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Mueller: If worse comes to worst

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There could be a huge, unpleasant surprise at the end of this.

Remember, Trump surprised us all on Election Day of 2016 when, with Putin’s help, and Republican voter suppression efforts, he actually won. Is he capable of surprising us again, by being let off scot-free by the Special Counsel?

Like the rest of you, I’m a pretty good consumer of the news, and I try to figure out what’s really going on with the investigation from the [admittedly scant] pieces of evidence we get from Mueller from time to time.

My latest thinking (aside from the “feeling” that Trump personally has committed numerous felonies) is that no smoking gun has yet emerged. If Mueller has one, we certainly haven’t heard about it. Those individuals who have already been indicted, or have pleaded guilty, committed acts that were relatively minor, or were peripheral to the Trump campaign. Yes, we don’t know what we don’t know, including whether or not Donald Jr. and/or Jared will be indicted. We also have no definite outcome on the Flynn or Manafort cases. But right now–and it pains me to say it–there is some suggestion that Trump is correct when he says he did nothing provably illegal, even if his actions were questionable from an ethical point of view.

So it’s entirely conceivable that when Mueller issues his report (if we, the public, are allowed to see it), his conclusion will be that Trump skirted the boundary of illegality, but never actually crossed it. If that happens, we have to be ready for an extraordinarily violent reaction from the White House.

VINDICATED! will be Trump’s triumphant battle cry. The tweets will be all caps: I TOLD YOU ALL ALONG IT WAS A WITCH HUNT! I TOLD YOU ALL ALONG THERE WAS NO COLLUSION OR OBSTRUCTION! NOW I’M PROVEN RIGHT! As soon as the exculpatory report comes out, we can expect a Tweet Storm of unprecedented magnitude from the tweeter-in-chief, leading to what might be called the Witch Hunt of the Witch Hunters.

And his allies will be right behind him. Breitbart will scream for blood—Mueller’s, Hollywood’s, Democrats’, Hillary’s, anybody whom they deem a traitor. Limbaugh will demand that Democratic heads roll. The Republican Senate, already deeply compromised, will go to war with the Democratic House.

And what of that House? Democratic morale will collapse. The Adam Schiffs, Eric Swalwells, et al., who have been T.V. stalwarts in the anti-Trump Resistance, will find themselves embarrassed, reduced to sputtering protest. With a get-out-of-jail-free card, a victorious and vindictive Trump will be at the height of his powers—bloodied and battered, for sure, but ready to lick his wounds and march back into the arena, intent on extracting vengeance. And his legions of poor, white, rural followers will be emboldened as never before.

This is admittedly a worst-case scenario. But it’s a plausible one. There is of course an opposite one: that the Mueller report is highly condemnatory of Trump. That is what Democrats hope and pray for. And then, as is usual with clashingly different potential outcomes, there is the possibility of some wishy-washy middle ground: Mueller ultimately cannot determine if Trump committed specific crimes, because potential witnesses take the Fifth Amendment, or they live abroad and cannot be subpoenaed, or the documentation has been lost or destroyed or never existed. This would be the most unsatisfactory development of all: neither side would like it, because it would leave the whole issue hanging fire. Democrats would insist on digging deeper (which they would have the ability to do in the House). Senate Republicans would refuse to cooperate with any further investigations, and accuse Democrats of only trying to hurt Trump based on the hatred of “the mob” or a dozen angry Democrats. The end result: more stalemate. And before you know it, we’re into the 2020 election cycle.

The mood of Democrats is key. Despite reports of “pro-Impeachment” versus “anti-Impeachment” sentiment in the newly elected House, Democrats around the country remain enormously angry at Republicans, and especially at Trump. The Blue Wave which captured the House (and it was a Blue Wave, no matter how much Republicans deny it) was fine recompense for nearly two years of slander against Democrats (three years, if you count the campaign and the run-up to it).

