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Sending a message to Manafort



In a famous scene from The Godfather Part II, Frankie Pentangeli, who had worked as a lieutenant for the Corleone family, is set to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Michael Corleone’s criminal activities. The prosecution had “flipped” Pantangeli in exchange for a lighter sentence, but Michael Corleone had secretly arranged for Frankie’s brother, Vincenzo, to be flown in from Sicily. Vincenzo, old, afraid and a non-speaker of English, was totally confused as he entered the Senate hearing room, but Frankie understood what was happening: If he proceeded with his planned testimony, his brother’s life would be measured in days.

Frankie thus made a complete turnaround from what the prosecution had expected. I never know no Godfather,” he told the shocked Senate Committee. “I made up a lot of stuff about Michael Corleone ’cause that’s what they wanted. But it was all lies. Uh, everything. And I kept saying Michael Corleone did this and Michael Corleone did that. So, I said yeah sure — why not?”

That’s how a flip gets unflipped: Apply pressure so great that the witness is willing to serve a long prison time, in order to protect something nearer and dearer to him than his freedom.

We have now the modern-day Frankie Pantangeli in the form of Paul Manafort, the flipper who has unflipped. He was supposed to be cooperating with the Mueller investigation, but instead—out of the blue—Manafort has changed his mind. As a result, he will probably spend the rest of his life in jail. Why did Manafort flip?

We can’t know for sure, obviously, nor do we know if this is the end of the story. Maybe, confronted with the distinct possibility of a very long sentence, Manafort will rediscover the wonders of cooperation. But we do have to wonder why he unflipped in the first place.

Here’s one thing we do know: Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller “to make sure his family remained safe and live[d] a good life,” according to his lawyer. That family includes his wife, Kathleen, and daughters Jessica and Andrea. They had grown accustomed to a rich lifestyle, living in “Georgetown mansions,” wearing “custom” clothes, and driving “lavish cars.” When they wanted out of Washington, they had their choice of “homes up and down the East Coast.”

Manafort wouldn’t be the first to sacrifice himself for his family. But what threat did he perceive coming at them? No evidence has yet emerged to suggest he did. But so strange has been Manafort’s self-destructive behavior (why would a 69-year old man voluntarily increase the length of his prison sentence?) that we can surmise certain possibilities.

He’s being held at a Virginia jail under a “VIP” designation, “the only inmate…with that housing unit description,” which probably means he’s in solitary confinement. But that doesn’t mean he has no contact with anyone else. There are guards, of course, and medical personnel, and Manafort must run into other inmates here and there. Anyone might have had time to whisper into his ear.

“Paulie, I got word from the outside. Your wife is worried about the kids.” In the atmosphere of threats and paranoia in which Manafort now exists, it would not take too many words to convey a simple but frightening message to Manafort: The lives of your family are in danger. Or maybe somebody got to Kathleen. “Mrs. Manafort? Nice to meet you. A word to the wise: tell your husband not to cooperate, or you and your daughters might have some trouble.”

Getting a message to Manafort, in other words, would pose no difficulty. But who would send such a threat? Common sense suggests two sources that, ultimately, merge into one: Russians connected to Putin, and Trump himself. Can anyone doubt that Putin has ordered the assassination of inconvenient people throughout his career? For that matter, Trump is clearly a man who, operating at the fringes of legality, may well have had people bumped off in order to keep his criminal activities secret. Were Manafort truly to rescind his cooperation would be a gift to both Putin and to Trump. Both men have an enormous self-interest in shutting Manafort up. Both are capable, both emotionally and logistically, of killing anyone who threatens them, even if the threat is entirely indirect and involuntary.

This is still a developing story, but it would not surprise me to learn, someday, that someone “got” to Manafort and scared the bejesus out of him by implying the strong possibility that his family would suffer if he went ahead with his cooperation agreement. He is Frankie Pantangeli. Kathleen, Jessica and Andrea (or perhaps their children) are Vincenzo Pantangeli. And so we have a flipper unflipping. It’s the stuff of movies.

When a Republican realizes, too late, what a sap she’s been

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It’s always a bit shell-shocking to come back to normality after a long holiday weekend, especially one that involves travel, as mine did. In my case, coming back means publishing this daily blog, which more than two years ago (September, 2016) I turned into an anti-Trump platform. Usually, the blog practically writes itself: Trump’s blunders, his patently fake statements and tweets, his attacks on perceived “enemies,” the perfidious behavior of his confederates, his obvious and soon-to-be-proved criminality, etc. etc. present the writer with an endless source of subject matter.

