Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Russia Card in Trump's Deck (or is it the Trump card in Putin's deck?)

Was the hacking of the DNC's private emails done by Russian hackers? It's more than a rumor.

The DC political newspaper The Hill reported on this story the other day.

As did the Daily Beast.

Trump admires Nixon, but when it came to dirty tricks Nixon hired domestic thugs.

Donald Trump invites Russian mobsters and friends of Russian dictator Putin to do his ratf***ing for him. He offshores everything.

That’s what the FBI is saying happened to the private emails of the Democratic National Committee.

Trump’s “friendship” with Putin is a real thing. Josh Marshall lays out the disturbing aspects of it here. Trump has relied on the Russians the way the beleaguered business owner relies on the loan sharks and their mobster pals.

1. All the other discussions of Trump's finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.

2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. Here's a good overview from The Washington Post, with one morsel for illustration ...
Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

3. One example of this is the Trump Soho development in Manhattan, one of Trump's largest recent endeavors. The project was the hit with a series of lawsuits in response to some typically Trumpian efforts to defraud investors by making fraudulent claims about the financial health of the project. Emerging out of that litigation however was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan. Most attention about the project has focused on the presence of a twice imprisoned Russian immigrant with extensive ties to the Russian criminal underworld. But that's not the most salient part of the story. As the Times put it,

"Mr. Lauria brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a “strategic partner,” along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt."

Another suit alleged the project "occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia."

Sounds completely legit.

Read both articles: After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. As I noted above, Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks with the exception of Deutschebank, which is of course a foreign bank with a major US presence. He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.

Trump's tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. And in case you're keeping score at home: no, that's not reassuring.

4. Then there's Paul Manafort, Trump's nominal 'campaign chair' who now functions as campaign manager and top advisor. Manafort spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. Yanukovych was and remains a close Putin ally. Manafort is running Trump's campaign.

5. Trump's foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you're not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the US President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom's role in the Russian political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin's policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.

6. Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump. As Frank Foer explains here, this fits a pattern with how Putin has sought to prop up rightist/nationalist politicians across Europe, often with direct or covert infusions of money. In some cases this is because they support Russia-backed policies; in others it is simply because they sow discord in Western aligned states. Of course, Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, not only in the abstract but often for the authoritarian policies and patterns of government which have most soured his reputation around the world.

7. Here's where it gets more interesting. This is one of a handful of developments that tipped me from seeing all this as just a part of Trump's larger shadiness to something more specific and ominous about the relationship between Putin and Trump. As TPM's Tierney Sneed explained in this article, one of the most enduring dynamics of GOP conventions (there's a comparable dynamic on the Dem side) is more mainstream nominees battling conservative activists over the party platform, with activists trying to check all the hardline ideological boxes and the nominees trying to soften most or all of those edges. This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump's backing but because he simply didn't care. With one big exception: Trump's team mobilized the nominee's traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. For what it's worth (and it's not worth much) I am quite skeptical of most Republicans call for aggressively arming Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. But the single-mindedness of this focus on this one issue - in the context of total indifference to everything else in the platform - speaks volumes.

So is Trump in bed with America’s most dangerous superpower enemy? There’s hard evidence and circumstantial evidence that Trump has either asked for the help of Russian spies and mobsters or they have decided that backing him is the best way to destroy us.

Nixon at least employed domestic burglars. Trump offshores everything. If he promises to create jobs why not criminal hacking jobs? There are a lot of smart cynical jobless young Americans who will do anything to pay down their college debt. Why not hire American? The Russians must have made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They do that when you owe them lots of money.

The word Treason should be in some of the headlines about him, but that’s a hard word for front page editors to spell. They’ve backed off on similar treasons in the past.

Really? Have we seen treasonous behavior like this in a presidential campaign?

Actually yes. When Nixon sabotaged the tentative Vietnam peace agreement in 1968. (The war lasted another five years and killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of American soldiers.)

Politico reported on the Nixon treason here. Even George Will says it happened and it was treason.

