Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

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No Place to Hide

National politics has  driven  me crazy. A two-party wreck- I simply can’t turn away.   Hearings on parade: Sessions, Comey, Rogers, Coats, Klapper, Yates, Sessions again. Nunes is in, then he’s out, then he’s in again. Mueller’s in, Mueller’s out. Bharara’s in, Bharara’s out. 

Rachel Maddow needs a vacation, I mean more than her week on the disabled list. Spoiler: Fox is not fair and balanced anymore. The punditocracy has lost its collective mind. The front pages of the Post and the Times are wall-to-wall politics, and no two stories cover the same topic. It’s like election fatigue but even worse. With the election, there was a deadline. The only solid deadline  for this chaos is …2020?

Fortunately, there is escapism, which we need desperately. With the NBA and NHL seasons just ended, I prepared for the languorous summer of our other national pastime: Baseball. No sooner than I’ve exhaled, what do I see? Congress has taken over baseball too!  It’s not enough that they don’t do their Constitutional work. They’re out “practicing” for the annual Congressional baseball game, henceforth to be known as the Midterm Classic.  It’s admirable that Members can find a place where they can enjoy friendly competition for a good cause.  Why not IN Congress?  Surfing the news this morning, I see a picture of a baseball field – with X’s and O’s and dotted lines: the shooter was on the third base line and Rep. Scalise was by the first-base dugout, and….AAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!

We as a nation abhor the violent attack on Rep. Scalise, the Capitol Guard and others.  If this tragedy stirs a true commonality of purpose among the political nihilists, then perhaps there is a silver lining. Why does it take a politician being attacked to jolt these twits out of their indifference? Newtown was not atrocity enough? Maybe that meme is right: Strip Congress of its healthcare if you want to see the elephants perform. In the meantime, Members of the House and Senate, keep your mitts off baseball!

 

Making America Great Again

                                          © Evan Sarzin 2017

Breathlessly Awaiting Comey’s Final Chapter

For those of you whose TV viewing will not be disrupted by work today, you will now be treated to a preview of the Soap Opera cum Congressional Hearing known as the Comey Memos.  For former FBI Director James Comey, a pillar of rectitude, a man of unshakable integrity, it’s surprising that his memos read a little like a Harlequin romance.  

Comey writes breathlessly of the first time he met the man he would one day call “President.”

During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.

He gushed about how the President-Elect was like no one he had ever met before.

I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.

This hardened professional, a survivor of the George Bush administration, who stood up to Alberto Gonzalez, Bush’s personal attorney, who was trying to compromise bedridden Attorney General John Ashcroft, felt his knees buckle when he realized that the President was trying to get him alone.

He had called me at lunchtime that day and invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time… It turned out to be just the two of us….seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.

The besotted Director felt powerless, having been cast under the spell of Don Giovanni Trump. Nevertheless, he resisted. Oh, how he resisted the enticements of his pursuer!

My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.

 Comey is not like all the rest. He is the product of a strong and supportive home, a disciplined and religious background. He would not cave in like Trump’s earlier prizes. He’s the kind of guy who always keeps at least one foot on the floor.

I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word….

Trump pressed Comey. 

The President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.

Later, Trump again pressed Comey.

Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, “I need loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get that from me.”

Normally, at this point, Comey might have stifled a sob or felt a clutching in his throat. 

It is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.

Instead, he departed, his virtue intact. He retreated to his car, and before driving off, he wrote the entire discussion down, word for word, so as not to lose a single innuendo to the mercy of faulty memory.  Returning to his office, he logged his recollections in and then told his BFFs  about his trying evening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Comey decided that he could never let himself to be left alone with the President.  Yet weeks later he found himself face-to-face with his tempter in the Oval Office, the President having excused all the other meeting participants. Trump moved in, invading Comey’s personal space. He asked Comey if he could see his way clear to let it go – the “Flynn” thing.  

When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.

“He’s a good guy,” said Trump.

Comey pulled himself up to his full 6’8″ height, put on his stern face and, mildly nauseous, vomited a little in his mouth. After this meeting, Comey would not face Trump again. The President would not relent. He called, beseeching him to lift the cloud of inquiry over his head, to tell the world that he Donald John Trump, was not being investigated. Comey was wracked, pulled in opposite directions by honesty and loyalty.  He could not say anything because he thought it was possible that he would have to retract it.

