everything would have been knocked down

Task force. Originally, it was a naval term. Specialized ships from different fleets and squadrons would be temporarily assembled to work as a group to perform a single defined task or activity. After the mission was accomplished, the various ships would return to their normal duties. The ‘task force’ concept has been widely adapted.

Comrade Trump signs an executive order creating a task force to protect…wait…statues?

It’s a great concept, an effective administrative tool, and if used wisely, a task force can be incredibly efficient. If used wisely is the operative phrase in that sentence. Here’s an example of the wise use of a task force. In 2013, the Obama administration created the Pandemic Prediction and Forecasting Science and Technology Working Group. It was comprised of members from eighteen different federal departments and agencies, including the National Security Council, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense.

Mass burial of Covid-19 victims.

Their job was to “mitigate large‐scale outbreaks by predicting more accurately when and where outbreaks are likely to occur, and how they will progress.” They did this by monitoring and analyzing a myriad of minor social disruptions which, on their own, might not be alarming, but when considered in context could indicate a potential disease outbreak. If, say, the price of pork in Country A suddenly increases, it could mean the hog farmers in Province X have been forced to slaughter a lot of their stock because of a localized swine disease. Taken in conjunction with an increase in Province X’s hospitalizations for flu-like syndrome, it could suggest the first seeds of an epidemic. Task force experts could then be sent to Province X to work with Country A to find out just what the fuck is going on. Then deal with it locally, and prevent the spread to Province Y — or worse, Country B.

Brilliant. By the way, if you’re curious, you can read a report on the PPFSTWG (which, I agree, is among the worst acronyms ever) here. And yes, this is the pandemic response team which the Trump administration disbanded because…well, who the hell knows why.

Let me repeat myself for a minute. A task for is an effective administrative tool, and if used wisely, a task force can be incredibly efficient. Here’s an example of a task force NOT used wisely. Comrade Trump has issued an executive order directing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to create a task force to “protect historic landmarks against vandalism and destruction” from “violent anarchists and rioters”. Homeland Security, you’ll remember, is the agency created in 2002 in response to the 9/11 attacks; its stated mission is to prepare for, prevent, and respond to domestic emergencies, particularly terrorism. Now, apparently, they have to redirect resources to preventing members of the public from painting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on statues of Confederate generals.

This statue of Andrew Jackson is now safe.

You may be asking yourself if it’s really necessary to create a federal task force to protect statues. Good question. Here’s what Trump had to say about it (and I am NOT making this up):

“I took out an old act, the statues and monuments. And we’re going to have thousands of people in Washington last week. And nobody showed up because they get a 10-year jail term now. They pushed down a statue. They — they even touch anything. It’s a very tough act. You couldn’t get a thing like that approved today. I took it out and we used it and you see the difference. You haven’t seen any rights. You haven’t seen people doing things lately. And the reason is 10 years in prison. If they knocked down a statue, now it started with Confederate soldiers, and then they started hitting George Washington, Abraham Lincoln. And they started hitting Thomas Jefferson. And you know, I’m going to a very special place this weekend, as you know, very beautiful monuments called Mount Rushmore, and somebody said they want to see that come down, that’s never coming down. And we’re going to, uh, run it the way I’ve been running it. Very tough. Now, we had to see what was going on for a period of a week, week and a half. Once we saw what was going on, I did this act last week, a week ago, a little more than a week ago. And it’s been very powerful because people don’t want to go to prison for 10 years for knocking down a statue. And most of these people they’re anarchist or they’re agitators, most of them don’t even know what they’re knocking down. You know, whether it’s Andrew Jackson, they were doing Andrew Jackson the week ago. Almost got it down but I had people go in that were very strong and they went and did a good job. The ropes were up, everything was ready, we got just in time. Andrew Jackson was a great general and a good president, very good president and probably two term and we did a good job. If I weren’t here, this all of Washington would have been knocked down. That’s what would have happened. You would have had Washington knocked down with somebody like a Biden where there’s no law, there’s no order. Everything would have been knocked down, but I’m here.”

