John Hickman – A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Tue, 22 May 2018 10:34:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 John Hickman – 32 32 The Trump We Know Mon, 03 Jul 2017 12:33:14 +0000

Trump Adolf by ViengchanhAny additional reassurance that Donald Trump is not an American Adolf Hitler was provided by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) last Tuesday. That is the same North Korean government entity that previously announced that North Korea had invented not only the hamburger but also a drug that cures AIDS, Ebola and cancer. So if the KCNA likens POTUS 45 to Der Fuehrer, you know it is almost certainly untrue. What is interesting is that plenty of smart people outside the information bubble of the Hermit Leninist Party-State were drawing that same historical parallel earlier this year. The reason they have stopped will make you feel a little better about America.

Why Pyongyang’s propagandists decided to indulge in Nazi-baiting now rather than months back when it might have resonated at least a little is uncertain. Perhaps it is a function of their inability to gauge American public opinion. However, we do know why a lot of smart Americans were comparing Trump to Hitler in the first months of 2017. Some of the prompts are obvious: the crude economic nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric, the mobs of gun nuts, racists and neo-fascists at his post-election rallies, and POTUS 45’s amusing resemblance to overweight cartoon authoritarian Germans. Think Hermann Göring in lederhosen in Fritz Freleng’s “Herr Meets Hare” 1945 Bugs Bunny cartoon and Burgermeister Meisterburger, also in lederhosen, in Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.’s 1970 feature “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”

Then there is Trump’s complete inability to admit factual errors. In his memoir, The Hitler I Knew, German Reich Press Chief Otto Dietrich, the Sean Spicer of Nazi Germany, recalled a leader who refused to admit ever making a factual error.[i] Trump’s refusal to admit ever having contradicted himself indicates a comparable contempt for truth. Then there is Trump’s obsession with his own news coverage and hatred for the press as an institution. Dietrich describes Hitler as exhibiting those behaviors as well.[ii] Then there is Trump’s cultivation of Alex Jones and the delusional conspiracist nonsense of Infowars. Hitler cultivated Julius Streicher, editor of Der Stürmer, a national newspaper with a mass audience whose conspiracist content was ugly but almost tame by comparison.So why isn’t Trump an American Hitler? The answer is that our liberal democratic political institutions and political culture combined with his own bumbling have aborted any possibility of dictatorship. What Trump has been hearing again and again from the press, academia, judiciary, Federal agencies, and state and local governments is ‘no.’ ‘No.’ The latest embarrassment is the refusal of state governments to comply with the preposterous request from Kris Kobach’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for voter data, including party preference, military service and criminal conviction records, and social security numbers.

Public opinion in the United States has soured on Trump more quickly than any modern president. Democrats never trusted him. Independents have learned to distrust him. Smart Republicans are increasingly uneasy. The self-indulgent, irresponsible billionaire and lying con man are simply too easy to recognize. Which points up another reason why Trump could never be an American Hitler. Dietrich described Hitler as unable or unwilling to use persuade foreign public opinion. Ditto for Trump. However, Dietrich also noted that Hitler never lost the ability to persuade most Germans because he knew who they were and what they wanted.[iii] Trump’s ability to persuade Americans of anything is rapidly evaporating because he hasn’t a clue who most of us are or what we want.

Where Hitler could speak extemporaneously and make sense to Germans, Trump is unable to make sense to Americans even with a simple script to follow. Examples abound. Responding to Buzz Aldrin’s “To infinity and beyond” quip at the announcement of the resurrection of the National Space Council just last Friday, Trump said the following: “It could be infinity. We don’t really don’t know.” Most tragic of all is the exposure of a U.S. President unable to filter his communications as he spews bile and nonsense on Twitter. On Sunday he tweeted a video of himself assaulting a figure with the CNN logo superimposed on its head. What all this suggests is that Trump fails to grasp the importance of his official duties and may not be in his right mind.

The good news is that Trump has no hope of ever having the sort of power over Americans that Hitler exercised over the Germans. He cannot ever move us to make great sacrifices in the name of some megalomaniacal project. The bad news is that until removed from office Trump can still do terrible damage to America and to the world. We know how to say ‘no.’ Now we need to remember how to say ‘out.’


Otto Dietrich. The Hitler I Knew: The Memoirs of the Third Reich’s Press Chief. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
[i] Dietrich, The Hitler I Knew, 8.
[ii] Ibid, 117.
[iii] Ibid, 12.




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U.S. Supreme Court Appeases Donald Trump and His Islamophobic Base Wed, 28 Jun 2017 16:10:23 +0000 Supreme Court’s June 26th decision on the Muslim Ban in Donald J. Trump v. International Refugee Assistance and Donald J. Trump v. Hawaii.]]>

The United States Supreme Court 2017 by DonkeyHotey

Splitting the difference is sometimes the closest approximation to justice achievable when judges rule in contract and family disputes. When the liberty protections in the U.S. Constitution are involved, however, splitting the difference is an evasion of judicial responsibility. Consider the Supreme Court’s June 26th decision on the Muslim Ban in Donald J. Trump v. International Refugee Assistance and Donald J. Trump v. Hawaii.

The two cases began as applications for injunctions against Executive Order No. 13780 Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, a.k.a. the Muslim Ban. That Oval Office diktat temporarily barred foreign nationals from seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – based supposedly on heightened concern about terrorism. Federal lower courts granted relief and the Justice Department sought to defend the Muslim Ban by appealing for a stay of the injunctions and for a writ of certiorari, or asking the Supreme Court to rule on their constitutionality. On June 26th the Supreme Court unanimously agreed to stay the injunction with respect to the ban on admitting refugees though not for non-refugees. A writ of certiorari was also granted. This was enough for Donald Trump to tout the decision as a victory.

What motivated the decision? At least five of the Justices recognize that the legitimacy of our most important American political institutions is fraying. Trump is the least legitimate U.S. President in modern history because of collusion between his presidential campaign and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Partisan gerrymandering and dark money have rendered the U.S. House of Representatives and many state legislatures increasingly unaccountable and unresponsive. The refusal of Senate Republicans to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and Trump’s subsequent appointment of Neil Gorsuch has further eroded popular belief in the political impartiality of the Supreme Court. Conservative news sources and social media have produced an ideologically rigid electoral base for the Republican Party, whose extremism is echoed by an increasingly militant Left. So uncertainty and fear may have motivated them.

The Justices may also have gambled that future events – Trump’s resignation – will moot the dispute. To describe the current administration as ‘damaged’ is an understatement. Trump does not have the respect or trust of a majority of Americans. Congressional Democrats are united in their determination to get to the bottom of Russiagate. Congressional Republicans know that Trump is an expensive liability, his erratic performance has undermined what they wanted to accomplish and yet he remains dangerous to oppose because his populist supporters could deny them reelection in GOP primary races in the most gerrymandered districts.

Then there is the Supreme Court’s own rationale: “balancing the equities” of national security against “hardship” and “burdens” depending on the identity of the individuals seeking admission. Any claim of national security by the administration was deemed sufficient, even one that blocked foreign nationals from countries that had produced no terrorists in the United States but allowed in foreign nationals from counties that had, viz., Iran and Iraq versus Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (The Atlantic). Weighed against that was hardship imposed on those “with some connection” to the United States and which thus might “burden some American party.” So family members of citizens and legal residents as well as newly hired employees of firms in the United States and students admitted to American schools were deemed worthy of protection. Those who escaped the ravages of war and sought to find refuge in a country that once referred to itself as “the land of the free and the home of the brave” were deemed unworthy. Of course a cynic might conclude that the Supreme Court just wanted to appease a President by sacrificing the powerless. If victims are needed to appease Trump’s Islamophobic supporters, then let them be refugees said nine jurists, none of whom had ever been forced to flee war or tyranny.