In a final phone call,  suitor became tormentor.   Trump asked Comey why did he testify before Congress the week before that there was an open investigation, and why didn’t Comey say Trump was not under investigation.  Then Trump added:

“Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” I did not reply or ask him what he meant by “that thing.” I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.

 Less than a week later, while meeting with federal agents in  Los Angeles, Comey heard that he’d been fired, but he did not believe it until he saw the TV news news crawl.  A great deal of confusion ensured about who prompted the firing and the reasons for it. It was Trump, all along, who jilted his FBI director.

Today,  James Comey will come before Congress to tell the rest of his tragic tale. If you decide to watch have a box of Kleenex at the ready.

  © Revolted Colonies 2017

Memorial Day is No Picnic

 

Memorial Day should take place in March, on a cold, miserable, stormy day; it should not herald the start of summer and easy weather.

 Memorial Day is a day of contemplation, not one of celebration. Not only should we remember and give tribute to those courageous enough to fight for our defense. We also should consider those who send children to war in avarice. 

 On Memorial Day, we necessarily look backward. We also must look ahead.

The human race is violent, yet we possess the capacity to live in peace.    The power to endure must overcome the will to vanquish. 

 Let us hope that wisdom guides those who must decide that preëmption is necessary for defense, not for conquest. 

The memory of good men and women of our nation must be honored in the wage of peace as well as battle.


BEAT! beat! drums!-blow! bugles! blow!

Through the windows-through doors-burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet-no happiness must he have now with
his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering
his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums-so shrill you bugles blow.

From Drum Taps, Walt Whitman

 

Are We There Yet? The Fifth Bankruptcy

It’s cold comfort to be right about Trump’s White House being a mess. It wasn’t just me; a lot of people, including a lot of Republicans, saw it coming. It brings no joy.  But all the same: We told you so. 

Trump’s messes are entirely his own. He can’t lay the blame on Charles Schumer, the Ninth Circuit or the Washington Post.  Mr. President, you’ve screwed the pooch but good.  Obama took his time.  Trump acts on impulse.  Personally, I’ll take the guy who measures twice and cuts once.

The latest is that Trump casually disclosed tippy-top secret information to two Russian officials in the Oval Office, filmed by official Russian photographers (U.S. press was excluded), possibly compromising Israel’s intelligence program and perhaps one or more of its agents.  Nice move, sir.  It couldn’t have been more effective if he’d sent it by email from his own private server. This one was so awful, Trump leaked the denials ahead of the stories.

Bibi, do you miss Barry yet?  Our allies should be shitting in their foundation garments.  Trump would give away NATO for an autograph – written in Cyrillic. I don’t know what the hell goes on with the Trump and his fanboy crush on Russian money.  Originally, it looked like Trump wanted to rule the U.S. the way Putin rules Russia.  At this point, I think he would be happy to go back to his Tower and his orange war paint. He is either brilliant or clueless.  I’ll take clueless for $800, Alex.  

Today I learned about the Dunning–Kruger effect.  Dunning and Kruger were two psychology students at Cornell. They conducted a study of self-assessment among students.  They formed a competent and an incompetent group of students. The competent ones underestimated their abilities, and the incompetent overstated theirs. Dunning and Kruger concluded:

The cognitive bias of illusory superiority is the result of internal illusion in people of low ability and of external mis-perception in people of high ability: “The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”

In English now, they were too dumb to know how dumb they were.  Ringing any bells?

Maybe Trump knew what he didn’t know, but thought he could learn it.  He still ends up in the dunce corner, just not as profoundly dense as if he really thought he knew it.  That day he met Obama in the Oval Office after the election, he walked out of there, looking like he had the bejesus scared out of him.  It gave me hope:  a scared Trump, I reasoned, would be a cautious Trump.  Maybe I was hit with the Dunning-Kruger effect too.

One TV guy quipped last night that now we know what happens when we elect a non-politician to high office.  As much as we may despise the swamp, we can’t get rid of it. We can mix it up, alter the ph balance and occasionally rotate the creatures that dwell in it. The size and complexity of the U.S. require the swamp for its institutional memory and conventions of behavior.  In some things, predictability is necessary.  Unpredictability on the other hand and in Trump’s hands is downright terrifying.

