Tom Friedman and the United American Emirate

15702-10906So how should we characterize the Trump administration?  We have competing models: the fascist coup, the rule of oligarch criminals, the Putin puppet.  Each has its merits.  Here’s another one I like, set out by Tom Friedman in his New York Times op-ed: “Trump’s United American Emirate.”

Friedman:  “Merkel is just the first major leader to say out loud what every American ally is now realizing: America is under new management. ‘Who is America today?’ is the first question I’ve been asked on each stop through New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. My answer: We’re not the U.S.A. anymore. We’re the new U.A.E.: the United American Emirate.

We have an emir. His name is Donald. We have a crown prince. His name is Jared. We have a crown princess. Her name is Ivanka. We have a consultative council (Congress) that rubber-stamps whatever the emir wants. And like any good monarchy, our ruling family sees no conflict of interest between its personal businesses and those of the state.”

Further on:

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay no price, bear no burden, meet no hardship, support no friend, oppose no foe to assure the success of liberty — unless we’re paid in advance. And we take cash, checks, gold, Visa, American Express, Bitcoin and memberships in Mar-a-Lago.

 The Trump doctrine is very simple: There are just four threats in the world: terrorists who will kill us, immigrants who will rape us or take our jobs, importers and exporters who will take our industries — and North Korea. Threats to democracy, free trade, the environment and human rights are no longer on our menu. Therefore, no matter how unsavory you are as a foreign leader, you can be the United American Emirate’s best friend if you:

1.) Pay us by buying our weapons. I warn you, though, Saudi Arabia has set the bar very high, starting at $110 billion.

2.) Pay us in higher defense spending for NATO — not to deter Russia, which is using cyberwarfare to disrupt every democratic election it can, but to deter “terrorism,” something that tanks and planes are useless against.

 3.) Pay us in trade concessions. And it doesn’t matter how lame those concessions are. All that matters is that Emir Trump can claim “concessions.” See the recent “trade concessions” to Trump from China. (Pay no attention to that laughter from Beijing.)

4.) Pay us by freeing any U.S. citizen you arrested on trumped-up charges to annoy Barack Obama and to intimidate human rights activists. See Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s release of a U.S.-Egyptian charity worker, Aya Hijazi, who was working with homeless children.

5.) Pay us by grossly flattering our emir about how much of an improvement he is over Obama. See President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Bibi Netanyahu of Israel.

6.) Be Russia, and you pay nothing.”

Yeah, Tom is getting a little snarky – how could you not – and I’m not even sure I got the best parts.  Read his whole op-ed.  Personally, I’m still wondering about that orb and the red flashes coming from the White House window.  Surely Trump found one of the palantirs and is even now enslaved by the Dark Lord.

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Anthrax Anyone? Trump’s Proposal to Close the Biodefense Lab

 

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bacillus anthracis

 

Today, it was reported that Trump will withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change, just as he twittered the made-up word “covfefe” to keep the internet entertained.  As I’ve noted before, Trump conducts a full scale attack 24/7 on civility and common sense.  Inevitably, to focus on one horror is to neglect another.  This is as he intends and necessarily dilutes the opposition that confronts him.  Where indeed do we focus?  On the evidence being gathered by Mike Farb (see @mikefarb1 on twitter) that Russian and Right-Wing cyber attacks on voting machines flipped the electoral results in key states?  Or on Kushner’s secret communications with the Russians – espionage and treason by anyone’s reasoned standards?  On Trump’s effort to deprive millions of health care?  On the attack on public education and on the press?  All the while, in very concrete ways that do not get the attention of the national media – Trump and Bannon are carrying out a campaign to dismantle the federal infrastructure, a campaign that reaches down into our states and cities.

Here’s an example, from the Frederick News Post in Frederick, Maryland, editorializing in A travesty and a tragedy on the Trump budget proposal to close the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center that was created after the 9/11 anthrax attacks to allow rapid response to bio-chemical attacks.  From the editorial:

“Since 2010, Frederick has been home to the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) lab at Ft. Detrick. The lab has attracted some of the most brilliant scientists in the country and the world, who are all working every day to protect this country from all manner of biology-involved crime and from a bioterror attack.”