Thinking about constitutional law is likely to elicit comparison with religious teachings. The ritual elements shared by courts and houses of worship, the peculiar partial logics of the law and of religious dogma, and the frequent deployment of ultimate justifications makes comparisons drawn between the work of judges and clergy inescapable. So too does the fact that religious bigotry motivates many Trump supporters. So readers, when you ask whether the Supreme Court did justice on June 26th, consider this scripture fragment from Proverbs 21:3 (KJV):

“Every way of man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts. To do justice and judgement is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

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Qatar in 2017, Switzerland in 1938 Mon, 26 Jun 2017 13:22:10 +0000

Qatar and Switzerland

The geopolitical peril facing Qatar in 2017 resembles that of Switzerland in 1938: small, wealthy, tenaciously independent … and caught between militarily powerful neighbors, one of which wants to end its neutrality. Eighty-one years ago, little Switzerland occupied some of the most dangerous territory on the planet, bordered by Nazi Germany to the north and east and by Fascist Italy to the south. With the Fall of France in 1940 she would be completely surrounded. Located in center of Europe and with a majority German speaking population, Adolf Hitler wanted to absorb Switzerland into his Greater Germany. Swiss hospitality to diplomats, journalists, intelligence agents and political exiles from around the world outraged Der Fuehrer.

Today, Qatar occupies some the most dangerous territory on the planet. The little sheikdom’s only land border is with a hostile Saudi Arabia, which wants to compel it to join its alliance with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt against Iran. With a Sunni Arab staatsvolk and expatriate underclass, Qatar is a natural fit for the alliance. After severing diplomatic relations and embargoing Qatar Airways, the alliance issued a 13 point ultimatum on June 23rd. Some of the demands, like ceasing its financing for the Muslim Brotherhood, are reasonable. But others, like closing its consulates in Iran, shutting down Al Jazeera and other news outlets, and ceasing to grant Qatari citizenship to nationals from the alliance countries, amount to Qatar giving up its role as the Persian Gulf’s Switzerland.

Of course, no historical analogy is ever perfect. Qatar lacks a very crucial geopolitical advantage of Switzerland. In 1938, the Swiss were prepared to defend their country from a German and Italian invasion. Every mountain pass was heavily fortified, the Swiss Army was ready for a siege inside the Swiss National Redoubt, and the Swiss government was ready to blow up the railroad tunnels through the Alps that kept Italian industry running on imported German coal. Germany and Italy never invaded.

Qatar is wealthy in oil and natural gas but poor in defensible geographic barriers. What it has are the water barriers of the Persian Gulf and Al Udeid Air Base, home to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command. The firepower represented there would deter any potential aggressor in normal times, but these are not normal times. Donald Trump is President of the United States, and he may or may not have signaled permission for the Saudi led alliance to put the squeeze on Qatar. To add to the confusion, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently approved Qatar’s purchase of $12 billion worth of F-15 fighters.

The problem is that neither the American public nor foreign leaders have a clear sense of who is making U.S. foreign policy. In some cases it is Trump and in others it is Mattis. Perhaps it is even Jared Kushner, the squeaky scion of immense wealth deemed qualified to bring peace to the Middle East because he is Trump’s son-in-law. The one thing we know with certainty is that U.S. foreign policy is not being made by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Poor Rex’s apparent remit is to “contain, degrade and defeat” the Department of State, when he is not busy trying to help out his friends in the oil industry.

What is lost if Qatar is forced into submission by Saudi Arabia? First, a crucial peacemaker in the Middle East. Doha is the Geneva of the Middle East. The foreign policy making anarchy of the Trump administration makes an independent Qatar more important than ever in averting a bloody regional interstate war. Second, a news source that has been successful at raising awareness of important issues like official corruption: Al Jazeera. The region and the world need feisty independence. Here is hoping Qatar survives as the Switzerland of the Persian Gulf.

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Cue Giorgio Tsoukalos Mon, 22 May 2017 12:34:44 +0000
novelist and entertainer K.J. McElrath, lawyer and activist Glenn Greenwald is by David dos Dantos and television personality Giorgio A. Tsoukalos
K.J. McElrath, Glenn Greenwald and Giorgio Tsoukalos

K.J. McElrath and Glen Greenwald appear disoriented. This is not the post 2016 election political struggle that they had anticipated. Or know how to fight. They were prepared to wage a virtuous virtual campaign against a President Hillary Clinton by continuing to expose the secrets of the military intelligence complex that spies on Americans and conducts a forever war to police the Middle East. Instead, the exposures of massive troves of mostly prosaic secrets via Wikileaks that they celebrated and propagated helped to shove history down a different path, leaving them stumbling and flailing.

What do you do when you are so successful that you put yourself out of business? That’s the daunting problem the March of Dimes confronted when a cure for polio almost wrecked their business model. That’s the problem that almost made Al Qaeda obsolete when Moscow withdrew the Red Army from Afghanistan. Both organizations survived by finding new targets: birth defects in the case of the March of Dimes and the United States in the case of Al Qaeda. McElrath, Greenwald and their followers have yet to realize the daunting nature of the organizational problem that they and their allies at Wikileaks now face.

Witness McElrath’s descent into conspiracism as he posits that supervillain masterminds in the CIA conspired to elect Donald Trump as part of their dark plan to undermine American democracy – “[W]as this the CIA’s agenda all along? Is it possible that it wasn’t the Russians who manipulated the election in favor of Trump, but rather, intelligence agencies? Did certain people in the CIA realize that a Trump Administration would be a disaster, and therefore, more easily overthrown?” Cue Giorgio Tsoukalos. As with the amusing nonsense of ancient alien theory when you only have one explanation, that’s the only explanation you give.

Here are just a few of the many problems with McElrath’s conspiracy theory. First, lots of people who don’t work at the CIA predicted that President Donald Trump would be the disaster that he has become. Yet none of them appear intent on undermining our democracy.

Second, the contemporary CIA is not in the business of overthrowing democracy, ours or anyone else’s. To be sure, the pre-Church Committee CIA helped overthrow an impressive collection of foreign leaders, including Mohammed Mossadeq and Kwame Nkrumah in 1953, Jacobo Árbenz in 1954, Patrice Lumumba in 1960, Raphael Trujillo in 1961, Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, and Salvador Allende in 1973. But look closely at those dates. When was the last time the CIA actually overthrew a foreign leader? When was the last time it toppled a government, let alone a consolidated democracy like the United States?

Third, the idea that the leaders of the intelligence agencies of the United States Government, staffed as they are by highly educated individuals who have taken oaths to defend the Constitution, secretly conspired with one another to overthrow our democracy in a plot so ludicrous that it features Donald Trump is absurd. The CIA, NSA, FBI and the rest are organizational competitors who jealously defend their own institutional turf. That they have been roused from their normal inter-service rivalry to defend their collective interests as organizations only because the current administration openly ignores their work product and appears to operate under the influence of the intelligence agencies of a hostile foreign power. In their opposition to egregiously bad policy making, the behavior of the intelligence agencies is best compared to that of the scientists working at NASA, EPA and CDC. Hardly a conspiracy worthy of the name unless you are an anti-government extremist.

