existential threats

Interesting bits and pieces of the George Stephanopoulos interview with Comrade Trump had been scattered all over teh Intertubes over the last couple of days. So I decided to watch the interview on television.

Okay, I need to digress for a moment. I don’t watch a lot of television. I like television and I’d like to watch more of it, but there’s just so many other things to do. I watch a couple of hours of television a night (except, of course, when the World Cup is on; I watch the hell out of that). And when I say ‘television’ I generally mean something on Hulu or Netflix. I can’t recall the last time I watched a show on commercial network television. Until last night and the interview with Comrade Trump.

It was awful. I mean, Trump was Trump — a despicable human being incapable of relating to any aspect of life and the world around him except through a lens of how it affected HIM. He lied, he was arrogant, he denied reality, he asserted ‘facts’ that didn’t exist, he kicked his own acting Chief of Staff out of the Oval Office for coughing during the interview, he accused his so-called ‘enemies’ of treason, he maligned President Obama, he said the Director of the FBI was wrong in stating that political figures should report contacts from foreign nations who offer ‘dirt’ on political opponents, he claimed to be ‘an honest guy’, he insisted he had polling data that showed he was winning ‘everywhere’, he accused his former White House Counsel of lying under oath, and he complained that he’s been treated more unfairly than President Lincoln (who, it’s worth remembering, was shot in the back of the head).

It was, as I said, completely awful. But here’s an indication of how Comrade Trump has normalized lying, hypocrisy, victimization, and the abuse of power: to me, the most shocking thing about last night was how completely and irredeemably horrible commercial television is.

It was an hour-long show purportedly based on thirty hours of material of which maybe 40-45 minutes of actual interview was presented, and which was routinely interrupted in order to sell products. The commercial interruptions were not only annoying and disruptive to the flow of the interview, they were LOUD. And stupid. And repetitive. There were, for example, at least two commercials for some sort of miniature golf-based game show.

Think about that for a moment. An interview in which the President of the United States makes a number of startling admissions that in ordinary times would lead to immediate impeachment proceedings is interrupted to promote a sort of celebrity miniature golf contest. How fucked up is that? (Hint: pretty fucked up.)

I make an effort to expose myself to a variety of political opinions; I make an effort to have a variety of experiences; I make an effort to avoid the existence-in-a-bubble mentality that I believe makes communication so difficult between folks who hold different opinions. But it turns out I do live in a sort of bubble — a non-commercial bubble.

I don’t know how anybody could process any information or narrative in a meaningful way when it’s presented in the way commercial television presents it. No wonder we live in such a fragmented, disorganized, disruptive, and jangled society. And no wonder Comrade Trump is able to get by with so much bullshit. The whole experience left me struggling to properly place Trump’s unabashed awfulness within a context of luxury car adverts and mini-golf promotions.

After we impeach the motherfucker, we need to think about addressing commercial television. It’s also an existential threat to society.

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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.

trump fatigue

Trump fatigue. It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted anything on this blog, and it’s due entirely to Trump fatigue. I don’t want to write about Comrade Trump. Or anything to do with Trump. Or the Trump administration. I’m sick of writing about Trump. There are so many other things I’d like to write about.

But the horrifying fact is this: Trump and his supporters are destroying democracy. That sounds so melodramatic, but nonetheless it’s true. I don’t want to write about Trump, but there’s nothing as important as the erosion of democratic norms and the corruption of democratic institutions.

I watched Attorney General William Barr’s attempt to lie and harrumph his way through the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. There was a moment that seemed to me to be the distillation of everything Trump. In response to a question, Barr said this:

“The point i was trying to make earlier is that in this situation of the president who has constitutional authority to supervise proceedings — if in fact the proceeding was not well founded, if it was a groundless proceeding, if it was based on false allegations, the president does not have to sit there constitutionally and allow it to run its course. The president could terminate the proceeding and it would not be a corrupt intent because he was being falsely accused, and he would be worried about the impact on his administration.”

In other words, Barr is claiming that if the president decides an investigation into his behavior isn’t really justified, he can end it. That’s a shocking opinion from a person who is supposed to be the nation’s chief law enforcement official. If other AGs had held Barr’s position, Nixon could have said, “Watergate? Nope, wasn’t me. Shut down that investigation,” and skated through the rest of his term. Bill Clinton could have said, “Nope, this Whitewater investigation is bullshit, so shut down that investigation,” and today nobody would be familiar with the name Monica Lewinsky.

