adding insult to the office

If you read or listen to the news in the morning, it’s always distressing to wake up to the reality that Comrade Trump is still POTUS. But lawdy, some days are just more difficult than others. This is one of them.

Trump is rage-tweet-vomiting again. He began with a three-tweet rant quoting Tom Fitton of the right-wing group Judicial Watch:

The Strzok firing is as much about the Mueller operation as anything else. There would be no Mueller Special Councel to investigate so called collusion but for the machinations of Strzok & his colleagues at the top levels of the FBI. We know this guy was corrupt and had anti-Trump animus. Strzok and others at the FBI should be criminally investigated for the way the conducted this investigation. Instead, Mueller is pretending nothing went wrong. He used Strzok, he used the Clinton DNC Dossier…the whole thing should be shut down. The Strzok firing shows that the fundamental underpinnings of the investigation were corrupt. It should be shut down by the courts or by honest prosecutors.

It’s hard to even know where to start with this wall of bullshit. You need an abacus to keep track of all the errors and outright lies. Was Strzok instrumental in creating the Special Counsel investigation? Nope. Is there any indication that Strzok is corrupt? Nope. In fact, the Inspector General report clearly stated there’s no evidence that Strzok’s dislike of Trump influenced any investigative decisions.

In fact, the ONLY accurate information in all of that is this: Peter Strzok was fired from the FBI. And let’s face it, that was essentially a political act to punish a career law enforcement professional for the sin of thinking Comrade Trump is unfit to be the President of the United States.

Tom Fitton

But this is pretty much what you expect from Trump and Tom Fitton. Who IS this Fitton guy? He’s on the Board of Directors of Judicial Watch, which describes itself as a ‘watchdog’ group. You’d think, as a frequent FOX News analyst on judicial behavior and as a member of Judicial Watch, Fitton must be a lawyer. Or at least has a background in law. Or maybe some significant professional experience in law enforcement. Or a graduate degree in some area of criminal justice. Or even an undergrad degree in a related field. But no. Tom Fitton has a B.A. in English. Oh, and he was a talk radio host on a conservative station.

Fitton is probably best known for his ‘work’ on the Benghazi attack. He posited the theory that the attack was actually part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Obama, he claimed, wanted Libyan militants to kidnap Ambassador Stevens. That would allow Obama to do a prisoner swap — Stevens for terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman (the blind cleric convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing). It’s not clear why Obama would go to such elaborate lengths to free Abdel-Rahman, but it probably had something to do with him being a wily secret Muslim. Unfortunately, Stevens was accidentally killed during the assault, so the plot failed. In an interview, Fitton admitted there was no actual evidence to substantiate his claim — but he asserted that lack of evidence was, in itself, evidence of the Obama cover-up.

The sneering, volatile, cruel, self-centered, would-be tyrant who occupies the White House.

This is the sort of person Comrade Trump looks to for expertise and support. Every day Trump occupies the White House is an insult to the nation, every day he remains in office further degrades the presidency, every day he attacks the institutions of democracy is an offense against the men and women who work to protect it.

And every morning I wake up and read what new outrage Comrade Trump has committed is a gut-churning reminder that we can’t for a moment stop resisting.

Advertisements

not normal…unprecedented…irresponsible…fucking nuts. 

During his stream-of-semi-consciousness speech in Montana last week, Comrade Trump addressed an issue that’s on the minds of a whole lot of people — his meeting with Vladimir Putin. I say he ‘addressed’ the issue, which is misleading; he mocked the issue. He said,

“They’re going ‘Will President Trump be prepared, you know, President Putin is KGB and this and that.’ You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”

No. No, he won’t be prepared. And no, he hasn’t been preparing for this his whole life. But Putin actually has.

Trump grew up pampered and privileged, of course. His grandfather made a fortune providing housing for prospectors during the Klondike gold rush before moving to New York and began buying and building houses and apartments. Trump attended the posh Kew-Forest School until his parents caught him sneaking into Manhattan and sent him to the New York Military Academy–a private boarding school. He did a couple of years at Fordham, picked up a B.A. in economics from the Wharton School, then took a position in the real estate business his grandfather created.

