led by a donkey

Okay, then. Let’s face it, when a Republican candidate can grab a reporter by the throat, throw him to the ground and punch him, and still get elected to Congress, it’s time for Republicans to officially change their name from the Republican Party to the Republican Horde. Or, if you prefer, the GOH — the Grand Old Horde.

It’s an appropriate term. horde. It comes from the Turkic and Mongolic term ordu, which originally referred to a nomadic encampment. Over time the term was applied to a roving patriarchal militaristic social system grounded in the concept of raiding for plunder. Raid other nations, raid other cities, raid other tribes, raid related tribes if necessary. Take what you can carry, burn the rest, move on. By the early 1600s, the term horde was used to describe any noisy, unruly, uncivilized gang.

Actual Mongol Horde

We have a president who has no political or religious ideology other than personal profit and self-aggrandizement. We have a president who doesn’t just lie, but whose lies are totally self-serving and are easily revealed as lies. He leads a Republican Horde intent on enriching themselves at the expense of others, with no long-term consideration for the future. Think of the Mongol Hordes, only instead of guys with long mustaches riding on ponies, drinking kumis and airag, and shooting at folks with little bows, it’s white guys in suits sneering at liberal snowflakes. Think of the Dothraki from the Game of Thrones, only instead of brawny, bare-chested warriors, it’s pasty white guys who brag about grabbing women by the pussy while denying them health care.

Republican Horde

Actually, I’m being unfair to Mongols (and probably to Dothraki). The Mongols may have been plunderers and pillagers, but they had some strict codes of behavior. For example, the Yasa forbade Mongols to eat anything in the presence of another without inviting that person to also partake in the food. It also forbade anybody from eating more than his comrades. It insisted any passing wayfarer who arrived during a meal should be allowed to join in the meal without asking permission. Of course, it also demanded that a hunter who let an animal escape during a hunt be beaten with sticks, and that anybody who urinated into a stream be put to death — which seems a wee bit harsh, but those things put the health and welfare of the community at risk.

Republican Horde

I’m inclined to think the folks who belong to the current Republican Horde wouldn’t hesitate to eat in front of the hungry. I think they’d casually deny wayfarers from joining a meal. I think they’d protect a member who let an animal escape during a hunt (so long as the Republican Elders had enough to eat) and they’d probably cheerfully piss in the river — not just because they don’t care who lives downstream, but because it would amuse them.

Republican Horde

There’s a saying often attributed to Genghis Khan:

An army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey.

He might have actually said that, I don’t know. I do know Chabrias, the Athenian general, said something very much like it some fifteen hundred years earlier. I wouldn’t put it past old Genghis to have stolen the line. I’ve no doubt modern Republicans would lift if without a moment of hesitation. It is a good line, after all; I might steal it myself some day. However, it doesn’t apply to the current Republican Horde.

They’ve become an army of donkeys led by another donkey.

astonishing

These last few days have been astonishing. Literally astonishing. Astonishing in the oldest sense of the term. You know — stunned, made senseless by the crash of thunder. From the French estoner and the Latin tonare — to thunder. Astonish.

Last week we learned the newly elected President of These United States, who is under investigation for colluding with the government of Russia to disrupt and interfere with the presidential election, held a private meeting with the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office. In any other administration, that alone would be astonishing. But that’s not the most astonishing thing. In that meeting, Comrade Trump told the Russians that he’d just fired the Director of the FBI, who was heading the investigation into the campaign collusion. And no, even that isn’t the most astonishing thing. The most astonishing thing is he told them he’d fired the FBI chief because of the investigation.

Think about that for a moment. The target of what is essentially a conspiracy investigation tells the people with whom he’s accused of conspiring that he fired the investigator because he was investigating the conspiracy. And the target is the President of These United States.