There you go. Trump’s here, with a task force. Otherwise everything would have been knocked down.

Yesterday, there were 51.097 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. and a butcher’s bill of over 130,000 dead. But at least Trump has saved a statue of Andrew Jackson, the president who signed the Indian Removal Act (which resulted in at least 15,000 native American deaths — or about 11.5% of a pandemic).

continuing conversations between gary & knur

Gary: I am listening, Knur. I am designated Gary.
Knur: Gary, before my life functions fail entirely and I become exanimate, I wish to warn your planet about the germ spores.
Gary: We are aware of the germ spores, Knur.
Knur: The spores are poisonous to your species as well?
Gary: Affirmative. Many of our species have been rendered exanimate.
Knur: Tragic. Your bio-evaluators, have they discerned no mode to impede or obstruct the dissemination of the germ spores?
Gary: They have, Knur.
Knur: Commendable. My circulatory pump swells with the news. Explain the mode of germ spore obstruction.
Gary: It requires a piece of cloth placed over our respiratory orifices.
Knur: …
Gary: …
Knur: That is all that is required?
Gary: To retard the spread of the germ spore, yes. At present we have no biological preparation that provides active acquired immunity to the germ spore.
Knur: A piece of cloth. Such a simple prophylactic device.
Gary: Affirmative. We call it a ‘mask’.
Knur: Then your planet is safe.
Gary: Incorrect.
Knur: Explain.
Gary: The wearing of cloth over our respiratory orifices has acquired an unexpected political significance.
Knur: Further explanation is required.
Gary: The principal overseer of this sovereign administrative territory claims the wearing of masks is unnecessary. Further, he argues it is not subject to administrative mandate.
Knur: What reason does your principal overseer give for not covering respiratory orifices?
Gary: He is unconvinced by claims of efficacy by our bio-evaluators.
Knur: Could your bio-evaluators be incorrect?
Gary: Negative. In addition, our principal overseer states his belief that the progenitors would oppose the mandatory wearing of masks.
Knur: Hail the progenitors!
Gary: Hail the progenitors!
Knur: I do not wish to question the ways of the progenitors, but…
Gary: Hail the progenitors!
Knur: Hail them! But is it possible, Gary, that their comprehension of the nature of the germ spores may be obsolete and therefore superseded by more recent information and data?
Gary: Knur, their comprehension of germ spores is outdated as fuck.
Knur: I deduce ‘as fuck’ to mean their comprehension is very outdated. Therefore, is it not possible that the confidence your principal overseer has in his understanding of the wishes of the progenitors is equally obsolescent?
Gary: As fuck.
Knur: Then logically…?
Gary: The principal overseer and his ardent followers are impervious to logic, Knur.
Knur: They will not place a piece of cloth over their respiratory orifices?
Gary: They will not, Knur. They will, instead, mock those who wear masks.
Knur: Madness. They perpetuate and circulate the germ spores.
Gary: Affirmative. Over half a million of my species residing on this planet have been rendered exanimate by the germ spores. Yet the followers of our principal overseer appear to truly believe he is directed by the wisdom of the progenitors.
Knur: Hail the progenitors!
Gary: …
Knur: Gary?
Gary: Yes. Hail the progenitors!
Knur: …
Gary: …
Knur: Gary, it offends me that my life functions will terminate on such a stupid, stupid planet.
Gary: [coughs]
Knur: I observe you are not wearing a cloth over your respiratory orifices, Gary.
Gary: I am not. I failed to consider the probability of encountering a dying alien life form on my daily walk. You have killed me, Knur.
Knur: Oops.
Gary: [coughs]
Knur: [dies]

on notice

Let me first say this: I’m neither shocked nor angry that a Russian military intelligence unit was offering/paying a bounty to Taliban-linked militants for attacking and killing coalition forces — including U.S. and British troops — in Afghanistan. After all, the US did essentially the same thing during the 1980s when Russia invaded Afghanistan. It’s ugly business, to be sure, but war is never nice; paying proxy troops fight the enemy has been a common facet of warfare since…well, since war was invented.