Fourth, McElrath’s demand that the intelligence agencies of the United States, which have as part of their institutional mission the keeping of secrets from hostile foreign powers, produce “irrefutable proof” that Trump “is in bed with Putin and working with or for the Kremlin” is both absurd and a suspicious echo of the response by the Trump White House, the Kremlin and their friends at Fox News and Breitbart News. Since Wikileaks is in the business of exposing secrets, let it offer “irrefutable proof” substantiating the assertion that the CIA, NSA and FBI are conspiring to overthrow American democracy.

Fifth, something important is missing in the Glen Greenwald Faction/Wikileaks narrative: material about the intelligence services of Russia and China are missing from the storyline. Spy agencies of allied countries put in appearances but largely as entities subordinate to their American counterparts. More generally, the perspective on international politics presented in the narrative is that the United States is always in the wrong. Which is every bit as distorted as the perspective presented by conservative news entities that the United States is never in the wrong. That both perspectives are now being deployed to oppose investigation of Russiagate is, for lack of a better word… creepy.

If Greenwald, McElrath and whoever else they speak for are to be politically relevant they will need a renovated information mission. Conspiracism is easy but empty. Ending up as the libertarian-left version of Alex Jones’s Infowars would be a sad fate. Revealing hacked documents from the decision to poison Alexander Litvenienko with Polonium-210 would go a long way toward redeeming a reputation for fearless crusading. So too would an offering of hacked personnel files from the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China. Maybe some hacked video from the interrogations of Azeri political prisoners at Baku Investigative Prison No. 1. Surprise us.


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Optimally Slow and Painful: Let’s Hope Donald Trump Refuses a Dignified Exit Fri, 19 May 2017 17:17:29 +0000 commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy it takes little imagination to picture him suddenly resigning from office. Although a majority of Americans would like to see him depart for his golf courses permanently as quickly as possible, an excruciating slow motion departure from office would be more beneficial. Beyond the raw entertainment value of watching a ridiculous narcissist get his comeuppance...]]>

Donald Trump finger pointing caricature by DonkeyHotey

Despite the “never, ever, ever give up” language in Donald Trump’s recent disaster of a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy it takes little imagination to picture him suddenly resigning from office. Although a majority of Americans would like to see him depart for his golf courses permanently as quickly as possible, an excruciating slow motion departure from office would be more beneficial.

Beyond the raw entertainment value of watching a ridiculous narcissist get his comeuppance, there are three good reasons to hope that the current occupant of the White House is dragged out kicking and screaming after a protracted legal struggle rather than make a dignified exit.

The first reason is that it will show that the United States of America remains, in John Adams’s immortal characterization, “a nation of laws and not men.” Watching this presidency abrade against the constitution until friction stops it entirely will be a powerful lesson in the power of our venerable liberal democratic institutions to resist abuses of power. If we are lucky, every American will see the rule of law triumph over crass wealth and extreme partisanship.

The second reason to prefer a painful excision is that it will help to educate Americans about contemporary international affairs. Much of the commentary and public reaction to Russiagate has revealed how little many know about contemporary world politics, and especially about the threat posed by the kleptocractic dictatorships ruling most of the post-Soviet successor states. Americans have a lot to learn about the world as it actually is and that will require acceptance of unhappy truths, such as the following: The Middle East cannot be policed by the United States acting unilaterally, and perhaps not even multilaterally. Strategic patience remains the best of the poor choices in dealing with North Korea. Faux scientific denial is a dilatory tactic that makes responding to climate change much more expensive in the long term. Closing borders to trade and migration in response to the problems of economic and social globalization is counterproductive. Most important is the unhappy truth that there are no simple solutions to the complex problems of global governance.

The third reason to hope that the unfolding drama of Russiagate is time-consuming and emotionally draining is that it will force responsible leaders in the two major parties to confront the irrational elements that have emerged on their ideological extremes. After decades of playing to some of the worst impulses of the electorate, including religious extremism, racism, and anti-government paranoia, Republican elites lost control of their party to an authoritarian movement led by Donald Trump. Republican elites will need to learn how to talk sense to voters rather than appeal to fear and selfishness if they are going to redeem the party of Lincoln. Democratic elites haven’t lost control of their party and confront a more fragmented collection of irrational currents: bitter ‘never Hillary’ former supporters of Bernie Sanders who now make common cause with the fringiest of Green Party activists and the ‘America is always in the wrong’ followers of Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky. Where the ideological extremes meet is in denying that the Kremlin successfully interfered in the 2016 general election. To believe otherwise would require recognizing foreign rather than domestic political enemies.

What we may learn over the course of a lengthy Russiagate scandal drama – the betrayal of national security to the Kremlin and business dealings with post-Soviet oligarchs – will be an eye-opener for many Americans. The inevitable temptation to turn away from the ugliness and find some quick resolution should be resisted because the opportunity to learn from a mistake as enormous as the presidency of Donald Trump may not come along again in the life of this republic.

My favorite aphorism of Benjamin Franklin is this: “Experience keeps a dear school, but some will learn in no other.” Since we have already paid the tuition for this educational experience, we should derive the maximum benefit. Here’s hoping Donald Trump refuses a dignified exit.


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A Book Review of Tariq Ali’s The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism War Empire Love Revolution Thu, 04 May 2017 10:27:43 +0000

The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism War Empire Love Revolution by Tariq Ali

Did the world need another biography of V.I. Lenin? That we have no need of new biographies of Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler or Winston Churchill is obvious. Yet they will be published. In contrast the world might be rather richer for new biographies of Ranavalona I, Jósef Pilsudski, Pancho Villa and Trygve Lie. But another Lenin biography?

Lenin’s seeming unparalleled role in making history is Tariq Ali’s excuse. While Oliver Cromwell and Maximilien Robespierre merely figured in revolutions that would have happened without them, he argues, the October 1917 Russian Revolution would have been impossible without Lenin.

Focusing on the character and decisions of major leaders as the key to history is in keeping with Trotskyist tradition. That is why echoes of the strengths and weaknesses assessments of various leaders scattered throughout Leon Trotsky’s My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography can be detected in The Dilemmas of Lenin. Implicit in this and other Trotskyist narratives is that the subsequent history of communism would have been radically different if only Trotsky had won the succession struggle for control of the Communist Party and the state machinery of the Soviet Union following the death of Lenin rather than Joseph Stalin. Trotskyism would have withered to nothing decades ago without this counterfactual alternative history.

The Trotskyist focus on leadership owes much to the study of “applicatory history,” or the investigation of events from the perspective of military commanders, which served as the core content of military science in 19th and early 20th century Germany. Hardly surprising then that in addition to Trotsky, military commanders Mikhail Tukhachevsky and Mikhail Frunze make the short list of important figures discussed in The Dilemmas of Lenin.

Tariq Ali’s account conjures the social and personal environment that produced Lenin with a description of the 19th century Russian Empire and details of Ulyanov family life. The 1887 execution for treason of Lenin’s older brother Alexander Ulyanov and the consequent isolation of the family are emphasized as personal motivations for adopting the life of a revolutionary. Authors and their influential books like Nikolay Chernyshevsky and his What Is to Be Done? figure prominently as well. The inclusion of material about the influence of literature on Lenin is unsurprising given that Tariq Ali has authored serious historical fiction.

