April 22, 2019 / by 

 

Do the Right Thing: Break Some Eggs and Impeach

[NB: Check the byline. This piece may not reflect the opinions of other emptywheel contributors. /~Rayne]

There’ve been a lot of eggs cracked today. Not all of the eggs in need of cracking came in pretty dyed shells.

Like the oeuvre floating around out there claiming impeachment is bad for the country. (I’m looking at you, Tumulty.)

There’s really no question about what must be done. There’s only a fight against spin protecting an un-indicted co-conspirator, or worse. Sadly, some of the spin comes from the left and it needs to be smashed right now.

But why impeach? they ask.

Because it’s the right thing to do when a law enforcement investigation reveals a pattern of unlawful behavior.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the president systematically engages in abuse of power and unethical behavior, causing states and non-governmental groups alike to sue to protect human rights.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the president breaks his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the president fails to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Because it’s the necessary thing to do when the president’s incompetence or bigotry results in the deaths of thousands of American citizens without so much as an apology.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the president permits and/or encourages dangerous deviations — some in secret — from national security policy without debate, advice, and consent by Congress.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the executive usurps co-equal branches’ power to check the executive.

Because failure to do so yields the co-equal power of Congress to the executive for the worst of reasons — because it’s too much trouble, timed inconveniently, unpopular.

Because failure to do assures future unethical presidents, they, too, need not worry they will be held to account by the branch of government charged with doing so; they’ll feel protected, insulated from rebuke and punishment.

Because failure to do so assures a certain class of person they are above the law while telling the average citizen they belong to a second and lower class.

Because failing to do so sends a message to foreign powers that tampering with our elections will go unchecked; a mere censure will only enrage a malignant narcissistic executive while doing nothing to deter hostile foreign actors.

Because we are a nation of laws, and the law provides for the rebuke and removal of an executive guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, including unlawful orders, bad faith execution, unethical behavior, and abuse of office.

Because we must lead the future by example, demonstrating the exercise of oversight powers which include impeachment of a failed executive even when a country is divided by popular opinion.

There are far too many constructive reasons why we should impeach the executive; the risk from failing to attempt impeachment is far greater, considering the hollowing out of government and undermining of long-term policy continuing apace. The common good demands it.

Do we proceed directly to impeachment? This is a matter of conjecture — I believe we need to investigate the gaps in the Special Counsel’s report, including counterintelligence, so that we address each item in full view of the public with the exception of classified matters. The executive must be fully accountable to the people; he governs only with their consent which is already thin based on his loss of the popular vote.

Will investigative and impeachment hearings get in the way of legislative business? No. Congress has investigative hearings all the time in addition to legislative business. The legislative work to date has been piling up at the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk because he is obstructing House Democrats by gatekeeping. Will any less legislation be passed by the Senate if the House dedicates any more time to investigative hearings? No, thanks to McConnell.

Read the Special Counsel’s report for yourself. Ask yourself if what you read represents the combined work of a candidate and president and his campaign and administration who are truly intent on serving the best interests of this entire country. Were these individuals willing to set their personal interests aside and work toward a more perfect union, establishing Justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty for all?

Or were they working for themselves and personal or familial enrichment, for their personal glory and entitlement, and for the benefit of some other non-U.S. entities to our likely detriment?

Begin the impeachment process. Let’s break some eggs.

~ ~ ~
A happy Easter to those of you who observe the holiday. Hope that those of you who observed Passover were able to do so with friends and loved ones.

This is an open thread.


Three Things: Big Day, Big Top

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s going to be a big day under the big top. Attorney General Bill Barr has planned quite the circus, beginning right now with his so-called press conference. But first, three things, one of which includes hygiene for the day ahead.

~ 3 ~

Let’s face it: it’s Maundy Thursday, the weather in West Palm Beach is supposed to be partly sunny tomorrow and Saturday, and sunny on Easter Sunday. Which means Trump will likely be on Air Force One this afternoon, winging his way to Mar-a-Lago and the promise of golf at one of his courses because that’s about all he can focus on for more than the time it takes to send a tweet.