 

 

 

 

Hacking the 2018 Congressional Midterm Elections

Voting suppression plan

The Kobach Agenda

It’s not like the White House has nothing better to do than chase down dubious  claims of voter fraud.  There are  missiles in Korea, independent thinkers in the Senate, resolute law enforcement officers in the FBI and dedicated career officers in the top level of National Security, determined not to let Trump create Armageddon. And despite all of these perils, or because of them, he has quietly announced the Election Integrity Commission to hunt down those missing three million or so presumed  Trump votes that vanished into thin air;  acommission of two so far, VP Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The President has announced that this will be a bipartisan commission, but its leadership plainly is partisan. He may eventually find a couple of Blue Dog Democrats to sign on, assuming that they can say to their relatively conservative contingencies back home that they are working across the aisle.

 Kobach currently is counsel to the Immigration Law Reform Institute.  As Kansas Secretary of State, he’s instituted some of the nation’s  harshest voting restriction practices.  In a post-election interview with Trump, Kobach was photographed carrying a document entitled “Department of Homeland Security – Kobach Strategic Plan for First 365 Days.” The paper was seen only in passing, so its contents are not thoroughly known.  The plan rattles off a number of anti-Muslim measures that found their way into the thus-far unconstitutional travel bans.  Nevertheless, his proposed Homeland Security plan does refer to voting registration measures, intended no doubt to keep brown people away from the polls.  

Make no mistake. Kobach and Pence aren’t looking at 2016, They’ve got their eyes trained on 2018, and their commission will be recommending ways of restricting voter access in the midterm elections and after, efforts to keep the Trump voting bloc above the tide line of increasing non-white voters.

Kobach’s efforts to suppress votes is as old as Jim Crow and equally repressive.  This will not be a commission. It will be a nationwide effort to stage voter restrictions in states critical to maintaining GOP Congressional control. Kobach failed to attain the cabinet-level post he sought but will utilize the co-chairmanship of the Commission to spread his message and methods throughout the nation.  You can expect a short fact-finding mission followed by a fully-formed and rigorously reviewed list of “essential” reforms, drafted by legal experts trying to evade the constitutional  equal protection guarantees that have doomed most voter restriction laws to date. 

 

Hacking the 2020 Census

The Trump administration, running the executive branch like a three-card monte game, is trying to pull another fast one. Its next step in replacing majority-ruled government with a permanent, authoritarian plutocracy was unveiled yesterday. As we all chuffed over firing of FBI director James Comey, we were distracted from the resignation of John Thompson, Director of the Bureau of Census, over Congressional refusal to fund the 2020 Census adequately.

The seeds of 2020 electoral manipulation are being sown at the Department of Commerce. John Thompson had been with the Bureau since 1975. He tendered his resignation on May 10, ahead of his plan to retire at year-end. “Your experience will be greatly missed,” wrote Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, as he booted Thompson out the door with his size 9 brogan. Or as the late songwriter Dan Hicks put it, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” So it is with Thompson. Ross gladly will miss Thompson’s knowledge of the logistics of obtaining an accurate census.

By Constitutional mandate the census is taken every decade, and the numbers are used to determine the number of districts in each state. In turn, the number of districts determines the state’s number of electors. The number of electors in each state is equal to the congressional delegation, which is the number of representatives in the House and Senate combined. The seats in Congress are reapportioned based on the census. Then each state legislature hacks itself into districts to match the number allocated by the census. This is where gerrymandering comes into play. Eldridge Gerry, a founder, became famous for reshaping the districts of Massachusetts in 1810 to maintain dominance of his party. One district took the shape of a salamander. Hence, the term, gerrymandering,” representing the manipulation of a district’s shape to affect the political outcome.

If the underlying principle of democracy is “one person, one vote,” then getting the number of persons correct is a paramount concern. Yet, John Thompson was struggling with Congress to get more funding from Congress to modernize the data collection process.

The Republican-controlled Congress saw no reason to upgrade the data collection system if it would cost more than the 2010 collection. That’s where they drew the monetary line, even though the new electronic data collection system was proposed as the investment in long-term cost-cutting measures. Congress was happy with the 2010 results, and it saw no reason to ramp up the system. Hacking the census is another means of keeping American leadership in the hands of old, conservative white men. Some of the House members have requests in to use the old-style printouts to make Snoopy pictures for their kids.

Voter suppression takes many forms, and misreporting of the census is fundamental. Errors in the raw numbers skew the apportionment of representatives so that it is effectively beyond the reach of legal action. In other words, counting heads is a political function. If we get that wrong, the error taints all that follows.