The Dilemmas of Lenin is more effective as biography it its descriptions of Lenin’s relationships with Nadya Krupskaya and Inessa Armand. From the beginning much less a romantic interest than a political comrade, Nadya Krupskaya married Lenin to accompany him into internal exile in Siberia and later external exile in Switzerland. That political partnership continued even as Lenin focused his romantic attentions on the French activist Inessa Armand. Lenin’s writing, especially his own What Is to Be Done?, proved an irresistible draw for Armand. The account favored in this biography has Lenin and Armand becoming lovers in May 1909 after meeting at the Café des Manilleurs at 11 Avenue d’Orléans in Paris. Tariq Ali reports that Lenin sought only “mutually agreed-upon monogamy without legal inhibitions” with Armand. Krupskaya continued to serve by maintaining Lenin’s correspondence with the revolutionary underground inside the empire and the diaspora of exiled Russian radicals. If the arrangement seems exploitive in the early 21st century, it would have been viewed as less so in its time.

Largely though not entirely missing from The Dilemmas of Lenin is Stalin. Instead, a chapter is devoted to the Left Menshevik faction leader Julius Martov, with whom Lenin struggled for control of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party newspaper Iskra. In keeping with the narrative of the Trotskyists and the other Leninist sects, Martov is faulted for having failed to support the Russian Revolution at its crucial moment in October 1917. Trotsky is quoted at length on the subject of Martov’s unwillingness to confront difficult decisions. Readers who are not invested in the personality cult of Lenin are free to contemplate a different counterfactual in which Martov establishes a regime less authoritarian than the party-state that resulted. Alexander Kerensky establishing a stable Socialist Revolutionary regime is even easier to credit. Trotsky, Martov and Kerensky were as plausible as Lenin as founders of a revolutionary regime because of the crucial role played not by any one leader but by the path dependence of historical events.



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Standing out in the crowd Sun, 09 Apr 2017 13:13:40 +0000 issue page endorses the Second Amendment as defense against enemies “foreign and domestic.” How he squares appeals to Red Dawn wingnut fantasies with his national party leader being in the pocket of President Vladimir Putin is anyone’s guess...]]>

Bidding for public attention among Republican state legislators appears astonishingly intense. Consider Colorado State Representative Dave (not David) Williams. On first encounter, Williams appears to be just another standard issue ‘guns, fetuses and homophobia’ Republican. His issue page endorses the Second Amendment as defense against enemies “foreign and domestic.” How he squares appeals to Red Dawn wingnut fantasies with his national party leader being in the pocket of President Vladimir Putin is anyone’s guess. Abortion is straightforwardly decried with the claim that “radical liberals” threaten the “unborn” to desensitize the country to life and death issues. Civil rights protection for members of LGBT communities is opposed using more euphemistic language: “religious liberty” is endorsed against “special interests.” His problem is that none of that allows him to stand out from the crowd.

Colorado State Representative Dave (not David) Williams standing out in a crowd
He is in there somewhere

Williams’s sole success in attention seeking was achieved by introducing legislation that has little hope of becoming law but that appeals to xenophobic hostility to undocumented Hispanics and general antipathy toward government. His proposed HB 17 ‘Colorado Politician Accountability Act’ would create a right to bring civil suits for compensatory damages against local elected officials who establish a sanctuary city. If an undocumented immigrant commits a criminal act in a sanctuary city that isn’t cooperating with Federal immigration authorities, an individual claiming harm could then bring an action against the local elected officials. The bill would also prohibit local governments “from adopting a law, ordinance, rule, policy, or plan or taking any action” restricting communication with Federal immigration authorities about the “immigration status of an individual residing in the state.”

HB 17 would thus make local government employees serve as agents of the national government with respect to immigration law enforcement. That should raise constitutional legal objections from anyone who has read the U.S. Constitution and understood the basic division of authority in its federal structure. Local governments are creatures of state government. State governments and the national government possess different kinds of authority. On that both liberals and conservatives generally agree. Conservatives have long argued for ‘state’s rights,’ for much greater autonomy for state governments from the national government. HB 17 radically reverses that position. But then historical memory and logic seem symptoms of some sort of liberal bias in 21st America.

HB 17 also violates the centuries old tradition that the proper sanction against elected officials who support controversial or unpopular legislation is losing the next election. What any competent student of the law knows is that legislators are immune from civil or criminal liability for performing their legislative duties under doctrines called parliamentary privilege and parliamentary immunity. The obvious reason for that immunity is that the legislative process would grind to halt if legislators feared being sued for doing what legislators are supposed to do. Elected local officials who adopt ordinances and budgets are legislators. Thus the 13 members of the Denver City Commission – Denver is described as a sanctuary city though the term lacks a legal definition – are legislators because their work is by its very nature legislative. Without appropriate immunity they cannot act as representatives of the people they govern.

Respect for the U.S. Constitution and the norms of parliamentary privilege and immunity seem a little abstract for most populist conservatives, but chances are they still understand the old adage that ‘what comes around goes around.’ Imagine a state law allows the victims of mass shootings to bring civil actions against state legislators who weakened or blocked gun safety legislation. Or imagine a state law allowing women forced to bear a child conceived from rape or incest by anti-abortion laws to bring civil actions for child support, loss of income and emotional trauma against state legislators who passed them.

A Republican state legislator less ambitious than Williams would have been reluctant to propose legislation that both ignores an important restraint on government power in the U.S. Constitution and upends a fundamental norm necessary for representative government. So he deserves his moment in the public spotlight. He also deserves the contempt of freedom loving Americans. There is an appropriate sanction for his ambition, and it can be found not in the courts but in the voting booth.


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Trump’s War: Will Pyongyang Provide the Pretext? Fri, 31 Mar 2017 00:45:40 +0000

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-unAmericans have reason to be impressed by the U.S. State Department’s formal denunciation of the Russian crackdown on the March 26th demonstrations. Although there was nothing inspiring in the wording of the official condemnation – indeed it de-mothballed the long exhausted ‘marketplace of ideas’ trope – it was nonetheless perfectly adequate to the task. Given the incompetence performance of this most aberrant of presidential administrations, achieving mere adequacy is noteworthy.

If most of the statement seemed cut and paste, some of the language was specific to the event:

“Detaining peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values. We were troubled to hear of the arrest of opposition figure Alexei Navalny upon arrival at the demonstration, as well as the police raids on the anti-corruption organization he heads.”

Alas the wording then immediately signaled weakness with a statement that the administration would “monitor the situation.” That must have the Kremlin fretting.

Superficially, this seems little different from the previous administration’s tepid responses to the repression of other pro-democracy movements. Barack Obama refused to do anything of consequence in response in repression in Iran and Bahrain to pursue other geopolitical goals. Negotiating a nuclear arms agreement with Iran was deemed more important than encouraging the Green Revolution. Keeping the U.S. Fifth Fleet at Manama was deemed more important than supporting the Arab Spring in Bahrain. Strategy in international relations often involves difficult and morally repugnant trade-offs.

