don’t start cheering yet (go ahead, cheer)

I can’t really be happy about today’s indictment against Paul Manafort and Richard Gates. While I’m glad the system is working, it’s really a rather sad day for our nation.

Let me also say this. Manafort and Gates have only been indicted. That doesn’t mean they’re guilty. I’m a criminal defense guy, and I believe passionately in the notion that the accused MUST be considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So right now, Paul Manafort has to be considered to be an innocent man.

That said, the indictment appears to be pretty solid. It includes one count of conspiracy against the United States, one count of conspiracy to launder money, seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, one count of being an unregistered agent of a foreign principle, one count of making false and misleading FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) statements, and one count of making false statements.

Paul Manafort (Photographer: Victor J. Blue}

Essentially, this is a money laundering indictment. It’s grounded in monies coming from foreign sources having powerful political connections. It’s a well-constructed foundation for the accusation of collusion. And at the heel of the hunt, that’s what this is all about. It’s about Russia attempting (and, it seems clear, succeeding) to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald J. Trump.

This is just the first step in building that case. Robert Mueller is a career prosecutor with a reputation of being both dogged and scrupulously honest (which is wonderful in a democratic system, and a terrifying combination to criminal defense guys like me). He didn’t put together a team of a dozen and a half seasoned prosecutors just to indict and prosecute a couple of guys like Manafort and Gates.

But here’s why this is a sad day: like all criminal prosecutions, this is the system attempting to correct (or at least ameliorate) something that already happened. This indictment is a reminder that a massive crime was (and yeah, I need to include this unfortunate term) allegedly perpetrated against the citizenry of the United States. It’s also a reminder that the citizenry were complicit in their own victimization. And it’s a reminder that the offense is still taking place.

There’s still a lot of hard and ugly work ahead of us. Is it too early to cheer? Yes. But hey, cheer anyway. Cheer because it’s a good start and we’ve had so little to cheer about lately.

ADDENDUM (for the folks asking about Comrade Trump firing Mueller): The law is pretty clear about this — and remember, this law was crafted in relation to the Kenneth Starr investigation of President Bill Clinton. The special counsel can only “be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General.” In this case, it would be the Deputy Attorney General since the AG has recused himself. The law also states the special prosecutor can only be removed for “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies.”

So no, Trump can’t just decide to fire Mueller. He can, though, order the DAG to fire him. If the DAG refuses, Trump can fire the DAG, then appoint a new DAG who would follow the president’s order. As I’ve stated elsewhere, that ought to be considered highly improbable — but this is the Trump administration in which the concept of improbability is pretty fluid.

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a roach in the spaghetti

Yeah, it’s not treason. This is treason: 18 U.S. Code § 2381 – Treason

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Do you see the problem? Did Comrade Trump Jr. levy war against the U.S.? Nope. Did he adhere to any enemies? Nope. Adhere, in this context, basically means ‘join’. Did he give aid or comfort to the enemy? Nope, not really. Aid and comfort — that phrase doesn’t have any strict legal meaning, but in general it’s about giving (or even making an attempt to give) some sort of substantial assistance or material support. Trump the Lesser is a despicable creature, but he didn’t commit treason.

Nevertheless, you could make a solid argument that Comrade Trump Jr. is still a traitor. A traitor, after all, is just somebody who betrays their country. Colluding with Russia to influence the election makes him a traitor, even if he didn’t commit treason.

This oleaginous, French-cuffed fuckwit cannot be trusted.

I’ve heard some folks arguing that all Trump Jr. was doing was gathering opposition research. Balderdash (this is a wonderful word, by the way; it was originally an Elizabethan term for a jumbled mix of liquors — you know, like at a party when folks pour three kinds of wine, some beer, and half a bottle of gin into a bowl and call it ‘punch’ or something. When you drink balderdash, you speak balderdash).

Okay, I got distracted there. As I was saying, balderdash. I’ll even add an exclamation point here, because it’s warranted. Balderdash! Opposition research is a sleazy but common practice. What Comrade Trump the Lesser did was sleazy, but not at all common.

It’s important to remember that Putin wasn’t supporting Trump the Elder because he thought he’d be a good president. He wasn’t really supporting Trump at all. He was just fucking with the electoral system in order to destabilize the U.S. If Russia could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral process, then that would weaken the authority of the next president, regardless of who got elected.

