Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How Conservatives Have Turned Out The Light

Post 2016 Election, it's as if we woke up in a pre-Enlightenment world. Trump and his genie Steve Bannon are medieval in their instincts and their sense of what people should be told by their master and what they should believe (always the same thing).

“It wasn’t Christianity, or religious faith itself in general, that helped make Republican voters more likely to be duped by fake news than their Democratic compatriots. (There were, and continue to be, lots of progressive or liberal people of faith.) Instead, susceptibility to fake news has its particular historical origin in Christian fundamentalism’s rejection of expert elites.” ~Christopher Douglas, The Annenberg Center, USC This article is worth the read. It goes into why conservative Christians are more easily conned than more progressive ones. At least in areas other than the usefulness of yoga for treating skin conditions.

Here's how the Right has rigged the internet, our knowledge marketplace, to steer the public to the Right. Do you hate when people finish your sentences for you? Google does this. When you type in search criteria it has a strong tendency to complete your thought in an angry racist or sexist way. From The Guardian

Why is it so hard to unlearn wrong information and false ideas and distorted feelings like hatred? Because they're written on our brains like tattoos. There are people who know this and exploit it. The New Yorker writes about this problem.

After carrying water for the anti-enlightenment side for decades, David Brooks muses about why the Enlightenment is losing out in the Age Of Trump.

Three reasons I can think of. 1. Stupid people are easier to cheat. 2. Gullible people are more obedient. 3. The rich Republicans who dominate our country prefer dumb, obedient people.

At Esquire.com Charles Pierce refuses to feel sorry for all the Trump voters who got tricked into voting for him and now realize Trump plans to hurt them.

Trump refuses to believe facts and expert analysis that contradicts what he knows in his gut. When he doesn’t like what he hears he demands reality be reconfigured to please him.

So instead of being guided by expert professionals American policy is being guided by the intestines of a man whose emotional disorders date back to his early bathroom training. Steve Benen of the Rachel Maddow Show writes about this.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

We've Seen This Before

The New York Review of Books reminds about the sequence of power grabs following the Reichstag fire in 1933.

"On February 27, 1933 the German Parliament building burned, Adolf Hitler rejoiced, and the Nazi era began. Hitler, who had just been named head of a government that was legally formed after the democratic elections of the previous November, seized the opportunity to change the system. “There will be no mercy now,” he exulted. “Anyone standing in our way will be cut down.”

"The next day, at Hitler’s advice and urging, the German president issued a decree “for the protection of the people and the state.” It deprived all German citizens of basic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly and made them subject to “preventative detention” by the police. A week later, the Nazi party, having claimed that the fire was then beginning of a major terror campaign by the Left, won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections. Nazi paramilitaries and the police then began to arrest political enemies and place them in concentration camps. Shortly thereafter, the new parliament passed an “enabling act” that allowed Hitler to rule by decree."

SLATE discusses the strategy by the Trump/Bannon regime to strip our democracy of powers and vest all power in the White House.

"The rage felt by the president’s critics is real, and understandable, but it also plays into Trump’s broader agenda. His chief strategist Steve Bannon outlined that strategy this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, describing it as nothing less than the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Bannon’s comments this week suggest a darker, more nefarious purpose to the nascent Trump administration’s dysfunction. It may be the case that the Trump team is deliberately failing to staff, manage, and provide resources for federal agencies so as to sabotage and slowly dismantle them. To make matters worse, the Trump team might be leveraging the controversies regarding its disastrous national security moves to obscure and conceal that slow and steady demolition of the bureaucracy.”

The Guardian discusses the Cheney power grab that followed 9/11.

"When he took office as vice-president, Cheney's career in government had been that of the dutiful fixer. He had played by the rules for decades, from the Ford administration on, carrying out others' orders in the bureaucratic shadows, making compromises he must have found objectionable. After 9/11, he finally had his opportunity to put his own stamp on things.

"The new way of doing business was the perfect expression of the "do anything" rationale: the concentration of unheard-of powers in the presidency (and vice-presidency) and the application of raw force against all enemies, real and perceived – to intimidate, to obtain information and to punish."

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Sudden Deaths Of Russians Putin Dislikes Or Distrusts

Every few days it seems another notable Russian dies mysteriously. Some of them appear to be political executions, particularly the Putin critics who are poisoned with plutonium in London. But recently, since the election especially, Russian diplomats have also begun dying suddenly along with the now familiar death toll of Putin's critics. The Russian UN ambassador died this week in New York. Cause unknown, thus far. Then yesterday a Russian diplomat died in Athens, in his apartment, doors locked, no sign of violence, which would ordinarily be recorded as death by natural causes except for the surprising rate of Russian deaths lately and the innovative methods used to perform some of the executions we know about.

Did Putin’s anointing of the new American president open a door for him to learn which Russian officials are friendly with the Americans? Has he gotten a peek at the CIA’s list of assets? Is Putin systematically offing America’s intelligence sources in Russia and elsewhere?