The difference between the calculations made by the current and previous administration is that while we knew what Barack Obama was sacrificing human rights advocacy to achieve, we can only guess about Donald Trump’s thinking. Was it to reward Russia for its part in fighting ISIS? Or is it payment for not revealing the nasty kompromat on Trump and associates? Perhaps it is both.

That foreign policy making is even more opaque now than in the previous administration matters because this administration has already shot its wad in domestic policy. The spectacular failure to repeal Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) means that the White House is likely to look for success, or anything remotely resembling success, to claim in foreign policy. Presidents usually begin doing that two years into their term in office after a major domestic policy defeat. Our braggart in chief has managed to race through that part of the presidential policy making cycle in under three months.

However opaque the foreign policy making process, we can make decent guesses about where our military will be sent into action. Eastern Europe is not on the list. A Russian tank column could roll into Talinn and Trump would probably tell the U.S. Army units there to lay down their weapons and send Prime Minister Jüri Ratas a bill for having defended Estonia. Nor is Iran on the list. Trump is not going to order an attack on an important Russian client state. Trump might try to claim success in Iraq or Yemen but Americans have long sense learned that there is no lasting victory anywhere in the region. He is also likely to be wary after the debacle of his January 29th raid in Yemen.

That leaves East Asia as the region where a new war might be launched. An old fashioned eyeball to eyeball crisis with China in the South China Sea that fails to turn into a shooting war would serve nicely. An actual shooting war would be an economic disaster with few parallels but one can imagine the foreign policy amateur Trump playing at brinksmanship. The problem with that scenario is that China is capable of impressive strategic surprise. Trump desperately needs a success and not a failure. Backing down in an international crisis would be seen as devastating failure.

All of this makes North Korea the most tempting target. Pyongyang is always ready to provide the pretext for war without prompting. Noam Chomsky and company would no doubt descend into ‘America is always in the wrong’ false flag conspiracism to explain a Korean War Two but all the White House needs to do is exploit the next opportunity presented. The February 13th assassination of Kim Jong-name in Kuala Lumpur Airport was a yet another reminder of how risk acceptant is the government of North Korea. Trump is almost certainly going to be presented with a perfect pretext for going to war.


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Blitzed Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:36:17 +0000 wunder someone hadn’t already published something similar to Norman Ohler’s 2016 Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. Likely to please readers interested in social history and drug policy, the book is certain to perturb serious political and military historians with what appear almost uni-causal explanations for phenomena such as Adolf Hitler’s erratic decision making and the success of the blitzkrieg as a strategy...]]>
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler. Shaun Whiteside, translation.
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler. Shaun Whiteside, translation.

Hitler and drugs are such an obvious formula for successful popular history that it is a wunder someone hadn’t already published something similar to Norman Ohler’s 2016 Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. Likely to please readers interested in social history and drug policy, the book is certain to perturb serious political and military historians with what appear almost uni-causal explanations for phenomena such as Adolf Hitler’s erratic decision making and the success of the blitzkrieg as a strategy. For all its flaws and perhaps because of them, Blitzed is an entertaining account of some neglected mid-20th century history.

The author sets the stage by describing the moral panic about drugs in interbellum Germany. For the authoritarian movements working to subvert the still unconsolidated Weimar Republic, sensational stories about cocaine and morphine use in freewheeling Berlin were deployed to symbolize everything wrong in postwar society. Anti-Semitism was central to its ideological exploitation by the Nazis, who succeeded in associating these drugs with the Jewish Other in the minds of politically unsophisticated Germans. The obvious parallels are to the association by several generation of prohibitionist ‘moral’ reformers in the United States of opium with Chinese immigrants, marijuana with Mexican immigrants, cocaine with African-Americans, etc. The war on drugs launched in the name of ‘racial hygiene’ following the Nazi seizure of power then produced, as in the United States, not a sustained reduction in drug consumption but a shift in the drugs consumed. Germans gave up illegal cocaine for legal methamphetamine and illegal morphine for legal oxycodone. Thus, after alcohol and tobacco, the recreational drugs of choice in the Third Reich were the same that now ravage Trumpistan.

Blitzed tells three related war stories. The first is that the blitzkrieg or ‘lightning war’ with which Germany rapidly conquered most of continental Europe was made possible in large part because methamphetamine was distributed in massive quantities to the troops. Although the idea of meth crazed storm troopers is entertaining, military historians attribute the success of the invasions in the west to the German military to better training, thicker layers of officers and non-commissioned officers, and better coordination of armor, infantry, artillery, tactical air and anti-aircraft units. That the British government of Prime Minister Winston Churchill panicked and abandoned its French ally to fight on heroically alone, a.k.a. ‘the Miracle at Dunkirk’, made German victory more likely and more rapid.

The main story in Blitzed is Adolf Hitler’s decent into substance addiction at the hands of his personal doctor Dr. Theodor Morell. The agency problem warning that circulates among the extremely wealthy to avoid employing a physician all to yourself was born out in the relationship between the megalomaniacal dictator and his ambitious physician. Injection after injection of strange mixtures of laxatives, peculiar supplements, anticonvulsants, palliatives and stimulants kept ‘Patient A’ on a chemical roller coaster that maintained the stability of delusion. Other biographers have noted Morell’s role but devoted greater attention to Hitler’s ideology and psychology as reasons for his departure from reality as the Nazi regime began to collapse. What Ohler’s account contributes is a description of the struggle between ambitious subordinates over the Führer’s medical treatment.

The last war story is of pharmacological abuses at the end of the war. Fanatical Hitler Youth recruited to crew hellishly cramped mini-submarines for days were given cocaine chewing gum to keep them alert on what were virtual suicide missions. Concentration camp inmates were experimented upon with peyote as an (ineffective) interrogation drug. As with so much else generated by the Nazi scientists, the research was seized by the postwar occupying powers.

Walking past the history section in any book store is a reminder that Nazis and Hitler remain immensely popular, as subject matter. Blitzed will entertain American readers in 2017 not only for that reason for also as a reassuring story of a doomed delusional national leader who leads his followers to their destruction. The story reassures because they know how it ends. We now recognize the downward trajectory of our own delusional national leader, but are still waiting for Brünnhilde’s soprano solo in Act 3, or “when the fat lady sings.”


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To Kill a Protester: Tennessee Republicans to Issue Hunting Licenses Wed, 22 Feb 2017 12:16:52 +0000

Dashboard protestor gunsight

Running down pedestrians with your car is wrong. Whether the act is intentional or negligent, running down pedestrians is absolutely wrong. That ethical absolute extends to encouraging others to commit such an act. Unfortunately a couple of Republican lawmakers in Tennessee want their state courts to take a much more permissive approach to vehicular murder and assault. State Representative Matthew Hill and State Senator Bill Ketron have introduced matching bills in the Tennessee General Assembly which establish an effective legal incentive for motorists to ‘accidently’ kill or maim political protestors.
Hill’s House Bill 668  and Ketron’s Senate Bill 0944 reads as follows:

(a) A person driving an automobile who is exercising due care and injures another person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way is immune from civil liability for such injury.

(b) A person shall not be immune from civil liability if the actions leading to the injury were willful or wanton.

Little imagination is needed to construct a legal defense that what was actually intentional was somehow unintentional, and that the victims deserved what they got.