Let’s not forget, Russia didn’t just illegally obtain and distribute emails. They also invented and promoted false narratives. Like that Pizzagate bullshit. Like the bullshit about Hillary Clinton’s health, or her relationship with her aide. They flooded social media with bots that promoted bullshit stories. Putin-Russia deployed a LOT of different attacks. If one failed, there were a dozen others. None of them needed to succeed entirely in order for the plan to work. The combined effect was enough to cast doubt on the authenticity of the election.

I got a bowl of pasta for you, tremendous bowl, best ever, just for you. Don’t ask questions, just eat.

The lawyer with whom Comrade Trump the Lesser met — even if she was entirely innocent (which is exceedingly unlikely, but still possible) — is inextricably linked with the folks who DID do all that other stuff.

Right, time for an analogy. What do you do if you see a cockroach sitting in a bowl of spaghetti? Do you try to untangle the roach-touched noodles from the rest of the bowl? No. You chuck out the entire bowl of spaghetti.

That Russian lawyer is a noodle in a roach-tainted bowl of spaghetti. Trump Jr. knew the spaghetti was tainted. But he was willing — even eager — to serve it to the public.

damage over time

You want to know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy. I mean, just about everything about Comrade Trump’s presidency is crazy, but THIS is really crazy. Yes, his health care bill is cruel and stupid. Yes, his approach to foreign policy is inconsistent and stupid. Yes, his take on immigration policy and border security is mean-hearted and stupid. Yes, his inability or refusal to understand the issue of climate change is short-sighted and stupid. And yes, his habit of rage-tweeting in the morning is self-defeating and incredibly stupid.

But what’s really crazy is that we get so caught up in Comrade Trump’s incompetence and stupidity that we forget the most important thing — we forget he’s an illegitimate president. We ignore the preponderance of evidence that indicates he was elected primarily because a foreign enemy state interfered with the U.S. election process.

Here are some things we know to be true (and yes, we know these things — this isn’t supposition; this is fact — apologies I didn’t write this list in the Dark Tongue of Mordor).

  1. We know a number of people who were involved in the Trump campaign had close business and political ties with Russia.
  2. We know those people were in frequent, often secret communication with Russians who occupied high political/diplomatic/intelligence positions in the Russian government.
  3. We know Russia intelligence agencies hacked the databases of both Democratic and Republican parties (though deeper and more thoroughly into the Democrats).
  4. We know the Russians sifted through that hacked data to find information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton and provided it to WikiLeaks.
  5. We know WikiLeaks released that information at timed intervals in order to cause maximum damage to Clinton’s campaign.
  6. We know Russian operatives (and parties paid by Russia) amplified and exaggerated the leaks through the use of social media. We know they created false narratives directed at harming Clinton and her campaign — like the insane Pizzagate fiasco. We also know they deliberately fomented antagonism between Hillary supporters and Bernie supporters, thereby weakening her overall support by Democrats.
  7. We know the same social media disruptors also planted and supported the false narrative that the election was being rigged against Trump.
  8. We know Russian hackers infiltrated voter databases in at least 21 and possibly as many as 39 individual state voting systems. We do NOT know the result of that breach.
  9. We know that since his election, Comrade Trump has been uncommonly cozy with the Russians.

Now that is some crazy shit. And what’s even crazier is that for the most part, we’re just ignoring it. The man who occupies the White House as President only got there through a systematic ratfucking of the election. If that sort of shit happened in a high school election for King and Queen of the Prom, the entire election would have been invalidated. They’d do it over.

And remember this: Russia didn’t go to all that effort because they LIKE Comrade Trump. They did it to destabilize the United States. Hell, they probably never believed we’d actually elect the guy. They just wanted the election process to be fucked up so that regardless of who won the U.S. would be wounded and weakened by the process.

Wounded and weakened. There’s a concept in video gaming called Damage Over Time. In most games involving some form of combat there’s a system that allows the player to defeat a far more powerful opponent. Since you can’t take the opponent down with a single blow, you find a way to gradually erode his health. You shoot him with a magic flaming arrow. The arrow itself does some damage, but it also continues to burn, so that each moment the opponent becomes weaker. You shoot him with a radioactive bullet, you stab him with a poisoned knife, you summon rats that bite and claw and gnaw at his body. The idea is to continuously inflict a relatively small amount of damage to the opponent, so that the damage accumulates independently of any other factors.

That’s what the Russians have done to us. Damage over time. They shot us with a flaming arrow and as we go about our daily lives, we’re still burning. They summoned rats, and those wee bastards haven’t stopped nipping at us. They created a poisoned knife and stabbed us with it; day the wound bleeds a bit more. The poison gradually spreads, and each day we’re just a little bit weaker.