Another troubling aspect of this is the frequency with which Russian journalists and Putin’s critics die suddenly or violently or suspiciously. Putin’s BFF who is now our president approves of Putin’s methods and admires his “control” over his country, which presumably includes Putin’s penchant for having critics and journalists murdered. Trump has begun purging media outlets from their normal access to White House press briefings if they have published news Trump dislikes (inconvenient truths). He has not begun killing them, nor is it likely he will, but Trump’s followers (I wish they would wear brown shirts so we could identify them) have been threatening journalists and experts who appear on television and say things that offend or embarrass Trump, often with colorful abusive racist and sexist language indicating their plans to decapitate them after raping them, which is something not even Putin does.

In any case sudden death is a trend among Russians Putin dislikes or ones he may have secretly decided to distrust, and Putin is our president’s role model.

From the Palmer Report, a list of the seven Russian officials to die since the Trump/Russia intrigue began.

From the BBC, the latest sudden death in Athens.

From TheWeek, the sudden death of the Russian UN Ambassador.

From The Independent, the story about the Putin critic who shot to death on his birthday. No witnesses.

The BBC has the story about the Putin critic who survived one poison attack and now has been poisoned again.

From Politifact, analysis and fact-checking: Does Putin Murder His Critics?

From NPR: the Curious Deaths of Kremlin Critics.

From CNN, the 2015 murder of Boris Nemtsov

We might ask, were these people marked as Enemies of the People before they died?

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Trump's Goal Is The End Of Our Democracy

What does President Bannon want? He wants to destroy our system of government. He wants to fulfill what Grover Norquist wished for some years ago, to degrade and weaken and diminish government to the point where he can drown it in the bathtub. That’s what he outlined in his speech to CPAC the other day. He sees Trump as his vehicle for destroying our democratic form of government, our government by the people and for the people, as Lincoln described it.

Bannon sees structure and rules and systems and fair play and good government as evil. The only government he wants is government by him or someone he can manipulate. This is why there's so much admiring talk about Putin. We may learn, if the Republican Congress doesn't manage to cover it up, that Putin is operating Bannon and Trump. Like puppets, as Hillary pointed out and Trump lamely disputed.

Bannon's speech reported in the Washington Post

Many of these antidemocratic and unAmerican ideas have been there for years, spoken out loud by Republicans. Take the famous 1980 speech by Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the Reagan Revolution rubbishing the idea of letting all Americans vote and deriding “good government” as a kind of evil delusion, what he called “GooGoo.” They thought and still think democracy is a nuisance, democracy is childish, democracy is foolish and evil. They are now closer than ever to achieving their dream of making America a white Christian (sic) authoritarian state.

Video of the infamous Paul Weyrich speech is on YouTube and it is chillingly prescient.

Masha Gessen wrote an article for the New York Review of Books shortly after the election in which she warned about the ways an autocrat degrades democratic norms. She’d seen it in Russia under Putin. The playbook looks very much like the playbook of the Trump/Bannon White House.

Ron Rosenbaum, one of the best analysts we have of the psychology of the Nazi regime, wrote an equally sharp warning about Trump in the LA Review of Books. I urge you to read and share both articles.

Both these articles warn that what a determined tyrant does first is discredit and destroy the news media, beginning with the journalists who don’t take dictation but actually analyze and criticize what he is doing. Which is what journalists are supposed to do. Without journalists reporting the truth we are powerless.

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Trump is our first Caudillo

I learned a new word today. Revolutionary periods breed lots of new words. Actually this is an old word from a bad old time. Most of Trump's ideas are bad old ideas.

The word is Caudillo.

In the Spanish colonies of South and Central America the caudillo was a militarized landowner who exercised authoritarian power in his locality. A tinpot tyrant. A strong-man.

"The root of caudillismo lies in Spanish colonial policy of supplementing small cadres of professional, full-time soldiers with large militia forces recruited from local populations to maintain public order. Militiamen held civilian occupations but assembled at regular times for drill and inspection. Their salary from the Crown was a token; their reward was in prestige, primarily because of the fuero militar ("military privilege"), that exempted them from certain taxes and obligatory community work assignments, and more significantly, exempted them from criminal or civil prosecution. Away from colonial capitals, the militias were at the service of the criollo (white, European) landowners." ~Wikipedia

A caudillo is a petty dictator, but often one of them would rise to the top in a country becoming a tinpot dictator. This was usually accomplished through force, always through threat of force, often with the kind of violent reprisal and butchery we saw in the newspapers. Note the caudillo was always white, whiter certainly than the peasants he butchered. When this brand of politics prevailed we used to refer to South American countries as 33 or 45 or 78 r.p.m. (revolutions per minute).

Political instability is something the U.S. has never been familiar with. We may need to get used to it now. The tinpot/caudillo/brownshirt/mafioso-style leader has never risen this far in the U.S.

I thank James Fallows of the Atlantic for enriching my vocabulary and improving my understanding of what is happening. His Atlantic article can be read here.

The title of his Atlantic article refers to Trump’s habit of treating people in any way he pleases because his power allows him to. “With Such People You Can Then Do What You Please,” i.e. grab them by their genitals. This is how Trump referred to women in his notorious conversation with Billy Bush. Treating women as things he can abuse by a kind of divine right, as if they are possessions or domestic pets. This also echoes the caudillo tradition in various places (not just in former Spanish colonies) where the strong-man had access to any woman who struck his fancy. Sometimes this extended to the prior right to every young bride, prior to her husband. Saddam Hussein exercised this kind of power. Putin’s harem is joked about in bars and now, no doubt, in the White House. Dictators have behaved in this way for as long as there have been dictators. The tales of the Arabian Nights are full of this, as are the tales from the Brothers Grimm. It is a medieval throwback.