It’s obvious that presidents need to be accountable for their actions. Even presidents we like. But we find ourselves, for the first time in the history of the United States, in a situation where the institutions created and designed to hold the president accountable have actually been corrupted by the president. We can’t rely on the Supreme Court, we can’t rely on the Republicans in Congress, and we can’t rely on the Attorney General. All we can do is resist and encourage the Democrats in the House of Representatives to do what they can to check the president.

I don’t want to write about William Barr. I don’t want to write about Mitch McConnell, or Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or Comrade Donald Goddamn Trump. I don’t even want to think about these corrupt motherfuckers. But we pretty much have to think about them. And talk about them. And resist them.

It doesn’t mean we can’t think about the Game of Thrones or the photography of Garry Winogrand or the novels of Dorothy Dunnett or morel hunting or any of the thousands of things that interest us. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy all those things. In fact, we should give into the temptation to enjoy those things even more — because right now we NEED to find things to enjoy. We should enjoy the hell out of them, if only as an antidote to Trump Fatigue.

But then we need to get back to the business of resistance.

censure? fuck that. impeach.

An alarming number of Democratic politicians are suggesting that censure of Comrade Trump would be a better option than impeachment. A pair of WaPo pundits — Karen Tumulty and the improbably-named Thor Hogan — have echoed the suggestion.

Tumulty says censure ‘would be dismissed in some quarters as merely a symbolic act‘ but counters that ‘it would be a historic rebuke of the Trump presidency.‘ Our boy Thor says censure ‘has proved to be an effective form of public shaming, especially when implemented in a nonpartisan way. Such a punishment seems well suited for this president and this moment in our national history.

Tumulty’s right in one regard; censure would be dismissed as a symbolic act. Because it would actually BE a symbolic act. And if Thor seriously thinks shaming could be effective against Comrade Trump, he wasn’t paying attention during that whole Stormy Daniels ‘I-spanked-Trump-with-a-Forbes-magazine-while-his-third-wife-was-home-with-a-newborn-baby’ business.

Jeebus dancing migraines, we’re talking about Comrade Donald Fucking Trump here. Shame doesn’t attach to Trump. Shame is embarrassed to be seen in the same room with Trump. This is a guy who’s spent his entire adult life brazenly lying and cheating and bragging about it. This is a guy who didn’t just accept help from a hostile foreign power in order to win an election, he welcomed the help — then he rewarded Russia for fucking with the election. Does anybody honestly think he’s going to respond to public shaming with sincere reflection and regret?

Hell no.

Because he’s a liar and a cheater.

He’s lied to and cheated most of his business partners. He’s lied to and cheated on all of his wives. He’s lied to and cheated the American public. He’s lied to and cheated federal law enforcement officers, and the intelligence community, and his most trusted advisers, and the White House staff, and members of Congress in both parties, and our nation’s oldest and most valued foreign allies, and HE’S NOT GOING TO STOP.

Because he’s a liar and a cheater.

If we wait to deal with Trump until the 2020 election, he’ll keep lying and cheating. If Congress holds public hearings and exposes his lying and cheating, he’ll keep lying and cheating. If Congress censures him, he’ll keep lying and cheating. If Trump is impeached by the House but not convicted in the Senate, he’ll keep lying and cheating. He’ll keep lying and cheating until he’s grabbed by the scruff of his neck and forcibly removed from the White House.

Because he’s a liar and a cheater.

People say that even if the House does impeach Trump, the Republicans in the Senate will never vote to convict him. They’re probably right. Probably. But you’ll never get an omelet if you’re afraid to break the eggs.

Start the impeachment hearings. Hardly anybody will watch them on C-Span, but they’ll get reported every day online and every night on the news. That constant dripping of evidence may move some people to be pissed off, and if enough people get pissed off maybe some Senators will be concerned about their re-election, and if enough Senators get concerned about their re-election maybe they’ll decide party loyalty costs too much, and if enough Senators decide party loyalty costs too much maybe they’ll also decide their best bet to save their own ass is to get rid of Trump.

That probably won’t happen. Probably. But here’s the thing: for Democrats it’s a gamble in which they have nothing to lose. Comrade Trump will lie and cheat and attack them whether they start the impeachment process or not. Trump will lie and cheat to win his own re-election whether they start the process or not.

Because he’s a liar and a cheater. Lying and cheating is what liars and cheaters do. Hell, even if Comrade Trump IS impeached and convicted and tossed out of the White House on his fat ass, he’ll still keep lying and cheating in every possible way as an ordinary citizen. And some folks think the answer is to censure him?

Censure? Really? Fuck that. Impeach.

how we got where we are (October 28, 2013 at 9:26am)

In order to avoid the work I ought to be doing, I spent the last half hour or so deleting drafts of old blog posts that were begun but not finished. This one is dated October 28, 2013 at 9:26am. There’s a beginning and an ending, but the middle never managed to get written. The middle is always the hardest part.