Nixon's more famous dirty tricks occurred in 1972, when Nixon hired his own burglars to break into the Democratic committee headquarters in the Watergate. They made a movie about it. It's quite good.

And then there was the time in 1980 when the Reagan campaign persuaded the Ayatollah to hold the 44 American hostages until after he was sworn into office. (Members of the foreign service have been in far greater danger from Republicans than Democrats. They see diplomats in danger as a political opportunity.) Ayatollah? Iran? Enemies? The Reagan team was very chummy with them.

Reported in TruthOut.

And by WRMEA here.

And then there was the period when Reagan’s people traded weapons with terrorists in the Middle East and used the proceeds to finance terrorists in Central America. Iran Contra broke federal laws and resulted in many top level indictments and guilty pleas in the Reagan administration. (There have been no similar indictments much less prison terms during Obama’s presidency…much to Republicans’ chagrin.)

Going back further, to 1933 (not during a presidential campaign but after they lost) a group of Wall Streeters and industrialists tried to hire a retired general to overthrow FDR.

The BBC, perhaps the greatest and most reliable source of global news, reported on it in a documentary.

Here's another BBC link to that story.

Treason. It’s an old Republican tradition.

Trump has been very open about what world leaders he admires. Saddam Hussein. Putin. Kim Jong Un of North Korea. All ruthless dictators with no scruples and no respect for human life or democratic principles. Gangsters in charge of nations. Criminals with armies and security police under their command. That is the direction Trump would like to take us.

So if you kind of don’t like Hillary and “want to send a message”... consider the message you’re sending.

If you’re frustrated with how dysfunctional our political system is… consider how it got that way. It got that way because on the day Barack Obama was sworn into office all of the Republican leaders and their strategists got together and vowed to derail and block and oppose every single thing the new president proposed. They ended up opposing quite a few things they’d supported previously. With the ObamaCare system they opposed key elements that originated at their own think tank, the Heritage Foundation. (As Trump would say, compromise is for losers.)

For the past eight years Republicans have done their best to make democracy fail. Of course you’re angry.

So why hand over government to the party that made democracy fail?

It’s like the Chris Rock bit from a couple of years ago. “I’m angry at Obama because he didn’t cure Cancer. So you know what? I’m gonna vote for Cancer!”

How dumb are we?

This could explain why the Russians see us as a ripe pigeon ready for them to pull apart.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Your Daily Trump: Republican Convention Edition

As the white mob known as the Republican Party gathers in Cleveland, let's take a few moments to consider their new standard-bearer, Donald Trump.

Let's begin with the episode where Trump mocks a reporter with disabilities.
Klassy with a KKK.

Reported by MotherJones.

Here's a useful list of the ugly facts about Donald Trump. They had to stop at 141 because of space.


Some of our most respected historians break their rule about commenting on current political figures to deplore and condemn Donald Trump. Why? Because they think he is a danger to our nation.

Ken Burns, David McCullough and others launched a Facebook page to make their concerns public.

This is the alternative. In a few decades’ time historians may look back and wonder what possessed us. Has America lost its mind?

Historian Ian Kershaw revisits the failure of news media at the time to recognize and fully report the ugly truth about Adolf Hitler. In the Guardian.

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Ghetto Idea Is Enjoying A Renaissance

I came across a disturbing story on NPR today. It describes how the poor can be conveniently put in a box and forgotten.

By divvying people into rich (good people) and poor (bad people) conservatives can justify their greed and their habit of looking at people’s vulnerabilities as business opportunities.

But outside of nailing them to make their profits, the rich conservatives would rather pretend poor people don’t exist. They’ve been lucky and they seek to insulate themselves from the unlucky people.

Many of the less fortunate have gotten that way after encountering the sharp edge of rich people’s business schemes or political policies. But it’s hard to blame the rich. They can’t help themselves. Maximum profit and minimum responsibility is their religion.

The rich conservatives would like to avoid all responsibility for other people. Other people are there to profit from but never to be helped or looked out for. They’d rather put them on an ice floe and send them out to sea.