“…The federal government decided to build the lab after the anthrax attacks of 2001, when dozens of smaller labs around the country had to work for years to help investigate those crimes. Now, the Ft. Detrick lab can analyze such evidence in hours or days.

The scientists at the lab handle some of the world’s most dangerous agents, including Ebola and anthrax, and conduct research on pathogens for which no vaccine or treatment exists, according to its website. About 180 people work in the facility, with $21 million in annual salary and benefits and $4.5 million in annual subcontracting spending. The contract for the lab is estimated to be worth $480 million over 10 years.”

“…if this lab were to close and its staff to be dispersed — the nation would lose a scientific treasure that would be difficult if not impossible to replace. These scientists, the best and the brightest in their fields, are giving the nation hard facts about the dangers posed by biological threat agents and plausible terrorist attacks.”

The Trump proposal to close the Biodefense Lab is par for the course for the Trump administration with its war on science and education.  But as the anthrax scare showed, biological attacks are favored by the very terrorists from whom we have the most to fear and they can be carried out without conventional weapons or access to protected infrastructure.  I can’t think of a proposal that would set our population more at risk than to eliminate the biodefense programs that provide the necessary analysis and response.  Just when you think Trump can’t go lower, he lowers the bar and surprises us all.

 

Kurt Eichenwald’s pre-election Trump exposé in Newsweek

35An article by Kurt Eichenwald in Newsweek  “Donald Trump’s Companies Destroyed Emails in Defiance of Court Orders” from October 31, 2016  reveals Trump’s long history of contemptuous manipulation of the legal system.  Eichenwald focuses on a number of Trump cases to detail how, through a pattern of delay, diversion, lies, destruction of evidence, and out-right violation of court orders, Trump has frustrated parties suing him for grievances and government lawyers seeking to enforce regulations.

Here’s Eichenwald’s lead in:

“Over the course of decades, Donald Trump’s companies have systematically destroyed or hidden thousands of emails, digital records and paper documents demanded in official proceedings, often in defiance of court orders. These tactics—exposed by a Newsweek review of thousands of pages of court filings, judicial orders and affidavits from an array of court cases—have enraged judges, prosecutors, opposing lawyers and the many ordinary citizens entangled in litigation with Trump. In each instance, Trump and entities he controlled also erected numerous hurdles that made lawsuits drag on for years, forcing courtroom opponents to spend huge sums of money in legal fees as they struggled—sometimes in vain—to obtain records.”

Eichenwald discloses how as far back as 1973, Trump and his lawyers were deliberately abusing the legal system.  In 1973, Trump was sued for refusing to rent to Blacks.

Some excerpts from Eichenwald: “The Trump strategy was simple: deny, impede and delay, while destroying documents the court had ordered them to hand over.”

“The [Trump] family’s attempts to slow down the federal case were at times nonsensical. Trump submitted an affidavit contending that the government had engaged in some unspecified wrongdoing by releasing statements to the press on the day it brought the case without first having any ‘formal communications’ with him; he contended that he’d learned of the complaint only while listening to his car radio that morning. But Trump’s sworn statement was a lie. Court records show that the government had filed its complaint at 10 a.m. and phoned him  almost immediately afterward.”

“For months, the Trumps ignored the government’s discovery demands, even though court procedure in a civil or criminal case requires each side to produce relevant documents in a timely manner.”

“Yet when the government filed its standard discovery requests, the Trumps reacted as though seeking that information was outrageous. They argued in court that prosecutors had no case and wanted to riffle through corporate files on a fishing expedition. Once again, this led to more delays, more replies, more hearings…and another specious argument thrown out of court.

 Six months after the original filing, the case was nowhere because the Trumps had repeatedly ignored the deadlines to produce records and answers to questions, known as interrogatories. When a government attorney finally telephoned a Trump lawyer to find out why, he was told the Trumps had not even begun preparing their answers and had no plans to do so. The Trumps also postponed and blocked depositions, refused to provide a description of their records, as required, and would not turn over any documents.”