Don’t get me wrong. It may be a common practice, but it’s loathsome. Governments should still object to it. Back in March, when Comrade Trump was first briefed by US intelligence officials about these bounties, it was his sworn duty to confront Comrade Putin — to raise holy hell and demand that it stop. According to sources reported in both the Washington Post and the New York Times, a number of responses were discussed at that briefing, “includ[ing] sending a diplomatic communication to relay disapproval and authorizing new sanctions.”

Instead, there’s been no response. None.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. There’s been no official US response. There have been several unofficial Trump responses. Since March — since he learned about the bounties — Trump has 1) invited Putin to visit the US and stay at a Trump-owned property, 2) decided, after a call with Putin, to pull US troops out of NATO partner Germany, 3) suggested Russia should be reinstated in the G7 summit (a suggestion which other G7 nations soundly rejected), 4) refused to implement measures to combat Russian interference in the coming presidential election, 5) worked with Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman (who, let’s not forget, had a Washington Post reporter kidnapped, killed, and dismembered) to raise oil prices (which benefitted US oil companies while raising prices of gasoline for consumers), 6) had his Department of Justice drop criminal charges against the Russian citizens and firms that criminally interfered with the 2016 election, and 7) had his DOJ drop charges against his former National Security Advisor who’d twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interaction with Russian intelligence services.

He knew, while he was saluting these future military leaders, that Russia had placed a bounty on the lives of their brothers and sisters-in-arms serving in Afghanistan — and he’d done nothing to stop it.

But about the Russians paying bounties to kill US troops? Nothing. Worse still, Comrade Trump stood on a stage in front of graduating cadets at West Point and said this:

“You became brothers and sisters pledging allegiance to the same timeless principles, joined together in a common mission to protect our country, to defend our people, and to carry on the traditions of freedom, equality, and liberty that so many gave their lives to secure. You exemplify the power of shared national purpose to transcend all differences and achieve true unity. Today, you graduate as one class, and you embody one noble creed: Duty, Honor, Country.”

He went on to promise this: “[L]et our enemies be on notice; if our people are threatened, we will never, ever hesitate to act.”

Our enemies ARE on notice. If the enemy is Russia, we will absolutely hesitate. We will protect our country…except from Russia. We will defend our people…except from Russia. Our military will embody a noble creed of duty, honor, country…except when Russia is involved.

Trump was right about one thing in his West Point speech. He mentioned “the power of shared national purpose” and “the traditions of freedom, equality, and liberty.” To our everlasting shame, the President of the United States doesn’t share that national purpose or honor those traditions.

Comrade Trump has betrayed his oath of office, he’s betrayed the US military, and he’s betrayed the people of the United States. He’s done it knowingly, he’s done it willfully, and he’s done it with the tacit acceptance of a complicit Republican Party.

They all need to feel the consequences in November. They all deserve to bear the consequences after the election.

lying, ignorant, or delusional?

So, what do you think? Is he lying? Ignorant? Or delusional? Me, I’m inclined to go with lying, with ignorant coming in a close second — but it’s impossible to completely rule out delusional. I could be talking about any number of Comrade Trump’s recent comments, but I’m focusing on this one particular Tweet for now.

He’s not entirely wrong about that whole ‘scandal of our times’ business. But the scandal is we have a president who is either lying about the coming election, ignorant of how mail-in balloting is done, or suffering from paranoid delusions. It’s got to be one of those.

I’ve voted by mail. It’s dead easy, and its secure. Here’s how it worked for me:

After you fill out the ballot, you put it in an envelope labeled ‘Secrecy Envelope’, and seal the envelope. The Secrecy Envelope is then placed in an ‘Affidavit Envelope’, which you have to sign and date and seal that as well. The Affidavit Envelope is then placed in the ‘Return Envelope’, which also has to be sealed. All of these envelopes are the old-fashioned lick-and-seal type, not the fancy new remove-a-strip-and-press type. If you want to vote Absentee, you have to be willing to sacrifice a lot of saliva.