Fallows explains how leaders of this type demonize and attack all critics and opponents using all the powers they hold. The president we elect has many powers, but those powers are checked by our system. Trump and his apparatchiks have stated loud and clear that Trump will not accept any checks on his powers. Judges who stop him are illegitimate. Reporters who "ask hard questions" are mean and unfair and "enemies of the people." That is the talk of a strong-man, a tinpot dictator, a mobster, a caudillo with an armed militia behind him. Those who oppose him are put on notice. They are told to expect armed men might come for them in the night. We don't take this seriously because we have never experienced it.

This is a reversion to an earlier time, a less evolved time, a tribal society before there was democracy. Fallows says that the threats against journalists are especially troubling. It sounds like his hero, Putin, who routinely liquidates reporters and editors who disagree with him.

"...what Trump has said about the press and all other institutional buffers on his power reflects a simpler calculus, not institutional but tribal. These other centers of power are either for him, or they are against him. If they are for him, they are good—from foreign leaders who congratulate him...to polls that show results to his liking, to "very honorable" news shows like Fox and Friends. Or they are against him, and if the latter they are “so-called,” “phony,” “failing,” “cheating,” “crooked,” or otherwise to be discredited."

The news media, especially long-form journalism, print journalism, are the guardians of our democracy. They will be the first to go when we are hustled into a dictatorship.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

We need to attach the names to the angry white faces in old civil rights photos

This morning I read a candid and angry argument about these old photos from the civil rights era raising a question I’ve been asking for years:

Why––with all the technology at our disposal and all the amateur archive hunters out there looking for their ancestors and the speed and mass digitization of imagery and the vast databases of names and places–– why can’t we assemble an annotated archive with the names of the shrieking spitting violent whites attacking black students trying to attend school, and the smiling laughing smug proud white folks in the lynch mob photos that were sent by the thousands as postcards to advertise “proper racial hygiene”?

We hunt for every piece of our history with a fanatical interest but we bury this history.

This denial allows white racists to say “I’m the least racist person you will ever meet.” And “My people have never been racist.” And “Racism didn’t exist before Obama became president.”

Of course delusion is stubborn. And rubbing white people’s faces in their racist heritage may have unexpected results. Challenging a delusion can result in violence. It may compound an irrational racist mindset.

But unchallenged delusion becomes dominant. It infects everyone.

Is redemption possible in this? Some, I would guess. But not a majority, if today’s bigoted revival is any measure.

Still, there must be some among those angry white supremacists who have recanted their hate. We need those voices and names too. Not denying it or sugarcoating it but repudiating it.

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America Has Lost Its Political Mind (And How To Regain It)

American politics has lost its mind. There are sane pockets, maybe even a sane majority, but that sane part of America lost control in November. White America got conned, not just by Trump but by Putin and by the third parties Putin helped promote with funding and the cynicism created by his disinformation efforts. In an election won by a sliver that sliver was decisive. And the people who were conned will be hard to un-con. People dislike being corrected. Reason and facts have limited power.

The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the stubbornness of deception

Obama's pollster Cornell Belcher explains how this election was decided by a small sliver of the electorate

USNews on how the liberals and progressives can regain the moral high ground from the Christian Right

WIRED magazine on how Trump wins through the cognitive bias he's a master of

One of the architects of Milo's trolling playbook explains how it has fooled progressives

Hannah Arendt's discussion of how authoritarianism is achieved sounds chillingly relevant today

There’s some hope for fairer elections if we kill gerrymandering. There's this about that in SLATE

Meanwhile, postcards, phone calls, town meetings, daily letters. Michael Moore's TEN DAILY TASKS

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Schlaraffenland is a mythical land of milk and honey and idleness. The kind of thing charismatic tyrants promise the peasantry to keep them docile and obedient.

Promises are a kind of narcotic. Democracies do their own promising but because the people are in charge of their government and have to pay for the things they enact they tend to be less lavish. This self-denial can be redirected to withhold the good life from the people who work for a living and deliver it only to those who own for a living. The wealthy few become the inhabitants of this utopia we meant for ourselves. This has been the end-result of Reagan's sunny promises, a wonderland for the lucky few and a diminished reality for the many.

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Reading about tyrannies past you can find useful words for defining and explaining the current tyranny.

Verblendungszusammenhang: the word used during the postwar period to describe Hitler's "system of total delusion."

Opposition to tyranny is helpless if the opponents cannot understand or explain what they are opposed to, if they cannot understand what is happening.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

The New Normal: Trump Isn't Crazy, We Are

This piece in the Guardian got me thinking. It’s worth reading, even if psychiatrists do tend to get a bit wonky and longwinded.

My eyebrows shot up in the first paragraph:

"Prof Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the book (or at least the diagnostic criteria) on narcissistic personality disorder has penned a letter to the New York Times stating that although Trump is a “world-class narcissist” he does not have a mental illness as he suffers no personal distress or impairment from his condition, which is a prerequisite for the diagnosis.”

Translated into the vernacular this psychiatrist is agreeing with this other psychiatrist that the subject (Trump) is not mentally ill because he “suffers no personal distress or impairment from his condition.”

