Mueller v. Trump, the game begins

lady-justice-37563442Robert Mueller’s Justice Department investigation of Trump/Russia collusion and of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump provides the best sign that not all official institutions are going to role over and play dead in the face of Trump’s fast growing authoritarianism.   Mueller’s investigation has hit the ground running as he has collected a strong experienced legal team.  It seems clear that a reckoning is at hand.  Less clear – the jury is still out – is whether Trump or Mueller holds a winning hand.

In that light, I recommend Tim Weiner’s excellent article in The New York Times, “How Donald Trump Misunderstood the F.B.I.”  A must read, Weiner’s piece shows that the history of the F.B.I. as an independent check on abuse of presidential power dates back to the Watergate era.  As Weiner notes, “over the course of two decades and five presidents, the post-Hoover relationship between the F.B.I. and the White House had settled into a delicate balance between the rule of law and the chief of state.  Presidents could use secrecy, and sometimes outright deception, to push their executive powers to the limit. But the F.B.I., through its investigative brief, retained a powerful unofficial check on these privileges: the ability to amass, and unveil, deep secrets of state. The agency might not have been able to stop presidents like Nixon and Reagan from overreaching, but when it did intervene, there was little presidents could do to keep the F.B.I. from making their lives very difficult — as Bill Clinton discovered in 1993, when he appointed Louis J. Freeh as his F.B.I. director. ”  It was Freeh’s F.B.I. that would ultimately trip up Clinton for his dalliance with Lewinsky.

And it was Robert Mueller who followed Freeh as Director of the F.B.I., now heir to a tradition of institutional independence uncowed by the presidency.  Weiner notes of Mueller that, “born into a wealthy family, Mueller exemplified ‘’the tradition of the “muscular Christian” that came out of the English public-school world of the 19th century,’  Maxwell King, Mueller’s classmate at St. Paul’s, the elite New England prep school, told me.  Mueller arrived at F.B.I. headquarters with a distinguished military record — he earned a bronze star as a Marine in Vietnam — and years of service as a United States attorney and Justice Department official.”  Mueller proved to be innovative and dynamic, moving to solve the moribund Lockerbie case.  Weiner again, “Mueller used his power under law to obliterate the F.B.I.’s byzantine flow charts of authority in the case. ‘We literally cut out the chains of command,’ Marquise said. ‘We brought in the C.I.A. We brought the Scots. We brought MI5 to Washington. And we sat down and we said: “We need to change the way we’re doing business. . . . We need to start sharing information.’’’ It was a tip from the Scots that put Marquise on the trail of the eventual suspect: one of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s intelligence officers, whose cover was security chief for the Libyan state airlines. Qaddafi’s spy, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, was indicted in 1991. It took until the turn of the 21st century, but he was convicted.”

And as Weiner notes, it was Mueller who thereafter confronted George W. Bush to rein in his unconstitutional “Stellar Wind” surveillance program.

So now, it is Mueller, a straight shooter with a record of independence, versus Trump. We know Trump is neither a Nixon nor a Bush, but a practiced conman who has made a living skirting and confronting the law.  With his staff of henchmen, Bannon, Sessions, and Kushner, with his presidential powers, he is a formidable foe.  But Mueller, as we know, is in the right; the facts are on his side.  And so the game begins.


A Voter Protection Act

avm20machineWhat sort of bill might provide necessary voter protections?  I recommend something along the following lines, addressing three issues: 1. voter eligibility, 2. gerrymandering, and 3. vote counting.   In my view, all citizens should be registered and eligible to vote.  Rules should be liberally construed to ensure that no such right to vote is denied.  Redistricting laws should expressly prohibit gerrymandering.  Vote counting must preserve a paper trail.  Any electronic counting machine must be certified as secure from manipulation.

 An Act Protecting the Right to  Vote

Section 1.  Concerning the right of all citizens to vote.  Every citizen of the United States eighteen years of age or older shall be eligible to vote in all state and national elections, including elections for President, and elections for each state and federal Senator and Representative in the electoral district of domicile.  Each state shall promulgate laws and regulations to ensure the registration of all such citizens, including automatic registration on attaining one’s eighteenth year, and provisions to enroll any unregistered citizen by cross-checking registration records with state licensing laws and federal social security records.  An eligible voter whose identity as a citizen is known to polling personnel, or who shows a state license or other indicia of identity at a poll, may not be denied the vote.  No citizen may be deprived of the right to vote unless that person has been adjudicated incompetent in a court of law.