That is just fucking astonishing. You’d be justified in thinking Clan Trump had fulfilled its monthly quota of astonishing things. But no. Trump went to Saudi Arabia. And he took his daughter. The tall, smart one with the long neck. And she spoke about women’s economic empowerment to a group of fifteen Saudi women described as “leaders in society, businesswomen and elected government officials”. Prepare to be astonished. This is part of what she told them:

“In every country around the world women and girls continue to face unique systematic, institutional, cultural barriers, which hinder us from fully engaging in and achieving true parity of opportunity within our communities. Each of you know this to be true. And yet the stories of Saudi women, such as yourselves, catalysing change, inspire me to believe in the possibility of global women’s empowerment.”

Yeah. Those 15 Saudi women leaders? The ones who inspire Ivanka as catalysts of change? They can now vote in local elections. Local elections. Of course, they need their husband’s permission to vote. No, wait — that’s not fair. They don’t need their husband’s permission to vote; they only need their husband’s permission to travel to the voting site. Women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive. As you almost certainly know, they can’t go anywhere outside the home unless they have the permission of a male family member — husband, father, brother, uncle, son (yes, that’s right — if no other male family member is available, a woman would have to get permission from her son). Oh, and they need to be accompanied by a male family member too. They also need a male family member’s permission to go to school. Or get a job. Or open a bank account.

The Saudis wore black, Ivanka wore powder blue.

And if they go out in public, those 15 women leaders have to abide by a strict dress code. At the very least, they have to wear a head scarf and a long cloak. But hey, they’re no longer required to cover their faces. Progress! Of course, most of the places these Saudi women can visit are gender segregated — public buildings, universities, parks, even amusement parks. If they go shopping, they’re generally not allowed to try on the clothes, because that would require getting undressed. In a private dressing room. In a gender-segregated shop. You can’t be too careful.

But hey, if they want to buy the clothes they can’t try on? They can use their own credit card! The one they received from the bank when they opened their account. Which they were allowed to open with the permission of their husband or father.

“Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging but there’s still a lot of work to be done and freedoms and opportunities to continue to fight for.”

Oh, Ivanka. She’s so right. There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s so very encouraging. And yes, there are so many opportunities to fight for. Ivanka knows an opportunity when she sees one.

Speaking of opportunities, did I mention that after Ivanka spoke about the encouraging progress made by Saudi women, she announced that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had contributed US$100 million to a women’s empowerment fund? Oh, and did I mention that the fund was spearheaded by Ivanka Trump?

After Ivanka’s speech on empowerment and the announcement of the $100,000,000 donation, the fifteen Saudi women leaders left through the separate women’s entrance and, with the permission of their husbands or fathers, were driven home, where they’re allowed to remove their cloaks and head scarves.

Astonishing, isn’t it.

what does that tell you?

I read the news every morning while I caffeinate myself. Since it’s the nature of ‘morning’ to arrive frightfully early, while I’m still in a stupor, I tend to follow a general pattern of news-reading. First, I run through my Google News thang, which allows me to rummage through a lot of different news sources. Then I usually read either the local newspaper or the Washington Post. I generally read them both, just not in any particular order. Finally I look at a couple of political blogs. By the time I’m done with those, my coffee is gone and I’m relatively alert.

“I say, I’ve noticed the most curious thing in today’s newspaper.”

I mention all that because of an odd thing I noticed this morning. Almost every news source had a unique headline story about Comrade Trump. Most often the major news venues simply offer a slightly different version of the same news story, but not this morning. The Post had an article suggesting Trump and Dana Rohrbacher were paid by the Russian government. The New York Times had a story claiming the Trump campaign was aware that General Michael Flynn was under investigation for his contacts with Russia even before he was named as Trump’s National Security Adviser. And Reuters had a piece about the frequency of Flynn’s meetings with various Russian diplomats and agents.

There were a couple of other news agencies that had stories about Trump himself or about his campaign, but I don’t recall offhand what they were. The odd thing was that at least half a dozen different news agencies or sources had half a dozen Trump headline stories. All different, but still all about Comrade Trump.