Damage over time. Here’s the thing: the rats won’t kill us. Nor will the burns from the flaming arrow, nor will the poison from the knife, nor will the radioactivity from the bullet. But the combined effect is incapacitating. It cripples us as a society.

Damage over time. This is what we forget. Comrade Trump? He’s not really the monster; he’s the monster’s poisoned knife.

cabinet of nazgûl

There’s a lot of wild speculation about what will happen when Donald J and his Cabinet of Nazgûl take office in January. Which is completely understandable, given that Donald J is following the Bizarro World approach to cabinet appointments. If he can’t find somebody who is actually opposed to the very existence of the agency he or she would be running, Donald J can at least find somebody who is completely unqualified to run it.

You got a Department of Energy? Let’s see if we can find a guy who earned a Bachelors degree in Animal Science! Let’s see if we can find a guy who earned a D in classes like ‘Veterinary Anatomy’, ‘Feeds & Feeding’, ‘Writing for Professional Men’, and ‘Meats’. Let’s get Rick Perry and put him in charge of maintaining the nation’s nuclear arsenal!

Pundits look at the venal greedheads and amateurish bunglers hired by Donald J to help run his government and say how unprecedented it is. But you know what? It’s not unprecedented at all. We’ve actually seen what happens to a government when it’s run by people chosen primarily for their loyalty to the president or to a political ideology rather than for their qualifications.

We saw it in Iraq.

After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the Bush administration needed to create a replacement government. It was a unique opportunity — a chance to build a government from the ground up. The Bush folks created a new entity to handle the reconstruction of Iraq: the Coalition Provisional Authority.

The CPA was given the power to enact laws, to print currency, to collect taxes, to deploy police, and to spend Iraq’s revenue. Did the CPA hire experts in administration? Did they hire prize-winning economists or professional accountants? Did they hire scholars in Middle East studies or sociologists aware of the sensitive cultural and religious issues between the various Iraqi tribes and clans? Did they hire experts in logistics to insure material and supplies would get where they needed to go in a timely fashion? Did they seek out public health experts? Did they look for experienced construction managers?

Fuck no. They hired people who were 1) loyal to George W. Bush and 2) shared an ideology that was grounded in Christian conservatism.

Got that? In a Muslim country needing to be rebuilt after a war, the agency tasked with the rebuilding hired Christian conservatives with no expertise in rebuilding or running anything. Want to reopen the Iraq stock market? Put Jay Hallen in charge — a 24 year-old kid working in real estate with no experience or education in finance. Want to rebuild the nation’s health care system? Hire James K. Haveman, who operated a Christian adoption agency in Michigan that urged pregnant women not to have abortions. Got a US$13 billion budget for reconstruction? There’s 23 year-old Casey Wasson — she had no experience in accounting and had just graduated from an evangelical university for home-schooled children, but she thought George W. Bush was aces, so what the hell, let her help manage it. How hard can it be?

Did these rank amateurs and ideologues fuck things up? Oh lawdy, did they. Iraq is what it is today largely because after we preemptively invaded a nation that turned out not to be a threat to us, we put incompetents in charge of repairing all the damage we caused. Sure, we created a situation that encouraged a civil war to break out, but at least we made sure we weren’t giving the Iraqi people any money for abortions.

Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.

Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.

Since Donald J’s Cabinet of Nazgûl aren’t starting from scratch, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to fuck things up on an Iraqi scale. But the lesson is there to be learned. We’ve seen how putting ideology and greed above all can produce an epic shitstorm that can last for decades.

I’ve called Donald J’s cabinet the Cabinet of Nazgûl, but in all honesty that’s inaccurate. The Nazgûl were actually competent at their jobs. Sauron sent them out to do a job, and they did it pretty well. The general incompetence of Donald J’s crew can work in our favor. The men and women in his cabinet don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, which means they’ll spend a chunk of time tripping over their own tiny dicks.

It’s our job to resist and obstruct, to help them to trip themselves up. And if they don’t trip themselves, then we have to do the tripping for them. And trip them again as they try to get up. I hate that obstruction has to be a priority, but it’s that or allow things to get fucked up faster.

It’ll be a long four years, but then we can have Michelle Obama or Kirsten Gillibrand to run against Donald J. It’s not necessary for him to lose to a woman, but it would be SO much sweeter that way.

 

the stink of sanctimony

Ever since the U.S. accidentally shit its collective pants on election day, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles that are basically variations on a theme: longtime Democrats who decided to vote for Trump. At first I thought these articles were interesting. Then they became annoying. Now I’m just sick of seeing them.