Section 2.  Prohibiting Gerrymandering.  The practice known as gerrymandering is hereby expressly forbidden in the drawing of  state and Congressional district boundaries and no such district may be drawn for the purpose of conveying a political advantage.

Section 3.   Concerning security of vote counts.  All votes in state and national elections must be cast pursuant to a paper ballot, which ballot must be retained to allow such recount or audit as may be deemed necessary.   Paper ballots may be counted by machine, provided such machine has been certified by the Justice Department of the United States as secure against electronic manipulation of reported results and as secure from interference through electronic media.  In the event that electronically reported results are challenged due to anomaly or are challenged in a contest in which the winning margin is 10 percent of the votes or less, the paper ballots shall be recorded by hand and that result shall be binding.

Section 4.  The Justice Department of the United States shall take such actions as may be necessary to protect and enforce the voting rights set out herein.

Section 5.  Any law of the United States that conflicts with the provisions of this act shall be reconciled therewith.


Issues for consideration:  Voting rights have been addressed numerous times since the formation of the Republic.  Understanding where that law is now is a necessary prerequisite to further legislating.  The Wikipedia entry on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 contains much of the relevant information,  The Voting Rights Act remains in force today, but has proven ineffective in recent years since the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder struck down what was known as the section 5 “coverage formula” that required certain states with a history of discrimination to “pre-approve” changes in election laws.  Since Shelby, numerous states have enacted or are considering provisions that have the practical effect of suppressing voter turnout.  Section one of my proposed bill makes voter eligibility automatic for all citizens and places a duty on states to ascertain those citizens domiciled in their state.  My bill assumes continued enforcement of existing prohibitions on discrimination.

Gerrymandering is also an issue subject to considerable ongoing litigation.  Current law, for example, under Thornburg v. Gingles sets out tests for weighing whether a redistricting plan inappropriately discriminates against a racial or ethnic minority.  My judgment is that recent gerrymandering has been used by parties for partisan advantage, wholly apart from racial or minority concerns, and in those cases inappropriately predetermines electoral outcomes.  I suggest a simple ban on gerrymander for political purposes, period.

Finally, with the Russian cyber-operatives meddling in the 2016 election, it has become clear that existing voting machines in many jurisdictions are not secure from hacking and that, in some of those jurisdictions, the lack of a paper trail makes an audit of the results impossible.  It’s time that the security of electoral results be directly addressed.

This bill is intended as a draft only, for discussion purposes.  I welcome input, including research as to existing laws or proposals in these areas.  I also recognize that like Universal Healthcare, the current establishment may not consider itself ready for Universal Registration.   Nonetheless, universal registration is also the global norm and has been enacted in some states.  If we care about a true democracy, the appropriateness of universal registration seems self-evident.  See for example, this article by Seth McElwee in the Huffpost, “Why Universal Voter Registration Matters“, and this article in The Los Angeles Times, “The merits of universal voter registration“.


It’s Time for Moderate Republicans to Join us in Righting the Ship

Ships in Distress in a Storm c.1720-30 by Peter Monamy 1681-1749On January 18, I posted a blog, Can the Democrats Get Clever,  arguing that the time had come for Democrats to make a deal with moderate Republicans, a deal that might save the Republic from a madman in the Presidency and a Republican party now controlled by a group of right-wing neo-fascists.  As I wrote then:

“This year provides a most unusual opportunity for deal making.  Just consider how Donald Trump belittled his opponents in the Republican primaries.  Little Marco, lying Cruz.  Senator McCain is ‘no hero’.  Forming Trump’s cabinet, Trump has given all of the positions to the extreme right – nominees intent on dismantling their respective agencies.  The coming administration is, in fact, a nihilistic body of destruction.  The administration aim to repeal Obamacare is dismantling what was, in origin, a moderate Republican plan, instituted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.  Repealing Obamacare without adequate replacement will cause thousands of deaths, deaths that will be on Republican hands.  Here’s the point – there still exists a substantial body of relatively moderate Republicans, honorable men and women who have been belittled and marginalized by the right-wing coup.  I worked with moderate Republicans for over twenty years in our state legislature – they were often among the best educated and conscientious representatives.  And I tell you today, that they are tearing their hair out, their party in the thralls of radicals who disrespect our most basic institutions, traditions, and morality. “