He eventually inherited a lot of money and a lot of lawyers and he’s counted on the lawyers to keep himself in the money. For much of his career, Trump’s business model seems to have been to personally meet with investors, make a number of demands, then leave while his lawyers work out the details. If the business succeeds, Trump takes credit. If it doesn’t, he blames the lawyers. His bankruptcies made it impossible for him to obtain loans from most major international banks, forcing him to deal with banking institutions in former Soviet client states, many of which have an international reputation for money laundering. He’s also become dependent on foreign nationals to buy or lease expensive apartments–also a common source of money laundering.

A pampered, ignorant rich guy.

Putin, in contrast with Trump, grew up in post-WWII Leningrad. Both of his older brothers died–one in infancy, the other from disease during the Siege of Leningrad. His father served in one of the infamous ‘Destruction Battalions’ of the NKVD during the war. After the war, the Putins lived in a rat-infested apartment complex; both of his parents worked in Soviet factories. Putin knows what it is to be poor, to be hungry, to struggle to survive.

He was a good student, though, and Putin was eventually able to attend college and law school (yeah, he’s actually a lawyer). After graduation, he joined the KGB and began his career in counter-intelligence. He monitored foreign dignitaries (which meant spying on them and gathering dirt) as well as consular officials (spying and gathering dirt) in Leningrad. He later spent half a decade undercover (spying and gathering dirt) in East Germany. His work wasn’t simply about spying and gathering dirt; it was grounded in an understanding human frailty coupled with knowledge of techniques to capitalize on that frailty. He eventually became a Lt. Colonel in the KGB.

As the Soviet Union began to collapse, Putin left the KGB–but he used his KGB training to become successful in politics. In seven years he went from being an advisor to the mayor of Leningrad to being a deputy chief on the staff of Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Putin succeeded because he prepared. He studied…well, almost everything about almost everybody he would come into contact with. For example, when he met Strobe Talbot, a representative of the Clinton administration, at an informal gathering, Putin casually mentioned the names of the poets Talbot had studied in college. Talbot understood this wasn’t Putin showing off; it was Putin letting Talbot know the KGB had a detailed file on him–and that Putin was familiar with it.

A seasoned counter-intelligence professional.

A year later, Putin was put in charge of the FSB, the successor of the KGB. A year after that he was appointed acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation. He’s basically been in power ever since. His rise to power demonstrates a high level of espionage tradecraft combined with a ruthless determination.

So this is where we are. We have Donald Trump, whose personal and financial behavior has left him vulnerable to blackmail meeting with a guy who built the early part of his career on finding and using dirt to manipulate others. We have Trump who, when challenged, threatens his opponents with a lawsuit (and often fails to follow through on those threats) meeting a guy who, when challenged, imprisons his opponents. Or has them assassinated. We have Trump, who seems incapable of controlling his emotions, meeting with a guy trained to suppress his emotions. We have Trump, who talks tough, meeting with a guy who actually is tough. We have Trump, who never prepares for anything, meeting with a guy who prepares for everything.

And if that’s not bad enough, Trump has insisted his meeting with Putin take place without any official witnesses. No aides, no advisors, no staff, no official translators, and certainly no press. There will be no official record of what happens in the meeting. As far as that goes, there’s not even an official agenda of items to be discussed.

Spider meets fly.

It’s just going to be an over-confident and under-informed Donald Trump walking into a room with an experienced counter-intelligence professional who’s had an entire staff scouring through every moment of Trump’s life for leverage to use against him.

This is not normal. This is unprecedented. This is entirely irresponsible. This is fucking nuts.

spink spink spink

Okay, I’ve come up with a plan to put an end to mass murder events. After the most recent mass killing (and it’s the sad nature of mass killings that the phrase ‘the most recent’ becomes meaningless almost immediately — so just to be clear, I’m talking about the mass murder of journalists and support staff at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, MD on 28 June), I knew we had to do something. I mean, thoughts and prayers just aren’t getting the job done.

I think we need to try a new approach. Bracelets of Submission.