This should alarm us. He is telling us not to worry because Trump is not a deranged individual––because Trump is not "personally distressed or impaired”––because he is in a position, and we gave him the power, to rearrange reality to suit his own deranged view of reality.

So, according to the guidebook on insanity, if we see someone behaving irrationally we let him alone as long as he is happy and nothing is impairing him? If he is wealthy enough and powerful enough, yes. The word “impair” means to weaken or limit function. What would impair the man with the most power in the world? We obviously cannot impair his behavior. He is impairing ours. So we are the impaired ones. We are the ones who are crazy.

He is the man barricaded in the house with high powered weapons and hostages and we are to believe he is only controlling his situation using the means at his disposal. I have a problem with that. We are the hostages. We are not the people watching from behind the barricades and live-tweeting about it.

Trump is reordering reality to conform to his bizarre mindset. He is using the vast power of our democracy to shut that democracy down because it annoys him. We are supposed to say that is fine? Even in psychiatric terms that is debatable.

There is the other possibility, raised by Trevor Noah last night, that Trump is actually a vulnerable adult, a senior citizen who is being taken advantage of by his guardians, presumably Steve Bannon and Vladimir Putin and the Russian mobsters he owes millions to. Other memes on social media depict Trump as a toddler because his behavior resembles what we have to deal with in small children. I think there is something seriously wrong when irrational behavior is OK and our problem with irrational behavior is seen as irrational.

Trump is reordering reality to fit how he thinks because he can. He can because he is rich. He can because of the vast power of his new office, which he is already working feverishly to expand further. He can do this because we let him.

The psychiatrists seem to be saying this is OK because he is not impaired or distressed. No, we are impaired and distressed. Our sudden impairment and distress should trigger alarms. It’s even got a name: Post Trump Stress Disorder. Workplaces nationwide are confronting loss of productivity and focus because of this. it is not OK.

Post Trump Stress Disorder discussed in Psychology Today

Post Trump Distress Disorder defined by the man who coined the phrase

In November, Jeff Gillenkirk, the man who diagnosed this sudden trauma the nation was experiencing, died of a heart attack. But Trump sails on undisturbed and unimpeded and undistressed.

We are suffering from the president’s disorder. He is not.

According to the best psychiatric thinking this is OK, but how is it OK? I think I understand how this is unfolding.

Psychiatrists are expensive. Only rich people can afford personal service and help. Average people who are acting and thinking in an antisocial and dangerous way are locked away in an asylum but the wealthy person suffering from mental derangement can lie down and get the personal love and attention he needs by the hour and then go out and mess with people’s lives.

Because of who pays them, the psychiatric profession has adjusted its criteria to accommodate rich and powerful people like Trump as if they are normal––thus making them normative. Normal is defined by how rich people behave and think. Since the election the definition of normal has once again shifted and conformed to the abnormality of someone with immense power who not long ago was derided as cuckoo.

Economists, who are also employed by people with lots of money, do the same thing. They defer to the feelings and priorities of people with lots of money, deferring even more to those with more. They have readjusted the norms of our economy to fit this rule. Our economy once functioned in an efficient and useful way to serve the people who worked and lived in it, but since around 1980 it has shifted to a new normal where it serves the people according to how much money they have, giving more money and choice and opportunity to those with more money, choice and opportunity.

To some extent the news media, journalism, is dealing with this same difficulty. Their job is to tell the broader public what is true, what is happening, and what it means. But right now their ability to do so is being "impaired and distressed” by the angry, narcissistic, bullying figure in the White House. Their ability to do their jobs is being restricted. Trump, who seems crazy to many of us, has put them in a strait jacket. They’d better behave or he will sick the FCC on their company. They’d better be nice to him and flatter him and pay attention to him (but only the right kind of attention) or he will sue them or investigate them or encourage his fans to shoot them. Shooting the messenger has been a big part of this presidency already. It was the central idea of the campaign. So we may see the news media normalizing Trump. The media companies cannot afford to fight him and his behaving like a car fire on TV juices their ratings and increases their income. Does anyone criticize a car fire?

What this means is Normal can be bought.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Republicans Block Investigation of Russia Connection, Focus on Whistleblowers

The Republicans are following our founding traditions. We all remember when the Founding Fathers hung Paul Revere for waking everybody up at night. We honor their decision to rat out the revolutionaries to the occupying British. Do we even ask why we celebrate Benedict Arnold's birthday every year? We take a day off to worship his memory without questioning it.

In that tradition the Republicans in Congress, led by Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, have decided to hunt down the people who told us that the president's campaign was collaborating with Russian spy agencies instead of investigating the president's ties to Russian spy agencies.

Reported by VOX

And The Hill

CNN reports

The Salt Lake Tribune

At Politico

Is this diversion or is it a cover up? Howard Baker famously said "It's almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble." In this case it's both. Collusion with a foreign enemy is not a second rate burglary.

Howard Baker was a Republican who helped uncover Watergate. There are no more Republicans like him. Modern Republicans have learned that their failure during Watergate wasn't the crime, it was failing to cover it up better. Covering up is something they have gotten expert at since the '70s.

Shoot the messenger.

What we don't know can't hurt them.

Ignorance is bliss. Consuming fake news instead of factual news is even blissier.