Today, in Politico Magazine, Bruce Bartlett, who worked under Reagan and George H. W. Bush, set out in “Trump is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas” a cogent description of the dilemma facing the moderate, intellectual Republicans. Here’s Bartlett:  “Trump has turned out to be far, far worse than I imagined. He has instituted policies so right wing they make Ronald Reagan, for whom I worked, look like a liberal Democrat. He has appointed staff people far to the right of the Republican mainstream in many positions, and they are instituting policies that are frighteningly extreme. Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Scott Pruitt proudly denies the existence of climate change, and is doing his best to implement every item Big Oil has had on its wish list since the agency was established by Richard Nixon. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to the very concept of public education and is doing her best to abolish it. Every day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions institutes some new policy to take incarceration and law enforcement back to the Dark Ages. Trump’s proposed budget would eviscerate the social safety net for the sole purpose of giving huge tax cuts to the ultrawealthy.

And if those policies weren’t enough, conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.”

Bartlett goes on to lay out the history of the Republican movement since the Goldwater days, noting for example that, “When I became active in the Republican Party in the mid-1970s, it was the party of thoughtful men and women who were transforming America’s domestic policies while strengthening its moral leadership on the global stage. As Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in a July 1980 New York Times article, ‘the GOP has become a party of ideas.’

And then, everything began to change.”

Bartlett describes in some depth how the Republican leadership turned away from ideas and intellect.  He notes:

“In the 14 years since then, I have watched from the sidelines as Republican policy analysis and research have virtually disappeared altogether, replaced with sound bites and talking points. The Heritage Foundation morphed into Heritage Action for America, ceasing to do any real research and losing all its best policy experts as it transformed from an august center whose focus was the study and development of public policy into one devoted mainly to amplifying political campaign slogans. Talk radio and Fox News, where no idea too complicated for a mind with a sixth-grade education is ever heard, became the tail wagging the conservative dog. Conservative magazines like National Review, which once boasted world-class intellectuals such as James Burnham and Russell Kirk among its columnists, jumped on the bandwagon, dumbing itself down to appeal to the common man, who is deemed to be the font of all wisdom.”

He notes, “With hindsight, it’s no surprise that the glorification of anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism that has been rampant on the right at least since the election of Barack Obama would give rise to someone like Trump.”   “Ideally,”  says Bartlett,  “I’d like to see an intellectual revival on the right such as we saw after the Goldwater defeat and the Watergate debacle.  Freed from the stultifying strictures and kowtowing to know-nothing Trumpian populists—perhaps building on new outlets and institutions that celebrate intellectual rigor and reject shallow sound bites—a few conservative thinkers can plow a path toward sane, responsible conservative governance, just as people like Irving Kristol and Jack Kemp did during the Carter years.”

And, here’s my point.  There is virtually nothing in Bartlett’s piece on current Republicanism that I disagree with.  The damage being done, both to his party, and our country by Trump and the “populist” right-wing agenda is transparent.  Our values are, in fact, much closer together than are those of Bartlett compared to Trump and the Right.  Was there ever a better case for making common cause? Bartlett is not alone; Bill Kristol and George Will and other Republican commentators grounded in old main-stream Republicanism literally have no where at the moment to go.  Is it really asking too much that they join us in putting an end to the Trump travesty and the hypocrisies and misgovernment of Paul Ryan and his ilk?  I think not.

Le Carre – Truth in Fiction

rehost2f20162f92f142f9e2a71b1-108f-4188-8285-f1f09d11c40bThe following exchange is from yesterday’s Twitter:  The cleverly named Anon Y Mouse: “Jesus, It is exactly like a John Le Carre novel. Money launderers. Villas buy the beach. Deep moles. Russian mafia.”  My response at the time: “Le Carre wasn’t “making it up”. He was cluing us in through the medium of great fiction. It is like a Le Carre novel.”