Okay, I admit, I see some branding issues there. That ‘submission’ business would make it hard to market. But you see, that’s the actual name for Wonder Woman’s cuffs. The Amazons of Paradise Island wore them as a symbol of their loving submission to the goddess Aphrodite. They also served as a reminder to the Amazons ‘of the folly of submitting to men’.

So yeah, that goddess and submission business might discourage some folks. But I think we just need to shift attention to the bracelets’ awesome ricochet properties. I mean, these things are made from Amazonium, which everybody knows is the industry standard for deflecting projectiles. Not only that, the bracelets are imbued with magic that makes them impermeable to fire, invulnerable to traditional weaponry, immune to blasts of energy, resistant to deceleration trauma (as a result of, say, falling from a great height), and can repel ticks and prevent insect bites. Plus, can you say fashion forward?

But granted, we’d have to rebrand them as something other than Bracelets of Submission. Maybe we could call them Second Amendment Cuffs. Or what about MAGA Bangles? No, wait, I’ve got it. Freedom Gauntlets. Yeah, that would work. 

So I propose we issue Amazonium Freedom Gauntlets to every citizen of school age (at the very least, to those who have health insurance coverage) and hey, bingo, problem solved. Angry white guy breaks into school and starts shooting? Spink spink spink until the police arrive. Angry white guy walks into your place of employment? Spink spink spink and a bit of patience and it’s all over. Angry white guy attacks a women’s health clinic? Spink spink spink and maybe a couple more spinks. Angry white guy shoots up a gay nightclub or a mosque or a pizza parlor? Spink spink, bitches.

Spink spink spink, bitches.

Now, some folks will say this is silly. Some folks will say I’m making light of a terrible situation. Some folks will say I’m mocking the notion of thoughts and prayers.

All of those folks are right. It is silly, it is making light of a terrible situation, and I’m totally mocking thoughts and prayers as a response to mass shootings. Thoughts and prayers are no more effective at mass murder prevention than magical Amazonian Freedom Gauntlets. The response of the United States to gun violence deserves to be mocked.

Because we know this to be true: five men and women were killed couple of days ago by yet another angry white guy who legally purchased the weapon he used to kill them, and aside from the ritual thoughts and prayers, absolutely nothing will be done to reduce the likelihood that it will happen again tomorrow. Nothing.

civility

It all goes back to ancient Rome. It was the first real city of the Western world; it’s been a city for twenty-eight centuries. In the early days of Rome, its citizens were known as cives. To be a citizen of Rome was a big deal. A huge deal. An absolutely massive deal. Being a Roman citizen meant you had civitas — you belonged to collective body of all citizens, you were an integral part of the social contract that bound all cives together.

Being a citizen conferred both rights and responsibilities on a person, and one of those responsibilities was to be civil — to behave in public life in a manner befitting of a Roman citizen so as to maintain civic order. As the Roman empire stretched out across Europe, it spread the idea of civitas — a process by which other peoples in other lands were civilized. Important people in ‘client’ states could become civitas sine suffragio, citizens of Rome (lacking only the right to vote). It was said a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world without any fear of molestation, shielded by the words Civis Romanis — “I am a citizen of Rome.”

It was largely bullshit, of course. The Roman army was full of murderous bastards who engaged in all manner of appalling war crimes. Roman politicians were as greedy and corrupt as any. Those ‘client’ states undergoing ‘civilization’ all began as conquered nations. The glory of Rome came at the expense of subjugated people.

But the concept of civitas was, and still is, important. The concept helps make the world a better place — a place where people treated each other decently, with respect and courtesy, with civility. That’s a fine thing.

Today, a member of the Trump administration can’t walk the face of the known world without molestation; they can’t even order a meal in a decent restaurant without being harassed. A lot of folks today are decrying this lack of civility. They’re right to do so.

But they need to remember that civility — that civitas — is a social contract that begins at the top of the social food chain. Civitas confers rights on its citizens, but it also burdens them with certain social responsibilities.

This is really pretty simple. If you belong to a political administration that enforces cruel policies on its people, a political administration that routinely lies to the people about matters large and small, that protects and enriches the powerful at the expense of the weak, then you’ve violated the concept of civility and you aren’t worthy of its protection.