The situation has deteriorated radically since 2013.


Well, the Republicans are right about one thing: it all began with Ronald Reagan. The modern GOP is the direct legacy of the Reagan Worldview. Not his politics — lawdy no, Reagan was much too liberal to fit into the current Cone of Crazy that constitutes the Tea Party. But his approach to the world is deeply imprinted on Republican DNA.

We see it in a couple of ways. First, the total abandonment of science and rationality for anecdote and ideology. Reagan had no use for facts that didn’t fit well with what he already believed. He was fond of quoting Sam Adams, saying “Facts are stupid things” (what John Adams actually said was “Facts are stubborn things”). Just a couple of examples: Reagan repeatedly claimed “There is no word for ‘freedom’ in the Russian language” (there is: svoboda). He believed nuclear missiles, once fired, could be ‘recalled’ (they can’t). He claimed the Environmental Protection Agency had suppressed a report demonstrating that “eighty percent of air pollution comes not from chimneys and auto exhaust pipes, but from plants and trees” (they didn’t, and it doesn’t). And on two different occasions Reagan publicly stated he’d personally assisted in liberating some of the Nazi death camps during WWII (he hadn’t; he spent the war in Hollywood making training films for the U.S. Army).

Major source of air pollution

Major source of air pollution

This is now standard Republican drill. Make shit up to support your belief, repeat it often, repeat it with passion, repeat it even after you’ve been told it’s wrong, claim the people who disagree with the shit you made up are trying to suppress the truth, present yourself as a victim of liberal elites, repeat it all again.

The Republican casual disregard for reality is troubling

Second, the notion that government has no value.

Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.

Here’s a classic example of the Reagan Approach. He’d twice flown over the Mount St. Helens volcano, and he’d come to the following conclusion:

“I have a suspicion that one little mountain has probably released more sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about.”

And there you have it. In reality, the volcano emitted about 2,000 tons of sulphur dioxide per day at its peak output; cars in 1980 produced approximately 81,000 tons per day. But Reagan didn’t need or want stupid facts; it was enough to have belief. And why listen to anybody who might challenge that belief?

And right there, you have the modern Republican party. The political party whose elected representatives actually believe women are biologically prevented from getting pregnant through rape, who believe wind is “a finite resource” that will be “slowed down” by windmills, who believe vaccines are dangerous and that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by scientists in order to…something,

screaming

I watched the video with the sound off.

I’m not a dispassionate person by nature, but much of my professional experience and training (as a medic, as a counselor in the Psych/Security unit of a prison for women, and as a private investigator specializing in criminal defense) has taught me to be a detached observer/participant. Well, as detached as possible. You can’t be effective on the job if you allow yourself to fully experience the shock, the horror, the revulsion while you’re doing the job. The emotional distance between you and what you’re doing and seeing is the only thing that allows you to do the job well. You put all that ugliness aside and deal with it later. The problem, of course, is that you always have to deal with it

That’s why, last night, I watched the video of the attack on the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand with the sound off. I didn’t want to hear the screaming. It’s harder to be a detached observer when you hear the screaming.

“I am just a regular white man, from a regular family, who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people.”

How do you even begin to explain all this, to understand it? Do you start with Brenton Tarrant, the shooter? He doesn’t really believe he’s just a regular white man, of course. He’s a white supremacist who thinks shooting unarmed people in a house of worship somehow makes him a hero. But if you focus on individual shooters — the Brenton Tarrants, the Anders Breiviks, the Dylann Roofs — it’s easy to overlook the connections that link so many of these white supremacy shooters.

“The origins of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European.

We must crush immigration and deport those invaders already living on our soil, It is not just a matter of our prosperity, but the very survival of our people.”

There it is. Tarrant’s ‘justification’ for murdering Muslims at prayer. Fear and hate born out of the irrational notion of white victimhood, then transmitted, promoted and amplified by the Internet. Tarrant referred to this in his Great Replacement ‘manifesto’ (they all seem to have manifestos, these shooters; without a manifesto you’re just a fucking nutcase — with a manifesto you’re a hero).

This Great Replacement conspiracy theory didn’t originate with Tarrant. It’s been banging around in white supremacy circles for almost half a century. It began with a 1973 French novel, Les Camps des Saints, in which Western civilization is destroyed through the mass immigration of Third World peoples. The author of the novel, Jean Raspail, said he got the idea for the plot when he was visiting the Riviera.

“What if they were to come? I did not know who “they” were, but it seemed inevitable to me that the numberless disinherited people of the South would, like a tidal wave, set sail one day for this opulent shore, our fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier.”