John Le Carre worked as a British intelligence officer for both M15 and M16.  He grew up with a father who operated as a conman.  As such, he developed an extraordinary ability to observe and a highly developed antenna for separating what is real from the bull shit society prepares for our benefit.   His experience and exceptional writing skills combine in one of our great living writers.  And he self-evidently uses his novels to inform us about who we are and what is going on.

So, if you want to understand the world of global oligarchs, the world of Kochs, and Mercers, and Putins, and Trumps, you could read Jane Mayer at The New Yorker explaining  the octopus of dark money, or you could read Carole Cadwalladr at  The Guardian exposing Cambridge Analytica, or you can enter the world of oligarchs more directly in Le Carre’s The Night Manager.  (I like the British miniseries with Tom Hiddleston too.)  Or maybe you are interested in the hypocrisy of governments and the pernicious influence of the military industrial complex.  What happened to the intelligence community after the fall of the Wall?  Read Le Carre’s Absolute Friends, as depressing and hard nailed as it gets.  It’s what we are dealing with.

While I’m extolling great writing – what is a better way to spend your time than with a great book? –  I also recommend Joseph Kanon and Alan Furst.   Both write a historical fiction not unlike some of Le Carre’s works.  Furst mines Europe in the late thirties and early forties under Hitler – often in Paris or eastern Europe – and the resistance in its many forms.   Joseph Kanon writes for a just post war period, and is perhaps even more geographically disperse, setting in Cold War Istanbul or Moscow.  Both novelists do an exceptional job of creating atmosphere, evoking the paranoia, and the courage, and the everyday efforts to impose normalcy on the unthinkable.  Great stuff.  Read Kanon’s latest, The Defectors, which channels a bit of the feel of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in evoking Moscow and the intelligence community at the height of the Cold War.

One more book, really top notch.  Read the nonfiction Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.  Grann details an ugly Americana most of us seem determined to forget, the systematic mistreatment of native Americans.  Killers of the Flower Moon tells what happened when the Osage Indians were forced onto a reservation in Oklahoma that turned out to contain extraordinarily rich oil fields.  Maybe you’ve read Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost about the exploitation and abuse in the Congo.  Maybe you didn’t know our own version of exploitation happened here in the twentieth century.

Does a corporation have a soul? Or bean counters are going to count beans

17121923990_ba6b3b8fe6_zAn article today in The Guardian does an excellent job of deconstructing the ramifications of the right-wing “privatization” agenda.  See Ben Tarnoff’s “Privatizing public services could spell their demise – and the end of democracy”.   Tarnoff cites the underlying premise of the privatizers, noting:

“For years, they have advanced the argument that business will always perform a given task better than government, whether it’s running buses or schools, supplying healthcare or housing. The public sector is sclerotic, wasteful, and undisciplined by the profit motive. The private sector is dynamic, innovative, and, above all, efficient.

This belief has become common sense in political life. It is widely shared by the country’s elite, and has guided much policymaking over the past several decades. But, like most of our governing myths, it collapses on closer inspection.”

Consider Tarnoff’s take on healthcare:  “No word is invoked more frequently or more fervently by apostles of privatization than efficiency. Yet this is a strange basis on which to build their case, given the fact that public services are often more efficient than private ones. Take healthcare. The United States has one of the least efficient systems on the planet: we spend more money on healthcare than anyone else, and in return we receive some of the worst health outcomes in the west. Not coincidentally, we also have the most privatized healthcare system in the advanced world. By contrast, the UK spends a fraction of what we do and achieves far better results. It also happens to provision healthcare as a public service. Somehow, the absence of the profit motive has not produced an epidemic of inefficiency in British healthcare. Meanwhile, we pay nearly $10,000 per capita and a staggering 17% of our GDP to achieve a life expectancy somewhere between that of Costa Rica and Cuba.”

As Tarnoff notes: “A profit-driven system doesn’t mean we get more for our money – it means someone gets to make more money off of us. The healthcare industry posts record profits and rewards its chief executives with the highest salaries in the country. It takes a peculiar frame of mind to see this arrangement as anything resembling efficient.”