This selfishness has penetrated down into the working middle classes, whose margin of financial security has gotten thin. People in the striving middle classes are taught to emulate the rich in order to achieve financial security. Join the club by rejecting the poor.

We’ve become a selfish, uncaring society. Recent policies make poverty inevitable, inescapable and perpetual. These policies have mostly emerged from conservative and libertarian circles.

They put it more gently, but the philosophy is basically this: “I’ve got mine, fuck you.”

Oh, and "Praise Jesus."

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Your Pre Convention Dose of Trump

An Evangelical TV preacher likes Trump better than Jesus...


Donald Trump’s lies are so fast and numerous that fact checking can’t stop them quickly enough. Trump is like a massive infection we can’t fight off.

From VOX

Trump is so dishonest and so corrupt and so self-centered and so contradictory and so inexperienced and immature…. that a number of noted historians have broken their longstanding rule and decided to speak out about a political figure before he is dead.

From the New York Times

There are Republicans who think Trump cannot win. But most of them are hedging their bets by sleeping with Trump occasionally when he phones them and promises to be gentle.

From Vanity Fair

The GOP platform calls for selling off National Forest and National Parks. Come on Big Oil and Big Timber!

From Think Progress

The platform is also saying coal isn’t dirty at all.


Is it possible that Trump is involved in more massive criminal activity than any candidate in history? A huge tax fraud case has just emerged, and his family is involved.

From David Cay Johnston in The Daily Beast

Trump’s and Pence’s tax policies would make every state as backward and decaying as Kansas and all the other low tax states.

From the Tax Policy Center

Some of Mike Pence’s choicest and stupidest newspaper bloviation. (Pence says CO2 from burning fuels can’t be the cause of increased global temperatures because it “is a naturally occurring phenomenon in nature…” And this one: “Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”)


A thoughtful piece from the New Yorker. As if thoughtful writing will save us from this juggernaut.

From Adam Gopnick

This kind of TV ad might work. It shows kids watching Trump’s various outrageous and obscene moments on camera. Of course the Trump voter doesn’t give a damn about his kids.

From the Hillary campaign, via DailyKos

The ACLU is calling Trump a clear and present danger. (Sounds of cheering from the conservatives who despise the Bill of Rights.)

In the Washington Post

Donald Trump has ended the deplorable dog-whistle racism of Reagan and Bush's Republican Party. He has replaced it with outright racism shouted into a microphone.

From the Guardian

Earlier this week Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke out about Trump and was criticized for violating the sanctity of our non-political Supreme Court. You know the one where Sandra Day O’Connor said a Gore presidency would be a disaster and then overturned his election.

From Dahlia Lithwick at SLATE

(I’m sure there were judges in Weimar Germany who spoke up about Hitler and were criticized for it too.)

Of course Supreme Court Justices have gotten political before. A few cases here:

From NBCNews

Samantha Bee explains what Trump/Pence’s new logo means


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Saturday, July 09, 2016

The NRA is a Dangerous Terrorist Organization

"In a 1995 fund-raising letter, the executive vice-president of the N.R.A., Wayne LaPierre, called federal law-enforcement agents “jack-booted thugs,” and suggested that “in Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.”

"In Texas, where the police ambush occurred, an open-carry advocate last year urged the killing of state legislators if they do not approve a more relaxed policy. (“They better start giving us our rights or this peaceful non-cooperation stuff is gonna be gamed up . . . We should be demanding [Texas legislators] give us our rights back, or it’s punishable by death. Treason.”)

"At the annual N.R.A. convention last year, the board member Ted Nugent said, “Our government has turned on us.” Stopping short of calling for violence, he urged members to focus their ire on “the bad and the ugly.” He said, “It’s a target-rich environment. If it was duck season, there’d be so many ducks, you could just close your eyes and shoot ’em.””

Evan Osnos discusses the dangerous contradictions of the NRA in the New Yorker A must-read. Worth sharing with a few elected representatives.