Ignorance is bliss might be the survival mantra of Vice President Pence, who the party is desperately insulating from the Russia treason story. When Trump goes, if he does go, we will be gifted with a man who kept his eyes wide shut for most of the past year.

Deliberate, obedient ignorance is the only way Americans will learn to call their new president Dear Leader the way North Koreans refer to Kim Jong Un. This is how we will become more like North Korea and authoritarian Russia.

Is it treason to deliver our sovereignty into the hands of a foreign power? Or is it treason to warn people that is what is happening?

The Intercept has this take on that.

An opinion piece in the Observer (Trump's son-in-law's publication, ironically) had this surprising view.

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The Republican Drive To Destroy The Environment

Trump plans to run the EPA by executive order. The most ignorant man to ever occupy the White House will now dictate environmental policy.

From Reuters

Republicans have begun their effort to gut the Endangered Species Act which saved the Bald Eagle and the Timber Wolf

Reported by The Week

A bill has been proposed to eliminate the EPA altogether

Reported by CNBC

In early January Jason Chaffetz offered a bill to sell millions of acres of federal land. It was later withdrawn.

From the LATimes

The bright siders say the extremely anti-environmental aggressiveness of the Trump administration and the Republican Congress may galvanize environmentalists.

But why do we need to refight wars? Is it a good thing to redirect energies to saving what was saved already and telling people what everybody has known for the past 20 years?

The world has known about the dangers of climate change for longer than that actually and instead of reaching consensus on it we lost consensus.

Because fossil fuels were simply too profitable and its corporations were too greedy and the politicians they owned were too needy.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Republicans Have A History Of Treason Going Back To Nixon

I keep hearing commentators saying this collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian spy agencies is an unprecedented act of duplicity, and possibly treason.


Is it unprecedented for an official from a presidential campaign to undermine the foreign policy of a president who is still in office?

No. It appears to be a Republican habit. There are now three instances where Republican presidential campaigns have committed treason in order to win an election. The first two they got away with. They won their election through treachery. This time they won the election (or partly won the election) but it's unclear how long their "winner" will remain in the White House. His campaign staff and White House staff already are deeply implicated in a pattern of collusion with Russia and the Russian spy agencies. It now appears the Trump campaign and Republican officials were working with the Russians all along.

Reporting from CNN

Reporting from TIME

In 1968 The Johnson administration was close to reaching a peace agreement in Vietnam, which would likely have swung the election to Hubert Humphrey. But Nixon's campaign sent Madame Anna Chennault, a Republican ally with close ties to the president of South Vietnam, to sabotage the peace effort. Chennault was successful. The peace process was set back by several years and thousands more American soldiers were wounded, maimed and killed. But Nixon was elected president.

Smithsonian Magazine published this summary of the Nixon treason

This was never disclosed to the American people, but President Johnson was aware of it and discussed what he called Nixon's treason with Republican Senator Everett Dirksen. Audio from the BBC

In 1980 American diplomatic personnel were being held hostage in Iran. President Cart was working hard to gain their release, and the campaign between Carter and Reagan was too close to call. Reagan's campaign feared what they called "An October Surprise" that would swing the election to Carter. Stories circulated at the time and have circulated ever since that Reagan sent William Casey to Iran to prevent Iran from releasing the hostages. Instead of Carter succeeding, which would likely have helped him win re-election, Reagan got Iran to hold the hostages months longer and release them as he was sworn into office. Which may help explain the easy complicity Reagan was able to achieve with Iran during the Iran Contra period, when he illegally traded arms for hostages and used the proceeds to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua. Bill Casey, who allegedly sabotaged the Iran hostage release in 1980 became Reagan's CIA director in 1981.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on this story in 1991.

The publication Washington Report on Middle East Affairs reported on it in 1987.

Counterpunch's Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero wrote this summary of the Casey-Reagan-Iran treason in 2014.

(Few remember that it was Reagan's quick retreat after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon that emboldened the various terrorist groups in the Middle East for years thereafter. The New Yorker's Jane Mayer called this episode Reagan's Benghazi, but it was far worse and had far more explosive and costly consequences than the attack in Benghazi that obsessed congressional Republicans for years.)

Treason, once it becomes useful, becomes a habit. And that habit has far-reaching consequences. American political history is well-known to our enemies abroad and this knowledge informs their strategy. They know who to approach. They know from history that the Republican Party will commit crimes against their own country to advance their political advantage. At every point that treachery causes great harm. At each point it surrenders pieces of American sovereignty and strength. Are we to the point now where our entire independence, our autonomy of action, has been surrendered by the Republican Party?

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is This White House A Clown Car Or A Shit Show?

Here’s Trump’s National Security Advisor (sic) Michael Flynn rebuking Hillary Clinton for compromising national security and leading the chant to “Lock Her Up!"

Video via Twitter feed from NewYorkMagazine writer Yashar Ali.

Flynn has now resigned for lying about his phone calls to the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. Why is it OK for a Republican president to appoint a Russian mole as his top national security advisor?

Flynn's ouster reported by the Atlantic

The hypocrisy becomes colossal when you consider that President Trump persists in using an unsecured android phone.

Reported by TheHill, Congress's daily newspaper

The hypocrisy begins to gallop when you consider that top White House advisors persist in using unsecured private servers for their email.