Tarnoff continues: “But government isn’t a business; it’s a different kind of machine. At its worst, it can be repressive and corrupt and autocratic. At its best, it can be an invaluable tool for developing and sustaining a democratic society. Among other things, this includes ensuring that everyone receives the resources they need to exercise the freedoms on which democracy depends. When we privatize public services, we don’t just risk replacing them with less efficient alternatives – we risk damaging democracy itself.”

Tarnoff has more – take a look – but I think you can verify his point of view in a variety of sectors.  What is going on with privatization is that the corporate sector, led by a group of super rich oligarchs, is monetizing every activity they can get a handle on, be it education, highway construction, nursing homes, or the media.  They’ve even done it with the private military contractors, the Blackstones, which allow transfer of public funds to the private section in exchange for security.

Here’s the bottom line – corporations provide a good model if what you want is to efficiently produce widgets, particularly if you ensure competition and set reasonable regulations for  employment of labor and protection of the environment.  But corporations at heart do not have a heart – they are enslaved by the profit motive, the obligation to shareholders, and the power of the ruling board.  That’s fine for maximizing profit, but works poorly if a human factor is involved.  The corporation doesn’t care if you live or die if it doesn’t affect their bottom line.  They can’t help themselves – they pay high priced MBAs to ensure they don’t waste a dime just to help someone out.  If they set the price of a drug, the issue is not whether people can pay, or how much does it cost to produce, but what price makes shareholders the most money.  That’s the wrong criteria if you are concerned about people with modest resources who are battling cancer or AIDs or diabetes.

In ideological terms, it is clear that a modern state must balance appropriate profit motives and capital accumulation – capitalism, if you will – with appropriate public sector programs addressing important human needs.  Call it what you will.  If we want public services that address human needs – such as universal education, or universal healthcare, or national security – the public sector should control resources necessary to ensure that the public needs are addressed.  This is not new; it was the foundation of FDR’s New Deal.  And yes, it is as simple as that.

The American Class System

snobsThe American Class System.  It’s hidden in plain sight.  My parents were firm believers in the American meritocracy: work hard, get a good education, and you will succeed.  It’s a worthy aspiration, and it served me well.  But too often in the United States, the meritocracy is honored only in the breach.  Consider this article by British-raised Richard V. Reeves in The New York Times, Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich.

Here’s Reeves: “[I]magine my horror at discovering that the United States is more calcified by class than Britain, especially toward the top. The big difference is that most of the people on the highest rung in America are in denial about their privilege. The American myth of meritocracy allows them to attribute their position to their brilliance and diligence, rather than to luck or a rigged system. At least posh people in England have the decency to feel guilty.”

Reeves notes that “Beneath a veneer of classlessness, the American class reproduction machine operates with ruthless efficiency. In particular, the upper middle class is solidifying. This favored fifth at the top of the income distribution, with an average annual household income of $200,000, has been separating from the 80 percent below. Collectively, this top fifth has seen a $4 trillion-plus increase in pretax income since 1979, compared to just over $3 trillion for everyone else. Some of those gains went to the top 1 percent. But most went to the 19 percent just beneath them.”

Thus “On the one hand, upper-middle-class Americans believe they are operating in a meritocracy (a belief that allows them to feel entitled to their winnings); on the other hand, they constantly engage in antimeritocratic behavior in order to give their own children a leg up.”

And moreover: “Things turn ugly, …., when the upper middle class starts to rig markets in its own favor, to the detriment of others. Take housing, perhaps the most significant example. Exclusionary zoning practices allow the upper middle class to live in enclaves. Gated communities, in effect, even if the gates are not visible. Since schools typically draw from their surrounding area, the physical separation of upper-middle-class neighborhoods is replicated in the classroom. Good schools make the area more desirable, further inflating the value of our houses. The federal tax system gives us a handout, through the mortgage-interest deduction, to help us purchase these pricey homes. For the upper middle classes, regardless of their professed political preferences, zoning, wealth, tax deductions and educational opportunity reinforce one another in a virtuous cycle.”

As Reeves concludes: “Progressive policies, whether on zoning or school admissions or tax reform, all too often run into the wall of upper-middle-class opposition. Self-interest is natural enough. But the people who make up the American upper middle class don’t just want to keep their advantages; armed with their faith in a classless, meritocratic society, they think they deserve them.”