The point Wayne Lapierre was making ought to be applied to the NRA, whose members, unlike our police and federal agents, have never sworn to respect anyone’s rights:

“...if you have a gun, you have the NRA’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens."

How should we categorize the NRA? What kind of organization are they? A dangerous one. A powerful one. Is it a religion? If it is it’s a fundamentalist and intolerant religion.

What terms apply?

Calling for the violent overthrow of our democratically elected government… what’s that called?

Rationalizing the murdering of police officers… what’s that called?

Urging people to shoot their elected representatives like ducks… what would you call that?

If the NRA were an organization of black Americans they would be shut down and the leaders would be prosecuted for incitement to violence––at least. But more likely they’d be prosecuted for complicity in murder. Having a white face makes the NRA immune.

The American public is being held hostage by the NRA. Being heavily armed with high-capacity fast-firing military style weapons gives them the right and the power to tell everyone else to shut up and sit down.

The NRA holds America hostage like a repressive religion. Not almost like, exactly like. They intimidate and threaten us the way fundamentalist regimes do all over the world. Not only is their gospel holy and absolute, it is compulsory. In Khomeini’s Iran people were afraid to oppose the regime because they might be jailed or deported. In this country we are told that opposing the NRA means you deserve to be gunned down.

Joke. Nugent and his gun-worshiping friends are just kidding.

Men with machine guns telling jokes are not telling jokes.

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Friday, July 08, 2016

Helter Skelter?

"3 Dallas Cops killed, 7 wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.” Tweeted last night by former Republican congressman Joe Walsh, who's now a right-wing talk show host. This is the kind of embarrassing ugly comment that used to remain between friends. Now it goes viral immediately. Going viral is the whole idea for a talk show host, but Walsh took the crude comment down shortly after his thousands of followers got the message.

We are all miked. I’m sure each time an innocent black man is shot and killed by police there are similar thoughts expressed by African Americans who’ve had enough. Senseless violence makes people angry. But you don’t hear incitement among the leaders of the black community. The marches have been peaceful. The organizers have called for peaceful protest. It is a volatile moment. And again we have white radio hosts calling for vengeance against the President of the United States, because he is black. There are a lot of Americans out there eager to hear that. That audience has been carefully and expensively cultivated.

This idea of “race war” is not new. The Charles Manson "Helter Skelter" murder spree was supposed to foment race war. The plan was shaped by Manson’s bizarre interpretation of the Beatles’ White Album.

But it goes back much further. Back to the mass murder of blacks in their neighborhood in Oklahoma City, and similar violent white rampages elsewhere. The cheerful, boastful, well attended, proudly photographed lynchings of black citizens in the years following Emancipation. Towns used postcards of the lynch mob and their victim as a form of advertising.

It goes back to our nation’s founding. What is this “well-regulated militia” the 2nd Amendment speaks of? The militia was a very serious institution in the South, when all white plantation owners and their white employees were required by law to belong to the militia, whose job it was to routinely inspect slave quarters to remove firearms and whip the slaves found to own the firearms. The “well-regulated militias” were slave patrols. As were the first organized police forces across the South. So the animus has deep roots.

(Thom Hartmann writes a clear history of the well regulated militia here.)

After slavery was abolished the tradition of oppressing black citizens persisted through Jim Crow. In some respects the situation of blacks worsened. When they were slaves they had value. Being free they had no value and were more casually killed or worked to death. Worked to death? This was routine under the Southern penal system. On a regular calendar basis large industries like lumbering and mining and large scale agriculture informed the local police and sheriffs that workers were needed, and those lawmen would round up black men where they knew they would be, often walking home from their jobs or gathering where black citizens regularly met. Charges of vagrancy sufficed to imprison the black citizen for whatever term of work the industry owner asked. Free labor, essentially slave labor. Except the black man convicted in this way was also assessed fines which placed him in an endless round of peonage and debt, often till the was worked to death.

(PBS produced a great documentary about the abuses of the Jim Crow period, which you can watch online.)