Had Hill and Ketron been interested in protecting motorists from civil liability from accidentally killing or injuring a pedestrian, they wouldn’t have included the “protest or demonstration” language in their bills. Had they been interested in the public health problem of pedestrian safety they might have sought more funding for pedestrian overpasses and other measures that have reduced the rate of automobile collisions with pedestrians in Western Europe below those in the United States. Roughly 5,000 pedestrians are killed every year in the United States, or one pedestrian death roughly every 2 hours [CDC].

What the two attention-grabbing Republicans are after is votes. In the GOP that means appealing to the worst instincts of resentful white voters. Hill and Ketron know that some of their base fantasize about committing political violence using vehicles. A Daily Caller video posted by Mike Raust offers less than subtle encouragement to conservatives to commit ISIS style terrorist acts with vehicles like those seen recently in Europe.

Hill and Ketron appear oblivious not only to the most of fundamental of ethical prohibitions but also to a traditional precept of conservatism: the law of unintended consequences. They and their supporters are no doubt thinking that the targets of such wink wink nudge nudge unintentional but actually intentional vehicular terrorism would be Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights or feminist protestors. Not necessarily.

The problem is that some conservatives also protest and are therefore vulnerable as pedestrians. The legal immunity from civil penalties in Hill and Ketron’s auto kill bill would also protect someone seeking to enter a Planned Parenthood Clinic and faced with a threatening mob of screaming anti-abortion demonstrators. Consider how dangerously close such people stand to the road outside the Memphis Planned Parenthood on Popular Avenue. Already nervous clinic patients seeking to access services might panic and accidentally run down one or more of the demonstrators in such a fraught situation. Tennessee Right to Life has given both Hill and Ketron 100% ratings but given its prioritization of fetuses over viable humans, perhaps the implications of the proposed legislation is of no concern.

While pro-like activists might profess to care little for their own lives, gun rights activists exist in a heightened state of anticipation of possible physical harm. Consider what might happen should a motorist encounter one of those little gatherings of open carry gun rights demonstrators. Conspicuously armed white men standing about compensating for their emotional insecurity are likely to alarm citizens peacefully going about their business, and a panicked motorist might accidentally run them down in an effort to escape from the situation. Fear might cause them to take out as many as possible lest any survivors open fire.

Whatever the state of mind of drivers who end up crunching anti-abortionists, gun nuts other conservative activists beneath their wheels, the auto kill bill would permit them to escape any civil liability. Make a behavior less costly and you make it make it more likely. From the perspective of Hill and Ketron the increased likelihood of conservatives being killed or maimed is a small price to pay for the sort of public attention that helps get them re-elected or might help them win higher office. Sacrifices must be made … so long as they made by others.


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Appeasement at Munich Sun, 19 Feb 2017 13:59:22 +0000

Mike Pence waiving a piece of paper after the Munich appeasement

Remember how Donald Trump spent much of the 2016 election campaign touting his ability to negotiate better deals for the United States? For all the bombast about trade with China and nukes in Iran, and cheering from supporters who probably couldn’t find either country on a world map, it turns out that the international agreements he intended to renegotiate and perhaps junk altogether were with our allies and not our rivals. That’s why Vice President Mike Pence was delivering bad news at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, February 18th.

The traditional formula for diplomatic rhetoric is three parts empty idealism to one part national interest. That would describe Pence’s speech except that even the national interest component was empty.

Pence knows how to deliver empty idealism. He’s made a political career out of speaking about conservative social values and avoiding serious discussion of the unintended consequences of imposing them as public policy on others. Thus we heard the following in Munich: “As you keep faith with us, under President Trump we will always keep faith with you. The fates of the United States and Europe are intertwined. Your struggles are our struggles. Your success is our success. And ultimately, we walk into the future together.”

These and other pretty words were coupled with the demand that our European allies pay more for the privilege of walking into whatever future awaits. Failing to do so, Pence threatened, “erodes the foundation of our alliance.” You could hear that as the demand to ‘pay up or we walk away’ but it is more likely that Trump simply wants to walk away.

Pence went through the motions of sounding tough about the national security threat that matters most to Europeans, intoning, “And know this: The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found.” What our NATO allies know is that the Trump White House is looking for ways to roll back economic sanctions on Russia and that the GOP leadership in Congress is trying to protect the president and the members of his inner circle from revelations about their criminal relationships with the Kremlin.

Appeasing Russia was Pence’s real message to our NATO allies in Munich. A kompromised Trump lacks the will to defend of the territorial sovereignty of the newer NATO member states in Eastern Europe and the leaders of the older NATO member states know they cannot credibly threaten to do so without U.S. support.

What Vladimir Putin wants in addition to an end to economic sanctions was made clear in Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s response at Munich. Describing NATO as a relic of the Cold War and condemning the expansion of the alliance to the western borders of Russia, Lavrov demanded, “mutual respect and acknowledgement of our responsibility for global stability.” Reading between the lines is easy. Moscow wants what it deems to be its share of Europe. In the near term that has dire implications for the survival of liberal democracy and territorial integrity in the Baltic States, Ukraine and Georgia. Little imagination is need to conceive of Russian ambitions for regime change elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

The core national security problem for NATO is not that the alliance cannot resist Russian arms. The problem is that Trump is vulnerable to blackmail and simply cannot resist Putin’s demands. Threats to release either the details of Trump’s financial dealings with Russian oligarchs or the golden shower video are more than enough to prevent him from invoking Article V of the NATO Treaty should Russian volunteers took control of Latgale region in Latvia. They are probably be enough to prevent the administration from acting even if Russian Army tank columns rolled all the way into Kiev.

What might the Trump administration actually do in response to Russian aggression like that? We would all like to imagine that wiser heads would prevail but wiser heads are difficult to locate in this administration. The better bet is that Trump would blame our NATO allies for fomenting the crisis and assail journalists for unfair criticism. So long as this most vulnerable of presidents is in office, the freedom of Europe is in profound danger.


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Why Trump Lies Sun, 29 Jan 2017 16:01:20 +0000
Donald Trumpinocchio by DonkeyHotey
Donald Trumpinocchio

Donald J. Trump’s lies, especially about numbers, and that presents a puzzle. His claims about fraudulent votes cast against him in the general election and the size of his inauguration crowd make him appear not just obsessive and puerile, but also remind audiences of his illegitimacy. Conservative populists claim to speak for “the people.” References to numbers remind us that he is only the leader of an angry minority and not the majority of Americans. Nonsense about the collective IQ of his Cabinet or the size of his fortune flags the sort of insecurity no one but a suicide wants to see in a decision-maker with control over nuclear weapons.  Every time Trump tweets another prevarication the temptation is to respond with a Trumpism like “So sad. Loser.”

Yet there is method in the madness. Trump and his inner circle know that they own that part of the conservative base who refuse to be bothered with the tiresome business of weighing logic and evidence in considering public policy and who are actually entertained by the antics of a president who communicates like an internet troll. The virtual mob whose triumphal hooting and vicious name-calling you read in comment threads following articles in the Daily Caller are his people.

Beyond playing to the worst of the worst, the obvious lies probe the support of Republicans too smart or too honest to be swept along behind the partisan bandwagon. Unlike George W. Bush, Trump cannot depend upon the impulse common among Republicans to hold their noses and support whoever is party leader. Shrugging and eye rolling at his ‘truthful hyperbole’ is not enough for an insecure president and fragile administration. Trump and his inner circle know that his presidency lives on borrowed time, likely to brought down by the violations of the Emoluments Clause is in his taxes and the depravity depicted in the Kremlin’s kompromat video. That his Cabinet and administration are staffed by the venal, the incompetent and the creepy shows how radically he discounts the future. Their focus is on the near term because he know there may be no long term.