In substantial ways, our society is even more class conscious than the British Reeves picked up on.  Consider, for example, the election in which Kerry ran against Bush – both candidates were Yale graduates and members of the elite Skull and Bones.  It is no coincidence that our “democracy” predictably elevates those with the “right” credentials.  Al Gore, and yes, even Barack Obama, had their qualifications burnished with elite Harvard diplomas.  The American system of private schooling flourishes with its graduates given an automatic entrance into American upper class.  Our electorate is attracted to and rewards American upper class families, the Bushes and Kennedys, the Roosevelts and now the billionaire Trumps.  Many corporate boards are dominated by Ivy League graduates.  And for all our claim of meritocracy, our public schools in inner cities are poorly funded, provide poor educations, and trap the majority of their students in an underclass.

Trump, of course, and his acolytes in the kleptocracy reflect the antithesis of meritocracy.  Trump flaunts his wealth like a later day Sun King.  His education secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to public education.  Trump’s billionaire cabinet is schooled in class and privilege.  And what, indeed, is Mar a Lago but a modern King’s Court, filled, one can only assume, with sycophants and wannabes?

I’m for meritocracy, and rewarding hard work, and holding out the possibility of the American Dream for each of us.  Maybe we should work a little harder at making that dream real.

The Donald Channels the Legacy of Roy Cohn

martinlewisI’ve been blogging about the self-evident influence on Donald Trump of red-baiting mob lawyer Roy Cohn for some time – see The Root of All Evil.  Cohn was the evil genius, the infante terrible, behind Joe McCarthy’s red scare in the 1950s.  For years he made his living as a feared mob lawyer who operated outside the confines of law and ethics.  Cohn was totally ruthless, experienced in manipulating the legal system and the press,  adept at the use of fear and intimidation.   Cohn would stop at nothing to win.  His style was terrifyingly effective and while he was ultimately disbarred, that came only after the damage was done.  His legacy lives on because, as such, he mentored Donald Trump and many of the Trump old-time loyalists.   Cohn provides the necessary filter with which to view Trump.  Anyone tempted to underestimate what lengths Trump will go to, or what depth he will descend to, should think twice.

I’m not the only one focused on the Trump-Cohn axis.  Consider this article by Jack Shafer in Politico, “Week Four: The President Summons the Ghost of Roy Cohn.”  This is from Shafer’s lead: “Although he dumped Cohn, Trump never ceased playing the role of the dirtbag attorney’s parrot. Since inauguration, and especially since the scandal with no name has inflicted bleeding wounds all over his presidency, Trump has only become more Cohnian in his persona. He rains his fury down on his opponents, just like Cohn.  He breaks rules and bullies all who get in his way.  He does whatever it takes to win.  When Trump’s mouth forms the words, it’s really Cohn speaking from the grave.”

Shafer brings content to the charge that Trump is playing the Cohn card, detailing, for example, how Trump’s efforts to undermine Mueller’s investigation are straight from the Cohn playbook.  Another Shafer excerpt:  “How well Cohn taught Trump the basics of media and legal warfare!  Cohn acolytes like Trump learned the value of raising disagreements to disputes, disputes to legal threats, threats to lawsuits, and lawsuits to war, and war to burned-earth siege, a progression Trump has been playing on his smartphone’s keypad for weeks.  Cohn also taught Trump to shrug off IRS audits, deadbeat his personal debtors, lie whenever expedient, and file complicated, retaliatory lawsuits to pour sand in the gears of his opponents.  ‘Over a 13-year-period, ending shortly before Cohn’s death in 1986, Cohn brought his say-anything, win-at-all-costs style to all of Trump’s most notable legal and business deals,’ Politico’s Michael Kruse wrote last year.  ‘Cohn’s philosophy shaped the real estate mogul’s worldview and the belligerent public persona visible in Trump’s presidential campaign.’”