What does that tell you? I’d suggest it tells us there was an organized leak by somebody (or a few somebodies) from an investigative or intelligence agency. I don’t know who — maybe the FBI, maybe the CIA, maybe the NSA. But they gave each news agency a different story, all of which were negative about Comrade Trump.

“No, really? And then what happened?”

Not only that, they leaked all those different stories on the same day. What does that tell you? I’d suggest it tells us they’ve got more negative stories in their pocket. Otherwise they wouldn’t dump them all at once. (Although I suppose it could indicate a single news source who wants to unburden himself before he gets caught and fired.)

Because I try to be fair, I have to admit it’s possible that each of those news venues independently uncovered a different news story about a different facet of Trump-related scandal and coincidentally decided to publish them all on the same day. It’s possible. But I think it’s improbable.

I suspect we’ll see more whisperings in the next week or two.

the news — it ain’t for sissies

See, here’s the problem: there’s just too much shit happening. I have some very simple and very general criteria for selecting topics for this blog. They include (but are most certainly not limited to) the following:

  • shit I find amusing
  • shit I find infuriating
  • shit that alarms me
  • shit engages my interest or curiosity
  • shit that makes no sense
  • shit I think people ought to be thinking about but aren’t
  • shit that usually makes sense but doesn’t in this particular instance
  • shit that’s hilarious
  • shit that makes me want to punch somebody in the throat
  • shit that ought to be in the news but isn’t

It used to be I could read the news in the morning and it was usually fairly easy to pick out one or two things that fit several of those criteria. And then I’d think about that thing for a bit, then start banging out words in a row. Easy peasy Socrates-y. It was all blue sky and fair winds.

But then Comrade Trump got sort of elected. Now everything is happening all at once, and all the time. Shit has got out of hand, so to speak. Now I read the news and I’m screaming “Bank left! Bank left! Don’t turn this corner, Rick!” Now I read the news and what I see is this:

  • shit I find interesting, but alarming and infuriating, that makes no sense, but is somehow hilarious and yet makes me want to punch somebody in the throat.

Shit has become complicated. I’m talking about shit like this: Devin Nunes steps down from simultaneously leading and deliberately undermining the House investigation into Comrade Trump’s multitudinous connections with Russian agents who actively engaged in dozens of covert and illegal operations designed to subvert the U.S. election in favor of Donald Trump after it is revealed he (and we’re back to Nunes here) willfully misled the public and the members of his investigative committee about information he secretly obtained that he claimed supported Trump’s unfounded claim that he’d been illegally wiretapped by President Obama (but which didn’t actually support that claim at all), said information which came from White House operatives (one of whom apparently used to work for Nunes) whose names he refused to release.

And that’s just Nunes. Hell, that’s just Nunes on one particular day. Toss in similar news items about Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, and just about every venal sumbitch on Trump’s Cabinet of Nazgûl PLUS the fact that Comrade Trump can’t seem to go for more than about 75 minutes without doing or saying something that’s so profoundly ridiculous/incompetent/offensive it makes your eyes water — and hey, it’s sort of paralyzing.

It used to be that I read the news in the morning and I felt informed. Now I read the news and I feel like I’ve escaped after taking fire from all directions. I feel like plucky Flying Officer Terry Waine — I’ve made it through today’s bombing run, but the fuselage is rapidly shredding around me and flames have erupted in the cockpit. And I still have to turn back and try to rescue Boots.

And then, after I crash-land back at base, I’ll have to do it all again tomorrow. It’s exhausting, is what it is.

and he smiled

I didn’t watch Comrade Trump’s speech on Tuesday night. My Trump Tolerance Quotient, which has never been particularly high, was way too low to allow me to watch him speak live on television. I figured it would trigger some sort of unfortunate temporal lobe episode — and who needs that on a Tuesday?