However embarrassing it is for the majority of Americans, Trump’s shameless mendacity is understandable as an effort to determine just how much he can get away with. The last election showed that public opinion polling is less reliable than in the past, and unlikely to tell him what he wants to hear in any case. So outrageous lies are used to determine whether Republicans dare to disagree, remain silent or join in what political scientists who study dictatorship term ‘preference falsification.’ Trump’s fantasy numbers are thus the American equivalent of Yahya Jammeh’s claims of curing HIV-AIDS with homeopathy, Kim Jong-Il’s famous round of golf and Mao Zedong’s swim cross the Yangtze. Useful because and not despite the fact that they can be credited only by fools and liars.

Whether Trump actually believes his own lies is less important than whether repeating them help him survive longer in office. That Trump has assumed office as the least legitimate president in living memory is obvious even to Republicans. You have no doubt heard leftist or liberal friends confess to being overcome by nausea at the idea that he is the 45th President of the United States. Imagine the gastric distress of Republicans twisting themselves in ideological knots trying to support a mendacious reality show host/real estate developer as their president and party leader. In the whining pleas that Trump “be given a chance” you can hear the tacit admission that something is deeply improper about his occupying the White House. That sense of fundamental impropriety seems destined to mature into the conviction among the majority of Americans – leftists, liberals and Republicans who have not given up on being good citizens – that Trump must go before he does any more damage to the republic.

To speed that day, the best response the best response is to join Trump in testing the willingness of Republican friends and family to repeat the lies. Interrogators use a number of proven techniques is elicit confessions but the most basic is simply to refuse to fill the silence in a conversation. Question Trump’s claims first, and then refuse to reward any answer with a verbal response other than an admission that the lie is a lie. Psychopaths excepted, most people want to speak the truth. Timely silence can help set it free.


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Republicans Know Reducing Obama’s Legacy Will Be Expensive Wed, 18 Jan 2017 10:55:07 +0000 taken down.]]>

Revenge is one of the powerful unspoken temptations of public office.

For incoming presidents, the urge to punish often involves diminishing the historical legacies of their predecessors.

Ronald Reagan took revenge on Jimmy Carter by gutting renewable and clean energy policies. Fuel efficiency standards were rolled back, renewable energy research and development funding was slashed and the wind power investment tax credit was eliminated. Reagan even had the solar panels on the roof of the White House taken down.

Richard Nixon took revenge on John F. Kennedy by cancelling the remaining missions of the Apollo Program. What might have been the exciting first chapter in opening a new American frontier on the Moon was reduced to an expensive ‘plant the flag’ stunt.

Donald Trump now has the opportunity to take comparable revenge on Barack Obama, the object of envious fascination not only for the president elect but also for other Republican politicians.

The political problem for Trump and the Congressional Republicans lies in choosing which of the historical legacies of Barack Obama to target. Restoring the bust of Winston Churchill to the White House or hinting creepily about returning to official sadism at Guantánamo Bay will not be enough. Obamacare and the Iran Nuclear Deal were Obama’s signature accomplishments and the most obvious targets… but attacking either will be costly.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act would please Republican politicians and voters but perhaps not as much as replacing OR failing to replace it would displease them. Any replacement that is more than symbolic is likely to be alienate all those angry rustbelt white working class voters who handed the GOP a unified government. They didn’t vote for Trump because they wanted to be more responsible for their own lives. They voted for him because he promised them they would not fall further behind economically and would not have to reconcile themselves to a more diverse America, as symbolized by the outgoing president. Whether it is repealing without replacing or repealing and replacing, the Republicans endanger their majority on the U.S. House of Representatives come the 2018 midterm elections.

Junking the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would please Republican politicians and voters as much as it would displease Russia. Threatening Iran plays well with the Christian Zionists in the GOP but not with Moscow. Iran is an important Russian client, and Russia is one of the few major powers that Trump is unwilling to alienate. POTUS 45 is so circumspect with respect to Russia that there is increasingly little doubt that the Kremlin possesses compromising material with which to blackmail him. Would Congressional Republicans really want the American public to see a Republican president veto new sanctions legislation on the orders of Vladimir Putin?

Complicating calculations about which part of the Obama legacy to target is the time horizon. The most obvious ‘known unknown’ about the 45th President of the United States is whether he will serve out his full term as president. We can imagine him staggering and tweeting his way through the next four years as the least legitimate president to ever hold the office. We can imagine him driven from office within months of his inauguration because the distrust and shame are too much even for the opportunists who have agreed to serve in his administration. We simply do not know. Congressional Republicans have given no reason to believe that they possess the sort of patriotic spirit that would be necessary to impeach and try one of their own, even one who conspired to win office with covert action by a rival great power. If the equivocation wrapped in bluster expressed by Sen. John McCain on CNN on January 17th is any indication, some Congressional Republicans might prefer dealing with a wounded Trump to any alternative.

Taking revenge on Obama would be expensive for the Republicans. Failing to take revenge on Obama would be agonizing. They suffer as William Shakespeare portrays John Clifford suffering in Henry VI, Part 3.

The sight of any of the house of York
Is as a fury to torment my soul;
And till I root out their accursed line
And leave not one alive, I live in hell.

The rest of America and the rest of the world is now a hostage audience, watching Republicans twist and turn in unsatisfied political vengeance. What we do know is that we will pay too high a price for the tragedy.


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Trump is Damaged Goods – Smart Republicans are Planning Their Exits Sat, 14 Jan 2017 08:23:35 +0000 kompromat story becomes more plausible with each passing day. The important information for much of the news audience is that Donald Trump allowed himself to be caught in a classic honey trap, one made all the more embarrassing because it involved a peculiar paraphilia. The accusation is that the president elect paid Russian prostitutes to urinate on him.]]>

Baby Trump held by Vladimir Putin

The kompromat story becomes more plausible with each passing day.

The important information for much of the news audience is that Donald Trump allowed himself to be caught in a classic honey trap, one made all the more embarrassing because it involved a peculiar paraphilia. The accusation is that the president elect paid Russian prostitutes to urinate on him.

No matter how open minded liberals and leftists might be, or attempt to be, about such sexual behavior, many of the people who voted for Trump feel no such need. Theirs is a simpler choice between denial of the information and rejection of the deviant.

For the minority of the news audience worried about the survival of America’s liberal democratic institutions, the big story is that figures in the Trump presidential campaign were in contact with and coordinated their campaign with their counterparts in the Russian government. That amounts to treason within even the narrow definition in the U.S. Constitution and also violates U.S. statute law.

Friday we learned that former British Ambassador to Russia Andrew Wood confirmed that the dossier detailing the kompromat Russian intelligence collected on Donald Trump was compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele. Compiled by Steele while working for the private intelligence firm Orbis Business Intelligence, the dossier was given to FBI Director James Comey and to John McCain.

Steele himself has gone into hiding for reasons that can be understood but not yet confirmed. Moscow has plenty of experience assassinating political opponents, including those living in London. In November 2006, Russian exile Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London by poisoning with a minute dose of radioactive polonium-210, a lingering death that signaled that Moscow would take horrific revenge on those who dared to challenge it by revealing its secrets.