And this: “Observing no limits has been Trump’s operational philosophy for as long as anybody can remember, one that informs his current legal defense and the conduct of his administration.  Trump’s new Cohn is his long-time personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who also feels unbound by reality. Following James Comey’s testimony, Kasowitz issued a Cohnian statement that made a mash of the chronology and the facts. As the Atlantic‘s Matt Ford wrote earlier this month, Kasowitz sought ‘to shift the investigative cloud away from his client and onto [Comey] the man all but accusing him of obstruction of justice—a task it does not accomplish.’  Roy Cohn would be so proud!”

Shafer has much more, all worth your time.  But for the future, when The Donald tweets, or speaks, or slanders, delays, or insinuates,  remember to see that devil Roy whispering in his ear.

Trump, Collusion, Global Oligarchs, and the Mob

DR NOYou may recall seeing Clint Watts testify before Congress, perhaps on the way in which Russian disinformation during the election campaign was further magnified by Trump’s reamplification.  Clint is an American counter-terrorist expert, something of a real world Jack Bauer.   You might consider following him on Twitter @selectedwisdom to see what I mean.  Not long ago, he tweeted that, if you want to know what is going on, you should follow the Russian dead bodies – that is to say, pay attention to the apparent victims of Putin, or Russian mob, ordered hits.  Today he provided a link to the following BuzzFeed article, “From Russia with Blood“, by Heidi Blake, Tom Warren, Richard Holmes, Jason Leopold, Jane Bradley, and Alex Campbell.

Here’s their lead:  “For the British fixer Scot Young, working for Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic meant stunning perks – but also constant danger. His gruesome death is one of 14 that US spy agencies have linked to Russia – but the UK police shut down every last case. A bombshell cache of documents today reveals the full story of a ring of death on British soil that the government has ignored.”  Steel yourself and read the full article, but I can give you a quick and dirty.  In the upper echelons of Russian oligarchs, there is little or no distinction between Putin, Russian leadership, Russian ollgarchs, Russia’s secret service, and Russian organized crime.  Deal with them at the hazard of your life.

Now, consider Trump’s organized crime associations.  Zembla, a Dutch media outlet, has been particularly vocal in pointing out Trump’s mob associations.  See, for example, my blog Dutch Report Investigation of Trump Partner.  Take a look at Adam Davidson’s  New Yorker article on Trump’s  organized crime connections in Azerbaijan – see Evidence Trump Violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 

Consider my blogs The Trump Connections and The Root of All Evil.

And consider Andras Gollner’s article on the Budapest connections indicative of direct connections between Trump and the Russian secret service.  See Andras Gollner Exposes Trump.   Take a look at Judith Kaufman’s chart of connections and follow Judith on Twitter at @judesterworld.

Finally, consider the fact that Trump colluded with Putin to win the election and has been insistent that sanctions on Russia be removed and relations normalized.  Indeed, he has gone so far as to praise Putin’s leadership and obstruct efforts to investigate the Russian meddling.

Do your own research.   Russia and the United States are now led by two billionaire oligarchs who are neck deep in webs of organized crime and the associated thuggery.

Sarah Kendzior calls out Trump

trapped-eagle-e1441350775692I’d like you to read Sarah Kendzior’s article in de Correspondent,  “We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump”.

Sarah’s article, written in November shortly after the election, is the best I’ve seen in getting at the looming authoritarian state under Trump.  I’m going to provide a couple excerpts but please read the piece in whole as it was intended.  Here’s part of Sarah’s lead-in:

“It is increasingly clear, as Donald Trump appoints his cabinet of white supremacists and war-mongers, as hate crimes rise, as the institutions that are supposed to protect us cower, as international norms are shattered, that his ascendency to power is not normal.

This is an American authoritarian kleptocracy, backed by millionaire white nationalists both in the United States and abroad, meant to strip our country down for parts, often using ethnic violence to do so.

This is not a win for anyone except them. This is a moral loss and a dangerous threat for everyone in the United States, and by extension, everyone abroad.”

Sarah on Trump’s intentions:

“You can look to the president-elect himself for a vision of what is to come. He has told you his plans all along, though most chose to downplay or deny them. You can even look back to before his candidacy, when in February 2014, he went on Fox News to defend Russia. Why a reality TV host was on Fox News defending Russia is its own story, but here is what he said about his desired outcome for the United States:

‘You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.’