“…Finally, under subpoena, Trump appeared for a short deposition. When asked about the missing documents, he made a shocking admission: The Trumps had been destroying their corporate records for the previous six months and had no document-retention program. They had conducted no inspections to determine which files might have been sought in the discovery requests or might otherwise be related to the case. Instead, in order to ‘save space,’ Trump testified, officials with his company had been tossing documents into the shredder and garbage.”

“,,,The judge opted to allow the government access to the company offices so they could find the records themselves.

In three letters and three phone calls, the government notified the Trumps that this inspection would take place on June 12, 1974. When they arrived at the Trump offices, Trump was there, but he and everyone else were ‘surprised’ that prosecutors had come and refused to allow them access to documents without their defense lawyers present. A prosecutor called those lawyers, but they were not in their offices. The frustrated prosecutors then gave up and headed back to court.”

“…They were then hit with a new delaying tactic. The Trumps submitted a filing based on statements by Trump that radically misrepresented what had occurred that day. He claimed a prosecutor, Donna Goldstein, had arrived at the company without notifying the Trumps’ counsel, refused to telephone their lawyer and demanded access to Trump’s office. The prosecutor—accompanied, the Trumps claimed, by five ‘stormtroopers’—then banged on doors throughout the office, insisting she and her team be allowed to ‘swarm haphazardly through all the Trump files and to totally disrupt their daily business routine.’

At the same time, in a move that caused another huge delay, the Trumps claimed that Goldstein had been threatening Trump employees who were potential witnesses.”

“…These allegations of misconduct, which demanded sanctions against the government for abusing its power, required more hearings. Once again, the Trump claims went nowhere.

In June 1975, more than 18 months after the government filed the case and with the Trumps still withholding potentially relevant records, the two sides struck a settlement.”

Or, from another case:

“[Judge] Streitfeld ordered Trump executives to file sworn statements attesting to how their email systems had worked from 1996 onward. In response, Trump Hotels filed an affidavit from one of its information technology managers stating that it had had no servers prior to 2001.

That was false and by deposing numerous IT specialists with two Trump companies—the Trump Organization and Trump Hotels—lawyers for Power Plant gradually chipped away at it. Finally, during a deposition nine months after he had signed the deceptive affidavit, the same Trump executive admitted his assertions in it were untrue. In fact, an IBM Domino server for emails and other files had been installed in 1999, the same year witnesses for Power Plant contended that Trump had learned of the casino deal. Prior to that, as early as 1997, the Trump corporations used servers off-site operated by a company called Jersey Cape, according to sworn testimony by one of the Trump IT experts; the following year, the Trump Organization and Trump Hotels moved to another email provider, Technology 21.

These startling revelations changed nothing, however, because there was no trove of documents. The Trump records had been destroyed. Despite knowing back in 2001 that Trump might want to file a lawsuit, his companies had deleted emails and other records without checking if they might be evidence in his case. Beginning around 2003, the company wiped clear the data from everyone’s computers every year.”

Eichenwald’s review of cases goes on.  The fact is that the Trump pattern of obstruction is behavior Trump and his father were schooled in by Trump’s mentor, the mob lawyer Roy Cohn.  The court system does not, and cannot, provide a level playing field between rich and poor or properly martial the misconduct of a billionaire with a squadron of lawyers willing to lie, delay, and obstruct.  Trump knows that and has played that reality for all it is worth.

Trump’s abuse of the legal system, alone, should have disqualified him from his candidacy for the Presidency.  It should have led to sanctions for contempt of court.  It should have been widely disseminated by mainstream media.  And the public should have embraced that knowledge to soundly defeat Trump in the election.  Yet, while anyone with his ear to the ground would have known the general outline of Trump’s character, and while Eichenwald’s expose was released more than a week before the election, Trump, even to this day, enjoys the backing of his party, substantial mainstream acceptance, and a free rein to exercise his considerable “skills” on the world at large.  I say, “enough already.”

