A cult member speaks

Attorney General William Barr. Photo by: Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Lev Parnas is scared. Scared of what may happen to him and his family. But mostly he’s scared of what Attorney General William Barr’s Department of Justice could do to him.

In the second part of his interview with Rachel Maddow Thursday, the indicted Rudy Giuliani employee/client got to the point of why, while under federal indictment in New York for separate campaign finance violations, he is speaking publicly about his role in the Ukraine conspiracy. Describing Trump more as “a cult leader” than an organized crime figure, Parnas told Maddow (emphasis mine):

“There’s a lot of Republicans that would go against [Trump],” Parnas continued. “If you take a look, the difference between why Trump is so powerful now, he wasn’t so powerful in ’16 and ’17, he became that powerful when he got William Barr.

“I think I’m more scared of our own Justice Department than I am scared of these criminals right now,” Parnas said. “The scariest part is getting locked in some room and being treated as an animal when you did nothing wrong. That’s the tool they’re using. They tried to scare me into not talking.”

“With God’s help and my lawyer next to me who I know will go to bat for me no matter what with the truth,” Parnas added, “I’m taking a chance. My wife is scared. My kids are nervous.”

Parnas felt he’d done nothing wrong and felt himself under the White House’s protection of Trump’s lawyers. Until Trump attorneys John Dowd and Kevin Downing came to him in jail:

“I called Dowd to come there. And I started seeing in the process of the bail stuff, the way things were going on … I didn’t feel they were trying to get me out,” Parnas said. “John Dowd instead of comforting me and trying to calm me down and telling me I’m going to be OK, he started talking to me like a drill sergeant.”

Parnas quickly realized they were not there on his behalf but to protect the president. They were there to keep him quiet.

Parnas is speaking publicly because he fears his fate is in William Barr’s hands. Southern District of New York prosecutors (DOJ) have his materials and can hang him out to dry if Barr involves himself in the case. Parnas is trying to set the public narrative on his role in the conspiracy before Barr can. And perhaps to earn himself some form of indemnity on other charges by giving up bigger fish before that happens.

Untangling the Gordian Knot of Donald Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy will take more space and time than we have here. Some of what he told Maddow is self-serving and false, journalist Marcy Wheeler believes.

Wheeler fact-checked the interview in real time and notes that Parnas’s claims that he got his negative views of Ambassador Yovanovitch from those around him are untrue. “He was a leader, not a follower, on attacking Yovanovitch,” Wheeler writes, and was active in that effort long before it began in earnest with Giuliani’s involvement.

With the impeachment case focused on Trump and the Biden-Burisma smear campaign, people are missing how much this conspiracy began as an attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation, Wheeler adds. Constructing an interlocking set of attorney-client and executive privileges had helped the Trump team fend off Mueller. (Read her analysis of their effort to “throw everyone into the same conflict-ridden Joint Defense Agreement, and sink or swim together.“)

Parnas’s “silences–eg, abt Firtash–are all the more telling,” Wheeler tweeted about Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with Russian mob connections. Firtash is holed-up in Vienna fighting extradition to the U.S. on bribery conspiracy charges.

Josh Marshall adds detail on how Parnas’s revelations regarding Firtash implicate Barr in a deeper conspiracy:

The allegation is this: Trump and his legal team offered to have federal foreign bribery charges against Firtash dropped if the oligarch, described by federal prosecutors as an “upper-echelon” associate of the Russian mafia, helped Trump discredit the Mueller investigation and Joe Biden.

If corroborated, Parnas’ allegations would implicate Attorney General Bill Barr in the scandal in a deeper way than previously known, and would suggest that federal indictments are up for grabs as a bargaining chip for Trump’s political fortunes.

Firtash is represented by Fox News lawyers Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing via a Parnas introduction. Three people familiar with their meeting with Barr told the Washington Post Barr declined to intercede.