Reported by Newsweek

And by TheHill

And then there was this circus in Mar A Lago, Trump’s pleasure dome in Florida, where the President learned of and dealt with a major global security issue on unsecured phones, reading top secret briefs using easily hackable devices in full view of resort guests and unvetted, minimum wage wait staff and busboys.

Report and analysis from the Boston Globe

And from media website Jezebel

At some point it becomes hard to distinguish incompetence from crime. Is the Trump administration a whole performing troupe of Russian puppets? While Trump parties and photobombs people’s wedding snaps can we rest assured that a professional somewhere is handling our national security matters? Is that professional working from the Kremlin?

At what point does the Republican Congress stop providing cover for this White House, protecting and advancing their own partisan interests, and start protecting our national interests?

DailyKos's useful chart comparing the high corruption of Republican presidencies and the low corruption of Democratic ones

Obama’s administration was an indictment free breath of fresh air after the 16 indictments and 16 convictions of Bush administration officials.

The sainted Ronald Reagan’s administration had 26 indictments and 16 convictions.

Nixon had 76 indictments and 55 convictions.

And now the Republican Party has gifted us with the Trump crowd, an ethics nightmare, a national security nightmare, an incompetent circus. Does the GOP bother to vet anyone? They scream about national security and then anoint a man who appears to be in bed with Vladimir Putin.

It’s only been three weeks and there’s been one resignation in disgrace. How much damage was done? I’m not asking how much damage was done to the Republican brand (which is the GOP’s only concern right now) but damage to our national security, our national sovereignty, our global reputation?

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Monday, February 13, 2017

The Lunatic Fringe Running the White House

Watch this startling and blood chilling montage of White House pup Steve Miller appearing on the Sunday news shows. The kid thinks he’s the shit.

Courtesy of Morning Joe on MSNBC

The looks on former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough’s face and Mika Brzezinski’s face say it all.

The cocksureness of this 31 year old "senior" advisor in the White House is astonishing and disturbing. (Point of context: he used to work for Michele Bachmann. Remember her? She's the one who's excited about the End Times coming.)

Notice the comment thread. The far far right End Times GOP base loves cocksureness, especially when that certainty is based on no information.

Then there’s this damning analysis from conservative author and columnist Andrew Sullivan, who explains, for those Republicans who don’t know it, that having a cuckoo as president is not a good thing. Trump is crazy. He is detached from reality.

Sullivan's The Madness of King Donald column in NewYorkMagazine

And Sullivan in an interview on CNN.

The GOP fold appears to be thrilled. A lie shouted is much better than a lie spoken in a normal voice.

What will the consequences be of the White House’s aggressive shredding of our democratic institutions and the whole constitutional precedent and its credibility?

Fortune magazine is reporting that judges are beginning to fear for their safety. Because they know Trump’s supporters are as crazy as he is and they tend to be violent. Thank you GOP.

The Republicans’ goal is to destroy our democratic system. Make it not work. Make Americans not trust it. Persuade Americans to have contempt for it.

In The Nation

This interview with Timothy Snyder, author of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century“ is instructive. Snyder warns: “We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less“

In Süddeutsche Zeitung

What does non-stop, bullhorn volume lying eventually do?


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Saturday, February 11, 2017

NeoReaction = NRx–––The New Disguise For American Fascism

The new philosophy shaping White House policy is called neo-reaction. (You can make that an ISM if you like.

Or just call it NRx. (Which makes it sound like a skin treatment. Maybe it is.)

NRx is another way of saying Alt Right. Which means White Supremacy. Which is a pure white All-American variation on German fascism.

All of them are disguises for the old idea that the best government is tyranny by rich white males over the diverse crowd of people who do the work.

The Atlantic reports how Trump's main handler and advisor is deeply invested in NRx.

“White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has been in contact via intermediaries with Curtis Yarvin, Politico reported this week. Yarvin, a software engineer and blogger, writes under the name Mencius Moldbug. His anti-egalitarian arguments have formed the basis for a movement called “neoreaction.”
"The main thrust of Yarvin’s thinking is that democracy is a bust; rule by the people doesn’t work, and doesn’t lead to good governance. He has described it as an “ineffective and destructive” form of government, which he associates with “war, tyranny, destruction and poverty.” Yarvin’s ideas, along with those of the English philosopher Nick Land, have provided a structure of political theory for parts of the white-nationalist movement calling itself the alt-right. The alt-right can be seen as a political movement; neoreaction, which adherents refer to as NRx, is a philosophy. At the core of that philosophy is a rejection of democracy and an embrace of autocratic rule."

Steve Bannon is the murderer planning to kill American democracy. Trump is the weapon he’s using to kill it.

Here's another take on the hard right turn, from The New Republic.

White nationalist groups are showing faster growth than ISIS. Says The Independent.

“Donald Trump is a prominent subject among white nationalists on Twitter. According to the study, white nationalist users are “heavily invested” in the Republican’s candidacy. Tweets mentioned Mr Trump more than other popular topics among the groups.”

New white power groups and groups are forming. Some call for the U.S. to reshape itself more like the old Confederacy.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports on the bullish prospects for an armed white interstate defense force across the South. Somebody play Dixie.