But the piper has not yet been paid. Democrats, deeply wounded by and resentful of the non-stop horrors they’ve witnessed from the Republican Party and its president—horrors that continues to this very moment–demand more. They—we—want nothing less than tit-for-tat, karmic payback: Trump’s job and reputation, for starters. We want the prosecution of Donald Jr. and Jared. We want his remaining supporters in the Congress driven from office. We want the Republican Party entirely purged of extremist, evangelical-white supremacist elements. We want to see the McConnells pilloried before the Bar of History. We want to see Republican voters confused, frustrated, lost. We want Breitbart, the NRA, the anti-choice and homophobic wing of the Christian party broken and crushed. That sounds pretty rough, I realize; but what Trump and Trumpism have put America through has been simply terrible. Democrats will not settle for crumbs, not this time.


The George H.W. Bush Memorial: Nobody Wanted Trump There

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The Bush family made sure Trump kept his mouth shut at yesterday’s memorial service for George H.W., at Washington’s National Cathedral. Has there been any service for a deceased president in our nation’s entire history, when a sitting president was not allowed to deliver public remarks? I can find none.

And then there was John McCain’s memorial service, which the McCain family didn’t even invite Trump to. And those two men—George H.W. Bush and John McCain—were Republicans!

How will history account for this phenomenon of—let’s call it what it is–complete, utter disrespect? We here today understand that the two families loathe Trump, and consider him a disgrace, not only to the presidency but to American politics. Not inviting him to a memorial service, and not letting him speak at one, are forms of the middle finger given to a thoroughly disreputable bastard. There’s no sugar-coating it.

The Bush and McCain families, of course, have nothing to fear from the infamously vindictive, retaliatory Trump. None of them currently holds public office. Trump can hurt none of them. Isn’t it telling how powerful Republicans who aren’t afraid of losing their jobs (Floyd Flake, for example) stand up to him, while those who have jobs to protect lack the courage and decency to do so? As examples of the latter group, I cite every Republican Senator and representative, every Republican governor, every Republican state legislator, every smalltime Republican elected official across this great land, from D.A. to dog catcher. You can divide Republican politicians into two groups: a small one that speaks the truth, and a big one that lies and covers itself in shame.

It must hurt Trump, this public, undeniable rebuke. He’s a rationalizer, a guy who refuses to recognize reality if it’s in the least derogatory to him, who can convince himself that up is down and day is night, if it helps him look in the mirror without wincing. But in some deep-down place in his mind, he must know how hated he is, how much he has failed in this, the most enormous test of his life. When does this realization strike hardest? In the middle of the night, in his big bed, sans Melania, as he tries to fall asleep and can’t, but tosses and turns, for all the nightmarish thoughts swarming in his head. That would be my guess: the middle of the night, when the ego’s censor is relaxed, and the phantoms of the id slither forth, whispering, in unfiltered honesty, J’accuse. This is when Trump most clearly has to confront his own loathsomeness. This is when, irritable and exhausted, he raises his fleshy bulk from the bed, wanders over to his laptop, and tweets.

By the next morning, of course, he’s back to his old self. Another day, another round of lies, insults, smears, dog whistles to the neo-nazis. Another round of wrecking American institutions, of slandering decent individuals, of spitting on our Constitution.

I spoke in the opening paragraph of the Bush family inviting Trump to the service but not letting him speak. But there’s more to the story. Trump insisted, in advance of attending, that no one say anything negative about him in the public remarks part of the ceremony.

Can you imagine Trump presenting such an insulting ultimatum to a family in mourning? Like a mean little boy, he scolds the Bushes, in essence, “I won’t come unless you promise nobody will say anything mean about me.” The Bush family reluctantly agrees. Suddenly, in the midst of their grief, and amidst the pressures of schedules and organizing this epic service, they now have to reach out to the Obamas, to the Clintons, to the younger Bush family members who read from the Bible, to Brian Mulroney, to Jon Meacham, to Alan Simpson, to all the other speakers and dignitaries, and have that conversation. “Please don’t even mention his name. Don’t refer to him. Just pretend he’s not there.”

And they obeyed. But, fortunately for the sake of truth, their references to George H.W. Bush’s humility and spiritual grandeur spoke more loudly about Trump’s vileness than any words could have.

It’s come to this: the President of the United States, at a memorial service for a former President of the United States, is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, whose name none dare speak. Good job, Donald J. Trump, outlier, outcast, outré among presidents, ordure of American history.

 

 


How deep have neo-nazi groups infiltrated the U.S. military and law enforcement?