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Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

President for life

Tempting as it is to weigh in on Wednesday’s Rachel Maddow’s interview with indicted Rudy Giuliani bagman Lev Parnas (Part 1), let’s put it off until after the second installment airs tonight. It’s raining shoes just now. Waiting for a break in the weather before stepping out into it seems prudent.

Marcy Wheeler issued a similar caution after the show about greeting Parnas statements with too much enthusiasm:

Remember: Last night’s polite-and-contrite Lev Parnas is the same as (alleged) gun-to-your-head Lev Parnas, the man from whom Florida police in 2008 confiscated “a .38 revolver, a 9mm pistol, an automatic pistol, and a .40-caliber Glock pistol” after a dispute with his landlord.

In Washington, the Senate prepares to hold some kind on trial (in quotes?) to determine whether despot-curious Donald Trump will serve out the rest of his corrupt presidential term. But we’ll come back to that.

Meanwhile, in Moscow

Russia’s “entire government” resigned Wednesday, CNN reported, after President Vladimir Putin announced reforms to make his successor less powerful. (Republican-controlled state legislatures have already tried that after losing governorships.)

Axios reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin, 67, has given the clearest signal yet of how he plans to navigate term limits and join China’s Xi Jinping, 66, as a possible leader for life.

Why it matters: Several of the world’s most powerful leaders have recently shifted the rules in order to keep power past normal transitions.

It was not clear whether Putin — scheduled to step down in 2024 — “intends to become prime minister again or carve out another powerful position,” Axios adds. Whatever. Putin wants no rivals, even if he leaves the presidency.

“This is not about a succession plan,” Brookings’ Alina Polyakova said. “This is about consolidating power.”

Putin might have extended or removed term limits, maneuvers recently popular in other countries, including China, Venezuela, and assorted African countries. Axios notes “all 20 of the world’s longest-serving non-royal leaders, are men.”

Back in Washington

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts today will administer a special oath to senators that they will do “impartial justice” in the impeachment trial. Afterwards, they will sign a book attesting to those oaths. How many will violate theirs as swiftly as Trump violated the oath he took three years ago is to be determined.

Parnas Wednesday night confirmed what ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified to in November: there was a quid pro quo for release of military aid to Ukraine and “everyone was in the loop.” Including the vice president, the secretary of state, the White House acting chief of staff, and, Parnas added, Attorney General Bill Barr.

Should the Senate acquit him, expect Trump to behave as he did the day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia. July 24th effectively ended the investigation into Trump. July 25 was the day of Trump’s infamous Ukraine “shakedown” call that finally precipitated impeachment. A Senate acquittal will make Trump-the-Unrepentant feel bulletproof. He will want revenge “strongly.” He will still have his loop in place to help get it.

But revenge is not all he will want. Trump collects sycophants because he is one himself — to more powerful men. The blood-squeamish, insecure Trump wants to join Putin in the strong-man club with Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, and others.

Putin may be signaling real despots are leaders for life. Trump already jokes at rallies about extending his stay beyond eight years. With Putin making moves in that direction, given the chance by Senate supplicants, Trump may want to emulate him to gain his approval. And to avoid future prosecution once he leaves office.

Trumpism ending the United States as we know it may be unlikely. Still, it is something else Republican senators might consider before handing their dear leader a chance at being Dear Leader.

Update: Marcy has more analysis just now.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

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For The Win, 3rd Edition is ready for download. Request a copy of my free countywide election mechanics guide at ForTheWin.us. This is what winning looks like.

Goon squad



Dutch : They made it for him special. It’s an .88 Magnum.
Danny Vermin : It shoots through schools.
Still image from Johnny Dangerously (1984).

Tuesday’s document dump from the files of Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas left mouths agape.

The cache provides evidence that Parnas’s team(?) was tracking the movements and monitoring the electronics of then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Parnas remains under indictment on campaign finance charges. What remains is to confirm what it all means and how closely an impeached president is connected.

The documents Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) forwarded to House judiciary committee chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) also introduced a new character into the Donald Trump impeachment saga: Robert F. Hyde.