So the recent hatred directed at black Americans has a backstory. It has a deep history, but it isn’t just “history”. It’s still around. The resentment over the casual contempt shown to our black president by white Americans. The ignorant questioning of his legitimacy and his religion and his citizenship, much of it led by Donald Trump. The resentment black citizens feel over these routine indignities and systematic racist targeting is not “history”, it’s now. It’s grown worse since Obama was inaugurated. It would be naive to say it doesn’t amount to an orchestrated backlash against the “uppity black man.”

(VOX summarizes several academic studies of the sources and the stubborn persistence of white racism in America.)

Black Lives Matter, you say. The predominantly, overwhelmingly, white right wing in this country responds with All Lives Matter. It’s a cynical response, surely, but what’s wrong with it? These few paragraphs found on Reddit explain what’s wrong with it. Besides the cynicism and insincerity, I mean.

Certainly all lives matter. Right now, though, the way this country has turned more divided and insecure and poorer for most people ever since Reagan was president, a few lives matter a hell of a lot more than the majority of others. The 1% are obscenely rich, the broad middle class is under stress, and over on the other end are the unemployed and the unemployable, who are split between poor whites and people of color.

For fifty or so years, following FDR’s New Deal and further advanced by LBJ’s civil rights and Great Society legislation, America’s working classes did very well. There were still a lot of racial tensions, though, because the New Deal, when it was enacted, was shaped very carefully to put people of color at the back of the line. Not because FDR was a racist, but because a very powerful and senior block of progressives came from the South, where they hated Lincoln and black people in equal measure. That was why they were not Republican.

When Hubert Humphrey spoke boldly for civil rights at the 1948 Democratic convention, the South began pulling away from the Democratic Party. Nixon’s Southern Strategy finalized this by wrapping its loving arms around the racist voter. “Join us! We understand! We agree with you!” The Republican Party became the welcoming refuge of all racists and white identity types, to the deep embarrassment of millions of Republicans who believed in civil rights, and the Republican politicians who’d helped LBJ put it into law.

Sure all lives matter. But whose lives have been shortchanged the most and the longest? African Americans were slaves for several centuries, bred and driven and sold like cattle. Native Americans were driven off their lands and systematically cheated by federal treaty and exterminated by federal troops and state militias. The treatment of American workers ought to create a stronger fellow feeling, a reason to unify instead of resenting each other. Part of the Republicans’ Southern Strategy was pushed nationwide: the clever and manipulative dividing of people, setting them against each other, and then robbing them both by enacting policies that favored the very rich.

The people looted and victimized by the Reagan Revolution ought to come together to win back a prosperous, financially secure middle class. But keeping them fighting serves the 1%. And millions of white Americans seem happy to go along with this.

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Thursday, July 07, 2016

One Lawman's Idea of Due Process

The head of the FBI was on television the other day and he accomplished a remarkable thing. He made both political parties angry. He announced the FBI was not recommending the DOJ file criminal charges against Hillary Clinton because there was no evidence of a crime. But he expanded into a long dissertation on what he, as a lawman, saw as Hillary Clinton's misdeeds. Law officers are not supposed to announce that a person is not being prosecuted and then explain why they wish they could go ahead and hang the accused. How, if this were a properly run country, they'd be able to do just that.

The Washington Post published a pretty fair explanation of how FBI Director Comey's performance was unprofessional.

The FBI Director's press conference did not unfold in this way. But the message was a bit like this.

“We are not pressing charges,” the lawman said. “But that doesn’t mean this person isn’t a lowdown, dirty skunk who should be strung up by the nearest lamppost. We found no evidence of wrongdoing, but we’re pretty sure there was plenty. Just by looking at her we figure that she’s guilty as sin. She’s just lucky we didn’t find anything. This time. What I mean to say is she’s probably a serious criminal, or at the very least recklessly incompetent while being simultaneously devilishly cunning in the way she covers up her wrongdoing, which must be why we didn’t find any evidence of any crime. Still, since I still have a microphone, we’re pretty sure there was some sort of crime committed here and we wouldn’t be doing our job if we ignored Congressman Issa’s and Congressman Malfoy’s hunches and admitted there wasn’t. Just because we didn’t find any crime doesn’t mean there wasn’t one, and probably lots of ‘em. I suspect the defendant would probably have gone on a terrific crime spree if thousands of lawmen with reliably conservative hunches hadn’t spent the past 30 years investigating every part of her public and private life."