But yesterday, after a fairly grueling time spent on California’s freeways (actually, not too bad for the Monday following Thanksgiving), when I got home and sat down to create this post, I was confronted with the choice of what to write about. With so much happening, how to choose? After all, there is

  • The Mueller investigation and pending report
  • The Mexican border crisis
  • The Federal government’s global warming report
  • The Mississippi election and Hyde-Smith’s blatant racism
  • General Motors’ huge layoffs and factory closures
  • Russia’s firing on Ukranian ships
  • The impending Democratic takeover of the House
  • Trump’s disapproval ratings, which just hit an all-time high
  • Trump’s increasingly wobbly emotional state, undoubtedly due to all the above

And that’s just for starters.

But on reflection, I think I’ll write about this little tidbit, via NBC: “Losing GOP Rep. Mia Love tears into Republicans over treatment of minorities.”

Mia Love, as you may know, lost her re-election bid in Utah to the Democrat, in the #BlueWave that just spread across America. After the embarrassing Republican losses, Trump was sarcastically critical of Love on (where else?) Twitter: “Mia Love gave me no love. And she lost. Too bad.”

Mia didn’t like that, so she fought back. Trump’s hit on her, she said, gave me a clear vision of his world as it is — no real relationships, just convenient transactions…I’ve seen the cost of conservatives for not truly taking people into their hearts…what did [Trump] have to gain by saying such a thing about a fellow Republican?”

Oh, poor, poor pitiful Mia Love. She’s feeling sorry for herself, betrayed by the president she defended for nearly two years, whose tax, environmental, voting and other policies caused immeasurable harm to the American people, including those from her Utah district and, in particular, to her fellow “minority communities” (in her words).

Why did Mia Love wait for so long to note Trump’s sociopathy? Where was her “clear vision” before Trump slammed her? As long as she was collecting golden eggs from the goose, she was happy to be a rightwing conservative. From her perspective, who knew how bright her future might be if she stayed with the man who commanded the loyalties of 90% of Republicans? How high was the sky? Did visions of Congressional seniority dance in front of Mia’s eyes? Maybe a Cabinet position down the road? Vice President? Maybe even (gasp) POTUS? Who knew?

There’s nothing wrong with ambition. But every school child knows that you shouldn’t become amoral in pursuit of personal glory, and that’s what Mia Love did. She stood by, letting the catastrophe in the White House wreak violence and destruction in America, up-end morality and ethics in government, lie pathologically, destroy norms, stain the Oval Office by his presence, the whole disgrace of Trump and Trumpism. She did nothing to stop him, allowed the sickness to spread, smiled, showed up for photo ops, and remained a Republican.

Yes, she occasionally told the truth about him, as she did when she criticized his “shithole countries” remark. But far too often, she “praised” him, and her record shows that she voted for his agenda 95.6% of the time.

So it’s really disingenuous for her to whine now about his “convenient transactions.” Reader, did you perceive Trump’s “convenient transactions” a long time ago? I did. His inauthenticity, lack of moral fiber, narcissism, throwing supporters under the bus if it made him richer or more powerful—everyone with a brain saw all of that even before he took the oath of office. Why didn’t Mia Love?

Every decent Republican should already have left the party. Mia Love should have taken a message from Steve Schmidt, who quit the GOP in June, calling it a “threat to liberal democracy,” which it certainly is. Schmidt had the courage to leave the party in which he’d been raised, and that raised him to power. Mia Love did not.

So I feel no sadness for her. I feel no empathy. She’s hurting in the wake of her defeat. Good. Let Mia Love go off someplace for a while, lick her wounds, and find something useful to do. And let every Republican who still remains in office wonder about his or her future. How long will it be until Trump insults and betrays them? How long will it be before the electorate kicks them out for their abysmal support of Trump (as California just kicked almost every Republican representative out of office)? Not much longer, Lord, not much longer.

A post-Thanksgiving report



I was down South for Thanksgiving at my cousin, Ellen’s, lovely home in the Malibu Hills. It was really nice to get away from the trump sickness and just relax and have a good time with family and friends.

Malibu, as most of you know, is west of Los Angeles. The city is roughly 21 miles in length and, although most people think it runs north-south since it’s on the California coast, it actually runs east-west. That’s due to the peculiar twist the California topography takes, roughly at Lompoc, where the San Andreas Fault has twisted the bedrock into a so-called transverse position, as this map shows.