A Republican candidate for Congress in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District and a Trump donor, Hyde appears to have had associates tracking Yovanovitch’s movements around Kiev, Daily Beast’s Betsy Swan reports:

In WhatsApp messages exchanged in March 2019 with Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who provided the committee with the files, Hyde and Parnas discussed Yovanovitch’s location. Hyde, a retired Marine, appeared to have associates in Ukraine monitoring her.

“They know she’s a political puppet,” Hyde wrote to Parnas. “They will let me know when she’s on the move… They are willing to help if you/we would like a price.”

“Guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money… what I was told,” Hyde wrote in another message. Parnas responded: “LOL.”

Responding to Daily Beast’s request for comment, Hyde insulted House Intelligence chairman Schiff, writing, “Bull Schiff is a giant b*tch.” And: “Did Pelosi get drunk and lose the impeachment articles?” And: “Looks like Schiff wants to whistle blow me.”

“Schiff is a desperate turd playing with this Lev guy,” Hyde tweeted late last night about the man to whom he’d been texting reports from a “private security” team on Yovanovitch’s whereabouts, asking what they should do about her, and how much it would pay.

“There is no evidence that Mr. Parnas participated, agreed, paid money or took any other steps in furtherance of Mr. Hyde’s proposals,” his attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, said in a statement.

Known previously for a vulgar, sexist tweet (since removed) aimed at Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Hyde has donated more than $56,000 to Republican campaign coffers since late 2016, the Hartford Courant reports. The Connecticut Republican Party announced last week that owing to his “vile comments on Twitter,” it would return $750 received from Hyde.

The Courant provides additional color on Hyde:

In May, Hyde was removed by police from Trump National Doral Miami in Florida. According to an incident report filed by the Doral police department, Hyde told the responding officer that he was in fear for his life and “a hit man was out to get him.”

Hyde gave police a variety of names and contacts to provide information about why he felt his life was in danger.

He was not arrested. Police escorted him from the hotel and transported him to an undisclosed location. In the vehicle, Hyde said his computer had been hacked by the Secret Service and that the Secret Service was watching him at the premises, according to the incident report.

Anyone associated with the Trump administration by now has a serious credibility problem. It’s not clear how seriously we can take the kind of cartoon villains Trump collects. Nevertheless, it is also hard to believe anything is beyond him/them.

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” Henry Hill says at the beginning of Goodfellas. “To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States.”  Donald Trump thought, why not both?

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.



To be (tried) or not to be

Something is rotten in Donald.

Two-thirds of Americans want former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in Donald Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial. Then again, a poll last April showed that many wanted to preserve the Affordable Care Act’s protections for pre-existing medical conditions . Popular opinion has not dissuaded Republicans from trying to drive a stake through the ACA’s heart.

About that trial. The president argued for months he was eager for his inevitable acquittal in the Senate. He declared as recently as New Year’s Eve, “I look forward to it.” Now Trump has second thoughts. The White House is urging Senate Republicans to retain the option of dismissing the charges after opening arguments . For now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky lacks the votes for immediate dismissal. Dismissal might also put members of his caucus up for reelection this fall in a difficult spot:

McConnell has made clear to his colleagues that he wants Trump to emerge victorious in the trial and is not willing to hold a vote that could fail, sources said. He’s also keenly aware of what a vote to dismiss would look like politically, according to Republican senators, and has shepherded his conference away from the idea for several weeks.

On Monday, however, indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas turned over “photos, dozens of text messages and thousands of pages of documents to House impeachment investigators.” Parnas attorney Joseph A. Bondy called on Attorney General William Barr to recuse himself “so that Lev can be properly evaluated as a witness in the impeachment inquiry.”

And with the announcement those documents might be produced, the mercurial president has changed his mind about having that trial.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank snarks:

“Many believe,” of course, is Trump-speak for “I believe.” And I understand why “many believe” a fair Senate trial would hurt Trump, if it means producing the documents and witnesses Trump refused to provide to the House. His defenses would wither faster than his explanations for the assassination of Iran’s Qasem Soleimani.