This is likely why he wants to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to golfer Tiger Woods after winning his latest green jacket at The Masters this past weekend. Trump said,

So shallow and self-centered, recognizing a fellow marital cheat and a golfing buddy, one who designed a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai.

And yet par for this pathetic hole.

~ 2 ~

I don’t write often about Trump-Russia because it’s Marcy’s beat — there’s little she hasn’t scrutinized and picked apart during the course of the Special Counsel’s investigation. But this one thing has stuck in my craw, especially after all the hubbub this past week about Julian Assange’s removal from the Ecuadoran embassy and arrest by Metropolitan Police-UK.

It’s in this email exchange from October 2016, about WikiLeaks’ 10th anniversary when Assange was supposed to have made a big announcement and didn’t. The following

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

What was that this morning???

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Roger Stone
TO: Steve Bannon
EMAIL:
Fear. Serious security concern. He thinks they are going to kill him and the London police are standing done.

However —a load every week going forward.

Roger stone

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

He didn’t cut deal w/ clintons???

Why did former Trump campaign chief executive and former White House adviser Steve Bannon express surprise that Assange hadn’t cut a deal with the Clintons?

Was it a given that Assange would have attempted to extort money from one or both of the Clintons to halt the release of hacked emails?

Why would Bannon in particular have thought this? Was it common knowledge in certain circles that Assange would use blackmail? Or has blackmail been one of the other unaddressed methods by which targets have been compromised and evidence simply hasn’t been shared because it’s classified?

Did Special Counsel’s Office ask any member of the Clinton campaign or Bill Clinton or any Clinton family support staff whether they had been contacted about hacked materials in an attempt to extort money or performance from them?

It seemed like odd hyperbole at the time in early August 2016 that Assange would accuse Hillary Clinton of electoral extortion, claiming she tried to scare the electorate into voting for her. But was it really a form of projection to muddle possible leaks about other extortion attempts? (Yes, the source at that link above is a right-wing outlet, but that’s the point: they carried water for this effort.)

Ecuadoran official said they are investigating whether Assange attempted to blackmail President Moreno. It looks more like a pattern of behavior based on WikiLeaks’ handling of Vault 7 and if Bannon’s email assumed an earlier attempt on the Clintons

~ 1 ~

Okay, I’ll skip a third non-Barr report item because we’re all a little short on patience. If you need something to preoccupy your time you can focus on taking action.

See Celeste_pewter’s Twitter thread for calls you can make, or check her TinyLetter site; once again she’s done the heavy lifting and prepared scripts for you.

She’s also laid out the anticipated schedule today for AG Barr’s three-ring circus:

9:30 AM: Barr and Rosenstein will hold a press conference on Mueller report

(Mueller not in attendance)

10:30 AM (approx): Trump will issue a rebuttal

11:00 – 12:00 PM: DOJ will provide hard copies of the report to Congress

TBD: Trump MAY give a press conference at this point

2:00 PM (approximate): Report posted on special counsel website (https://www.justice.gov/sco)

I’m setting up a list in my Twitter account to follow folks for analysis and feedback on the Trump-Russia investigation including today’s Barr report.

(And yes, I’m calling it the ‘Barr report’ because the method of its reception will have been substantially shaped by Barr.)

~ 0 ~

Lastly, the matter of hygiene: this site will be busy. Trolling may be heavy depending on what’s visible in the report and what is pointed out by Marcy in particular. If the site bogs down, please be patient.

If necessary, reach one of us via Twitter though you may not get an immediate response because we’re going to be busy.

Moderation will be firm and aggressive. We don’t have time for temper tantrums, trolling, or for internecine squabbles.

Keep all off topic discussion to this thread; if it gets too deep, like more than 200 comments, I will open a new thread for off topic material. Posts Marcy opens related to the report should remain on topic.

