, state, county, and municipal–do every day. They gathered their facts, they interviewed the suspect, they gave him a chance to tell the truth. He didn’t.

That’s routine interviewing technique. Say you arrest a kid for shoplifting. You have him on the store’s CCTV sliding a pair of expensive sunglasses up his sleeve. You detain the kid and say, “Tell me what happened.” If the kid fesses up, that tells you something. It shows some contrition and you take that into consideration when deciding what to do. If the kid lies, that also tells you something. You know he’s still hoping to get away with it, and you take that into consideration.

Flynn got caught. He was given a chance to tell the truth, and he lied. He pleaded guilty to lying. Then he tried to take it back. Then he re-affirmed his guilty plea. Then he tried to take it back again. That tells you something. He was still hoping to get away with it. And hey, he did.

He betrayed his country, and thanks to complicit political appointees in the Department of Justice, he got away with it. Never spent an hour in jail. Nor will he.

The only hope this nation has of returning to some semblance of the rule of law is if voters turn out in massive numbers–numbers large enough to overcome whatever barriers are put in place to hamper voting. Because if we know one thing for certain, it’s that Trump will cheat. He’ll lie, cheat, steal, connive, do anything he can get away with to win. Because he’s learned there’s nothing to stop him–not the Department of Justice, not Congress, and certainly not his conscience.

Ain’t nothing going to stop him. Unless it’s us.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Stay alive. Vote your ass off.

 

it stinks

I’m trying to remember when I hit that point where I stopped trying to keep track of each and every awful thing that happened that day.

I mean, there was actually a time when I could read two or three news sources and feel like I had a solid grasp of all the awful things that happened on any given day. Later I found myself focusing on the primary awful things that happened, because it would take a spreadsheet to keep track of the picayune awful things. But over time, every day became a muddle of major corruption, lying, gross incompetence, vindictiveness, and venality, all of which existed in a melange of Trumpian hate-rage. And it was impossible to keep track even of all the massively awful things that happened in a given day.

This guy is awful in so many ways you need a quantum computer to keep track.

It’s hard to imagine a president who in the course of a single day would 1) shirk his duty during a pandemic that has cost more than 65,000 American lives, 2) lie about the availability of testing necessary to know the extent of that pandemic, 3) encourage states to re-open their economies even though NONE of those states have met the guidelines issued by the president’s own task force, 4) try to extort political favors from states in desperate need of federal financial aid as a result of that pandemic, 4) try to undermine the 2020 presidential election by claiming vote-by-mail is risky, 5) find ways to threaten the unemployment benefits of the nearly 20% of the US workforce that’s unemployed because of the pandemic, 6) use his presidential emergency powers to force workers in the meat industry to continue to work despite the alarming number of Covid-19 cases appearing in meat-packing plants, 7) block the nation’s most trusted information source from testifying in front of the Democratic-led House while allowing his testimony in the Republican-led Senate, 8) encourage armed insurrection against the legitimately elected Democratic governors of states he doesn’t like, 9) float the idea of pardoning his former National Security Advisor whom he’d fired because the man had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI (and the Vice President) about his dealings with Russian intelligence (not to mention his failure to register as a foreign agent of Turkey OR his involvement in a plot to kidnap a Turkish dissident cleric), 10) denigrated and undermined the leadership and line staff of the nation’s primary national law enforcement agency, 11) promoted a number of conspiracy theories, including one about the origins of the pandemic, and 12) tried to pressure US intelligence agencies to substantiate that conspiracy theory.

That’s just what I can recall of the major awful stuff Comrade Trump engaged in one a single day. There’s bound to be awful stuff I’ve missed.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Comrade Trump ohmyfuckinggod I can’t even look killmenow.

All of this horror is compounded by state governors who are willing (or actually eager) to curry favor with Trump for their own political reasons. Like so many other Republican governors, the governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, refused to issue a state-wide shelter-in-place order. She’s not only supporting Trump’s executive order to require workers at meat-packing plants (a large proportion of whom are immigrants) to report for work regardless of Covid-19 outbreaks, she’s also informed low wage workers who are reluctant to return to work because of pandemic fears that if they refuse to return to work, they will be denied unemployment benefits.

The result of this monstrous cascade of really, truly, awful stuff from Trump and his supporters is a sort of numbness. It’s like living downwind from a paper mill or a hog containment farm — you sort of get inured to the stink. Some days stink more than others, but every day stinks horribly.

And it will continue to stink horribly until we get rid of the hog farm.

trump, burr, and the missing worldwide threat assessment

Here’s a curious thing. Last month Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Tar Heel Circle (which is more formally known as The North Carolina State Society of Washington DC). That’s not the curious thing; members of Congress routinely meet with ‘important’ people from their home state — business owners, social leaders, local politicians.

This smarmy fucker knew.

The curious thing is what Burr told those ‘important’ people. He warned them about a virus coming to the U.S. He told them it was “much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history. It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.” You know, the pandemic that killed millions of people worldwide. He talked about travel restrictions and schools closing. He talked about how the military might need to be mobilized.

Here’s another curious thing. At the same time Burr was giving his speech, Comrade Trump was assuring the public that “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.” He acknowledged a small number of US citizens had become ill, but “they’ve gotten very much better. Many of them are fully recovered.” We know, of course, that wasn’t true.

Had we been told the truth, the butcher’s bill wouldn’t be so high.

Here’s yet another curious thing. Every year in January or February, the US intelligence community provides the House and Senate intelligence committees with a briefing on global threats. That briefing is usually accompanied by a public hearing and the publication of an unclassified report called the Worldwide Threat Assessment. This year, the public hearing for the 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment was canceled. It hasn’t been rescheduled. The report, which is usually unclassified, was suddenly classified.

One more curious thing: Senator Richard Burr, who issued that dire warning to the ‘important’ people of the Tar Heel Circle, is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee that first learns the details of the Worldwide Threat Assessment.

More curious things. In 2017, the Worldwide Threat Assessment said this about the threat to public health:

“A novel or reemerging microbe that is easily transmissible between humans and is highly pathogenic remains a major threat because such an organism has the potential to spread rapidly and kill millions.”

The 2018 WTA:

“A novel strain of a virulent microbe that is easily transmissible between humans continues to be a major threat, with pathogens such as H5N1 and H7N9 influenza and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus having pandemic potential if they were to acquire efficient human-to-human transmissibility… a severe global influenza pandemic could cost the equivalent of 4.8 percent of global GDP—more than $3 trillion—and cause more than 100 million deaths.”

The 2019 WTA:

“We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or largescale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”

We can, I think, safely assume the now-classified 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment repeated what the last three WTAs said. We can, I think, assume that what Senator Burr reported to the ‘important’ people of North Carolina came directly from the 2020 WTA. We don’t have to assume that information was kept from the general public for at least six weeks; we know that’s true. Six weeks during which the US government failed to respond to a health threat they knew was coming. Six weeks in which the Trump administration could have prevented needless sickness and death.

We can’t blame every Covid-19 death on folks like Trump and Burr. But we can hold them responsible for a lot of them.

They knew. They knew it was coming. These fuckers deliberately downplayed the threat to the public while warning the ‘important’ people.

We need to see the 2020 Worldwide Threat Assessment report. We need to know what they knew. We need to hold all of these fuckers accountable. We need to toss them out of office. We need to publicly name them and shame them. We need to hang the scope of this pandemic around their necks and make them wear their shame every day for the rest of their miserable lives.