[…]

Trump, after expressing his newfound belief that a Senate trial wouldn’t help his case, moved on to sharing other beliefs Monday with his Twitter followers, including a belief that “I was the person who saved Pre-Existing Conditions in your Healthcare” and a belief that “the corrupted Dems [are] trying their best to come to the Ayatollah’s rescue.” His evidence for the latter belief: a doctored picture of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wearing Muslim garb in front of an Iranian flag.

Trumpublicans, Milbank suggests, are like characters from the musical “The Book of Mormon.” (“I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob! … And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.”)

For the Trump and Trumpers, Milbank explains, the truth is whatever Donald says it is, “much as when he said his net worth was based on how he feels.” Did Donald Trump really save pre-existing conditions? Did he have evidence of attacks by Soleimani on four U.S. embassies and that they were “eminent”? Do his defenders really believe Trump has done “NOTHING wrong“? Is he really in “very good health,” 243 pounds and 6′-3″? Milbank’s assessment: “A Republican just believes.”

That, is what makes Trumpism a cult.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.



The most inoffensive shade of beige

File:Carcharhinus longimanus 1.jpg
Oceanic Whitetip Shark and Pilot Fish. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

A sobering bit of sermon translated from Chinese appears in today’s New York Times. Ai Weiwei writes from Berlin where an encounter with a surly casino clerk led both to a lawsuit (against him) and an op-ed on how humans use “cultural differences” to justify oppression, slavery, and genocide.

Western businesses deluded themselves into thinking exploiting cheap, plentiful Chinese labor would build a middle class there that, in time, would demand freedom and democracy and absolve their cooperation with the government. Instead, China’s rulers are richer and more powerful than ever, and western democracies weaker.

In the northwestern region of Xinjiang, authorities have sent perhaps a million Muslim Uighurs to reeducation camps, Ai explains, to “denounce their religion and to swear fealty to the Communist Party of China.” Ai himself spent nearly 20 years there in the 1960s and 70s, banished along with his poet father. The government detained the artist for months in 2011.

In Xinjiang today, western businesses including Siemens, Unilever, Nestlé and Germany’s Volkswagen boost their bottom lines using cheap, ethnic minority labor. Not the first time for Germany, Ai notes, only more distant. “China and Russia have shown how legacies of Communist authoritarianism can combine with predatory capitalism to build new political structures of daunting power,” Ai writes. Instead of democracy supplanting authoritarianism, western democracies “sense themselves falling behind or, worse, beginning to fit in.”

Ai concludes:

The great challenge facing German and other Western governments is whether they can find a way to exit the carnival of profit making with their moral integrity intact. So far we have seen little on this score other than craven diffidence. The crux of the matter is not ignorance of the moral alternatives but a failure of will. Pursue greed? Do what is right? We shyly select the former. When Western governments come to realize that liberal democracy itself is at stake, this balance might tip the other way.

It is no accident Ai published his exegesis on greed trumping principle in America’s newspaper of record. The business class has long justified exploiting cheap and near- slave labor by how it would raise living standards for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. The notion that black people in America were better off in the Old South persists even today. Slavery was a win-win for both slaveholders and slaves, some conservatives still argue with straight faces. In public.

But a broader, albeit indirect, indictment of this dynamic came last week in Rolling Stone from former Republican and conservative strategist Steve Schmidt. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign manager, Schmidt had up-close opportunities to observe McCain pal Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. In the wake of McCain’s death, Graham’s transformation from conservative virtue-signaler to fawning Trump sycophant led Schmidt to this unsettling analogy:

“The way to understand him is to look at what’s consistent. And essentially what he is in American politics is what, in the aquatic world, would be a pilot fish: a smaller fish that hovers about a larger predator, like a shark, living off of its detritus. That’s Lindsey. And when he swam around the McCain shark, broadly viewed as a virtuous and good shark, Lindsey took on the patina of virtue. But wherever the apex shark is, you find the Lindsey fish hovering about, and Trump’s the newest shark in the sea. Lindsey has a real draw to power — but he’s found it unattainable on his own merits.”