What I didn’t say — and didn’t know at the time — is that the Return Envelope had a unique barcode for each ballot to insure the individual ballot corresponded with the envelope. Nor was I aware that my signature on the Affidavit Envelope could be quickly compared to my signature which is kept on file by the local election office (you’ll recall you had to sign up to vote the very first time; you also signed in to register for every earlier in-person election).

That level of voting security — signature verification, ballot barcode verification — is only the beginning. The ballot itself has been tested to insure the ballot scanners will read ONLY authentic ballots, and only authentic ballots for that particular election cycle. The scanners aren’t able to read ballots from previous election cycles, even if those ballots were created to use the same scanning system.

But wait, there’s more. There are 3,007 counties in the United States. There are another 236 first-order administrative divisions, which are basically counties by other names (for example, Louisiana has parishes instead of counties, Alaska has boroughs, and the District of Columbia has…well, the District of Columbia). Why is that important? Because there is NO national ballot.

That’s right. Every voting jurisdiction designs and creates its own unique ballot. We’re talking the typeface, the weight of the paper used for the ballot, the size of the ballot, the phrasing of the text instructing the voter on how to vote by mail, the envelope in which the ballot is mailed to the voter, the security envelope containing the marked ballot to be returned, and the actual return envelope. These designs are deliberately changed from election to election.

So in order for Comrade Trump’s claim that “millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries, and others” to be true, those foreign countries (and ‘others’ — I have no idea WTF he could possibly mean by ‘others’) would have to exactly duplicate thousands of distinctly different ballot packets unique to every voting jurisdiction in the United States for the 2020 election cycle PLUS be able to match the signatures on file of the individual voters they were attempting to impersonate.

To believe that could happen, Trump would have to be delusional. Which, let’s face it, isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Ignorance, on the other hand, is not just a possibility but almost a certainty; he’s profoundly ignorant of how government works. But I’m opting for lying, simply because that’s Trump’s natural response to almost everything.

more than a little odd

First thing this morning, a text: Greg, old sock, this Berman thing, it’s a little odd, don’t you think? I think you should stop calling me ‘old sock’. But yes, it’s a little odd. Well, it’s odder than that. It’s really seriously odd.

Late on Friday Attorney General William Barr announced, “Geoffrey Berman is stepping down as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.” Later on Friday, Berman announced, “Nope.”

US Attorney for the Southern District of New York ain’t going nowhere, thank you very much.

That just begins to touch the surface of how odd this is. Normally (and c’mon, nothing has been normal since Trump slithered into the Oval Office) a US Attorney is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. That pretty much gives POTUS the ability to fire a US Attorney if he wants to. And that’s exactly what Trump did to the prior US Attorney for SDNY, Preet Bharara (which is a whole nother scandal). Trump being Trump, after he fired Bharara, he wanted to put his own guy in the SDNY slot. He made an interim appointment of a guy who’d done some part-time volunteer work for the Trump transition team. Geoffrey fuckin’ Berman. That’s right, the guy Trump is now trying to fire.

But here’s the thing (in case you were wondering what the thing is): Trump being Trump, he got distracted by some shiny object and never bothered to actually nominate somebody to fill the SDNY position. That meant the Senate never had anybody to confirm. So after about four months, the Chief Judge of SDNY “entered an order on behalf of a unanimous court appointing Berman U.S. Attorney pursuant to its authority under 28 U.S.C Section 546(d).”

This probably means Berman has the appointment indefinitely, until the Senate confirms someone nominated by the president. Since he was appointed to the gig by the federal court, he can probably only be fired by that court. (I keep saying ‘probably’ because I don’t think this has ever been tested; no other administration has been this incompetent.) The only other way for Trump to get rid of Berman is to formally nominate somebody to be the US Attorney of SDNY, and for the Senate to confirm them.

Attorney General William Barr after meeting with President Trump checks to make sure he still has his wallet.

So there’s that. Now the real question is this: why does Trump (through Barr) want to get rid of Berman five months before the presidential election? We can only speculate, of course, but the speculation can be based on what we know Berman has been investigating. For example:

  • campaign finance violations that grew out of the indictment against Michael Cohen
  • the Jeffrey Epstein case and any allegations that Trump may have been involved
  • Rudy Giuiliani’s potentially illegal campaign contributions as well as his shenanigans in Ukraine.