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Frontline, the pioneering PBS documentary series, recently aired an episode, New American Nazis, that shows in terrifying detail how white supremacist-fascist-neo-nazis are attempting to infiltrate the U.S. military and domestic law enforcement agencies.

If you have read about the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, you know the same thing happened: violent, angry young men who joined militias in order to learn weaponry skills they intended to utilize to undermine the legitimate State, install their own authoritarian Fuhrer, and impose their racist-nationalist views on Germany—a plot at which they succeeded.

As the Frontline story shows, these white nationalist groups are active in small cells across America. There is not a single, over-arching person or organization running them (unless you see Trump in that position, a unreasonable conclusion). There are hundreds of hate groups; the Southern Poverty Law Center currently tracks 953 of them, of which one of the most dangerous and clandestine is the so-called QAnon, whose posts at message boards, wildly popular with [the] far right, sprout [a] huge web of fantastic theories about Trump, an imminent ‘Deep State countercoup,’ and arrests aimed at liberals’ supposed ‘pedophilia ring.’”

 The origins of QAnon are obscure. NBC describes its main objective as “leak[ing] intelligence about Trump’s top-secret war with a cabal of criminals run by politicians like Hillary Clinton and the Hollywood elite.” With no known structure or leadership, QAnon brings to mind the 1999 Brad Pitt-Edward Norton movie, Fight Club, a similarly loosely connected, underground organization whose anarchist members recognized each other through their bandaged wounds and oblique references to the group’s [semi-fictional] leader, Tyler Durden.

QAnon, for all its anonymity, has its own Twitter hashtag, #QAnon. Among other tweets are one showing that Fox News’ propagandist and Trump supporter Sean Hannity reported that “at least 6 #DeepState spies made entrees to key figures in the Trump org/campaign…in an attempt to set up candidate/President Trump with a concocted Russia narrative,” a “concoction” that now is being shown by Robert Mueller as being entirely too true.

Another, from SassyTallBlonde, states “Mueller will face charges re: U1,” a reference to an insane, discredited theory linking the Special Counsel to a secret uranium-smuggling deal; U1 also has its own hashtag, and a reading of its tweets shows how extreme these rightwing neo-nazis are: Mueller delivered the sample for uranium one [U1]…the dirty old bastard should be marched up the 13 steps to the rope.”

QAnon members also have a way of recognizing each other: by wearing or displaying various forms of the capital letter Q. Here, for example, is a sergeant in the Broward County (Florida) Sheriff’s Department, name of Matt Patten (on the left), wearing just such a Q, situated chest-level on his full combat uniform.

That elderly, white-haired gentleman in the blue suit in front of Patten, to whom Patten is giving a broad, toothy smile, is none other than the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence.

How did we get this startling photograph? From the Vice President himself, who tweeted it on Nov. 30. The picture didn’t last long; the Washington Post reported later that same day that Pence deleted it.

How does a sergeant in the Sheriff’s Department of a major American county get to wear a white supremacist/conspiratorialist symbol in uniform while performing the official functions of his job—and at the same time greeting the sitting Vice President of the United States? Did Pence know about the symbol? Did Patten’s superiors know? Did they authorize it? Do they share the same rightwing, neo-nazi views as Patten? Will Patten be disciplined or fired (as I think he should be)? The Washington Post asked the Broward County Sheriff’s Department and Pence’s office these questions, but was blown off. I too would like to get in touch with Sheriff Scott Israel; his office apparently is not emailable, but here’s a general information phone number, if you want to call them yourself: 954-765-4321.

We really need to get to the bottom of the facts. Is there a plot by professional militarists for an armed, rightwing insurrection in America? Let the Congress hold investigations, particularly now that the Trumpist cabal has been overturned in the House of Representatives. These neo-nazis may be small in number, but the opposite may be true: they may be metastasizing. It’s good that the public is becoming increasingly aware of them through the efforts of such civil rights groups as the Southern Poverty Law Center and brave investigative reporting by civics-minded journalists. But we need to thoroughly understand this phenomenon, if we are to prevent it from overtaking us.

 


A tale of a city

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In California’s Sacramento Valley, the northern part of the great Central Valley, lies the little city of Dixon, in Solano County. With a population of just under 20,000, Dixon in many respects is a typical agricultural community, although its relative proximity to San Francisco, 62 miles away, makes it increasingly an exurban home for workers willing to brave a grueling daily round trip on the freeways.