Ai’s view of predatory capitalism is not so different. Business cozies up to oppressive regimes for the chance to feed off the detritus of the neighborhood apex predator. It profits from cheap labor and underdeveloped protections for workers. In that sense, we are all Lindsey Graham. We participate in that system for the chance at cheap consumer products. We tell ourselves those producing them will get jobs and a higher living standard. With Xinjiang, distance, internet commerce, and globalism cast the entire system in the blandest, most inoffensive shade of beige. “What is it about this remote place, to which the emperors of old banished criminals in lieu of sending them to prison, that makes it so attractive?” Ai asks.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.



Fine. We’ll do it ourselves.

by Tom Sullivan

Why don’t Democrats create their own group health plan? my spouse has asked for years. Party members constitute over 30 percent of registered voters, after all — close to 50 million people. California Gov. Gavin Newsome today will propose something similar for 12 percent of the nation’s population and the world’s fifth largest economy:

SACRAMENTO — California would become the first state to sell its own brand of generic prescription drugs in an effort to drive down rising healthcare costs under a proposal Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to unveil in his new state budget Friday.

A broad overview of the ambitious but still conceptual plan provided by Newsom’s office says the state could contract with one or more generic drugmakers to manufacture certain prescriptions under the state’s own label. Those drugs would be available to all Californians for purchase, presumably at a lower cost. The governor’s office said the proposal would increase competition in the generic drug market, which in turn would lower prices for everyone.

[…]

“A trip to the doctor’s office, pharmacy or hospital shouldn’t cost a month’s pay,” Newsom said in a statement. “The cost of healthcare is just too damn high, and California is fighting back.”

Newsome may have borrowed that line.

The California proposal could lower drug costs for non-Californians the way having unions raises pay for nonmembers.

Stay in your lane

Spokespersons for the pharmaceutical trade group PhRMA and the California Association of Health Plans are withholding comment until they see more details:

Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, called Newsom’s prescription drug plans “unrealistic,” and criticized the governor for not saying how he would pay for them. Pharmaceutical policy at the scale Newsom is proposing should be tackled by the federal government, not California, Mathis said.

“The governor needs to stay in his lane and focus on the crises at hand,” Mathis said.

A potential game changer

CalMatters reports the proposal nevertheless could help contain California’s annual $100 billion in health care spending:

Drug costs have become a persistent and increasing worry, both nationally and in California. Six in 10 Americans take a prescription and 79% say the cost is unreasonable, according to a recent survey by Kaiser Family Foundation.

And prices can affect whether people take their pills. The same Kaiser survey found three in 10 Americans reported not taking their medicine as prescribed due to the cost of the prescription.

Governmentally, health care also consumes a sizable portion of the state budget. California’s Medicaid program for the poor, known as Medi-Cal, now tops $100 billion a year in state and federal spending.

[…]

In 2016, drug companies spent more than $100 million to stop a ballot measure that would have barred the state from paying more for prescription drugs than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which pays the nation’s lowest prices.

“This is a potential game changer,” consumer advocate Anthony Wright told CalMatters. Wright, executive director of Health Access California, added, “California has the capacity and the smarts and the scale to actually do it.”

Allowing government to manufacture prescription drugs at the federal level is an idea Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed in December 2018 and included in her presidential platform: an Office of Drug Manufacturing. The agency’s goal: “to increase competition, lower prices, and address shortages in the market for prescription drugs, including insulin” as well as “reduce the cost of prescription drugs to Federal and State health programs, taxpayers, and consumers.”

Under “Personnel,” the Warren bill bans former registered drug company lobbyists and former senior executives of “law breaking companies” from serving as Director. But the bill has gone nowhere in “Grim Reaper” Mitch McConnell’s U.S. Senate.