But I consider myself to be a good citizen and a patriot, so I decided to watch the entire speech yesterday morning. The first thing I noticed was that it wasn’t really a speech. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. People have been practicing the art and craft of public speaking since the damned Greeks, so we know what a speech is. What Trump did on Tuesday night wasn’t public speaking. It was public reading.

Comrade Trump displays ability to read words aloud.

Comrade Trump displays ability to read words aloud.

It was embarrassing, really. For the most part, Trump just read sentence after sentence. Slowly. Like he was afraid he might leave out a word.

Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.

First off, this just isn’t something Comrade Trump would actually say. This is not the way he speaks. But we can ignore that, right? Because even badly delivered written speeches aren’t necessarily meant to be conversational. But just a few hours earlier this mendacious sumbitch was suggesting maybe those threats and that vandalism were ‘false flag’ attacks perpetrated by Jews in order to gain sympathy or make other folks look bad.

And then there was this:

Dying industries will come roaring back to life; heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need. Our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve. Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways, gleaming across our very beautiful land. Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately stop, and our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity.

Right. Also? Shoeless Joe Jackson will emerge from the cornfield to play catch with your dad, Joss Whedon will revive Firefly, fashion designers will start putting real pockets in women’s clothes, that recipe your auntie gave you for okra-jello salad will turn out to be really good, George R.R. Martin will finish whatever fucking Game of Thrones book he’s been working on for the last decade, Michele Obama will punch a Nazi, and the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team will finally get paid what they’re worth.

It was all pretty much standard issue bullshit. Until this moment:

We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of US Navy special operator Senior Chief William Ryan Owens. Ryan died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation.

I resent this. I resent it, but I know that trotting out victims and widows for a public display of sentiment is, sadly, an established practice now. Every president since Reagan has done it (one more sin to lay at that motherfucker’s feet). But this was a singularly reprehensible moment for a lot of reasons.

First, let’s acknowledge the fact that Chief Owens didn’t die. He was killed. There’s a difference. Second, he was killed on a raid casually approved by Trump, who didn’t even bother to follow the raid in the situation room while it was taking place. Third, Trump tried to shift responsibility for the fuck-up to President Obama and to the generals instead of accepting that as Commander-in-Chief, he was ultimately responsible. In terms of accountability, it doesn’t matter if the raid succeeded in its goals or not. Not every mission is going to succeed. No battle plan survives intact after first contact with the enemy; that’s been accepted wisdom since the days of Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke.

But when things go ‘oh shit’ everybody who issues orders accepts responsibility for what happens to the people who attempt to follow those orders. Everybody. That’s just how it works. From the ground up, everybody who gives an order carries the weight of the poor sumbitch who follows the order.

But not Comrade Trump.

Then that reprehensible moment turned into something even more reprehensible. As the long moment of applause began to ebb, Trump said this:

Ryan is looking down right now. You know that. And he is very happy because I think he just broke a record.

And he looked at the widow — and smiled.

170228213137-donald-trump-congress-address-1-full-169

This fucking guy who says he’ll do everything for the military, but refuses to take them seriously — he smiled. This fucking guy who’d spent much of the week dodging responsibility for his role in the raid in which Chief Owens was killed — he smiled. This fucking guy said, out loud and to Owens’ widow, that her dead husband was happy because of the amount of applause generated by his sacrifice.

He said that, and he fucking smiled.

I had to stop watching the speech.

a beautiful word

It really shouldn’t surprise me. Two things have been obvious for years. First, the total mass of Comrade Trump’s ignorance is so densely packed it can affect the tides. And second, he’s never let his ignorance on any subject prevent him from acting like he knows something.

So there’s absolutely no basis for me to think Trump would take the issue of human trafficking any more seriously that he takes anything else. But here’s the thing: this meeting of several groups who deal with human trafficking was set up by his daughter Ivanka. So I thought maybe he’d take five minutes, read a briefing on the topic, show some actual interest. I mean, you do that sort of thing for your kids, right? You put their art on the refrigerator door, you help them with a school project, you pretend to like their music, and when they arrange a meeting on human trafficking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, you make a little time to learn about the issue. Right?