This is going to be a long day. Pace yourselves. Drink water regularly. Take a break from social media when you’re getting worked up. Digest this pile of elephant one bite at a time.

We have plenty of time after the circus’s acts have finished to sweep up and dig through the animal poo they leave behind.

This is an open thread.


Our Lady of Paris

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Once upon a time way back in the day when I was still wet behind the ears, I was a draftsman. I worked with architects and structural engineers drawing all kinds of buildings and structures, from public schools to bridges, churches to foundries.

There was nothing like the unlimited promise of virgin vellum beneath my graphite, waiting to become something realized in two dimensions before it became real in three dimensions. I still miss that feeling, watching the crisp expanse of white and grey lines become a building I would eventually see built across town.

You can imagine what a structure like the Notre-Dame of Paris means to someone who made a living working with designers, builders, and craftsmen responsible for buildings used by the public. What an immense challenge she must have been to the artisans of her time, all working together to make this incredible monument to human skill and dedication.

It has also meant a lot to me because some of my antecedents were French and Catholic. My family can trace them through church records to the 16th century and the religious wars which destroyed earlier churches and ravaged Notre-Dame at one time. Their lives were shaped in some way by the politics that worked through the French Catholic church and Notre-Dame.

Some of my family lived within sight of the cathedral at Rouen; others lived within sight of the cathedral at Poitiers, both of them built using similar flying buttress architecture like that of Notre-Dame de Paris. Though not all my family were Catholic at the time, it was a family member who was very tight with the church who was selected to assist and travel with the brethren of the Society of Jesus in what would become Quebec. Were it not for this relationship between this ancestor and the church, I would not be here writing this in North America today. There are millions of us across the country who share similar heritage.

A day after the fire started, what’s left after the flames’ destruction looks better than it could have though I remain skeptical about the scale of loss. I haven’t worked with restoration of structures this old, but I’ve worked on recovery for a number of projects, some of which were damaged during construction and repairs. They are nearly always more challenging than initial estimates.

At this point I want to interject and make a point about Glenn Beck’s utterly ignorant and irresponsible remark yesterday, intended to stir religious hate. He knows jack shit about construction and restoration, let alone how to care for 800-year-old antiques. Anything he says is uninformed on this topic.

It would have been incredibly easy for the cathedral to catch fire during repairs. If you’ve ever run a power saw and hit something metal, you know sparks are a realistic risk. There could have been problems with electrical equipment; we don’t know if there was any aged wiring installed in the roof.

Nor was this France’s “9/11 moment” as Beck called it. This wasn’t a terrorist embedded in a construction crew, working diligently for months to assemble a massive scaffolding platform around the flèche (spire) of the Notre-Dame, taking down the copper statues, waiting for the perfect moment to drop a match out of religious hate. What idiotic poppycock.

Meanwhile, within reach of aged tapestries, hundreds of votive candles continued to burn in the nave throughout the fire. Sure, Beck, it was a terrorist on the roof when a determined terrorist could simply have walked in through the massive Portal of the Judgement smack in the middle at the west end of the cathedral.

Construction accidents like this happen. I’ve worked on projects that had major failures, most often due to contractors unintentionally skipping a step in the project plan, and the investigation afterward can be grueling. It’s why these kinds of restoration jobs can be difficult to bid out — imagine trying to underwrite this particular job.

What will make this restoration job different and possibly easier is the wealth of accumulated knowledge from other church fires and restorations — like Sweden’s Katarina Church or the cathedral of Reims — as well as data gathered about the Notre-Dame

One data source certain to be employed is the digital scans made of Notre-Dame by art historian Andrew Tallon. Though he died in 2018, his work documenting the cathedral’s structure will live on in the restoration to come. Thank goodness for his personal obsession with Notre-Dame assured a digitized image which also indicated structural weakness from centuries of aging before the fire which must be repaired.