 

Eliot Cohen’s Review of Trump Abroad

https3a2f2fblueprint-api-production-s3-amazonaws-com2fuploads2fcard2fimage2f4841752f1c8fef89-5501-4c67-864f-9d25e9e16108Somehow it was a relief to have Trump abroad, thousands of miles away, even if he was still uncomfortably close to the nuclear football.  But because, with Trump, you learn more by what he does than what he says, there are lessons to be learned from his trip.  Eliot Cohen’s excellent review in The Atlantic What Did Trump Accomplish on His First Foreign Trip?”  adroitly exposes the foibles of Trump’s pretenses and the very real damage done by the bull in the china shop.

Here’s a sample: “It had ample farcical episodes: the Saudi king, the dictator of Egypt, and the president of the United States placing their hands on a glowing orb that evoked for some a lampoon of Lord of the Rings. The secretary of state assuring us that no one overseas was paying attention to Trump’s domestic troubles (palpably, indeed laughably, untrue) even as his spokesman excluded the American press from a briefing attended by the considerably more docile reporters of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The national-security adviser insisting, ‘The entire trip is about human rights, about all civilized people coming together to fight the hatred’—an odd remark to make in a country that lops the hands off thieves and the heads off apostates. The commerce secretary, in one of his more witlessly thuggish remarks, observing complacently about urban Riyadh: ‘There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there.’ And then there were the video clips: Melania flicking away her husband’s groping hand and the Leader of the Free World giving the prime minister of little Montenegro a good hard shove.”

And:

“Instead, some tin-horn Talleyrand in the president’s entourage thought that this serial and unrepentant swindler, fornicator, and prevaricator was the man to bring together the three Abrahamic faiths by going to Riyadh, Jerusalem, and the Vatican. This conceit must strain Christian charity, let alone more austere Jewish and Muslim moralism.

It was foolish to begin the trip in Saudi Arabia, of all places. It is an ally, to be sure, but was also the home of roughly three-quarters of the 9/11 terrorists, and the source (from private funding) of terrorist financing, and far worse, of the teaching of Wahhabi doctrines inimical to the moderate forms of Islam that once prevailed around the world. Saudi and Gulf-funded religious schools, preachers, textbooks, and travel are a critical part of the story of the last several decades of violent jihad. The kingdom represses non-Muslim faiths and women, and it tolerates the barbarous treatment of foreign nationals. We forget those facts at our peril.”

Meanwhile, “at home the scandal news came not in drips but spattering gouts. We learn that a ‘person of interest’ close to the president is a focus of the Russia investigation, and that this is apparently is none other his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Making matters worse, Kushner was reported to have requested a communications channel directly through the Russian Embassy, to avoid U.S. government surveillance. We discover that the president had improperly asked the director of the National Security Agency and the director of National Intelligence to clear his late campaign of Russian connections. His former National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn decided to take the 5th, which from a judicial point of view means that one cannot infer his guilt, but from a common-sense point of view makes it look highly probable.”

Cohen has much more, all of it on point, if perhaps more charitable than Trump and his crime family deserve.  Give it a look and consider his conclusion as to “how little there is beneath the façade of this paper mâché presidency.”

As The Atlantic notes, “Eliot A. Cohen is the director of the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.”  He brings uncommon expertise.  While you are at it, if you missed it, consider also the recent editorial in Der Spiegel, noted in my blog “Der Spiegel has seen enough.”

Der Spiegel has seen enough

gorham-antique-handheld-mirror-sterling-silver-23-1920s-vanity-401037045602-6Sometimes, it’s helpful to get a new perspective.  How does the rest of the world see Donald J. Trump?  What other country, for example, has experienced the reign of a mad autocrat, someone who pledged to make his country great again?  How about the Germans, those people Trump was reported to have called “evil, very evil” – or maybe it was “bad, very bad”?