There is also reason to believe that many in the administration Trump is assembling recognize that he is damaged goods and are preparing to abandon him, perhaps in favor of vice president elect Mike Pence. Better a parochial theocrat than a pervy traitor.

Many seasoned national security professionals refused to even consider a position in the Trump administration. Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey got out early by exiting the Trump transition team. Trump’s nominees for Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, sounded distinctly more suspicious of Russia than the president elect during their confirmation hearings.

Defeated Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio clearly smells blood in the water or he would not have subjected Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to sharp questioning during his confirmation hearing. Republican pundits who had dared to oppose Trump’s nomination, and more recently attempted to say nice things about the president elect to hold onto their audiences now appear to be edging away.

Who can blame them when the scattershot defenses offered by Kellyanne Conway signal obvious political vulnerability and Trump’s own tweeting screams desperation or even delusion?

Although most Republican elites have yet to cut loose themselves loose from Trump, it is probably because they are waiting for more Republicans elites to publicly do so. They may fear that our institutions have already been so delegitimized and public opinion so polarized that the president elect might be able to save himself. Alternatively they may fear that he will take many of them down when he falls from power whatever they do now.

The resemblance between their behavior and that of the apparatchiks in the decaying Leninist regimes of Eastern Europe in the 1990s is unmistakable. So too is the irony.



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Vladimir Putin’s Useful Idiots Wed, 04 Jan 2017 16:50:55 +0000

Caricatures of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are by DonkeyHotey

Which seems more astonishing? That Donald Trump’s supporters have forgotten the Cold War and fallen in love with a Russian dictator? Or that the only major historical event diehard supporters of Bernie Sanders remember is that the George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? What connects the amnesia of the former with the schematic error of the latter is that both are now being deployed to deny that Russian intelligence agents hacked the Democratic National Committee and major figures in the Republican Party to obtain kompromat, damaging information released to weaken the campaign of Hillary Clinton and retained to blackmail the administration of Donald Trump.

What Republicans have seemingly forgotten is a protracted ideological and proxy military struggle between the United States and Soviet Union that lasted from 1947 until 1991. Should they have any doubts that the Cold War actually occurred and suspect that all the talk about it is nothing more than another of those smarty pants deceptions perpetrated by smug liberals, they could consult a World Atlas from the period and there discover curious colored map spaces named Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, German Democratic Republic, and Republic of Vietnam. Further evidence of the historical reality of the Cold War might be found in the public speeches delivered by Republican Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. Further confirmation might be found in the Congressional Record or news stories from the period. If none of that helps ring a bell, just watch Red Dawn again. Republicans loved that fantasy.

If such therapeutic reminiscence is successful, Republicans will recall that an entity called the KGB (Committee of State Security) played a crucial role in waging the Soviet Union’s side of the Cold War. The KGB performed tasks roughly comparable to those performed today in the United States by the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and New York Police Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau. For parallels to the ‘cultural’ tasks performed by the KGB we probably have to look to Nazi Germany’s Ministry of Propaganda or to the Roman Inquisition. Like most Americans, most Republicans might not have ever learned that when the Soviet Union collapsed, the vast army of agents, analysts, interrogators and prison guards who worked for the KGB, collectively termed the siloviki, did not disappear. Instead they regrouped, abandoned communism in favor of nationalism, and put one of their own in power in 2000: Vladimir Putin. Yes, the same Vladimir Putin who has such a cozy relationship with Donald Trump.

For decades, Republicans postured as hypervigilant about national security threats from espionage and political subversion by the Soviet Union. Hypervigilance didn’t manage to catch many actual Soviet spies though hounding former communist party members and suspected sympathizers out of public life did win votes for Republican candidates. Republican hypervigilance about communism did not even end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tea Party Republicans condemned President Barack Obama as a communist when they weren’t condemning him as a Muslim. Some even managed to call him both. But now, after decades of bug-eyed hysteria about the threat of communism, Trump’s supporters vehemently deny any possibility that the reconstructed KGB had anything at all to do with hacking the Democratic National Committee and refuse to say anything at all about hacking the emails of major figures in the Republican Party.

Earl Browder who ran as the Communist Party's candidate in 1936 and 1940 (left) and Joseph Stalin the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.
Earl Browder who ran as the Communist Party’s candidate in 1936 and 1940 (left) and Joseph Stalin the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953.

Examples of comparable 90° pivots by political parties on international relations are rare but students of American history know of one that is positively eerie. Before the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 23, 1939, the American Communist Party led by its presidential candidate Earl Browder had insisted that such a treaty was impossible. After it was signed Browder and his supporters insisted that the treaty was necessary. Communist Party membership swelled during the Great Depression but largely evaporated after 1939 because ordinary members couldn’t stomach the cynical new foreign policy dictated by Moscow. Which makes you wonder how old school anti-communist Republicans keep from abandoning their party given the distinct possibility that Donald Trump is taking his marching orders from Moscow.

Many diehard supporters of Bernie Sanders, embittered at losing the Democratic Party nomination because the party establishment had its thumb on the scales, insist that Russian intelligence agents did not hack the Democratic National Committee. Mention is never made that major figures in the Republican Party were hacked, perhaps because that offers no foundation expressing their undying hatred of Hillary Clinton. What matters to them is that Hillary Clinton lost the general election and that they believe Bernie Sanders would have won. To admit that her campaign was the target of covert action by a rival great power would take the focus away from her wrongdoing in the primary elections. Some of the diehards go even farther and celebrate the victory of Donald Trump as that of another, if inferior, anti-globalist.

Public verification by the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies that Russian agents engaged in hacking is dismissed by diehard supporters of Bernie Sanders as a fabrication, an evasion of responsibility by Hillary Clinton for losing the general election or an attempt by Barack Obama to ignite another Cold War. What is this absolute conviction based upon? The most common answer given is that the Central Intelligence Agency supported the claims made by the George W. Bush administration that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. If the agency lied once, so goes the reasoning, then it can never be trusted to tell the truth. Perhaps nagged by the possibility that the KGB might actually be responsible, some diehards have also claimed an improbable level of expertise in information technology.

Ever alert to opportunities to exploit populist sentiment, Donald Trump chimed in with, “And if you look at the weapons of mass destruction, that was a disaster, and they were wrong.” He also claimed instant expertise in formation technology: “I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a hard thing to prove.”

What diehard supporters of Bernie Sanders have succumbed to is the same “one historical analogy fits all” thinking that made Americans vulnerable to justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Back then the historical analogy was the Munich Analogy. Saddam Hussein was cast as another Adolf Hitler and Iraq another Nazi Germany. The ‘CIA lied about WMD’ historical analogy is just as flawed. Whatever limited utility historical analogies offer for understanding international politics vanishes when they are used to ignore crucial information. Vehement denial of any possibility of Russian hacking delivers the diehards at the entrance to the conspiracist hall of mirrors. Once inside, anything may be believed or disbelieved, a disorientation likely to politically demobilize.

Patriotic Americans have reason to worry about the willingness of change blind partisans, motivated by electoral opportunism and familicidal resentment, to countenance the subversion of this country’s liberal democratic institutions. Whatever legitimacy the Donald Trump and his administration might have enjoyed is evaporating. What matters most now is the protecting our government from the agents of a rival great power who may control Donald Trump and other figures in his cabinet. Against such a threat to the United States, all else pales to insignificance.


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