Some of aging, reported on last year, had already been under repair — and here we are, faced with an even larger repair.

At least this time the repairs may last longer than the ones done after Victor Hugo wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame. France has begun a campaign to phase out fossil fuel vehicles with Paris leading the way. Air pollution has hastened the decline of buildings like the Notre-Dame as emissions are acidic and eat at structures. By this summer diesel vehicles 20 years old or older will be banned from Paris; eventually, all fossil fuel vehicles will be banned from Paris by 2030 and all of France by 2040.

Perhaps by then the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris will be completed to face a cleaner future.
_______

What burned yesterday:

This graphic isn’t particularly good quality but it does a reasonable job of depicting the greatest portion of the building affected by fire — the roof trusses above the stone vaulted ceiling as well as the metal cladding.

Here is another older drawing of the Notre-Dame in cross section (source unknown):

What we don’t know yet is how much of roofing over the aisle/gallery on each side of the cathedral may have been involved or damaged by water used on the roof above. Nor do we know how much of any flammable items were damaged inside the church, from pews to the organ, nor do we yet know the full scale of the damage to the church’s once-magnificent stained glass windows. It appears the famous Rose windows may have been saved.

This link shows the Notre-Dame’s metal roof — note the grey lead in contrast to the verdigris copper statuary which had thankfully been removed from around the flèche during the ongoing repairs. The lead has all melted or vaporized.

Note also in the image at this link the stonework shows decay; the basic-to-neutral Lutetian limestone has been softened by acid rain caused by air pollution. Let’s hope the reconstruction project will address these problems at the same time as they have begun to threaten the stability of the structure.

And no matter what you hear about the reconstruction project to come, it’s still too soon for an assessment as the stones are likely still warm and have not fully cooled to pre-fire temperatures. Rapid cooling of the stone may continue the fire’s damage, causing cracks into which water and pollution can settle and expand, breaking stones.

It is, however, a perfect time to talk about funding the work ahead and whether the work will duplicate the original as much as possible or incorporate contemporary technology to ensure a longer span of time between future repairs.

This is an open thread. Do bring all your discussion about Notre-Dame de Paris here, though.


You’re Fired (Undocumented Trump Worker): What Odd Timing

[NB: Byline — check it!/~Rayne]

I’ve had this squirreled away in the cupboard; I was working on it just as the government shutdown ended. But now there’s good reason to dust it off and air it out.

~ ~ ~

The issue of Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) remains critically important even though government has been reopened and Trump received a pittance toward a wall.

The Washington Post reported on January 26 that undocumented workers were fired from their long-time jobs with Trump organization businesses.

What odd timing. Take a look at the sequence of events:

06DEC2018 — NYT, CNN other outlets reported the Trump organization employed undocumented workers.

22DEC2018 — Shutdown began at midnight

10JAN2018 — Citizenship applicant Matthew Helmsley was called a year earlier than expected by U.S. immigration for a pre-naturalization interview; he was asked after the interview if he was available on Saturday, January 19.

11JAN2019 — First government employee paycheck missed.

17JAN2019 — Trump announcement scheduled for Saturday, January 19, after a swearing-in ceremony for newly naturalized immigrants; the announcement regarded the ongoing government shutdown.

18JAN2019 — Media speculated about Trump’s proposal. After exchanging emails for a week with immigration personnel, citizenship candidate Helmsley received an email in that morning advising the swearing in would be at the White House the next day.

18JAN2019 — Undocumented immigrants terminated at Trump org facilities.

19JAN2019 — Trump’s proposal including tweaks to TPS and DACA floated some time between late Friday and early Saturday. House Democrats rejected the proposal ahead of Trump’s television speech — they insisted on funding and reopening government without conditions, and no money wall.

19JAN2019 — Just before his speech, Trump swore in Helmsley and a cohort of carefully selected naturalize immigrants, handpicked for political optics, in the Oval Office.