 A May 19 editorial by Klaus Brinkbaumer in the German Der Spiegel says the Germans have seen more than enough of Mr. Trump.  If you are not familiar with Der Spiegel, here’s an introduction from Wikipedia:

“Der Spiegel (German pronunciation: [deːɐ ˈʃpiːɡəl], lit. “The Mirror”) is a German weekly news magazine published in Hamburg. It is one of Europe’s largest publications of its kind, with a weekly circulation of 840,000.[1][2][3]

It was founded in 1947[4] by John Seymour Chaloner (de), a British army officer, and Rudolf Augstein, a former Wehrmacht radio operator who was recognized in 2000 by the International Press Institute as one of the fifty World Press Freedom Heroes.[5]Spiegel Online, the online sibling of Der Spiegel, was launched in 1994 with an independent editorial staff. Typically, the magazine has a content to advertising ratio of 2:1.

Der Spiegel is known in German-speaking countries mostly for its investigative journalism. It has played a key role in uncovering many political scandals such as the Spiegel scandal in 1962 and the Flick affair in the 1980s. According to The Economist, Der Spiegel is one of continental Europe‘s most influential magazines.[6]

Brinkbaumer goes right for the jugular.  He titles his editorial:

A Danger to the World  It’s Time to Get Rid of Donald Trump   Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughing stock and he is a danger to the world. He must be removed from the White House before things get even worse.”

His lead in:

“Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.

 He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media’s tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.”

An excerpt further along:

“The U.S. elected a laughing stock to the presidency and has now made itself dependent on a joke of a man. The country is, as David Brooks wrote recently in the New York Times, dependent on a child. The Trump administration has no foreign policy because Trump has consistently promised American withdrawal while invoking America’s strength. He has promised both no wars and more wars. He makes decisions according to his mood, with no strategic coherence or tactical logic. Moscow and Beijing are laughing at America. Elsewhere, people are worried.”

And this:

“Who can be certain that Donald Trump won’t risk nuclear war simply to save his own skin? Efforts to stop climate change are in trouble and many expect the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because Trump is wary of legally binding measures. Crises, including those in Syria and Libya, are escalating, but no longer being discussed. And who should they be discussed with? Phone calls and emails to the U.S. State Department go unanswered. Nothing is regulated, nothing is stable and the trans-Atlantic relationship hardly exists anymore. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Norbert Röttgen fly back and forth, but Germany and the U.S. no longer understand each other. Hardly any real communication takes place, there are no joint foreign policy goals and there is no strategy.”

Brinkbaumer is not pulling his punches and he knows whereof he speaks.  The election of Trump was an international tragedy and a threat to Europeans, Asians, and the world at large.   It’s about time the American mainstream media got on the bandwagon and called him out.  No time like the present.

Freedom of the Press

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Eric Sevareid – CBS, 1948

When Montana Republican candidate for Congress Greg Gianforte assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs yesterday, it was the latest in the not so subtle GOP campaign against an independent press.  Here’s from a Guardian release:

“Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey witnessed the incident at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Montana, according to an account published on the Fox News website. After Jacobs asked Gianforte his question, Acuna wrote: ‘Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.’

‘Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of  “I’m sick and tired of this!”… To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.'”

You will recall that Donald Trump on numerous occasions has called the press “the enemy of the State.”  See this New York Times report from February 17 when Trump tweeted: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.  Sick.”

And you will recall numerous other incidents, from Sean Spicer denying selected press reporters access to his briefings, to Secretary of State Tillerson, and Trump, himself, denying American media access to matters covered by the foreign press.

The First Amendment protection for freedom of the press is exceedingly precarious – the press is a natural target for any government sensitive to criticism.  See for example the Alien and Sedition Act signed into law by none less than John Adams, which “allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens who were deemed dangerous (Alien Friends Act of 1798)[2] or who were from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act of 1798),[3] and criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government.”   Those provisions criminalizing false statements critical of the government were subsequently repealed and assumed by later scholars – but never held by the Supreme Court – to be unconstitutional.   The problem, of course, is that one person’s “false statement” can easily be another’s considered dissent.  To chill dissent in a democratic society is to undermine the debate, the dissemination of ideas, and the access to information that is crucial to the government functioning on behalf of the people.