Newsome isn’t waiting.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

Stop me before I vote Libertarian again

by Tom Sullivan

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

With under a month to go before the Iowa caucuses, polling shows Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg tied with former Vice President Joe Biden. Sanders tops Biden as the first choice among likely Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Polled on voters’ enthusiasm for their favorites, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren top the list. Biden comes in fourth behind Buttigieg.

Sheila Blair is worried.

Blair was chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from 2006 to 2011, appointed by George W. Bush. She sits on the boards of several domestic and international financial firms, says her Washington Post bio. She was advisor to then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole from 1981 to 1988 and a founding board member of the Volcker Alliance.

Please, oh please, Democrats, she writes (not in those words, exactly), won’t you give people like me a presidential candidate who is less, um, Bernie Sanders?

Donald Trump had zero experience before taking office, she complains, part of a 40-year “downward spiral” in the qualifications of presidential candidates. His presidency is the result of “negative voting” by Americans wanting to punish the professionals and turned off by “highly pedigreed” Hillary Clinton’s “perceived elitism and disinterest in the working class.”

Blair derates Buttigieg for his youth, inexperience, and support among “moneyed interests who profit from the current system,” writing:

I am a Republican who has never voted for a Democrat in a presidential election. But I share Democrats’ concern that our system is rigged to favor the wealthy and powerful over working families. I am tired of a loophole-ridden tax code that advantages investors over workers. I am tired of spending trillions in taxpayer money on health care and education only to see private profiteering of those programs as consumer costs continue to escalate. I regret to admit that I also voted negative in 2016, casting a protest vote for the Libertarian Party ticket because I didn’t think Clinton or Trump was really committed to change. I would prefer not to do so again.

So, please, not Buttigieg, Blair pleads. Wouldn’t Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren be preferable? Give us someone with more age and experience, just not Hillary Clinton’s age and experience. Someone with a true interest in the working class, just not too much interest.

With Bernie Sanders positioned stubbornly at the top of the polls in Iowa, in New Hampshire, and unnamed in 750 words, somehow I don’t think it’s Buttigieg that Blair is really worried about.

Reporting by the Daily Beast adds to those worries:

“For everybody else in the field, it’s a problem if Sanders wins the first two,” Jeff Link, a longtime Democratic pollster in Iowa, told The Daily Beast. “He’s going to have a head of steam going into Nevada and South Carolina and Super Tuesday.”

[…]

“No one is really showing their volunteer armies yet,” Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democrats in Des Moines, said. “It might shock the hell out of us.”

Sanders has a “massive volunteer base of grassroots supporters” and has learned from his 2016 mistakes. “If Bernie wins those first two states, I think the establishment will have a collective freakout the likes of which we have never seen before,” Rebecca Katz, a progressive Democratic strategist, told Daily Beast.

For Blair, there’s always Lincoln Chafee. Reason magazine predicts Chafee is “the first in an eventual wave of former Republicans seeking the Libertarian presidential nod.”

Take my word he’s a madman, don’t you know

by Tom Sullivan

Unverified cell phone video from Iran’s Fars news of missiles landing on the al-Asad air base in Iraq.

As of this writing, it is still unclear if the retaliatory barrage of missile Iranians launched last night at U.S. bases in Iraq resulted in casualties. The Guardian reports Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s prime minister, had warning of the strikes from Tehran and passed on that warning to U.S. and Iraqi troops. He was advised the Iranians’ retaliation for Trump’s assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani would be limited. The Guardian’s Michael Safi reports that Iran’s warning adds “to sense this morning’s attacks were a piece of elaborate theatre.”

To be continued

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me,” candidate Donald Trump bragged in November 2015. “[T]hey don’t know much, because they’re not winning,” he told CBS News in June 2016. He knows more about anything than anybody. Believe me.

Trump’s critics have used “The Emperor’s New Clothes” analogy since before Trump took office. (It’s a fair guess his wealthy parents never read little Donny the Hans Christian Andersen tale.) Media critics have asked when the press would stop covering the 15,000 Lies Man like a normal president and stop branding his actions unorthodox or chalking up his erratic behavior to a matter of style.