19JAN2019 — Trump gave a televised speech after 3:00 p.m., added limited TPS extension and modified DACA to his demand for wall funding.

25JAN2019 — Trump ‘caved’.

26JAN2019 — WaPo reports on firing of undocumented employees.

29JAN2019 — Original date scheduled for State of the Union address from House chambers

See that right in the middle? Undocumented personnel were fired roughly 24 hours before Trump made his special address making a counter offer.

The White House as well as the Trump organization knew more than a month before Trump’s counter proposal that undocumented workers were employed at multiple Trump business locations.

They waited until after the holidays to terminate them so as to avoid a stink.

They waited until they could use TPS and DACA as proposal items to demand wall funding, hoping the workers’ terminations would be lost in the noise about the shutdown.

And news media missed the timing.

Now here’s the other point the media missed within the last week: if Trump’s government funding proposal including limited TPS and modified DACA were offered immediately following termination of undocumented workers at Trump organization businesses — the two events coordinated and synced as if by one entity — is there any separation at all between Trump as president and Trump as head of the Trump organization?

If there isn’t, wouldn’t that make the DOJ’s so-called “narrow interpretation of a law ” this week, allowing federal officials to attempt to influence Trump by doing business with the Trump organization, really a permission slip for outright corruption via emoluments?

Meanwhile, DACA’s repeal remains up in the air, leaving roughly 800,000 residents up in the air. And TPS for Hondurans has been terminated effected November this year, forcing 86,000 to uproot from the U.S.


It’s Plane to See: A Plane with Assange or Another One? [Updated]

[NB: Check the byline – this isn’t bmaz (who beat me to publishing a post about Assange. LOL) Update is at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

A couple weeks ago Politico’s Jake Sherman tweeted about the USDOJ’s plane:

The plane left from Manassas Regional Airport which observers note is where the DOJ stations their detail which handles extraditions.

As you can see it returned days later on Saturday, March 23. It was about this time frame that WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange became jittery about possible extradition to the U.S.

It was hard to tell if Assange was right; every time WikiLeaks tweeted since the plane left UK’s London Luton Airport — where MI5 has a hangar — that extradition was imminent, nothing happened. Many folks had a chuckle watching the night-long tweet stream by journalists covering the Ecuadoran embassy in London, watching pro-Assange activists setting up camp but not seeing any resulting arrest and seizure.

Until this morning at roughly 10:00 a.m. local time London.

Assange was charged by the UK with breaching bail after he failed to report for Sweden’s extradition order; Assange plead Not Guilty. The Crown Court found him guilty; he may face 12 months in jail at a later date.

Read bmaz’s take on Assange’s extradition to the U.S. and the DOJ’s charges against him.

Now here’s where it gets interesting for me, given how upset many of us were with Attorney General Bill Barr’s appearance before Congress in which he hedged about the Special Counsel’s Report except to say it would be released next week:

Emphasis mine. Was the plane Barr mentioned a figurative one or a literal one?

This is an open thread.

UPDATE — 2:50 PM EDT —

AFP tweeted a graphic with a timeline of events preceding Assange’s removal from the Ecuadoran embassy:

It’s thin on entries, missing a date when the sexual assault charges were filed in Sweden for example. But it does give a feel for the manner in which events led up to Assange’s trip to Metropolitan Police station today.

Via Twitter, Marcy re-upped her post from last year related to prosecuting Assange:

Worth a re-read; in my opinion, Marcy’s November 2 post is also worth a re-read:

US Government Reveals It Has Video Evidence of Joshua Schulte Sharing Classified Information as Ecuador Restricts Assange’s Legal Visits

I don’t think Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion (18 USC 371, 1030(a)(1), 1030(a)(2), 1030(c)(2)(B)(ii)) is enough to warrant extradition alone.

Otherwise a Leicestershire 18-year-old would have been looking extradition for his attempted hacking of U.S. officials in October 2015, instead of eight charges of “performing a function with intent to secure unauthorised access,” and two of “unauthorised modification of computer material.”