“Sometimes you got to be a little cute, a little smarter than they are, to catch these folks, especially when it’s a criminal thing other people do all the time without being arrested or “nailed” as we lawmen like to say. What we have to do in these gray areas,” said the lawman, “is to say it’s OK to talk about stuff, and then after certain people have talked about it to then go in and make it Top Secret at this point. Then we got ‘em. We've got them red handed for committing a crime but only because it wasn’t actually a crime when they did it. Again, I am a lawman and know how this works: it doesn’t matter that it happened before it was a crime. For all we know they were plotting to wait until it was criminal and then commit the crime. We kind of know which people are criminals, that’s why we’re professionals. But we have to be quick enough to catch them, which means jumping in before the thing is actually a crime. We did this by having the crime in our pocket, ready made, to fix them up with. For instance, that’s how we catch traitors. Because traitors are especially cunning about this, pretending to be just as patriotic as you or me. Sometimes if we can’t do it this way, it can work just as well to go in and stamp random shit Top Secret. The folks we want to nail are bound to say something or other and then we can tie them in to the stuff that’s been made Top Secret Ex Post Facto.”

Reporter: “Wouldn’t that make a lot of innocent people into criminals?”

“No, sir. Not everybody. Not people we like. Just the ones we got our eyes on. Regular folks don’t need to worry. That is unless they do something we don’t like, in which case they have only themselves to blame. What this method allows us to do is keep a huge log of crimes in our inventory that we can pull off the rack, so to speak, and fix on people if and when the need arises. So those of you out there who feel worried about being caught. Well, that’s good. You should be worried. Everybody should watch their step at all times because we’re always hunting for people to lock up. That’s called doing our job. How do we know someone is guilty? Here’s how you tell. You accuse them of a crime and if they look guilty they definitely are. We could probably lock up two thirds of the U.S. population if we wanted to. Actually we’d like to but we’re undermanned and underfunded, mostly because of Democrats who criminally refuse to raise our budgets the way we ask. Fortunately lawmen and prosecutors are given a great deal of discretion about who to go after and who to let alone. All you got to do is look at which political party they belong to.”

Which is apparently what goes on in some law enforcement circles. It was more egregious during the Bush years, when the Bush White House fired a number of federal prosecutors for not being team players, for being insufficiently zealous in going after Democrats.

Remember: FBI Director Comey is a Republican. He was appointed by a Democratic president to show that law enforcement in this administration would be impartial, would keep out of partisan witch hunting. (And in the grim aftermath of a disastrous Republican eight years there were a lot of witches to be hunted.) Comey's performance rubbishing Clinton must have been done to save his Republican reputation for team play, which, on that side of the aisle, means his highest priority is scoring points for the Republican team. Justice is a low priority. Due process is not a priority at all, more of an inconvenience, an embarrassment.

Various political analysts have done their work and explained why this firestorm about Hillary Clinton's emails is bullshit because the guidelines she followed were the guidelines followed by her Republican predecessors.

Most notably in Newsweek.

And the New York Times.

It's also been pointed out that the Bush administration deleted many thousands of emails. No uproar over that. Deleting emails only became a sin on the inauguration of Barack Obama.

And isn't it ironic: the thousands of Bush White House emails were deleted during their coverup of the political firings of U.S. Attorneys...

Also, there's evidence that the classified labels stamped on Secretary Clinton's cellphone and email utterances were done so in error.