Ted Hickman, 75, is a local Dixon politician, a Republican, who’s been in and out of office since 1968. Since 2014, he’s been on the City Council, and most recently was the city’s vice mayor. He publishes an opinion column, “That’s Life,” on his personal website as well as in Dixon’s local paper, Independent Voice.

This past summer, Hickman posted a column he headlined “Don’t Forget July 1, 2018 Starts SPAM…SPAM…Straight Pride American Month,” which was a celebration of, and call to, the most blatant homophobia. Among its other nuggets:

“[I] support the rights of grown men to wear skin tight short-shorts and go-go boots and don tinker bells…and prance down the streets of San Francisco.”

 “Now before anyone gets their pantyhose in a knot, this is not really legally anti anything; instead, it’s pro-family, and proud to be a straight American.”

 “We honor our country and our veterans who have made all of this possible (including for the tinker bells) and we can do it with actual real pride, not some put on show just to help our inferior complex ‘show we are different’ type of (crap).”

 “We ARE different from them … We work, have families (and babies we make) enjoy and love the company (and marriage) of the opposite sex and don’t flaunt our differences dressing up like faries (sic) and prancing by the thousands in a parade in nearby San Francisco to be televised all over the world…”

There was a lot more along those lines, including this reference to Peter Pan:

So, right now, if you don’t want any faries (sic) to expire, you can clap your hands. See, I do have a heart, I just can’t type and clap at the same time… so I had to make a hard choice didn’t I?”

In many small cities and towns across rural America, a local politician might have gotten away with this stuff. But Dixon—perhaps due to the arrival of the new workers, who lean liberal or at least libertarian—wasn’t buying it. Intense reaction quickly set in against Hickman. Letters to the editor mounted in opposition:

“Ted’s opinion is absolutely allowed for in this free country, but his use of his title of vice mayor in such an obvious homophobic tirade is nothing short of disgusting,” wrote a woman, in comments that were repeated many times. Residents began putting up yard signs: “We stand with our LGBT neighbors.” Within days, a “Recall Ted Hickman” page went up on Facebook.

Hickman got some support from the usual crowd, Christian “pro-family” individuals and groups, such as “Save California,” which describes itself as a “campaign for children and families.” A rightwing local politician, Dan Grudmann (whose website “Fight the Power” features a photo of Caitlyn Jenner with the caption, “They will start recruiting your child in kindergarten”), told the City Council, “When you break down the family unit, you’re hurting the children and it’s only a matter of time before you produce psychotic broken children, which is the whole idea of the so-called LGBT movement.”

The homophobic right did its best, but to no avail. In the Nov. 6 election, “Dixon voters give antigay councilman the heave-ho,” headlined the San Francisco Chronicle. Hickman got just 27% of the vote in his bid for re-election. (Grudmann, too, lost his bid for the U.S. Senate as an independent candidate.)

The shameful Hickman episode gave Dixon a black eye; a Planning Commissioner was quoted in the Chronicle article as saying, “A lot of people felt Dixon was being mischaracterized.” But with the election now more than three weeks in the past, “Dixon is recovering from a gay-bashing controversy,” writes a reporter for (of all places) the local Fox News affiliate. She quoted a woman who was one of the creators of the anti-Hickman Facebook page: Dixon is moving forward. Hickman’s loss proves that. It’s time for Dixon to unite and rebuild the wonderful sense of community that makes us love the town.”

It’s too much to hope that the millions of homophobic people, most of whom call themselves “Christian,” will learn any lessons from Dixon’s experience. Obviously, LGBTQ rights are now firmly established in the United States of America. Obviously, LGBTQ people are not going back into the closet. Obviously, even most Republicans who identify as “conservative” have accepted that LGBTQ rights are supported by the majority of Americans of all political stripes, and that gay-bashing is not the way to win elections.

Still, we’re going to have losers like Hickman and Grudmann around for a long time. They can’t be silenced. But, thanks to good and decent people like the voters of Dixon, they can be marginalized to the point where they’re just pissing on themselves in the wind.


Sending a message to Manafort

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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.


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