If Sarah Huckabee Sanders wants to be treated with civility, then she has a moral duty to treat others with civility. That’s the contract. Civility has to work both ways.

a much different president

Okay, let me get this straight. Comrade Trump (noted author of How to inherit Millions from Your Daddy and Still Go Bankrupt Like Half a Dozen Times and POTUS) met with Kim Jong Un (noted evil dictator, fratricidal rocket fetishist, and open friend of Dennis Rodman) in what journalists called a ‘summit’ and Trump called ‘another great historic deal which many people say is what I do better than anybody else ever, I can tell you that, believe me.’

Here’s what Kim got by meeting with the former leader of the free world:

  • Legitimacy as a world leader.
  • A weaker relationship between the U.S. and South Korea and Japan .
  • A cessation of U.S.-South Korean military exercises.
  • A rift between the U.S. and NATO.
  • A free ride on human rights violations.

Here’s what Trump got by meeting with a brutal dictator who has starved his people in order to afford more rockets:

  • A one page document re-affirming the same vague commitment to denuclearization that DPRK has made seventeen times since 1985.
  • A promise to return military remains from the Korean War.

It’s not exactly bupkis. Let’s call it it bupkis-lite. I mean, it’s nice that DPRK has agreed in principle to return the dead bodies of U.S. troops killed half a century ago. But we probably could have got them to agree to that in exchange for, say, letting them buy a bit more grain to feed their people (which would also allow U.S. farmers to earn a little extra coin).

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle I Don’t Know What the Fuck.

Still, we’ve got that one page document. Does it include, say, a timetable for denuclearization? Nope, nothing like that. What about a system of verification? Nope, not even hinted at. Maybe a shared definition of what  denuclearization is? No fucking way. But Trump apparently thinks if we show KJU and DPRK a little trust, it’ll all work out.

Here’s a telling example from the post-summit news conference:

Q: Mr. President, the joint statement does not talk about verifiable or irreversible denuclearization. Is that a concession on the part of the United States?

A: No, not at all. If you look at it, it said we are — let’s see here. It will be gone. I don’t think you can be any more plain.

I don’t think you can be any more fucking stupid. It will be gone. A few months ago Comrade told his supporters that ‘Little Rocket Man’ was unstable, a madman who murdered his own people and a serial liar who couldn’t be trusted, so there wasn’t any point in even talking with him. And they agreed. Now, after a couple of hours of photo ops, Trumps says he totally trusts KJU to keep his vague promises. And they agree.

Comrade Trump engaging in the Pull-My-Finger mode of international diplomacy.

If Trump says it, it must be true. Which leads me to another exchange in the news conference:

Q: What do you, President Trump, expect Kim Jong Un to do about the human rights record regarding the North Korean people?

A: They will be doing things. I think he wants to do things. You would be surprised. Very smart. Very good negotiator. Wants to do the right thing. He brought up the fact that in the past they took dialogue or never were like we are which has never been like what has taken place now. They went down the line. Billions of dollars were given and the following day the nuclear program continued. This is a much different time. This is a much different president in all fairness. This is very important to me. This is one of the, perhaps one of the reasons I won.

There you have it. DPRK will be doing things. And let me repeat Trump’s most salient argument. In the past they took dialogue or never were like we are which has never been like what has taken place now.

Nobody could be any more clear than that. Only Comrade Donald J. Trump could have negotiated this deal. This is a much different time, and in all fairness, he’s a much different president.

 

the haspel file

I have a great deal of respect for Gina Haspel, Comrade Trump’s controversial nominee to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I respect the fact that she’s done field work — and by ‘field work’ I mean the serious, no shit, secret, risky work of actual spy tradecraft — and she’s done it in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. We don’t know exactly what she’s done, of course, but she apparently did it well enough to rise through the ranks to become a big hat in the clandestine service. That’s a tough gig, by any measure.

But now she’s being touted to run the entire CIA, and that’s a whole nother gig entirely. So it’s necessary to remember this: good operatives don’t necessarily make good administrators. Being good in the field — any field — requires more than a skill set; it requires a very different attitude toward the work. People who do dangerous work and do it well generally share a belief that they can bend or break the rules, whatever those rules are. They believe they can do stuff ordinary folks can’t or won’t — and they’re usually right. The ones who aren’t right don’t last. That’s true of spies, of soldiers, of firefighters, of just about any gig that involves taking calculated risks.