Hillary Clinton warned during the 2016 campaign that Trump is “temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.” She warned, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” And here we are in 2020, missiles flying.

In the wake of the Trumpian drone-slaying of Suleimani, the media offered “detailed descriptions of the president’s decision-making process” as if there was one, Jamelle Bouie laments in the New York Times. Bouie has had his fill of attempts “to turn away from the reality of what he is for fear of what it means,” adding:

This is reckless but it isn’t shocking. Trump is not a steady hand. He’s never been one. Three years in office have neither changed his character nor enhanced his capabilities. He is as ignorant and incurious as a president as he was as a candidate (and as a would-be mogul before that). His main goal is self-preservation, and he’ll sacrifice anything to achieve it. His current assault on the authority of Congress — his refusal to have the White House or members of his administration release documents or obey subpoenas — is an attempt to escape responsibility for his own unethical (and potentially illegal) actions. He is self-involved, unethical and unstable — a dangerous combination to have for the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military forces, under pressure from impeachment and a re-election campaign.

H.L. Mencken once observed, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” Do they have a taste for a Trump-branded war?

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

We’re doomed

by Tom Sullivan

So what if 2001 arrived 20 years late? Take a stress pill.

Techie Re-Animators are reviving dead musical acts via hologram. “Part concert, part technology-driven spectacle,” reports Mark Binelli for New York Times Magazine.

Peter Shapiro, 47, owns the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, N.Y., an hour north of Manhattan. He produced the five concerts of the Grateful Dead’s 50th-anniversary “Fare Thee Well” tour. The show grossed over $50 million in 2015. Last April, the start-up Eyellusion brought a holographic Frank Zappa show to Shapiro’s venue. Zappa died in 1993:

“But here’s the headline,” Shapiro went on. “Look at who’s gone, just in the last couple of years: Bowie, Prince, Petty. Now look who’s still going but who’s not going to be here in 10 years, probably, at least not touring: the Stones, the Who, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Billy Joel, Elton John, McCartney, Springsteen. That is the base not just of classic rock but of the live-music touring business. Yes, there’s Taylor Swift, there’s Ariana Grande. But the base is these guys.”

The Zappa-rition itself had a kind of Weekend at Bernie’s aspect, Binelli writes, “making me hyperaware of the sunglasses covering the lifeless eyes of the corpse propped up between living people (in this case, a hot backing band composed predominantly of musicians who had toured with Zappa over the years).” The projection was a shade brighter and less substantial than the live musicians, “like a ghost struggling to fully materialize.”

Farther west this morning, the FAA still has not answered who or what is in control of swarms of drones spotted flying night formations over Colorado and Nebraska since late December.

The Denver Post reports:

A newly formed task force is on the hunt for a “command vehicle” that might be controlling the mysterious clusters of drones that witnesses say have been flying grid patterns in northeast Colorado and western Nebraska most nights for several weeks.

The command vehicle could be a “closed box trailer with antennas or a large van,” the Phillips County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Monday, hours after about 75 people from a variety of state, local and federal agencies met in Brush to discuss the ongoing situation.

[…]

Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the U.S. Army, the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and a wide variety of local law enforcement agencies stretching from Nebraska to Colorado Springs attended Monday’s meeting, Yowell said.

Estimated to have 6-foot wingspans, the drones are spooking not just local residents. Authorities in attendance at the meeting spilled out into the hallway.

An assortment of private and federal agencies denies the drones are theirs. Then again, governments lie in times of war, except, perhaps, when it comes to assassinating foreigners remotely via computer.

If these stories echo 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is not as if humans had not already handed control of our ship of state to a soulless, homicidal animatronic. Before that, they’d handed their personal information to soulless computers in private hands. They’d allowed governments to track their movements with cute phone apps and identify them on the streets with ubiquitous cameras and facial recognition software.