This is what ‘Make America Great Again’ means to Donald Trump. It is how he has operated his businesses, taking advantage of economic disasters like the  housing market crash for personal gain.”

Sarah on Bannon:

“Trump’s vision for the United States is echoed in that of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, a man who even the very right-wing Glenn Beck describes as a dangerous, sociopathic racist. In 2016, a reporter from the Daily Beast recalled this conversation with Bannon:

‘I’m a Leninist,’ Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

‘Lenin,’ he answered, ‘wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.’”

Sarah on the dangers to our free press: “You may be wondering why I am writing a letter to Americans in a Dutch news outlet. It is because I do not trust the US outlets to remain free, and believe that many are already compromised. The mainstream media who Trump proclaims to hate are actually his best friend. They have been all along, promoting him ceaselessly, and they are now rationalizing and normalizing his most extreme policies. Trump tells you to boycott CNN, but CNN’s boss always had a framed Trump tweet on the wall.”

And this: “My heart breaks for the United States of America. It breaks for those who think they are my enemies as much as it does for my friends. You still have your freedom, so use it. There are many groups organizing for both resistance and subsistence, but we are heading into dark times, and you need to be your own light.”

Yesterday, Trump floated the possibility that he would fire Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel charged with investigating  his collusion with Russia.  Today, his perjuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears before Congress, no doubt to obfuscate and perjure again.  Against this backdrop, the Republicans, in private, plot to remove access to healthcare from millions to give billionaires a tax break.  Meanwhile Trump holds a cabinet meeting that is staged as an opportunity for his minions to swear fealty.

Thus Trump’s crass corruption permeates our culture, even as NBC talking-head Megyn Kelly gives Sandy Hook denier Alex Jones a national forum; Alex Jones who spews vile, indecent garbage disrespecting  the young children slaughtered in a hideous assault.

Take note.  Sarah Kendzior has called them out.


The global corporate conspiracy

12185153-oil-pump-rocker-close-to-sunrise-background-stock-photo-oil-well-oilfieldMaybe you remember hearing about the United Fruit Company and the Banana Republics.  Or that adage that what’s good for General Motors is good for the USA.  Both reflect eras of corporate dominance over nation-states.  There’s a lesson there because today corporations are bigger than ever, their assets and incomes dwarf many of the countries in which they operate, and many large corporations operate in global markets.  When you look around the world and see the pressure on the modern democracies – the fall of democracies in Russia and Turkey, the supposed populist surges in Britain and the US, you should stop for a moment to consider what is going on, who has something to gain, and what might be behind it all.

Here’s my take.  As a minimum, independent nation-states are an inconvenience to global market operations.  Nations want to levy taxes, impose labor regulations, and protect the environment in ways that directly reduce corporate profitability.  Corporations, on the other hand, exist only to allow the collective investment of wealth to make their investors richer.  There is an obvious tension here.  And consider if a Democratic nation-state fails to understand that it should be run for the benefit of corporations.   The majority of the population, for example, doesn’t see why health care should be run for the benefit of the wealthy investors, or why the military of a country like the United States should be bigger than its five largest rivals.  They want health care for all, a carbon tax, and support for renewable resources.  Such nerve, such an insult to the bottom line of Pfizer or General Electric or Exxon-Mobil.

Much better then for corporations if those democratic impulses could be blunted and channeled.  If I was a corporation, I would look for ways to control the political parties – facilitating corporate donations to buy elections through a case like Citizens United would be a great idea.  Gerrymandering, voter suppression.  I would look for and support a demagogue, a Putin, Trump, or Erdogan, that could be depended on to be sympathetic.  Above all, I would control the media – so that the nature of the corporate enterprise could be recast.  Our policies are “for the people”, we put “America First”  (Or Russia First).  Like Murdoch I would buy up major media outlets to ensure “fair and balanced” reporting, and buy local stations like Sinclair is doing.

We actually know, from the work of Jane Mayer in Dark Money, that the Kochs, Mercers, Bradleys, and other oligarchs are doing just this.  Indeed what they intend is not even hidden.  What is hidden is the destruction being unnecessarily wrought on the poor, the middle-class, and the minorities who are not empowered by privilege and that nice trust fund.