Here’s an example. In 1998 a Marine aviator was contour flying in an EA-6B Prowler out of the Aviano air base in the Italian Alps. He was flying at 550 mph at a height of around 260 feet through the mountains and valleys when his wing clipped the cable supporting an aerial tramway for tourists. The cable snapped and a gondola carrying twenty people fell. All of them died.

The pilot and copilot were both charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide, and eventually the pilot served a prison sentence. But — and this is a horribly ugly truth — that pilot was displaying exactly the sort of attitude you want in a combat aviator. You want combat pilots who are confident enough and skilled enough to be  aggressive risk-takers. Well, you want pilots who are successful aggressive risk-takers. Again, the ones who aren’t successful don’t last.

That’s the thing. People who are good in the field aren’t necessarily good citizens. They’re not necessarily good people. The very qualities that make a person effective in the field generally disqualify them from running things. Gina Haspel has lasted for thirty years, most of which was in the clandestine service. That’s a testament to her skill as a spy and her willingness to do whatever she needed to do to get the job done. Every intelligence agency in the world relies on people like Gina Haspel.

And that’s exactly why she should NOT be the DCIA. She’s been the sort of agent who personifies the reasons field agents need oversight. Somebody has to be around to keep a collar on these folks, because they are all about getting results. I’m not surprised Gina Haspel ran a black site at which torture took place. I’m not surprised she destroyed video recordings of those torture sessions. I’m certainly not surprised that she claimed the torture produced actionable intelligence, or that she refused to categorically state torture was immoral. Nor am I surprised that she told Senators she wouldn’t resume the practice of ‘enhanced interrogation’.

You don’t last thirty years in the CIA without the ability to lie convincingly.

 

the dicknoggin conspiracy

Imagine a foreign country — oh, let’s call it the Republic of Dicknoggin. Imagine the government of Dicknoggin has decided to implement a covert campaign against These United States.

Imagine that deep cover Dicknoggin agents manage to get  themselves installed as administrators of federal agencies. Once in place, they create conditions that will make the air dirtier, the water less potable, food less safe, energy production less clean, working environments more dangerous, gun violence more likely, civil liberties more at risk, poverty more cruel, international crises more probable and more deadly, health care less available and more expensive, and schools less effective.

Imagine Dicknoggin agents using social media to undermine public belief and trust in US systems of justice. Imagine them claiming the FBI and the Department of Justice are actually controlled by a shadowy group of conspirators whose mission is to destroy the very government they work for. Imagine them hinting that those few federal law enforcement agents who weren’t actually criminal were nonetheless incompetent or possibly corrupt.

Imagine covert Dicknoggin agents being nominated and confirmed to lifetime terms as judges, who’ll decide how US laws should be interpreted and applied. Imagine Dicknoggin agents working at the state level to determine who should be able to vote and when voting can take place and how those votes are counted. Imagine Dicknoggin agents seducing and subverting religious leaders with promises of policies that favor their specific religious beliefs.

Imagine if the Republic of Dicknoggin actually existed and instituted those sorts of measures against These United States. It would be seen as a belligerent act by a hostile nation. It would be seen as a type of warfare.

Dicknoggin policy roundtable

Folks, the modern Republican party are Dicknoggins. It’s easy — and, for that matter, it’s sort of comforting — to think these Dicknoggins are acting out of ignorance. Or greed, or a lust for power and authority. It would be nice to believe they’re fucking up the country because they don’t know any better, because they simply fail to understand the very real consequences or the long-term implications of their actions.

I’d like to believe that, I really would. I’d like to believe the Dicknoggins are just fuckwits. But when you consider how widespread their actions are, how every facet of the government has been turned on its head, it suggests that this isn’t an accident. It suggests it’s deliberate.

So if you sometimes feel like the modern Republican party has declared war on These United States, that they’re intentionally destroying the things you love about this nation, then your feelings might actually be justified.