dammit bernie

I was SO proud of Bernie Sanders for acknowledging that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election in his favor. Unlike Comrade Trump and his cadre of Nazgûl supporters, who are actively abetting the Russian attack on our national elections, Bernie spoke out and condemned the interference. He said, “I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear. Stay out of American elections. And as president I will make sure that you do.”

How can you NOT respect that? Especially when you compare it to Trump’s tantrum and childish denial of facts.

But here’s the thing: I have a weird and dysfunctional relationship with Bernie. I like the guy. I like his consistency. I like that he’s been remarkably steady in his beliefs and opinions — not just recently but for decades. I like most of his values and I agree with most of his policies. And yet I’ve never been able to go all in for Bernie because time and again he does something that flat out pisses me off. Or disappoints me. I’ve spent a lot of time saying, “Dammit, Bernie.”

It’s not just Bernie. There are a lot of politicians (or other folks) I like and respect that make me say Dammit. Dammit Bill Clinton. dammit Rashida Tlaib, dammit Kirsten Gillibrand, dammit Al Franken, dammit dammit dammit dammit. And now, once again, dammit, Bernie.

Dammit, Bernie, you knew about this for a month. A month, for fuck’s sake, and you didn’t say anything. That, in itself, wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. I mean, there could be lots of valid reasons for not reporting it. Maybe an intelligence agency asked you not to reveal the information to the public for some obscure spy reason.

But apparently that wasn’t the case. Dammit, Bernie, you were apparently (and I say ‘apparently’ because to my knowledge you haven’t given any other reason) just reluctant to acknowledge it. That’s bad. Understandable, but still bad. And dammit, Bernie, then you made it worse. You got pissy with the Washington Post for reporting the story. And then you made it still worse by suggesting the newspapers broke the story right before the Nevada caucus in order to hurt your campaign.

Here’s a True Thing, Bernie: bad news is always bad news, so if you want to control HOW that bad news is released, release it yourself. Release it under your control. If you dawdle and somebody else releases that bad news in a less flattering way, then that’s on you. A fucking month, you knew about this — and yet you weren’t prepared to answer questions about it when the story broke. At the very least you should have had talking points prepared, you should have had a strategy in place. Really, you should have dealt with this a month ago.

I don’t think you were deliberately trying to hide the information; I suspect you just saw it as an unwanted distraction. I suspect you treated it the same way you treated the bothersome chest pains you said you ‘disregarded’ because you didn’t have time to deal with them. I mean, that’s a classic guy move — ignore it, assume it’ll go away. I suspect every guy ever born has done that.

But dammit, Bernie, if you’d held a press conference soon after learning about Russian interference and denounced the interference using the very same language you used recently, you’d have been universally praised. But you didn’t. Now you come across as cranky and snarky and resentful and bitter. Now it seems like you’re blaming others for your own mistakes. Those are the qualities that made me stop supporting you in 2016.

Dammit, Bernie you’re so much better than this. And it pisses me off that you sometimes seem to forget that.

it’s worse than that

The Republicans are lying. But it’s not just lying; it’s worse than that. The Republicans are also spreading disinformation. Disinformation is deliberate misinformation intended to distract and deceive. Disinformation is worse than a lie because it’s meant to cast the concept of truth itself into doubt.

Here’s a lie: Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 presidential election with the intent to help Trump. It’s demonstrably not true. Ukraine was responsible for the meddling in the 2016 election — that’s a lie, but it’s worse than that. It’s disinformation. It’s designed to deliberately mislead people, to plant misinformation into the discussion. Disinformation forces truth-tellers to dispute both the lie and the false information as well.

Let me say it again. Republicans are lying, but worse than that they’re spreading disinformation. But it’s even worse than that, the disinformation is part of a Russian intelligence campaign. It’s designed both to aid Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and to sow dissent and discord in the domestic politics of the U.S.

The Russians are really very good at this. They didn’t invent disinformation, but they were the first nation to develop it as an cohesive intelligence strategy. Even the term ‘disinformation’ itself was created as disinformation. In the 1920s, a Russian black propaganda program began using the term dezinformatsiya, suggesting it was translated from a French word (désinformation), which didn’t exist. That allowed them to claim the concept had a Western origin. With the creation of mass media and the internet, disinformation in the post-Soviet era has become a critical facet of both the Russian military intelligence and the SVR — the Russian Federation’s foreign intelligence service.