"[T]he League of the South is calling for all able-bodied, traditionalist Southern men to join our organization’s Southern Defense Force for the purpose of helping our State and local magistrates across Dixie combat this growing leftist menace to our historic Christian civilization. As private citizens in a private organization, we will stand ready to protect our own families and friends, our property, and our liberty from leftist chaos. Moreover, we will be ready to assist our local and State authorities in keeping the peace should they find it necessary to “deputize” private citizens for that purpose”

They believe suppression of and violence towards liberals and persons of other races and religions is the central purpose of our government.

There is also a growing atmosphere of intimidation and aggression toward people who disagree with the ascendant right-wing/fascist white people who hold power.

If you say or write anything opposed to their viewpoint expect to receive threats. Here's one writer's story, posted by Bill Moyers.

"By mid-afternoon, I was getting death threats. “I AM GOING TO CUT YOUR HEAD OFF………BITCH!” screamed one email. Other correspondents threatened to hang me, shoot me, deport me, imprison me and/or get me fired (this last one seemed a bit anti-climactic). The dean of Georgetown Law, where I teach, got nasty emails about me. The Georgetown University president’s office received a voicemail from someone threatening to shoot me.”

Then, sometimes, the behavior trends towards simple insult and abuse, as in this case (reported by RawStory) where a student at an elite university taunted a homeless man asking for money by lighting money on fire in front of his face. This happened in the UK, where things have taken a similar Trumpian turn.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Toddler Alert

A five year old is handcuffed and detained at Dulles for trying to enter the country legally. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer says he was a security threat.

The Independent reports on the handcuffed five year-old and the threat alert from the excitable White House spokesman.

Maybe this is what Trump is warning us all about. It’s actually true that toddlers kill more Americans than terrorists do. (I realize a five year-old isn't a toddler, but a fully grown president isn't supposed to be one either and he is.)

Reported in The Guardian

Fact-checked by Snopes

Not since Herod has a national leader been so afraid of small children.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Trump Plans To Make Government As Mean and Corrupt As He Is

Why do ordinary people do cruel things? Fear? Possibly fear of losing their jobs. Trump has people calculating it's safer to do something bad than to have it done to you. This is how it begins. This is where tyranny starts, when ordinary people go along out of fear, habit, learned obedience, a kind of secondhand malice.

Here's a story from the Baltimore Sun about the ordinary Customs and Border Patrol workers who did Trump's dirty work for him. You ask why, first learn how.

The civil service today is very professional and honest and uncorrupted. This was not always so. It used to be where politicians paid people for favors. The home of graft and corruption and political retribution. That gradually changed during the era following the two Roosevelts, especially under FDR.

The Daily Beast has this story about how Trump is planning to change it back to corruption and graft. Turning it back into a weapon a president can use against opponents. Nixon tried this, which was one reason he was run out of office. Cheney turned the CIA into a political tool by manipulating its analysis to start a war the experts said was uncalled-for and unwise. (The CIA resisted this.) That war turned Cheney’s former company from near bankruptcy into a massively profitable war machine. (An examination of that story by Juan Cole.)

The civil service may not always be civil. They may be overworked and the long degradation of government systems by Republicans in Congress has made their work much harder to do well. Still they are remarkably diligent and honest and helpful. They see their jobs as important work for society, for us, because whether we like it or not we need the government to do many things. Without civil servants those things would not be done.

It's the honesty and the public service part that Trump wants to undo. He wants the government to be his baseball bat for beating his enemies foreign and domestic. He wants the government to be his shovel for putting millions into his businesses and the businesses of friends. He wants the government and all its workers to be his personal tool.

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Friday, February 03, 2017

We Need Better Tools Of Persuasion

A couple of years ago a high school friend of mine wrote a short piece for HuffPost about the inequities in our criminal justice system––the very disproportionate percentage of people of color who are in prison compared to their percentage in the general population. The key point of the piece isn't the inequity but our difficulty making white conservatives care about the inequity and the clear injustice. This point is important whether the issue is racial justice or economic or gender or religious justice or issues of basic practicality and survival like climate change and good government.

In his piece Gilliam discussed the problem of persuasion in the area of racial justice. Blacks are far more likely to spend time in prison than whites. Blacks are more likely to be convicted and more likely to receive prison sentences and longer sentences than whites convicted of similar crimes. Sure it’s unfair, but for some reason unfairness isn’t an effective argument against it with people who are not directly affected by the injustice, white people and conservatives. Conservatives are likely to reply that life is unfair. Hearing that far more black men are in prison conforms with the entrenched idea among white people that more black men are in prison because they commit more crimes. Even though they do not commit more crimes. Explaining this does not persuade whites who are inclined to think otherwise.

Unfortunately, some progressives are satisfied with expressing a pure and logically consistent idea regardless of its ineffectiveness, its unpersuasiveness as an argument.

We see these inequities as injustice and wonder how Americans can stand for it––if it is clearly an injustice. It has to do with mindset. The reason may be how it’s framed in arguments and discussions and political discourse. In recent decades white conservatives have done a very effective job of creating white unease over the issue of race and religion and orientation and otherness.

Now psychologists have learned that it is unhelpful to counter those carefully created sentiments (that are cemented daily by FoxNews and talk radio) by explaining they are incorrect or hateful or unChristian, which they are.

It is better to reframe the issue in terms the other side is likely to understand and relate to. We aren’t persuading ourselves here. We are trying to persuade them.