Mainstream media is also under attack from a different source, from a coordinated campaign financed by right-wing moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, funding media news centers to disseminate disinformation.  Fox News, Breitbart, and right-wing radio talk shows, among others, have created and disseminated “news” from an alternate reality – one divorced from science, or responsible reporting, where concocted conspiracies concerning Obama’s birth certificate, and treasonous wrongdoing  at Benghazi,  and undocumented felonies relating to emails of  a Democratic candidate for President dominate the agenda.

You see the crux of the problem here?  Obviously wide-spread disinformation – slanted for political purposes – undermines the goal of an intelligent and informed electorate every bit as much as does direct information suppression.  Yet, in a capitalistic society, those who have accumulated wealth will inevitably have greater access to media to spread propaganda reflecting their interests.

The success of the Trump disinformation campaign in the 2016 election convinces me that these problems must be addressed if a vital democracy is to be preserved.  I recommend the following:

Reinstatement by the Federal Communications Commission of a Fairness Doctrine holding all broadcasters accountable for presenting reasonably balanced news reports.  Such a doctrine would subject licensees to loss of license for the conduct of a disinformation campaign.   Such a loss of license, however, would require a finding of media abuse by an independent – nonpartisan panel.

Reinvigorating of anti-trust restrictions on control of media outlets.  Reasonable regulations and review are necessary to ensure that news accounts cannot be monopolized by any part of the political spectrum, and that localized outlets are available and successful.

Renewed support for public broadcasting and renewed consideration of avenues to ensure its editorial independence.

Encouragement of media access and broadcasting avenues for foreign media to increase the breadth of spectrum available to the public.

Let me recognize that, in treading in the First Amendment arena, I’m opining in an area of substantial legal nuance.  You might consider for a First Amendment primer, Thomas I. Emerson’s The System of Freedom of Expression.   Emerson will give you a great review of the subject and its complexities.  Unfortunately, in our current society, concern for legal niceties seems to be on the wane.  Addressing Emerson’s depth of concerns will have to wait another day.

In the meantime, our current state of the press, broadcasting, and government efforts at suppression of dissent does not pass a smell test.  Things won’t change for the better unless we recognized the smell and do something about it.

 

You say you want a Reformation?

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Martin Luther

If you are to believe J. R. R. Tolkien, men are weak, always vulnerable to their lust for power and money.  It is that lust that ultimately corrupts and weakens even the greatest of institutions.  You don’t have to read Gibbon to know that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire reflected the internal corruption of its empire more than any growing strength of the “barbarians”.  Or consider the case of the Catholic Church in the 1500s, as reviewed by Ingrid D. Rowland in The New York Review of Books in “Martin Luther’s Burning Questions.”

This All Hallow’s Eve, it will be five hundred years since Martin Luther posted his ninety-five propositions on the door of a church in Saxony, Germany, questioning the practices and theology of the Catholic Church and sparking the Protestant revolution.  The time was ripe in a Catholic Church that had been internally weakened by greed and power.  At the heart of the corruption was the sale of indulgences, a practice by which the papacy sold the remission of sins, exchanging Papal scripts of paper for gold, silver, and coin.  Intended as an avenue to grant sinners salvation in exchange for good works, indulgences ultimately devolved into a massive revenue scheme lining the pockets of the powerful

As Rowland notes, “By the late fifteenth century, …, remission from sins could simply be purchased from a papal agent, for oneself or for another person, whether alive or deceased. The sale of indulgences became an industry only in Luther’s own lifetime and in his own lands, put into place by the “warrior Pope” Julius II and the Augsburg banker Jakob Fugger. “

By Luther’s day, the corruption had become so evident that Luther and others rebelled.  Surely salvation came through one’s faith, as a gift of God.  Rowland again:  “Luther’s message swiftly found followers, especially in the German states: on the spiritual level with his doctrine of justification by faith, and on the practical level with his attack on the alliance between religion and capitalism that had turned remission of sins into a commercial enterprise.”

