i’m probably wrong, but…

Crime, boy, I don’t know.

I mean, c’mon. Here’s Comrade Trump, who I should remind you is the actual President of the United States, casually suggesting that a former president, Bill Clinton, was somehow responsible for having accused pedophile Jeffery Epstein murdered while he was in the custody of the United States Department of Justice. He doesn’t offer any evidence of that. He just tosses the accusation out there. Bill Clinton had Epstein killed. And he says it like it’s, you know, a bad thing.

And at the same time, here’s Comrade Trump brushing off actual evidence that Mohammad Bin Salman had Washington Post reporter Jamal Kashoggi tortured, murdered, and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, like it’s no big deal. So I’m just a tad confused here.

Murder, boy, I don’t know. You’d think if Donald Trump was okay with the murder of a respected, award-winning journalist who was a resident of the United States, then he’d probably be okay — maybe even moderately pleased — by the murder of a convicted pedophile rapist who lived part time on a private sex island. But apparently not. I just don’t know how to explain that.

I don’t want to cast aspersions or anything, but I’m beginning to wonder if Comrade Trump is being entirely consistent here. It sort of almost kinda sounds like he has a different murder standard for folks he likes. Maybe — and I’m probably entirely wrong here — but maybe he’d have been more positive about Epstein’s ‘suicide wink wink’ if he thought bin Salman (or his boy Kim Jong Un) had been behind it?

It’s beginning to sound like Trump is more interested in conspiracy theories involving his political enemies than in actual conspiracies involving his buddies. But naw, that can’t be right. Can it?

EDITORIAL NOTE: There’s a 99.95% chance that all the conspiracy theories about Epstein’s death are bullshit. Negligence and incompetence are a much more likely explanation. Though not as entertaining.

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elections have consequences, sort of

Ordinary Dude: Why aren’t we impeaching Comrade Trump?
Moderate Democratic Member of Congress: I don’t think we have quite enough information to begin impeachment proceedings.
OD: Is there credible evidence that he obstructed an investigation into possible wrongdoing by him and his staff?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that he lies every day to the American people? That he lies so consistently and shamelessly that nobody can trust or rely on anything he says?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that he was elected with the aid of a hostile foreign power? That he welcomed that aid in 2016 and might do so again in 2020?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that he’s abusing his office to increase his personal wealth?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that Comrade Trump has cozied up to Mohammed bin Salman, who had a critic tortured, murdered and dismembered? And that he’s repeatedly bypassed Congress in order to sell weapons to him?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: And that’s he’s playing footsie with other leaders of hostile nations, while insulting and demeaning the leaders of friendly nations?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that he’s abused the office of the president to settle personal grievances?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that he’s used his office to consistently undermine federal law enforcement agencies and the US intelligence community?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: And doesn’t that make the US less safe?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that Trump violated campaign finance laws by paying hush money to women with whom he’s had affairs while married to his third wife?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: What about neo-Nazis and white supremicists? Is there credible evidence that he’s encouraged these groups, either openly or through example?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that he’s attacked the freedom of the press and called the news media ‘the enemy of the people’?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that he’s created policies that separate children from their asylum-seeking parents? That he’s housed both the children and their parents in appalling circumstances? That he failed to insure there’s a method for re-uniting those children with their parents? Is there credible evidence that some of those children will likely never see their parents again?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that the Trump administration is the most corrupt, most inept, most conflicted, most incompetent administration ever?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: Is there credible evidence that Trump is a racist?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…

Democrats fleeing the swarm of Republican accusations of partisanship.

OD: Don’t all these facts taken together amount to the biggest betrayal of the United States by a president in our history? And isn’t that betrayal still taking place?
MDMoC: Well, yes, but…
OD: So why aren’t we impeaching the motherfucker already?
MDMoC: Because we’re not sure impeachment is a politically wise position to take.
OD:
MDMoC: If we try to impeach, Republicans will accuse us of being partisan.
OD:
MDMoC: And even if we do impeach him, the Senate probably wouldn’t vote to convict.
OD: Jesus suffering fuck.
MDMoC: Hey, don’t blame us. You elected us, after all.

yeah, he’s lying

Comrade Donald J. Trump is a liar.