And, again, Republicans are disseminating a disinformation campaign designed by an intelligence agency hostile to United States’ interests. It’s worse than that. At this point, they’re doing it knowingly. Fiona Hill told them under oath that the idea that Ukraine was behind the 2016 election ratfucking was “a fictional narrative” created by Russian intelligence. But even if they dismissed her sworn testimony, Congress was briefed by U.S. intelligence agencies that “Russia had engaged in a years-long campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election.”

Treason for the tackiest of motives — partisan politics.

They know. They know it’s a lie, but they still tell it. They know it’s disinformation, but they still spread it. They know it’s a critical element of a Russian intelligence operation, but they continue to repeat it. They fucking know, and they don’t care. They are, in effect, providing aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States. That’s treason.

It’s worse than that. It’s not treason for ideological reasons, or treason for money, or treason as an act of dissent, or even treason for personal power. It’s worse than that; it’s treason for the tackiest of motives — partisan politics.

sputtering bastards

It didn’t take long, did it. For the Republican sputtering to begin, I mean.

Yesterday we witnessed an Olympic caliber exhibition of synchronized justice. Comrade Trump’s former campaign manager AND his personal attorney simultaneously became felons. It was certainly the most news-intensive 20 minutes of my long and semi-wicked life. It put me right on the cusp of news overload.

And the response from Republicans in Congress? Sputtering. “But but but neither of these cases has anything to do with Russia.” “But but but this has nothing to do with collusion.” “But but but but…”

These fucking guys, I declare. But hey, technically they’re right. They’re cowardly dissembling ethics-free sacks of horseshit, but technically they’re right. Manafort’s convictions aren’t directly related to Russia or Trump. And Cohen’s guilty plea has nothing whatsoever to do with illegal Russian meddling into the election.

Cohen’s plea is an altogether different sort of illegal meddling into the election. But hey, guess what. It’s still illegally meddling in the damned election. And Cohen, bless his criminal little heart, directly implicates Comrade Donald J. Trump as knowingly and willfully participating in that illegal election meddling.

There’s some shit Republicans can’t just sputter away.

Here’s the thing: Cohen’s guilty plea incriminates Trump in a conspiracy to influence the election that’s completely separate from the Russian conspiracy to influence the election. That’s TWO distinct criminal conspiracies to influence the election. Two. A Russian criminal conspiracy AND a domestic campaign criminal conspiracy. And since we already have a Special Counsel to investigate the Russian conspiracy, it only makes sense that we should appoint a completely separate Special Counsel to investigate the campaign conspiracy.

I doubt that will happen. Certainly not while Republicans control Congress. Certainly not while Republicans run the Department of Justice. They’re much too busy with all that sputtering.

ADDENDUM — As I was writing this, a friend asked me if I thought this might lead to articles of impeachment. And no, I don’t think it will. It should, but c’mon…we’re talking about Republicans in Congress, who have turned hypocrisy into pure performance art. Let’s consider some of the high crimes and misdemeanors Republicans considered impeachable when Barack Obama was POTUS.

— Republican Darrell Issa said it was an impeachable offense for Obama to offer an administration job to Joe Sestak to persuade Sestak to drop out of the PA Senate primary election.
— Republican Michael Burgess at a rally said Obama needed to be impeached in order to prevent him from “pushing his agenda”.
— Republican Jon Kyl said there might be ‘shenanigans’ involved in the Obama immigration policy that would be impeachable.
— Several Republicans suggested there was an impeachable cover-up in the Benghazi incident that somehow escaped discovery in the ten separate Republican investigations.
— Republican Tom Coburn said Obama was “perilously close” to committing high crimes and misdemeanors by allegedly ordering USCIS employees to “ignore background checks for immigrants” though there’s no indication Obama ever suggested such an order.
— Republican Blake Farenthold told a rally that Obama should be impeached over the conspiracy theories relating to his birth certificate.
— Republican Kerry Bentivolio said he’d like to write articles of impeachment based on the notion that the Obama administration had directed the IRS to target conservative groups.
— Republicans on the House Judiciary committee held a hearing on “The President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws”, which they viewed as an attempt to begin justifying impeachment proceedings.
— Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature (and seriously, I’m not making this up) filed a measure asking Oklahoma members of Congress to impeach Obama (and also the Attorney General and the Secretary of Education) over the decision to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

I suppose we should be grateful they never accused Obama of collusion with Kenya to influence the 2008 election. Although we’re talking about Republicans in Congress, so there’s still time for that.

putin’s pocket

Had a buddy tell me “I can’t get interested in the Manafort trial, since it’s not about Trump.” I told him, “Dude, of course it’s about Trump.”