Nope. Not Trump. If he has a clue about human trafficking, it wasn’t obvious in his opening remarks. And when I say ‘remarks’ I mean a seemingly stochastic series of structurally malformed sentences (you can read the entirety of his opening remarks here if you want, though lawdy, it’s pretty fucking painful to read). Trump informs his audience of professionals who deal with human trafficking that human trafficking is a horrific practice. And hey, it’s getting worse.

“It’s getting worse and it’s happening in the United States in addition to the rest of the world, but it’s happening in the United States, which is terrible.”

It’s happening right here in These United States, and sure, the rest of the world too, but here, right here in River City. Which is terrible. Something must be done.

It’s such a terrible, horrific practice right here in the United States and the rest of the world (but mostly, you know, it’s a horrific practice in the United States), that Trump is:

“prepared to bring the full force and weight of our government to the federal and at the federal level, and the other highest levels, whatever we can do.”

All those other highest levels, you guys. None of those low levels, no sir. The highest levels of — well, you know. Complete with their full force and weight. To do whatever we can do. With the federal.

And what can we do? We can damned well put an end to human trafficking (which, by the way, is still a horrific practice).

“I want to make it clear today that my administration will focus on ending the absolutely horrific practice of human trafficking.”

Ending it! All those highest levels with the federal and others will focus on ending the horrific human trafficking practice. Which you’d think would mean solving the problem, right? Silly rabbit.

“Solving the human trafficking epidemic, which is what it is, is a priority for my administration.  We’re going to help out a lot.  ‘Solve’ is a wonderful word, a beautiful word, but I can tell you, we’re going to help a lot.”

Solve — beautiful word. Who could argue with that? So maybe actual solving isn’t going to happen, but Trump and his highest levels are going to help. How much are they going to help? A lot. In what way are they going to help a lot? So glad you asked. Trump is going to have his people…

“…take a hard look at the resources and personnel that they’re currently devoting to this fight.”

A hard look, you guys. Not a soft look. Fuck no, what — you think he’s Obama? No, he’s going to have them take a hard look. At those resources and personnel. Is that enough to solve help out a lot with this horrific problem? Well, okay, maybe not.

Is there anything else Trump and his levels can do? Yes! They’re going to talk about it.

“It’s a very, very terrible problem.  It’s not talked about enough.  People don’t know enough about it.  And we’re going to talk about it, and we’re going to bring it out into the open and hopefully we’re going to do a great deal to help prevent some of the horrific — really horrific — crimes that are taking place.”

Man, once Trump and his highest levels start with that hard look and the talking, you’re going to see some serious preventing. Hopefully. Because human trafficking is horrific. Also, terrible.

Credit where it’s due, and all that. Trump had the grace to thank the people for showing up at his daughter’s party important meeting.

“I cannot thank each of you enough, and the dedicated men and women who run my staff and your staffs in getting everybody together was terrific.  I was so glad I was able to be here.”

And in conclusion…

“I really can say, in this country, people don’t realize how bad it is in this country, but in this country and all over the world.  So thank you all for being here.”

It’s really bad in this country. Really really bad. But in this country and all over the world. Trump can really say that. Out loud.

Comrade Trump taking a hard look at...well, resources. Also, personnel.

Comrade Trump taking a hard look at…well, resources. Also, personnel.

Still, there’s this: boom! Another problem solved! A horrific practice, solved. Nobody realized how bad it is in this country and in this country, also the world, but in this country, nobody realized until his daughter told him, but now — horrific practice ended. Or solved. Or helped a lot. With the staffs and the highest levels and all those hard looks, those are some really hard looks, the best, believe me. And really, is there a more beautiful word than solve?