Politico published one a couple of days ago. It’s entitled It Was My Primal Scream. And like so many of these articles, there’s a ridiculous subtitle. In this case: A lifelong progressive was so disgusted with her party, she voted for Trump. Will Democrats care enough to win her back? The article is grounded in the experience of one woman, Kim McKinney Cohen. She’s a long-standing Democrat, whose grievances against the Democratic Party pretty much echo my own:

She was incensed in May 2007 when Democrats caved to GOP demands to continue funding the war with no deadline to withdraw troops.

She was mad at Democrats for backing Bush tax cuts and bailing out rich bankers while struggling people lost their homes.

She didn’t like the way Clinton, when her husband first ran for president in 1992 and later, as first lady, handled her adulterous husband’s “bimbo eruptions.”

I could add a few lot more complaints against the Democratic Party and the folks who represent it, but who has time for all that? The point is Ms. Cohen, like a LOT of us, looked at the candidates offered by the Democratic Party — both of them — and came to the same basic conclusion: I’m for this Bernie Sanders guy.

[S]he believed Sanders could repair economic inequality, curb corporate greed and weed out special interests in Washington.

I have to admit, I never really believed Bernie could do all that. I mean, Bernie is a great guy, but he’s not Dick Bong–Ace of Aces (and by the way, if you’ve never read Harlan Ellison’s short story Repent, Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman, do yourself a favor — track it down and read it). The reality is there was simply no possible way Bernie Sanders could do all the things he said he wanted to do. But most of us felt he would try to do them. And that was enough; that in itself was exciting.

When it became clear Bernie wasn’t going to be the candidate, I (reluctantly at first, then enthusiastically) supported Hillary Clinton. This is where Ms. Cohen and I part company.

When Hillary Clinton said dismissively supporters of Donald Trump were “a basket of deplorables,” Cohen had heard enough.

“Well, then,” she sighed, “I guess I’m a deplorable.”

And she voted for Trump. She deliberately, knowingly, willfully filled out a presidential ballot selecting Donald J. Trump to be the President of These United States. She was offended by Hillary’s description of some Trump supporters as ‘deplorable’ so she voted for the guy who said Carly Fiorina was too homely to be president, who mocked a disabled reporter, who insulted the parents of a Muslim serviceman who died in the line of duty. What the fuck was she thinking?

When it came down to it, she was angrier at her own party’s leaders than she was appalled by a man who cozied up to white nationalist and anti-Semitic groups. She wanted to throw it back in the face of her party.

“It was my primal scream,” Cohen says. “I wasn’t gonna take it anymore.”

She didn’t like or trust Hillary, fine. Did she like and trust Trump? I’m guessing not, but she decided to vote Trump because she was angry at the DNC. Okay, we’ve all done stupid things when we were angry, right? Stupid, self-destructive, counter-productive things. And afterwards, we’ve all tried to justify our idiotic behavior. Or, if possible, shift the blame our behavior onto somebody else. Which is exactly what Ms. Cohen does.

Cohen doesn’t regret her radical act of defiance. She feels that by helping take the Democrats to rock bottom, they’ve been ‘given a gift’ to rebuild their party. “I wanted it burned down … so that we could build a new, hopefully more equitable one that meets the needs of all, not only the super-rich.”

A gift. A fucking gift. You see, it’s not her fault Trump got elected. It’s the fault of the Democratic Party for not nominating her preferred candidate. If she can’t have the president she wants, then she’ll vote the worst possible president. That’ll show the Democratic Party. And besides, she’s actually done them a favor, if you think about it. She’s given them a gift — a chance to rebuild the party, to start over after Trump has gutted every less-than-perfect Democratic policy. She’s provided the Democrats with the opportunity to remake their party to her specifications. And if they don’t? Who knows, maybe she’ll vote Trump again.

I loathe the smell of burning self-martyr. Worse, though, is the stink of sanctimony from pillocks who’ll piss in the soup tureen if they think you should have used Tellicherry pepper in the chowder instead of Malabar. That whole “You’re doing it wrong — tear it down and start over, and do it right this time. You’ll thank me for it” thing.

I will most certainly NOT thank you for helping elect Trump because you wanted to punish the Democratic Party for failing to nominate Bernie Sanders. I will curse you for being a self-righteous, self-absorbed fuckwit who would sacrifice the well-being of the tens of thousands of marginalized citizens — people who will suffer real and lasting harm because you indulged yourself in a primal scream. Jeebus Vaseline, you have fucked over a lot of people just to gratify your personal outrage.