Malibu is a delightful place to live, as anyone knows who’s ever been there, but it is not without its problems. There are earthquakes, of course, but the biggest threats are wildfires and mudslides. Ellen has, in fact, had to evacuate her home numerous times over her years of living there. The last time was in the big 1993 fire, 25 years ago. She had to evacuate again last week, because of the Woolsey Fire (which destroyed 1,500 structures). She wasn’t allowed to return for six days.

Fortunately her neighborhood was spared. Most of the damage was to the west, in the Malibu Canyon area and spreading further west and east, into the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County.

These wildfires are only going to get worse due to global warming. Although I’ve been largely out of touch from the news over the holiday, I did see the big news about the U.S. government’s report on climate change, which calls it a looming catastrophe that we have to address, and adds moreover that human activity is a leading cause. Yet the head of the American government continues to insist that there’s no problem, all we have to do is rake the forests. That man, trump, is singularly stupid. Doesn’t he make you furious? We have got to get rid of him, the sooner the better. Not that Pence is sane (he thinks Adam and Eve and little Cain and Abel played with cute dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden 5,700 years ago), but he’s not as dangerous as his boss. And besides, if he does get to be president, our Democratic House of Representatives will make sure he can do very little damage.

It used to be that I could drive from Ellen’s house back to Oakland in 6-1/2 hours, but those days are long gone, so I divided this trip into halfsies, staying overnight in San Luis Obispo. On the way down, last week, it took me 6-1/2 hours to drive the 224 miles from Oakland to San Luis! The traffic is an abomination. Rightwingers from red states love to insult California and say it’s the pit of Hell or something like that. It is true that our traffic sucks. But I still love California, and especially the fact that it’s the bluest state in the union. For that, I credit an educated population, unlike the people of, say, Mississippi, which is the least educated state in America. Mississippi is also the state with the fattest population, and it has the highest rate of out-of-wedlock births. Oh, and the per capital income of Mississippians is the lowest in the country. Way to go, Mississippi! How’s that evangelical thing workin’ out for ya?

Mississippi also is where they’re having a runoff election for Senator between the Democrat, Mike Espy, and the Republican, Cindy “KKK” Hyde-Smith, the segregationist, who will probably win. Trump, of course, is campaigning for the racist. Since he’s a racist himself, the son of a member of the Ku Klux Klan, that’s only natural. If reincarnation is real, I hope trump comes back as a black man. A gay black man. A trans gay black man.

I saw three movies in L.A.: Widows, which I didn’t like. The acting was stunning but the script was all over the place. If Beal Street Could Talk was really good; the more I think about it, the more I admire it. The best was Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow, such fun. Rotten Tomatoes has been tough on it, but the box office is shattering records.

I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving as much as I did! More tomorrow.

The Catholic alt-right: Violence and death threats in the name of Jesus



As much as I loathe Donald Trump, the man, and his policies, I will give him credit for one thing—although it was inadvertent on his part: He has shined a glaring light on the darkest abscesses of the culture, where hate groups proliferate like cockroaches.

We always knew these groups exist. But they seemed so fringe that we didn’t worry about them. With the rise of Trumpism, however, these hate groups have been given permission to vocalize their message of terror, in a way they never did before. And that’s a good thing for decent Americans: you can’t fight something you can’t see.

I’ve been accused on social media of being anti-Christian, but that’s just another lie from the Trumpists. I’m not. But I am against the religio-fascist wing of the Christian-Republican-Trump Party that is violently anti-LGBTQ; indeed, the more I learn of these people, the more concerned I become. And I learned a lot yesterday, with this report from NBC News, “How the Catholic ‘alt-right’ aims to purge LGBTQ members from the church.”

It describes the war—one of violence, intimidation and Hitlerian madness–against LGBTQ people that is gathering momentum within full sight, and possibly the collusion, of the most fascist elements within the Vatican, who may or not not include Pope Francis (who really knows?).

The article makes frightening reading. You probably heard the other day how Trump has gone to war with his own Republican Chief Justice, John Roberts, because Roberts is not (in Trump’s view) sufficiently radical, in an alt-right sense. Well, these rabid, Catholic homophobes have declared war on their own Pope, Francis, for his “Who am I to judge?” remark concerning gays. They want every single gay, Lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholic hunted down and purged. They also want any Catholic who shows any tolerance for LGBTQ people hunted down and purged. And this, they do in the name of their Jesus.