I’d like you to consider the state of the Catholic Church in Luther’s time as analogous to the American political system today.   The essence is the same, a great and noble institution, grounded in ideals, turned on its head for the benefit of the rich and powerful.  There can be no debate that political offices in Congress are to a large degree sold to the highest bidder.  Particularly since Citizens United,  a seat in the House of Representatives costs approximately one million seven hundred thousand dollars; the cost for winning Senate seats averages over ten million dollars.    Politics has become a rich man’s game where the incentive of those who run for office is inevitably to solicit contributions from the rich with the unspoken understanding of a quid pro quo. In short, the US Congress at heart is an auction house where policy is sold to the highest bidder.  It is no coincidence that US policies are now in thrall to a modern generation of oligarchs, Kochs,  Mercers, Bradleys, and others less conspicuous but nonetheless demanding return on their dollar.

The time has come to post a broadsheet on their door.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Most modern democracies strictly limit the ability of the rich to buy elections.  We should too.  After five hundred years, a new reformation is in order.

Donald the Great

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Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great.  Charlemagne, Catherine the Great.  Wayne Gretsky, The Great One.  Muhammad Ali, The Greatest.  Donald is Great too.  Just ask him.

And Donald is smart.  Very smart.  He makes the best deals.  Great deals.  Believe him.  Great, really great.

Donald has a secret to being great.  Know how, if there was no law of gravity, we could all fly?  Yeah, laws suck.  They just tie you down.  Principles, rules, customs, they don’t apply to the great ones.  If you’re great, you can do anything.

Let’s say you want to make money.  Here’s a great idea.  You hire a bunch of contractors to build a tower, furnish it. finish  it real nice.  Then – get this – you don’t pay them!  Ha.  They were privileged to work on a Trump Tower.  Why should they be paid?  Then, this is good – if they sue you, you settle for 20 cents on the dollar.  Hey, that’s more money than they will get when the lawyers tie them up in court for years – they were overcharging anyway.   Or here, this one’s even better.  You start a company – let’s say you are going to run a casino.  Everyone pays in, you get your money out and then, listen for it, you declare bankruptcy.  They get pennies – mere pennies! on the dollar back.  Maybe nothing at all!  It’s worked for Donald six times.

Or, another idea, works great.  You know how criminals end up with ill-gotten gain?  From dealing drugs, or prostitution, or maybe they embezzle a few billion from Azerbaijan.  Hot money, hard to explain.   If you have real estate or casinos, you just partner up with them – sell them a condo or let them run the money through a night of gambling – you skim some off the top, and bling, it’s all legit.  Great scheme huh?

If you want to be great, you need great friends too.  Friends who know how the world works, how to make a deal.  Like Vlad Putin.  Or Recep Erdogan.   Let’s say you’re running for President.  If you’re Great, you are going to win, you have to win, that’s what you do if you’re great.  But then they have these rules, you need people to vote for you.  Now that’s tough, like that gravity thing, trying to pull you down to earth.  And sure, you tell people what they want to hear – make America Great – lock her up – build a wall – but that doesn’t work for everyone.  That’s why you have friends like Vlad.  Someone who can hack voting machines – spread disinformation.  You’d be amazed what you can do.  If you’re Great that is.

The Rise of Trump Predicted by Henry Wallace in 1944

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Henry Wallace and FDR

The May 12 New York Times ran an op-ed by Henry Scott Wallace,  “American Fascism, in 1944 and Today”  , that deserves a closer look.  Wallace is the grandson of FDR’s Vice-President  Henry Wallace.  His op-ed uses an article his grandfather wrote,  “The Danger of American Fascism“, to shed light on the current phenomenon of Mr. Trump.  As the younger Wallace puts it, his grandfather, “described a breed of super-nationalist who pursues political power by deceiving Americans and playing to their fears, but is really interested only in protecting his own wealth and privilege.”  In doing so, he predicted Donald Trump.

Here’s more of the op-ed:

“My grandfather warned about hucksters spouting populist themes but manipulating people and institutions to achieve the opposite. They pretend to be on the side of ordinary working people — ‘paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare,’ he wrote. But at the same time, they ‘distrust democracy because it stands for equal opportunity.’