And that brings me back to the subtitle of the Politico article:

A lifelong progressive was so disgusted with her party, she voted for Trump. Will Democrats care enough to win her back?

Win her back? No, thank you. There’s already a political party that serves citizens who make rage-based stupid decisions. There’s already a party grounded in temper tantrums. Ms. Cohen chose that party when she voted for Trump. So no, I’ve no desire to see the Democratic Party try to win her back.

Don’t get me wrong. The Democratic Party has consistently disappointed progressives. I don’t like it; it pisses me off. But I understand why it happens. Republicans, for the last twenty years or so, have played to the extreme members of their base  Democrats, on the other hand, have attempted to appeal to a wide swath of the populace. That means progressives rarely get exactly what we want.

And here’s the thing: we shouldn’t get exactly what we want. Nor should mainstream Democrats or conservative Democrats. Nor should Republicans. We should ALL get a bit of what we want. That’s how democracy ought to work.

I want steadfast progressives like Bernie Sanders. I want people who’ll fight hard for progressive policies, and if they don’t get the candidate they want, they’ll fight hard to make the party platform as progressive as possible. I do NOT want progressives who pout and act out of spite.

“I hope I never have to vote for a Republican ever again,” Cohen said.

You didn’t have to vote for one this time. You chose to vote for one. You think the Democratic Party should try to entice you back? Here’s an idea: go piss up a rope.

tip your little hat

Jackanapes (noun) 1 (obsolete) A monkey. 2. (dated, pejorative) a : an impudent or conceited fellow, an absurd fop, b : a saucy or mischievous child.

mid-15c., from ‘Jack of Naples‘, with ‘of Naples’ rendered ‘a Napes‘ in vernacular. Orig., a man who exhibited performing apes; an organ grinder and his tame monkey. Usage note: originally in the singular form: jackanape, Later ref. pertained primarily to the ape. Farmer & Henley say ‘originally, no doubt, a gaudy-suited and performing ape.’

Many people are saying the J. in Donald J. Trump stands for Jackanapes. I don’t know; I’m not saying it, but many people are. Many tremendous people. Maybe it’s the Chinese, or it could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds, nobody knows. Probably not Russia. But many people are saying it.

organ-grinder

A little advice for Mr. Trump. If you hear the music of a hand organ, look around. If you can’t immediately see the monkey at the end of the leash, it’s because you’re the monkey. Hold out the cup and tip your little hat. And don’t forget, Putin the Organ Grinder owns that little hat, and the cup. And the leash.

okay, now what?

Donald J. Trump is the next President of These United States. That’s just a fact. Regardless of how or why he was elected, we have to acknowledge that he was fairly elected. In January he’ll be behind the desk in the Oval Office — and he’ll be there because people voted for him.

Those of us who opposed him must continue to oppose him. But it would be a terrible mistake, I think, to do that in a hateful way. We can be discouraged. Hell, I’m so discouraged I can barely stand to look at the news. Any news, not just about the election. We can feel depressed; depression is a natural reaction to tragedy. But we shouldn’t be hateful. We can be dazed and perplexed and disconcerted by this unimaginable turn of events. But we shouldn’t be hateful. We can be angry — hell, we can be completely fucking furious — but we shouldn’t be hateful.

That’s tough to say, partly because right now hate seems pretty seductive. We’ve just seen hate used effectively as a tool to get votes. We’ve just seen hate and fear rewarded. There’s a part of me right now that wants to be hateful.

But we can’t. We can’t because hate comes from fear, and fear and hate not only lead to racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia, it also leads to devaluing people just because we disagree with them. We can’t afford to be hateful, not even to the people who’ve benefited from hate.

So what do we do? First, give in to grief for a while. A short while. Then look around and find somebody who’s hurt, somebody who’s vulnerable, somebody who’s suffering. Listen to them. Really listen to them, and find out what you can do to help. Helping others is a good way to heal yourself. Kindness can’t stop hate by itself, but believing in the value of kindness can inoculate you from the worst effects of hate.

The cat still finds pleasure napping in the sun. So can you.

The cat still finds pleasure napping in the sun. So can you.

Second, live your life the way you want it to be lived. Walk your dog; your dog doesn’t care who the president is. Walk your dog and pick up its shit — because that’s what decent people do. Cook good food — for yourself and for others. Make art and read books and watch movies and listen to music and have a beer with your friends. Laugh. Laugh a lot. Laugh with, not at. But laugh. Laugh and be kind.

Things are going to be ugly for a while, and it’s important — even necessary — to nurture beauty and creativity and kindness, and to spread it around liberally.