There it is again. The ‘justification’ for the Great Replacement theory. The fear and belief that white European Christian populations are being systematically replaced by non-European brown-skinned populations through mass migration and demographic growth. If you’re in Europe the immigrants are Middle Eastern, North African, and Sub-Saharan; if you’re in the US, the immigrants are from Central and South America. This notion of white European culture being overrun by non-white alien cultures resounds throughout the online white supremacy community.

Would Tarrant have acted in the absence of that community, in the absence of the reinforcement and amplification of that conspiracy theory? I don’t know. But the thing is, the echoes of Great Replacement filter through mainstream US and European politics.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Does this make Trump responsible for the Christchurch mosque massacre? No, of course not. But it helps white supremacists like Tarrant justify their actions. Tarrant stated he viewed Donald Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” When Trump refers to an influx of families fleeing violence and poverty as an ‘invasion’ on the Southern border, he’s feeding the conspiracy theory. When he claims people seeking asylum is a ‘national emergency,’ he’s feeding the conspiracy theory.

When it was revealed that an audio tape of the torture and murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi existed, Trump refused to listen to it.

“I don’t want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape. I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it “

I totally understand that. It’s why I watched the video with the sound off. It’s harder to be detached when you hear the screaming.

But the truth is, even with the sound off I still heard the screaming in the mosque. I’m still hearing it this morning. That business about dealing with the horror later? That’s mostly bullshit that allows you to do what you need to do. But if you’ve ever heard the screaming in any context, you can never unhear it.

If you have any humanity at all, if you have any decency at all, you never stop hearing the screaming.

a midvinterblot’s tale

The luck of the king is the luck of the land, according to the Ynglings, the most ancient of Viking dynasties. The sad truth of this can be seen in the story of King Visbur and his son Domald — which is appropriate given that today is the winter solstice.

Visbur married the daughter of Aude the Rich. Her name is unknown to history since the value of women was only measured by their ability to give birth to sons. She gave Visbur two sons: Ond and Gisle. At some point Visbur put his wife aside and married another, whose name is also forgotten. The new wife gave him another son, Domald (sometimes called Dómaldi or Dómaldr), who was declared Visbur’s heir.

Ond, Gisle, and their poor nameless mother objected. The two sons went to Visbur to protest, but were rejected. Their mother then cursed Domald with ósgæssa — ill-luck or bad fortune. Ond and Gisle took what today would be called a pro-active approach. This is how the skald Snorri Sturluson described it:

Eptir þat sömnuðu þeir liði, ok kómu at Vísbur um nótt á úvart ok brendu hann inni.
Thereafter they collected men, came unexpectedly in the night on Visbur, and burned him in his house.

The crown passed to Domald, whose curse of ill-luck was compounded by an exaggerated sense of self-worth coupled with a distinct lack of competence. Domald’s reign was disastrous. Crops withered and failed, livestock became sickly and died. So on the winter solstice, at the time of midvinterblot — the annual sacrifice — Domald had his priests sacrifice oxen instead of sheep. The greater the sacrifice, the more it is appreciated by the gods.

It didn’t work. The crops still failed, the livestock grew thinner, old folks and children starved. At the next midvinterblot Domald had his priests sacrifice a few peasants instead of oxen.

An early version of the Sacrifice of Domald.

It didn’t work. The fields of rye and barley gave paltry yields, the hay and timothy needed to feed the livestock died before it could be harvested, the swine and cattle wasted away. So as the winter solstice and midvinterblot approached:

…a great multitude of Swedes came to Upsalir; and now the chiefs held consultations with each other, and all agreed that the times of scarcity were on account of their king Domald, and they resolved to offer him for good seasons, and to assault and kill him, and sprinkle the stalle of the gods with his blood. And they did so.

And they did so. Snorri Sturluson assures us the crops and livestock then flourished, and all were happy.

Domald dies by bloody arms,
Raised not by foes in war’s alarms
Raised by his Swedish liegemen’s hand,
To bring good seasons to the land.

Carl Larsson’s ‘Midvinterblot’ depicting the sacrifice of Domald.

We shouldn’t read anything into the similarity between the names Domald and Donald. Nor should we consider the blood oblation of midvinterblot as anything other than a metaphor for a meaningful sacrifice. But given recent events, and the promise of more chaos, upheaval, and pandemonium to come, I think it’s past time for Congressional Republicans to begin the ritual necessary to remove our own ill-fated, star-crossed Donald from power.

The luck of king, the Ynglings told us, is the luck of the land. And Comrade Donald is bad luck all around. For the good of the nation and its people, Donald Trump needs to go.