Most of the alleged anti-voting fraud laws enacted in the last few years have been overturned. Still, Congress repealed a vital part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In addition, many state legislatures have shown the inclination to suppress voting claiming fraud as a pretext. The party in power in a state with a growing non-establishment population base has an incentive to minimize its impact on voting. The less reliable and transparent the counting system, the greater the possibility for mischief. No doubt, the Congressional majority would be happy with a back-of-the-envelope tally. So what if a couple of people – or neighborhoods or – cities are under-reported?

© 2017 Revolted Colonies

Mildly Nauseous, Comey Dies of Complications

President Trump summarily dumped James Comey, the FBI director whose  July admonishment of Hillary Clinton and October surprise may have affected the outcome of the 2016 election in  Trump’s favor.  These were the reasons Trump gave yesterday when he dispatched Comey by public letter, shocking and humiliating Comey while he  spoke with a group of Los Angeles agents. That’s no way to treat the guy who helped him get the job. 

Trump fired Comey the week following his testimony before a Senate committee  investigating Russia’s hack of the 2016 election. Comey said that the investigation was ongoing, which pretty much rang the President’s bell.  Comey was on death watch since last July.  The timing of his professional demise nevertheless is suspicious. After all, based on the particulars given,Trump could have dumped him months ago, along with Preet Bharara and Sally Yates, two other Obama appointees held over temporarily and then booted for political reasons. Comey’s takedown of Clinton earned him a couple of extra months on the chopping block. Think of it as severance. 

In a rare showing of bipartisanship, calls for a special investigation are coming from both sides of the aisle. Trump’s standing with Congressional Republicans is shakier than his relationship to the truth. The 2018 midterm elections are not far away.  The incumbent’s party usually takes a licking in the midterms. Because of the Trumpcare fiasco, they’re shaping up as a debacle already. Add the Russia investigation to the mix and you’ve got the makings of epic disaster.

Forcing Trump from office in favor of Mike Pence would be a balm for the GOP but it can’t happen quickly enough to salvage the party’s hopes. In fact, Trump was elected because of the decomposition of the Republican Party. These “halcyon” days of the new administration have proven that Trump is not one to unite the party, any more than he is fit to govern. 

The daily jolts landed to the body politic bear frightful reminders of Watergate. When Nixon’s ordeal finally was over, relieved citizens proclaimed that the Constitution worked. Paraphrasing an AA program slogan, the Constitution works if you work the Constitution. 

It falls to the Republicans in control of Congress to speed the end of America’s electoral disgrace, even if it means Mike Pence in the Oval Office. We would all be better off with a more conventional lunatic running the asylum. 

“You Fucked Up. You Trusted Us.”

Trusted

In a country which calls the championship of its national pastime the World Series, what did you really expect about Universal Healthcare?

What a Difference a Day Makes?

Hillary Clinton sat with Christine Amanpour of CNN recently for a lengthy interview about the campaign. In advance of her book about the 2016 election due out this fall, Clinton took responsibility for a flawed campaign. However, she insisted  that the statement made by James Comey, FBI director, on October 28, 2016, effectively turned the election against her.  Comey announced that the FBI capture of a trove of Clinton email from her aide’s laptop  would cause an extension of the investigation. 

The year 2016 may be mentioned along with  years  when the political culture of the world shifted almost in a chain reaction. It may be a year that symbolizes an epoch. Brexit, the ascendancy of Trump, and the as yet unknown fate of the French presidency are keynotes in what shapes up as a turn toward authoritarianism. With that overview, it is awfully hard to say that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign foundered on a single day, even one so freighted with significance.

According to most reliable  polling experts she was ahead in the two weeks before the election. James Comey’s announcement of an ongoing investigation of her email disrupted the beltway and made headlines running straight up to Election Day. Clinton has good reason to think that the announcement changed minds, but whose and how many? 

It’s not clear though that Comey’s announcement changed enough minds to alter the election result. She also blames Russian intrigue but its reach and effect are still being measured. In any case, the race was close, too close to call decisively especially as voting began.  There were many other reasons why votes might have slipped away from the clearly more qualified candidate.

The authors of Shattered, a history of the 2016 Clinton campaign, argue that dysfunction in the campaign itself, caused in part by the candidate, doomed the enterprise. They nevertheless suggest many other reasons, beyond the campaign’s control, why Hillary Clinton’s fate was sealed. This election will employ historians for generations, assuming of course that History is not repealed by Executive Order.

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