I sorta kinda lied to him. I mean, it IS about Trump since it’s about the Russians, and you can’t throw a ruble without hitting Comrade Trump. But it’s not directly about Trump. At this point in the trial, it’s as much about Vladimir Putin’s pockets — and who Putin has tucked away in those pockets — as anything else. Allow me to ‘splain, since Rick Gates has finished testifying. Just follow the numbers.

Rick Gates, who 1) worked for Paul Manafort for several years before 2) becoming Trump’s deputy campaign director, and who has 3) already pleaded guilty to a handful of felonies, testified that he helped Manafort, 4) who was Trump’s actual campaign director, 5) commit a buttload of felonies by 6) covering up Manafort’s numerous overseas bank accounts in which Manafort 7) hid and laundered the millions of dollars he earned by 8) helping get Putin-supported Viktor Yanukovych elected as president of Ukraine before 9) Yanukovych was run out of his country for 10) stealing hundreds of millions of dollars, after which 11) Yanukovych found asylum in Russia, where 12) he bought a house for US$52 million. Okay, that bit about Yanukovych buying a house really isn’t relevant to the case, but it shows what sort of company Manafort keeps.

Putin and Yanukovych

Gates also 13) helped Manafort illegally obtain 14) more than US$20 million dollars in bank loans by 15) falsely inflating his income and 16) failing to disclose debts, including so-called ‘loans’ totaling around $60 million from 17) Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is usually described as 18) Putin’s favorite industrialist. Loans without a repayment date are 19) a common way of laundering money.

Putin and Deripaska

So what we have is Gates and Manafort siphoning off a lot of illicit coin from Russians. What does that have to do with Comrade Trump? Good question. Here’s the answer.

While Manafort was running the Trump campaign, some unidentified campaign aides pressured the Republican National Committee to make a change — the ONLY change the Trump campaign insisted on — to the official Republican Party platform. The change was to remove a call for the U.S. to provide arms to Ukraine in response to the Russia invasion, occupation, and annexation of the Crimea province. Why did the Trump folks want to make that change? The answer seems to be: because Putin wanted Crimea.

Gates and Manafort

So here’s the thing: Gates testified that he was in the pocket of Manafort, who was in the pockets of the Ukrainian Yanukovych and oligarch Deripaska, both of whom are in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. LOTS of evidence suggests that pocket is also occupied by Comrade Trump.

So, yeah. Dude, of course the Manafort trial is about Trump.

it’s rats all the way down

Back in the 17th century, this dude named Samuel Butler wrote a — okay, wait. Trust me for a bit. This is actually going to relate to Comrade Donald J. Trump and his ex-buddy Michael Cohen. Honest, I wouldn’t lie to you. Not about this anyway.

Right, so back in the 17th century, this dude named Samuel Butler wrote a mock heroic poem about the adventures of a knight-errant called Hudibras and his squire Ralpho. It was basically a British rip-off of Don Quixote. At one point in the poem Hudibras gets himself in trouble and winds up in the stocks. In order to get released, he promises to flagellate himself — which, of course, Hudibras really doesn’t want to do. So his squire tells him that breaking that promise is really sorta kinda holy. Almost saintly, in fact.

For breaking of an oath, and lying,
Is but a kind of self-denying;
A Saint-like virtue: and from hence
Some have broke oaths by Providence
Some, to the glory of the Lord,
Perjur’d themselves, and broke their word

Lying and perjury. That brings us to Trump and Cohen. Cohen has now claimed that Comrade Trump was aware of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower before it occurred. You’ll remember this was the meeting at which Trump the Lesser, Manafort, Kushner, a few other folks, sat down with a Whitman’s Sampler of Russian agents in order to get ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton. This is Collusion 101. Fundamental collusion stuff.

When hard words, jealousies, and fears / Set folks together by the ears / And made them fight, like mad or drunk / For Dame Religion, as for punk

Trump the Elder, of course, denies it. Totally denies it. Denies the absolute hell out of it. This morning he tweeted (and Jeebus, how embarrassing is it to have a president whose main form of…aw, fuck it, never mind) the following:

I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam

This leads to the obvious question: “Is Comrade Trump lying?” Which leads to the obvious answer: “Ha ha ha what? Yeah, of course he is, this is Donald Fucking Trump, y’all.” Let’s pause for a brief moment and review the various accounts Trump has given of that meeting (not verbatim).