C’mon, okay, maybe. Horrific, that’s pretty good too.

the logan act (with optional pirate stuff)

Right, there goes Michael T. Flynn, out the back door of the Trump White House. Now that we’re finished applauding his resignation, folks are wondering about a couple of things. First, can he be prosecuted under the Logan Act? And second, should he be prosecuted.

There are, of course, problems. At least three problems. The first is the Logan Act is of questionable constitutionality. It’s never been really tested in court; nobody has ever been prosecuted for violating the Logan Act. Not even George Logan, after whom the law was named. The second problem is more political. The recently appointed Attorney General of These United States is Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who is undoubtedly tickled pink that the Logan Act is of questionable constitutionality. It gives Sessions the perfect opportunity to practice looking severe without having to actually do anything. The third problem is this: just what the fuck IS the Logan Act, and what was it intended to do?

The Logan Act is a perfect example of how history, which can be singularly cool, has a reputation for being mind-numbingly dull. I mean, we’re talking revolutions and piracy on the high seas — and that’s some seriously exciting shit, right there. But reading the Logan Act — well, it’s not long enough to actually put you to sleep, but it’ll make your mind wander. Anyway, here’s the history.

Not actually a French ship attacking a US merchant, but c'mon -- it's pirate stuff.

Not actually a French ship attacking a U.S. merchant vessel, but c’mon — it’s pirate stuff.

We (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘These United States’) had us a revolution. I’m assuming you already know this. A few years later, France had its own revolution. France had been pretty helpful to our revolution and they quite understandably expected the new U.S. to give them a reach-around. We didn’t — at least not to their satisfaction. So France got pissy and authorized French ships to plunder American merchant ships. President John Adams sent some envoys to France to straighten out the mess. The French listened to their arguments, then politely told the envoys “S’il vous plaît, uriner une corde.” Or words to that effect. The envoys returned to the U.S., reported they’d failed miserably, then went to a bar and made rude remarks about the French (I’m not entirely sure about that last bit with the bar and rude remarks, but it’s what I would have done if the French had told me to go piss up a rope).

Enter Dr. George Logan, a Philadelphia Quaker. Logan decided he couldn’t screw things up any worse, so he sailed to France, chatted with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and the good folks of the French Directory — and hey, bingo, the French changed their minds and stopped the plundering. Yay, sounding of trumpets, release of doves, everybody wins, right?

Dr. George Logan, Quaker and Freelance Diplomat.

Dr. George Logan, Quaker and Freelance Diplomat.

Right. Except for the politicians back in the U.S. who weren’t happy with civilians conducting unauthorized negotiations with foreign governments. Which is perfectly understandable. I mean, George Logan might have done a fine job, but the next guy might get us in a war. So they passed the Logan Act to prevent that sort of thing from happening again.

It’s easy to see why nobody has been prosecuted under the Logan Act. Back in the late 1700s, civilians could get away with pulling shit like that. Today, that’s not going to happen. Ain’t no Quaker going to show up on Pakistan’s doorstep (even if Pakistan had a doorstep, which it doesn’t) and negotiate a nuclear arms deal. And if General Michael Flynn had been an ordinary citizen, nobody in the Russian embassy would have paid any attention to him when he discussed the sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama.

But that’s exactly why the Logan Act could be used in this case — because General Michael Flynn was NOT an ordinary citizen. He was an advisor to the President-Elect. He was expected to become President Trump’s National Security Advisor. He had influence and power, and even though he had no authority from the sitting POTUS, he had presumptive authority from the President-Elect.

Assuming Flynn actually did discuss lifting Obama’s sanctions on Russia (and since the transcripts of Flynn’s calls haven’t been made public, we can’t know that for certain), then he was a nominal civilian with enough influence to effectively undermine an action taken by the President of These United States. That’s a big fucking deal, and it’s exactly the sort of thing the Logan Act should be used to deter.

It’s absolutely worth testing the constitutionality of the Logan Act in this case. But somehow, I doubt the pixie-eared Attorney General will do that.