Every president has told lies. Every person on earth has told lies. We all lie. Most of our lies are social lies — lies told to lubricate social interactions. “No, the pie crust wasn’t overbaked.” “I’d love to visit, but I’m running a bit late.” “Yes, of course, I’d be happy to help.” “Please, stay as long as you’d like.”

But Trump isn’t just a social liar. He will lie about anything to anybody for any reason without any compunction and without any concern for consequences. He’s an unrepentant liar. A serial liar. An inveterate liar. Worst of all, he’s a dangerous liar. I mean that quite seriously. Trump’s repeated barrage of lies are damaging the stability of our democracy.

Yeah, he’s lying.

Back in 1978 the French writer Roger Errera interviewed Hannah Arendt for the New York Review of Books. Among the things they discussed was the role played by lying in totalitarian governments.

If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie — a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days — but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

We are still sometimes shocked by the viciousness and cruelty of some of Comrade Trump’s lies. We’re sometimes amused by the absurdity of his lies. We’re occasionally baffled by the pointlessness of some of his lies. But it’s been a long time since we were shocked by the fact that he lies. He’s normalized lying. And increasingly, the result is exactly what Arendt said: it’s not that anybody believes most of Trump’s lies; it’s that a lot of people no longer believe anything.

In the last election we elected a Democratic House of Representatives because they told us they would act to hold Comrade Trump accountable. They haven’t. And because they haven’t, we’re less likely to believe them when they promise they will. It’s getting harder and harder to believe anything.

Yeah, he’s lying.

As Arendt said, it’s getting harder and harder to act. I’d intended to join the protest at a local detention facility last Friday. But I had company coming for a few days. Instead of inviting them to the protest, I stayed home. We cooked a meal, drank some locally brewed beer, talked, laughed, enjoyed ourselves. We did this while families seeking asylum are being separated and detained in appalling conditions.

This is how the fatigue caused by Comrade Trump’s constant lying and hate damages the nation. This is how a weary population surrenders. This is how democracy dies.

Yeah, he’s lying.

One last comment by Hannah Arendt.

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer exist.

Most of still make those distinctions. Most of us aren’t ‘ideal subjects’ for totalitarian rule. But many of us — I hope it’s not most of us — are just tired. We’re just so goddamn tired. But I truly believe we’d find our energy again IF the Democrats in the House would begin impeachment proceedings.

So today I’ll struggle to find the energy to call my member of Congress and, once again, encourage them to pressure Nancy Pelosi to do her fucking job. Democracy depends on it.

that kind of thing happens

In April of 2008, Lt. Michael Behenna — an Army Ranger and platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division — was part of a convoy traveling north of Baghdad. A roadside IED detonated, killing two of Behenna’s platoon members and badly wounding several others. In war, that kind of thing happens. Bombs explode, people get killed and maimed.

An intelligence report linked a man named Ali Mansur to the attack. Mansur, like a lot of unhappy, resentful Iraqis, was suspected to be a member of al-Qaeda. He may have been al-Qaeda. He probably was, given that he was in Iraq with a Syrian passport. In any event, Mansur was detained and for two weeks he was interrogated by intelligence officers. They were unable to confirm a link between Mansur and the IED, so they ordered him released. That kind of thing happens in modern war; you can’t always distinguish the enemy from the disgruntled, or the disgruntled from the innocent. Innocent people get caught up and punished unfairly; guilty people walk.

Lt. Behenna was ordered to return Mansur to his village. Instead, Behenna and his platoon took the handcuffed prisoner to a secluded location near a railroad bridge. They used their knives to cut off his clothing. Without any authorization, they continued to interrogate him about the IED. Eventually they removed Mansur’s restraints, and at some point Lt. Behenna shot him twice, killing him. In war, that kind of thing happens. Troops under a massive amount of stress sometimes act irrationally and against orders. Sometimes in war, it’s not really clear what counts as rationality. If you send young men and women to war, some of them will commit war crimes.