Their methods are the same as the Nazis: terror, spying, snitching , blackmailing and punishing those they deem criminals. And what are the criminal acts they wish to expunge? Here are a few examples cited in the article:

  • Scores of Catholic church employees who were fired after being outed as gay or gay-friendly
  • A man who was fired by the Diocese of Cleveland after he “liked” a Facebook post about a gay wedding
  • A Florida teacher forced the resign from her Catholic high school after the became engaged to her partner
  • A San Diego man who had to resign from his job at a parish after receiving death threats, harassing letters and having his tires slashed as a result of his marriage to another man
  • A group of Dominican nuns in Milwaukee who had to hire security guards to protect them after they hosted a retreat for gay clergy

It’s worth your while to read the whole NBC article so you can appreciate in depth how serious a threat this alt-right wing of the Catholic Church is—not only to LGBTQ people but to our basic American values of diversity and inclusion. And presiding over this threat, like a dark, evil genie, is the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, encouraging the violence and hatred, egging his worshippers on through dog whistles and outright lies, making who-knows-what promises behind the scenes to the haters, following the entire disgusting game on social media, and making who-knows-what pacts with who-knows-what entities he himself worships?

Yes, it’s come to this: I have slowly, disbelievingly come around to the conclusion that Trump may in fact have made a Faustian deal with the Dark Side. I’m no conspiratorialist. I don’t even really believe in “the Devil” or “Satan” or anything like that. I was raised a Jew, and, except for crazy elements in Judaism, like Chabad, most Jews think these Christian fantasies of Hell and diabolic beings are ridiculous, maybe even signs of mental illness.

But when I look around the world, it’s clear that there is a “force” (for want of a better word)l that prompts some people toward murder, torture, the commission of evil, awful acts. I don’t have a name for that force. I don’t know what it is or where it comes from or why it’s so entrenched. But it does exist, and I have to believe that throughout history some people have worshipped it and made (as I said) Faustian deals with it: “Give me power and I will do your bidding.” I’m afraid of that force: I think many sane people are. I don’t engage with it or indulge it, and I don’t even like movies that depict it. But I think I know someone who isn’t afraid of it, who welcomes it, perhaps during his famous late-night Twitter sessions. That person is the President, and I think these alt-right Catholic monsters are his legions of flying monkeys, similarly in thrall to something dark.

The Catholic Church is in a very precarious situation in America and many Western countries because of its history and cover-up of child molestation by priests. Any normal corporation would already have been shut down for engaging in such a persistent pattern of criminal felonies. But the Catholic Church is, of course, very rich and powerful, and has been able to ward off threats to it, mainly through paying Court settlements to victims. This alt-right Catholic phenomenon, however, may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and finally puts the Church out of business, or at least forces a schism. At the center of this controversy, naturally, is Pope Francis. He paints a picture of himself as a wise, compassionate moderate: “Who am I to judge” is one of the most famous utterances by a Pope in history.

But we have to judge him by his actions, not his words. Neither Francis nor his Vatican regime has lifted a finger to stop this alt-right madness in their own ranks. By their silence, they aid and abet it. The situation is no longer tolerable. You may not have experienced the alt-right Catholics yourself, but believe me, they’re out there in the hundred of thousands, burrowing into parishes and dioceses, fostering theocratic fascism and violence, in Jesus’s name.

If you’re Catholic, and you love your Church, you must—repeat, must speak out against the Catholic alt-right, as often as you can, and to whomever has the ability to stop it.

All will not be well



With the POS in the White House, and his blubbering accomplices on the far right crazier than ever, it may not seem like there’s much to be happy for this Thanksgiving.

I’m not going to lie and say “All is well, don’t worry, be happy.” All is not well. All may not be well anytime soon—and things could get decidedly worse. My biggest concern is that Mueller reports extensive criminal behavior by Trump, Trump Jr., possibly Jared and who knows who else—and then Trump declares Mueller a Communist Islamic Terrorist Hillary-loving Liberal whom no one should believe and who moreover should be imprisoned—and Trump’s base buys it bigtime, stages immense open-carry rallies, and threatens massive civil unrest if anyone—Congress, the Justice Department—attempts any move against him.

What then?

Well, we’ll cross about that bridge when we get to it. But it’s not too soon to think about it. In times of crisis, each citizen is called upon to do his duty, as he or she sees fit. And our duty, as Americans, is to protect the Rule of Law, for which centuries of our forebears fought and died.

I wish you all a safe, happy Thanksgiving Day.


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