Here are the relevant paragraphs from Franklin Gilliam’s piece at Huffington Post:

"In a series of experiments, [Stanford psychologists Rebecca Hetey and Jennifer Eberhardt] report that, “...exposing people to extreme racial disparities in the prison population heightened their fear of crime and increased acceptance of the very policies that led to those disparities”. Hetey and Eberhardt conclude that “... bombarding the public with images and statistics documenting the plight of minorities” is unlikely to increase support for progressive reform policies."

"We have found that starting a conversation with the American public by essentially claiming the system is racist does, in fact, dampen support for progressive reforms. But, and this is an important finding, our research also shows that starting the conversation with the values that many Americans adhere to, and then pointing out racial disparities, is effective in garnering support for progressive reforms.

"In a recent piece in Slate, Jamelle Bouie argues that, “...advocates might want to try different language (or a different approach) in their campaign to reform the criminal justice system.”

"We believe we have identified a better strategy that allows advocates to both use facts and talk about race. Paying attention to values and order in criminal justice reform communications is an important framework for moving public will."

Which is, essentially, the same argument made in an Atlantic piece this week. The Atlantic also buries the gist in its discussion and supporting information.

The gist is: frame the argument in values which the other side already has, like patriotism and faith, instead of trying to prove they are dead wrong… even if they are.

The article in the Atlantic this week can be read here

We need to integrate these findings into how we work to persuade people. Our scripts need to be less about gratifying our own feelings of righteousness and anger and more directed at changing and shaping opinions that are different from ours.

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Supreme Court Coup In Progress

The first question Judge Gorsuch is asked should be:

Do you think it is right to refuse to seat a judge you yourself admire, who has been properly and legally nominated by a legitimate president who won large majority election twice?

Second question:

Mr. Gorsuch, did you know that Republicans in this Senate stated they would refuse to seat any judge nominated to the Supreme Court by a Democratic president? Is that proper?

Third Question:

Does it say anywhere in the Constitution that seats that were appointed by one party belong to that party in perpetuity? Should the seat vacated by Mr. Scalia's death be a Whig seat that can only be filled by a Whig president?

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Trump Unfriends America's Largest Trading Partners––Friends Express Concern

[President] Trump is engaging in a worldwide unfriending. People formerly close to the White House are puzzled and concerned. Asked if Mr. Trump has access to weapons, they said "Yes. Lots of them.”

In a phone call with America’s most reliable ally [President] Trump loudly berated the Australian president and then hung up on him.

Reported in The Age, from Australia

In another phone call Trump threatened Mexican president with US military invasion.

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt seen by the Associated Press. “You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

From the LATimes and the AP

From MotherJones

Earlier this week the White House blamed the shooting in Quebec on Muslim terrorism when it was Muslims at prayer who were murdered… by a white Christian nationalist…

From the Intercept

Canadian President Trudeau demanded an apology. Canada is our #1 trading partner

From The Guardian

The largest percentage of America’s foreign trade is with the European Union. The Head of the EU stated this week that President Trump is a threat to Europe’s future.

From the Wall Street Journal

America’s #2 trading partner is China. Donald Trump has entrusted our national security to Steve Bannon, who believes the US is definitely going to declare war on China.

From the Guardian

Bannon also favors “a major shooting war in the Middle East” in the coming years.

“To be brutally frank, I mean Christianity is dying in Europe, and Islam is on the rise,” he said in January 2016. “Some of these situations may get a little unpleasant,” Bannon said. “But you know what, we’re in a war.”

From Foreign Policy Magazine

Bannon is a big war enthusiast, a war hobbyist you might say. His big idea is that chaos causes good things to happen. He is predicting––and now is in a position to precipitate––major catastrophes and crises. Why? Unlike Dick Cheney, the shadow president from 2001 to 2009, who had to have a war to rescue his Halliburton retirement package, Bannon is planning a war or wars just because he likes blowing things up.

From TIME magazine

Bannon loves war. He gets a thrill from the thought of sparking a major global conflict.

In a speech he delivered to the Liberty Restoration Foundation in 2011, Bannon said this:

"I'm actually energised...You've all read history books since you were kids. And you all think hey, if I was there during the Civil War, I'd be right in the middle of it. Or if [it] was the Revolution, I would be right there. On World War Two...I would be there. I'd be in Normandy, I'd do all that. We have that opportunity today...There are so many people who believe in what we believe and understand when you start talking to them, and engaging them, that we're not cloven-hooved devils. We're not nativist, homophobic, racist, right. But they understand that we believe in what made this country great, and they believe it too.”

In a 2014 speech to a conservative conference at the Vatican, Bannon said this:

“We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that's starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we've been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years...we are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.
"[It is a]...global war, and it is, unfortunately, something that we're going to have to face, and we're going to have to face very quickly...there is a major war brewing, a war that's already global. It's going global in scale, and today's technology, today's media, today's access to weapons of mass destruction, it's going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn't act."

From International Business Times

This is the man who promoted himself to the chairmanship of the National Security Council, after firing our top military leader, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and our Director of National Intelligence. He is merging media, propaganda, national intelligence and our military, transforming them into a personal toy.

If a foreign enemy, say Russia (just hypothetically) wanted to isolate the US and create debilitating chaos that would bring us to our knees, they couldn't have done a better job than President Bannon and Make-Believe-President Trump have done in under two weeks.

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