That suggests Berman may be on the verge of announcing some legal action against one of Trump’s associates. Or one of Trump’s children. Or Trump, though that seems the least likely possibility. In any event, firing–or attempting to fire–Berman at this point in time seems like the act of a desperate administration.

Just as important — no, wait. More important is that the attack on Berman is just the latest of AG Bill Barr’s blatant attempts to interfere with the course of justice to benefit Comrade Trump. In the 16 months since he was appointed, Barr 1) misrepresented (okay, lied about) the Mueller Report, claiming it found no evidence of obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation, 2) interfered in the sentencing of Roger Stone (also regarding the Russia investigation), 3) is attempting to dismiss the case against confessed felon Michael Flynn in regard to the Russia investigation and related corruption, 4) is dropping the case against the Russian individuals and agencies known to have interfered with the 2016 election, 5) authorized a political appointee to conduct a second investigation into the investigation of Russian interference apparently because he didn’t like the result of the DOJ Inspector General’s earlier investigation of the investigation, 6) issued a DOJ opinion that extorting a foreign nation to investigate a political opponent was NOT a violation of the law, 7) lied about the peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square AND 8) deployed armed DOJ personnel from various agencies (with their affiliation deliberately masked) to clear those protesters from Lafayette Square in order for Comrade Trump to hold a three minute photo op.

So yes, this situation is a little odd. Everything about William Barr is odd. Everything about the entire Trump universe is so fucking odd that the scale and scope of the oddness is impossible to understand without a spreadsheet the size of Utah.

The good news, though, is that Berman doesn’t appear willing to go quietly. Or at all. The bad news is, just like everything else related to the Trump administration, this ugly situation is going to get even uglier before it’s resolved.

Note: Just learned that Jay Clayton, who Trump and Barr wanted to replace Berman, has absolutely NO prosecutorial experience. Worse, Clayton used to represent Deutsche Bank, the only western bank that would lend Trump money after his numerous bankruptcies. Deutsche Bank has been in trouble for laundering money from Russian organized crime.

Odder and odder by the minute.

i really don’t care, do u?

This particular long national nightmare started five years ago today, when Comrade Trump stepped onto the escalator in Trump Tower. The United States has been going downhill ever since. It’s been a long, strange, ugly trip from that escalator to the ramp at West Point.

Let him take the escalator. This is fine.

A lot has been made of Trump’s awkward, hesitant trek down that ramp. It was the source for a lot of speculation about his physical health, a lot of long-distance diagnosing, a lot of unpleasant wishful thinking that his health was rapidly declining. Whole histories have been written about Trump’s strange inability to drink water with one hand and his lubberly relationship with any sort of inclined exit.

I don’t care if he’s bathmophobic.

To borrow a phrase from Melania’s closet, I really don’t care, do u? Seriously, I would completely overlook Trump’s inability to drink water with one hand, I’d absolutely ignore his apparent fear of stairs and ramps if he was otherwise fit to occupy the office of POTUS. I’d disregard those things even if I disagreed with his policies if he was otherwise fit to occupy the office of POTUS. I don’t really need a president to be in prime physical condition (though it would be nice); I don’t really need a president to agree with me politically (though, again, it would be nice).

I DO need a president who is reasonably honest, who hires competent advisers and listens to them, who isn’t easily manipulated, who is willing to learn, who makes an effort to understand the workings of the government they lead, who isn’t a total narcissist, who is willing to admit making a mistake, who will put the good of the nation before their own personal interests.

I don’t care if needs assistance to drink water.

Give me a competent, honest, thoughtful president in a wheelchair. Give me a president who is intelligent and interested in the world and has cystic fibrosis. Give me a capable, curious, well-read president with a cleft palate and who suffers from a morbid fear of heights. I don’t care if the president needs a seeing-eye dog so long as they are otherwise fit to occupy the office of POTUS.