The lawman finished up his candid off-the-record remarks by saying it’s been a very tough eight years. He came close to tears enumerating the difficulties law officers have had to deal with. "Having to follow the letter of the law has caused law officers a great deal of unnecessary stress. They’ve felt inhibited in the exercise of their duties. Having to always be worrying about this guy’s rights and that guy’s rights has taken their eye off the ball and tied their hands. That will change, hopefully, after this year’s election, if we get a president who’s serious about good old fashioned law and order. A guy who'll let the police and the FBI off the leash so they can do their jobs. So they can bust heads the way they like to. So they can shoot first and ask questions later. So they can cook up good persuasive evidence when they really want a conviction. So they can fit people up and jail them and throw away the key, without the Bill of Rights getting in their way. We’d like a president who restores our God-given right to use thumbscrews and water torture and old fashioned beatings when guilty parties lie and tell us they’re innocent. We’d like a president who’ll give us back the death penalty, because the only thing that makes our convictions safe is when a convicted man is dead and gone. Then you’d start seeing a 100% conviction rate like you used to see in the former East Germany and Iraq, and you still see in well-run countries like Russia and Kazakstan and North Korea and Syria.”

The lawman's wish list for Dear Leader of this country has one name on it right now. Donald Trump.

Of course when the lawman assumes the role of judge and prosecutor, this happens.

And America becomes a police state. It already feels like a police state to some people.

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Sunday, July 03, 2016


How did Americans become so distrustful of knowledge and education? We have been swept along in a powerful anti-expert wave for a few decades now. Maybe it dates to Reagan, who preferred folksy to informed. W raised it to an art. He beat Al Gore by being more likably stupid than that annoying smartypants.

It's pleasant to not let the hard stuff bother you, to just drift along and avoid the difficult questions. We were told not to worry our sweet heads about stuff. But it wasn't wiser heads who appropriated much of the thinking role, it was cleverer heads. Mass ignorance tends to be advocated by those who like having a jump on everyone else. Backward people are easier to manipulate and take advantage of. Who can we trust? People who want us to know what's going on. Teachers and the politicians who want better funding of education and libraries, advocates of open-government and transparency in our public sphere.

The “anti-expert” trend: “It’s entirely wrong… It’s the road back to the cave." An interesting conversation in the Guardian.

Here's another very good discussion in the New York Times about our national forgetfulness.

There is a powerful and very well-funded faction in America that seems to advocate ignorance and forgetfulness. We are urged en masse to forget history, which means forgetting the lessons of history. There are groups busily rewriting and erasing inconvenient and embarrassing parts of history, sanitizing it, making it more uniform and simpleminded and patriotic and pro-business, a history book written by the Chamber of Commerce. We are urged to doubt the multifariousness and endless debate of science. Why? Because some powerful people would prefer a blank slate, people with vacant minds that can be filled in whichever way will enable these powerful people achieve their goals. Their idea is a vast receptive and gullible public led by one unquestioned authority that keeps all the information to itself.

In this devious and subversive way the widespread carefully planted fear of elitism enables a small elite to have a monopoly on good information. In a perverse way, the very strength of expert science, its diversity and multiplicity, is used to discredit it. Science is many expert intelligences working at once. The lay public is being trained to distrust the experts. When in doubt throw up your hands and wait to be told what to do. Anti-intellectualism has created a strange kind of rebelliousness, one that likes to be obedient to simple, clear, undetailed commands. An individuality that prefers to belong to an obedient mob adhering to a uniform and unchanging set of ideas.

One odd example of this pre-enlightenment mindset sits on our Supreme Court. (The New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin writes about it here.) Clarence Thomas sees and administers justice as a set of biblical foregone conclusions. Anything that upsets his fixed ideas is evil. He is an “Originalist”, which means he believes in the absolute truth of the Founding Documents. Those documents, including his bible, the Constitution, believed that people like Clarence Thomas were barely 3/5 of a person, not really fully human, certainly not entitled to citizenship, whose proper place was as property, to be bred and worked like horses and oxen. That is a profoundly intellectualized form of deep anti-intellectualism. Foolishness masquerading as wisdom. Something Voltaire and Twain would have had a lot of fun with.

There’s the view that intellectuals have “ushered the world into a dangerous age of political nihilism.” (Of course anti-intellectuals are unfamiliar with the word nihilism.) There's an article about this in Quartz.