— Meeting? What meeting? There was no meeting.
— Oh, that meeting. Yeah, there was a meeting, but it was about adoption. Oh, and I didn’t know about it.
— Okay, okay, the meeting was about getting dirt on Crooked Hillary, but the Russians didn’t have any.
— Well, maybe they had some, but they didn’t offer it to us.
— Okay, yeah, they offered some dirt, but it wasn’t very good dirt. Did I mention I didn’t know about it?
— Well, okay, it was moderately good dirt, but we didn’t take it. And besides, I didn’t know about the meeting.
— Okay, we took it, but we didn’t use it.
— Okay, let’s say maybe we took it and maybe we used it, who can say? It was a long time ago and memories keep changing, and anyway, so what?

In other words, Comrade Trump has lied about this event like a thousand different times. We certainly have no reason to believe him now. But here’s the problem with dealing with Trump and anybody Trump has dealt with regularly: all of these fuckers lie. They lie all the time about anything at all. It’s as natural to them as water is to a goldfish. It’s the environment in which they live and function.

I’d like to believe Cohen is telling the truth about this — that Trump DID know about the meeting in advance. But Cohen, like Trump, is an inveterate liar and the thing about liars is that they lie. So who the hell knows?

Okay, back to Hudibras for half a moment. Here’s maybe the most famous line from the poem: “I smell a rat; Ralpho, thou dost prevaricate.”

I smell a rat. A lot of rats. I don’t know if Michael Cohen is telling the truth this time. I assume Trump is lying. It’s very possible they’re both lying. I mean, it’s possible Cohen has no idea whether or not Trump knew about the meeting, and he’s lying about it because he’s pissed at Trump and would like to drop him deeper in the shit. And it’s possible Trump did know about it and is lying because he’s a fucking liar. It’s also possible Trump didn’t know about it, because his campaign was run by crooks and amateurs so stupid they couldn’t pour piss out of a boot.

But I know this much. When it comes to Comrade Trump, I smell a rat. A whole nest of rats. It’s rats all the way down.

Editorial Note 1: That ‘I smell a rat’ line is usually attributed to Patrick Henry, speaking during the Constitutional Convention in 1776. But Butler wrote his poem a century before that took place. He owns the line. There’s some useless information for you.

Editorial Note 2: You probably know the turtle anecdote, but here it is in brief. William James gave a lecture on astronomy and the structure of the solar system. Afterwards, he’s accosted by an old woman, who claims the earth can’t revolve around the sun because the earth rests on the back of a giant turtle. “And what does that turtle stand on, madam?” “It stands on the back of a larger turtle.” “And pray, what does that turtle stand on?” “You’re a very clever man, Mr. James, but it’s turtles all the way down.”

putin’s got something on trump

I really don’t know how else to explain Comrade Trump’s contemptible display in Helsinki. I lack the conspiracy theory gene, but what happened yesterday is most easily explained by the conspiracy theory model (nothing happens by accident, nothing is quite what it seems to be on the surface, everything is connected). Even if we take the most skeptical approach, it’s hard NOT to arrive at this conclusion: Putin’s got something on Trump.

We’ve got Comrade Trump, a president whose licentious personal life and shady business practices make him singularly vulnerable to blackmail. We’ve got Vlad Putin, a former professional intelligence officer running the nation that basically invented the notion of kompromat. We’ve got the former insisting on a private one-on-one meeting with the latter — a meeting without the normal complement of aides and advisors, a meeting in which there is nobody taking formal notes, a meeting that lasted over two hours. And we’ve got Trump appearing with Putin immediately after that unprecedented meeting, and essentially denigrating and dismissing his own intelligence and law enforcement communities while praising Putin and Russia. And all this takes place AFTER Trump spent a few days shredding NATO, which is the sort of thing that would give Putin wet dreams.

This is Jeebus Level James Bond villain stuff. Seriously, if you submitted this in a novel manuscript or a screenplay, it would be laughed at as too implausible.

“Not a puppet. Not a puppet. Okay, puppet.”

I don’t know what Putin has on Trump. It could, I suppose, be the infamous alleged pee tape, but that just seems…no, okay, that does actually seem possible. Improbable, but certainly within the realm of possibility. It’s more likely, though, that what Putin has on Trump is something criminal rather than merely salacious.

I’m inclined to go with evidence of money laundering and criminal conspiracy. It’s not as personally humiliating as a pee tape, but it’s got the advantage of being solidly criminal. And prosecutable (my spellchecker insists that’s not a word, but my spellchecker can go fuck itself). Happily, money laundering and criminal conspiracy are exactly the sort of things Special Counsel Mueller’s team is designed to investigate.

Again, I can’t think of any other reasonable way to explain what happened in Helsinki. I think we’re sort of forced into the conspiracy theory mode in which the conspiracy isn’t only possible but probable. None of this is happening by accident, none of it is quite what it seems to be on the surface, and absolutely everything — all of it — is connected.

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.