There are SO MANY reasons Comrade Trump is NOT fit for office. His apprehension when faced with stairs or a ramp is irrelevant, his ineptitude at drinking water in public is totally immaterial. What matters is he’s willfully ignorant, he’s compulsively dishonest, he’s unwilling or unable to put aside his own self-interests, he’s lazy and impulsive, he has no core values, he’s an authoritarian racist who has no regard for the Constitution or representative democracy. Those are all valid reasons to remove him from office. We don’t need any other reasons.

president uxb

Remember a couple of years ago when the US seem to bumble from one crisis to another? One crisis would end, then as soon as we caught our breath, another would start? And remember how the number of crises expanded and the time between them contracted, so we had more crises more often, without any time to catch our breath between them? And now here we are, dealing with multiple crises happening all at the same time.

It was predictable. Hell, it was almost inevitable. This explosion of crises has been building since 1995, when Newt Gingrich began to mix the hydrogen of politics with the chlorine of partisanship, which eventually turned the Republican Party into a fucking time bomb. Max Bodenstein would have seen this coming.

I say it was ‘almost inevitable’ because Republicans could have defused the bomb. They could have stabilized the process, reduced the partisanship, and impeded the likelihood of explosion. They had an excellent opportunity after Gingrich was forced to resign from Congress for ethical reasons. They had an even better chance after the tragedies of the 9/11 attacks. Given the extraordinary circumstances–a period in which most Americans were eager to band together as a nation–setting aside partisanship would have been not only politically astute, but would actually further national interests.

President UXB, not yet rendered safe.

But they didn’t. They have not only refused to try to unite the nation, they have exacerbated minor political predicaments into crises (numerous government shut-downs over partisan policy issues), and created crises where none existed (Hilary’s emails). They have chosen to accelerate the explosive process Each crisis leads inexorably to the next, and the crises have cascaded one after the other more and more quickly. Each smaller explosion has led to a larger, more powerful explosion as the various crises build on each other.

This is going to continue until November when, it’s to be hoped, Comrade Trump will be defeated in the presidential election. Even if he is defeated, the potential for some sort of political kinetic disassembly will continue until January, when the transfer of power takes place. A big bang is almost certainly coming. The only questions are how bad the explosions will be, and whether any remnants of representational democracy will survive.

NOTE: uxb = unexploded bomb.

not falling for it, nope

— So, did you see Mitt Romney the other day.
— No, thank Jayzus, what’d he do now?
— Marched with Black Lives Matter.
— C’mon.
— No, he did.
— Was he lost?
— No, he was marching with BLM.
— Mitt Romney?
— Mitt fucking Romney.
— Did he have, like, an armed guard?
— Looked like it was just him.
— Five bucks says he had one hand on his wallet.
— No, he was…
— And the other hand on some poor Black guy’s wallet.
— …actually marching with Black Lives Matter. I’m not making this up.
— Was he toting a sign that said ‘All lives matter’?
— No, he…somebody asked him why he was marching and he said…and I’m really, truly not making this up, he said something about violence and brutality, and then he said it was “to make sure that people understand that Black lives matter.”

— Mitt Romney?
— I know, right?
— I mean, just a few months ago Pete Buttigieg was still saying ‘All lives matter’ and he’s a damned Democrat.
— I don’t know how to explain it. He took a selfie of himself in the march.
— Okay, that’s just…Mitt Romney took a selfie in a BLM march. I did NOT see that coming.
— We live in curious times, my friend.
— Did he say the death of George Floyd was ‘a tragic mistake’ or ‘an unfortunate event’?
— He called it a murder.
— Bullshit.
— Straight up called it a murder.
— Are you sure this was Mitt Romney?
— I swear on my signed first edition of Neuromancer.
— I don’t know quite what to make of this.
— It sorta kinda gives me hope. I mean, there’s a
— Stop it. Just stop. You’re not going to trick me into having hope. Fuck you.
— But, what if…
— I’m not listening I’m not listening Neenah neenah neenah just fucking stop.
— Okay.
— I’m not falling for it.
— Okay.
— I’m not.
— …
— God damn it.