The next day villagers found Mansur’s naked body, burned, stashed in a culvert below the railroad bridge. In July, Behenna was relieved of his command and charged with murder. Two of his platoon members and his interpreter testified against him at his court martial. The interpreter testified that Behenna told Mansur he was going to kill him, but had assumed it was just a threat to frighten Mansur. Behenna claimed he was acting in self defense when he shot Mansur. He testified Mansur had made an attempt to seize his weapon. Which is entirely possible. If I’d been questioned by military intelligence for two weeks, then told I was to be released but was instead taken to a remote area by the troops who had accused me in the first place, had my clothing cut off me, and was threatened with death while being interrogated again — if they removed my restraints, I might try to grab that guy’s weapon too. That kind of thing happens when you’re desperate and have nothing to lose.

In 2009, Behenna was found guilty of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. After a number of appeals and requests for clemency, his sentence was reduced to 15 years. Behenna was released on parole in 2014, having served less than five years. That kind of thing happens in the justice system, both civilian and military. There’s always a tentative and uneasy balance between justice and punishment.

Lt. Behenna and the men of “Mad Dog 5” — 5th Platoon, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.

Yesterday, President Comrade Trump gave Behenna a full pardon. Trump has issued eight pardons to date. His other pardons include

  • Dwight and Steven Hammond — cattle ranchers who threatened US Forest Service officials, and whose 2012 convictions for arson of federal property sparked the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by right wing terrorists.
  • Dinesh D’Souza — right wing pundit, conspiracy theorist, and provocateur who pled guilty to campaign fraud in 2014.
  • Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby — Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff who was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and one count of making false statements in regard to leaking the identity of an undercover CIA agent in an effort to discredit arguments that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — the pretense behind the Iraq War.
  • Kristian Saucier — a machinist’s mate in the U.S. Navy who was convicted of taking photographs of classified areas of a nuclear submarine, and who destroyed evidence after being questioned by the FBI. Saucier was given a less than honorable discharge and sentenced to a year in prison. His lawyers argued he deserved a lesser sentence because Hillary Clinton had classified information on her personal server and received no punishment. His lawyers also agreed the two cases were different, and that Saucier knew what he was doing was illegal.
  • Joe Arpaio — Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona and birther conspiracy theorist, who was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to comply with the court’s order to stop its racial profiling practices.

See a pattern? You can defy court orders, endanger national security, expose the identify of a NOC CIA agent, commit campaign fraud, commit arson, or murder a suspect in a war zone and burn his body; you do that and still receive a full pardon, if the president likes you. That kind of thing happens when hostile foreign nations influence a US election in order to elect an ignorant, narcissistic, malignant, compliant conspiracy theorist as President of the United States.

NOTE: I have a lot of compassion for Mr. Behenna. He and the men of Mad Dog 5 suffered horribly. In the IED explosion, one of his men was literally cut in half. Nobody can experience that kind of thing and not be affected by it. If he believed Mansur was responsible for that, I don’t blame him for wanting to execute the man. You can read a more detailed account of what happened at SCOTUSblog.

But here’s the thing: if you send people to war, they’re going to commit war crimes. It’s a given; we need to acknowledge that ugly truth. But even in the most horrific conditions we have to maintain military discipline and the rule of law. Behenna was an officer; he swore an oath; he knew what he was doing when he took Mansur to that bridge; he knew it was against orders. He did it anyway, and he tried to cover up his crime.

I have compassion for Behenna. But he’s not deserving of a pardon.

we’re not that stupid

Now that we’ve had a couple of days to calm down and/or sober up, let’s take a more rational and dispassionate look at AG William Barr’s letter summarizing the Mueller report. Specifically, let’s look at the way ‘coordination’ is defined in a footnote.

Before we can look at the footnote, we need to read the sentence referred to in the footnote.

As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

On the surface, that seems pretty clear, doesn’t it. But it’s not. I mean, Barr doesn’t even give us the entire sentence. We don’t know if the phrase that precedes that bracketed [T] reinforces or undermines the conclusion of the sentence. For all we know, the entire sentence could be something like this: “Despite extensive circumstantial evidence to the contrary, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.” Until/unless we get to see the unredacted version of the report, we’re expected to assume Barr is accurately stating what Mueller found.

Even if Barr IS being accurate, there’s the problem of the footnote. It contains the operative definition of the term ‘coordination’. It’s a very narrow definition. According to Barr, coordination is:

an “agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

I’m no counter-intelligence expert, but I’ve been around the block a time or two. I know enough about people and conspiracy to know that definition is absurd. That’s not how intelligence services work. Hell, that’s not even how normal people operate.