(There is something to this. Socratic lectures in front of large auditoriums tend to leave the ridiculous and the counter-intuitive and the counterfactual up in the air without shooting them down. Because the Socratic lecturer’s job is to leave the answers to the audience. What happens when 25%… 60%… 90% of the audience is taking the questions as answers? In a small room of students the discussion would be lively and the Socratic proposal would be thoroughly discussed, the false arguments debunked, the obvious stupidities would be shredded. This doesn’t happen in the large auditorium or in the ether where every individual stupidity has equal weight.

Which is why we have the inane standard on “news television” that both sides are always equal, whether it’s Science vs. Superstition or Science vs. ExxonMobil or “Did Hillary murder Vince Foster?”

Shawn Otto has a new book discussing the foolish American habit of devaluing science and elevating the bogus. (I think it all goes back to episodes of Mannix and Matlock and Murder, She Wrote where the killer was always the least likely person. It created a habit of disbelieving what evidence and our own logical minds tell us.)

We saw the triumph of unthinking mob mentality in the recent Brexit vote. There were plausible reasons for public anger in the UK, but it was a dangerously thoughtless decision ginned up by fear. Fear trumps reason.

(Scientific American explores the unthinking mindset behind Brexit and Trumpism.)

Unreason has created Donald Trump. The GOP has for decades cultivated a deep distaste for experts and intelligent people and evidence and science, creating a right-leaning electorate that behaves like the foul-mouthed delinquent in the back of the junior high classroom. Their candidate this year is that delinquent. (Reported in SLATE)

Trump welcomes the goofball audience of radio conspiracy theorists, the folks who hate to think but love to suspect. (The New Yorker explores the bizarre marriage of Trump and radio fruitcake Alex Jones... the man who believes the moon landing was faked and believes Obama is a Muslim terrorist from Kenya.)

In the nineteenth century there was an anti-immigrant party called The Know-Nothing Party. Today’s Republicans embrace the same kind of stubborn ignorance. If they dislike something or find something inconvenient or disagreeable it either doesn’t exist or it’s simply wrong from the get-go, no evidence necessary. They think with their abdomen, like George W. Bush did. Often as not their conclusions are fed to them via the radio or FoxNews. And those sources of “information” are informed by commercial interest groups, the corrupt end of the finance industry or Big Pharma or the private prison industry or the gun industry or the fossil fuel giants. If there is some great public need we have to address those corporate interests worry that it might finally roll back three decades of lower corporate taxes. If some pressing public issue or problem is going to cost them money they get busy persuading the public that the problem doesn’t exist. If a problem doesn’t exist it doesn’t need to be solved. (The people who say poverty is a myth, reported at Bill Moyers' website.)

We have a modern habit of disputing expertise, disputing best practices, disputing evidence (not just items of evidence but the weight of evidence), disputing the consensus. This has led to a habit of disruption. (Reported in WIRED.) Worshipping and admiring and rewarding the vandals and the anarchists. Business schools teach disruption as a positive good. It is good to question things; that’s the scientific method. But what happens when we begin to disrupt the scientific process? What happens when we attack the structures upon which our society and our systems are built? What happens when that is combined with the degradation from decades of cheapskatism which has left our systems and infrastructures unrepaired and behind in the routine upgrades?

What happens when disruption is combined with active attrition? Republican cheapskatism has left our public systems unrepaired and dangerously behind the innovation curve.

Take our election system: Republicans have attacked it on multiple fronts. They broadcast endlessly about voter fraud that doesn’t exist, and this undermines public confidence, which justifies various other attacks on the system they despise and pretend to protect and enforce. They have made it more difficult to vote. They also have large corporate allies who design and operate the voting and vote tallying systems. It’s as if they want a broken system. Partly this may be motivated by the companies that profit from “fixing” and replacing these systems, but the replacements are in fact more suspect and opaque than what they are replacing. There is a philosophy on one side that warns of chaos and fraud and suspicion and sinister invisible conspiracies while promoting these things.

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