Perhaps not even swarms of voters under 45 can save us now and this is just “A Taste of Armageddon.”

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

Resisting the toxic bait

by Tom Sullivan

Sowing chaos is one of the acting president’s go-to moves. Donald Trump has spent time at his Florida golf resort issuing assassination orders, threatening to commit war crimes, issuing notices to Congress via social media, demanding Iraq pay for the U.S. invasion (or else U.S. troops will not leave), and spilling who-knows-what official secrets to dinner guests/spies. What his allies describe as the acts of a brilliant tactician are simply an expression of Trump’s feral instinct for getting the best of others by keeping them off balance. The more desperate he becomes, the more cornered he feels, the more chaos he will sow.

When Trump is not sowing chaos, he is inflaming racial, social and ideological divisions within the country both to keep his base unified and his adversaries unorganized. Fear of the Other he keeps on his utility belt.

E.J. Dionne writes that if polarization helps Trump’s base, it hurts progressives. They need coalitions, not only among African Americans, Latinos and city dwellers, but also “blue-collar and non-college-educated whites” from swing states:

Moreover, the left and center-left believe that public action is a positive good, that social solidarity is a realistic possibility and that a society thrives when it shares benefits and burdens equitably. When we live in our bunkers of hatred, none of these dispositions has a chance.

Dionne cites Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) 2018 reelection in Ohio “by seven points in a state Trump carried by eight.” Brown writes in “Desk 88” about where he failed:

“We lost medium-sized industrial city after medium-sized industrial city, small town after small town, rural community after rural community. Pretty much all of them.”

“Rural and small town voters don’t think either party is going to do anything for them, but they vote Republican because they think Democrats will do something to them: take their guns or raise their taxes, or enact an environmental law that will put them out of work,” he writes.

[…]

“I will never be one,” he writes, “who says that people in rural and small-town America vote against their own interest; who am I to say what is their self-interest? But we as progressives have work to do.”

Trump and his allies rely on discouraging everyone from seeing citizenship as a project broader than bunkered self-interest. Democrats of a different era warned against falling into the kind of trap Trump has set. Brown quotes Sen. Robert F. Kennedy from the day after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.”

Trump and his allies in Congress may view the world that way, but the country cannot afford its citizens to view each other that way, as tempting as that is and as many who do.

Dionne’s invocation of public action as a positive good recalls a favorite quote about elections. Country Living last November posted 25 quotes about voting, most of them anodyne. My favorite (not included) is from former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon (D-Denver):

“We think that voting actually is not just a private vote for the person who gets the vote, but a public good, and that the more people who vote, the more legitimate the elected officials are, and that they represent the actual values of the electorate.”

Many fellow citizens have bought into the false notion that self-interest and individual achievement is what made America great. In fact, cooperation did. Alvin York did not win WWI. Audie Murphy did not win WWII. Dwight Eisenhower did not build Liberty ships nor the interstates. Neil Armstrong did not get to the moon on his own.

What progressives need to rekindle is the spirit that made those achievements possible. That will require not simply resisting the toxic bait Trump will throw out and social media will splash in front of our eyes in 2020. It will take actively countering it. And it will take encouraging younger voters to take collective action this year to get the country out of the ditch into which the #okboomer generations see their elders have driven the world.

I keep showing people the 2018 chart at the top (and did again in a statewide webinar Sunday). It displays North Carolina population by age from 18 to 99 (in blue). Below that in orange is voter registration from November 2018. At the bottom in green is early voting voter turnout by age from 18 to 99. (I don’t have the final vote numbers. Don’t ask.) Assume the green turnout curve would be taller with final totals but the shape wouldn’t change. Trust me, other states look the same.

Notice in the blue on the left side which age cohort has the raw power in population to run this country (but doesn’t) and to the right the shrinking age group (mine) that dominates American politics because more of them vote (the hump at the bottom right). If we hope to get this country out of the ditch, encouraging people under 45 to use the power that’s already theirs is how that happens. This is your challenge in 2020. It is something we have to do together.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.