They invariably put ‘money and power ahead of human beings,’ he continued. ‘They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest.’ They also ‘claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.’

They bloviate about putting America first, but it’s just a cover. ‘They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism.’

They need scapegoats and harbor ‘an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations.'”

In short, Vice-President Wallace warned against the rise of the American Right, the phenomenon that, in our time, would characterize Fox News,  Breitbart, Bannon, and Trump.   The Vice-President and grandson carry their respective analyses much further and each has its gems.   Here again, for example, is the op-ed:

“[The American Fascists] use lies strategically, to promote civic division, which then justifies authoritarian crackdowns. Through ‘deliberate perversion of truth and fact … their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity.’

Thus might lying about unprecedented high crime rates legitimize a police state. Lying about immigrants being rapists and terrorists might justify a huge border wall, mass expulsions and religion-based immigration bans. Lying about millions of illegal votes might excuse suppression of voting by disfavored groups.”

Where the Wallaces are particularly clear-headed is in understanding that there is no easy cure for the rise of fascism.  The op-ed again:

“The antidote? For my grandfather, it lay in that phrase the ‘common man.’ In 1942, he famously rebutted conservatives calling for an ‘American Century’ after the war — America, the greatest country on earth, dominating the world.

Nonsense, my grandfather said in that speech: We Americans ‘are no more a master race than the Nazis.’ He called for a ‘century of the common man’ — ordinary people, standing up and fighting for their rights, with decent jobs, organized (into unions), demanding accountable government committed to the ‘general welfare’ rather than the privilege of the few, and decent schools for their kids (teaching ‘truths of the real world’). Democracy, he said in his 1944 essay, must ‘put human beings first and dollars second.'”

Vice-President Wallace, himself, became an early victim of the American Right, being ignominiously dumped from Roosevelt’s ticket in 1944 in favor of Harry Truman to appease right-wing democrats.  His legacy would itself be tarred by the coming era of McCarthyism – it’s a legacy that deserves to be better known, understood, and appreciated.   And it’s a sad lesson that to be right and prescient is not necessarily to win.  Still, we could do worse than to value the wisdom of the Wallaces.   What a novel concept, to put human beings first.

The Stench of Trump’s Corruption Follows Him to the Middle East

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A Saudi execution by beheading

I was greeted this morning to the dueling stories of Trump, bowing his head to the Saudis to receive a golden medal, and word that Jared Kushner has negotiated a 110 Billion dollar weapons contract between Lockheed and Saudi Arabia.  Since I’m not seeing the appropriate outrage elsewhere, I’ll express it myself.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive regimes in the world – a country governed under Sharia law by a Royal family originally installed by Western powers in exchange for free access to their oil – a country in which the youth is indoctrinated in anti-western, anti-liberal rhetoric in Wahhibi  schools – the source of Osama Bin Laden’s radicalism and of the majority of the terrorists carrying out the 9/11 attack.   Saudis are currently executing their citizens at a record clip – consider this article, “16 Things That Could Get You Executed In Saudi Arabia16“.   This is where they really do amputate, cane, and behead.  May I mention the current devastation occurring in Yemen – a population verging on mass starvation and subject to recorded Saudi atrocities?   May I suggest that the “optics” of the American President, a wanna-be tin pot dictator himself, bowing his head to this regime of thugs is sending the wrong message?

Speaking of which – what could be more crass or corrupt than selling 100 Billion dollars worth of weapons – 100 Billion dollars worth of weapons – to this regime, in an area of the world already aflame?  To what purpose, other than to make Lockheed stockholders and the military – industrial complex richer and tie our policy ever tighter to exploitation of Middle East oil reserves?

Here’s a factoid to chew on.  American policy in the Middle East since George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq has progressively ratcheted up sectarian violence in the region.  Thanks to American policy, large sections of Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan lie in failed nation-states subject to horrific sectarian violence and providing potential flash points between the nuclear powers for a truly cataclysmic conflict.  Has anyone with a modicum of intelligence given due consideration to what the hell we are doing?  I think not.