Now THERE’S some collusion. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’re the sort of dick who wants to upstage your ex-spouse by giving your kid a better birthday present. You don’t call up your ex and ask what she’s going to give the kid; you get a friend to chat with your ex and find out what she’s giving the kid. You don’t tell your friend you want the information so you can be a dick. You might just say you want to give the kid something of similar value.

Guess what: intelligence agents are just as smart as you are. I mean, the whole point of having spies and covert intelligence agents out doing shit is to avoid tacit or expressed agreements. It’s all about plausible deniability, putting distance between what you seem to be doing and what you’re actually doing.

Barr’s definition becomes even less useful because he restricts coordination to the actual Russian government. When Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and Comrade Trump Jr. met with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower to discuss ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton, they could deny she was there representing some facet of the Russian government. When Maria Butina hosted a party attended by Trump campaign aides, they could accurately claim she  deny she wasn’t actually employed BY the Russian government. Veselnitskaya and Butina might be serving the interests of the Kremlin while not actually being directly paid by them.

Finally, Barr’s definition of ‘coordination’ caves in on itself when he confines it to deliberate electoral interference. When Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, who has ties with Russian intelligence agencies, he could claim he wasn’t trying to interfere with the election — he was just trying to demonstrate the probability of Trump being elected.

Barr limits the meaning of coordination to tacit and express agreements, then restricts it to actual members of the Russian government, and further confines its use to blatant election interference. By doing so, he basically claims there couldn’t be any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia unless somebody from the Russian government met with somebody from the Trump campaign and clearly stated he wanted to work with them to disrupt the election.

The Russians aren’t that stupid. Barr isn’t that stupid. But apparently he thinks the American public is that stupid.

One more example. Let’s say you wanted to be the Attorney General in order to protect the President of the United States from being impeached and/or indicted for a criminal act. You wouldn’t announce that, would you. No, you’d write a 19 page memo arguing that the president could only be guilty of obstruction of justice under very specific circumstances, then you’d repeat that argument in a confirmation hearing controlled by supporters of the president, and you’d tell the opposition party that of course you’d obey the law, and you’d promise to give the public as much of the Mueller report as possible.

Plausible deniability, y’all. We can’t allow ourselves to be that stupid.

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.

c’mon, just pay for the wall, okay?

COMRADE TRUMP: I’m going to build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.
DEMOCRATS: Yeah, sure.
CT: I’m ending DACA.
D: Wait, what?
CT: And I’m ending temporary protected status for immigrants.
D: You’re what?
CT: I’m enforcing a program to separate children from parents seeking asylum.
D: The fuck?
CT: Mexico will pay for the wall eventually through a process only I can understand, but in the meantime, you’ll have to pay for it.
D: No fucking way.
CT: I’m going to shut down the government if you don’t pay for the wall.
D: You’re insane.
CT: It’s okay, I won’t blame you for it.
D: Yes you will.

CT: There’s a crisis on the border and Democrats shut down the government.
D: You created the crisis, you weasel-brained mook. And you shut down the government.
CT: Pay for the wall or I’ll put children in cages.
D: You’ve already put children in cages.
CT: I’ll end the Democrat’s shutdown if you pay for the wall.
D: Fuck you.
CT: I’ll end the Democrat shutdown and let you have DACA for three years if you pay for the wall.
D: Jeebus on toast, that’s extortion. And you’re probably lying anyway.
CT: Pay for the wall or I’ll declare a national emergency.
D: There’s no emergency, you stupid fuck.
CT: THERE’S AN EMERGENCY!
D: Take your meds.
CT: Pay for the wall or I’ll ruin the economy.
D: You’re already ruining the economy. And the environment. And democracy.
CT: Pay for the wall or I’ll sell the children in cages to Russia. Creating jobs!
D: You’re a monster.
CT: Pay for the wall and I’ll give you an apartment in Trump Tower Moscow. And Mexico will pay for it.
D: Oh, for fuck’s sake.
CT: It puts the lotion on its skin or it gets the hose again.
D: …
CT: I’m the best negotiator ever.