The waiting game continues.


The Facts: There Is No Crisis and No Emergency, Just Trump’s Campaign

[NB: Check the byline. /~Rayne]

After mixing it up with a old conservative over spring break — someone who doesn’t watch Fox News but spends too much time with people who do — it’s clear Trump’s and Fox’s lies have deeply infected right-wing minds.

They believe Trump’s falsehoods about a crisis at the border, that there was reason for Trump to declare an emergency.

They’re also incapable of fact checking. They’re authoritarians and believe whatever current authority figure tells them; the motivation to validate authority doesn’t exist.

They appear unable to analyze what they do see to make an independent assessment of their own. It doesn’t occur to them to ask, What would be so bad a family with toddlers and infants would flee their home, walking over a thousand miles for more than a month and through a desert to escape?

They’re sheep — our country is regressing under the leadership of fascist sheep.

I wanted to cram a bunch of facts in this conservative’s head but I honestly don’t know if they’d bother to read anything I gave them because I’m not a Fox talking head.

~ ~ ~
Fact: Trend data from DHS’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) about so-called illegal immigrants border crossings indicates it has trended lower over the last 15 years:

(source: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Nationwide Illegal Alien Apprehensions Fiscal Years 1925-2018 pdf)

From another perspective there is no migrant crisis, shows Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) in this graph using CBP’s own data:

Fact: Trend data graphed by Pew Research drawn from DHS’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) about the so-called wave of asylum seekers Trump has called animals in his eliminationist rants reveals a wave of family units migrating from Central America, not Mexico:

Fact: Instead of performing a root cause analysis to determine why families and unaccompanied minors are so desperate to enter the U.S. to seek asylum, Trump wants to cut funding to Central American countries, which will exacerbate the underlying problems internal to the affected countries.

Fact: The largest number of families and children reaching the border came from Guatemala, fleeing crime and drought.

Fact: Guatemala’s volatility may have been exacerbated by multiple volcanic eruptions in 2018, affecting at least two million Guatemalans. The plume from a June eruption was visible from space:

Fact: Many Hondurans fleeing to the U.S. are also fleeing crime and violence; women in particular are fleeing because femicide has been a growing epidemic during the last six years, 95% of which has gone unpunished.

Fact: The U.S. ratified the U.N. protocol to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1968. This expressed the country’s intent to acknowledge and recognize the rights of asylum seekers. The U.S. has not retracted its ratification.

Fact: Asylum seekers can request asylum under Title 8 U.S. Code § 1158, on either side of the border:

(a) Authority to apply for asylum
(1) In general
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

Fact: Trump said “the system is full, can’t take you any more,” which is in opposition to U.S. law on asylum.

Fact: Until it became legal problem for the Trump organization, Trump’s golf courses hired undocumented workers from Central America, some of them for years. This illegal hiring practice, out of compliance with decades-long rules about screening hirees, didn’t become an issue until Trump wanted to use DACA and Temporary Protected Status as a bargaining chit to obtain funding for his “fucken wall” during the government shutdown.

Fact: El Paso, Texas, isn’t in a state of crisis; its mayor attests to this, and asked Trump to stop lying about it. But Trump wanted to shut down the border at El Paso altogether because of his lie that the border is in crisis.

Fact: When told that closing the border as he requested would cause serious damage to the U.S. economy by throttling free trade, Trump said, “I don’t care.

Fact: Trump has insisted that families be separated at the border because he believes it will discourage them from seeking asylum in the U.S.

Fact: Trump, “ranting and raving” at White House and DHS staff, stressed the “border is my issue” while issuing unlawful orders to separate families at the border. He isn’t following through on carefully considered policy but on a campaign issue — one from 2016, and now one for the 2020 race.

~ ~ ~
The bottom line: Trump both as president and as a business owner has violated federal law.

He has done so, deliberately employing cruelty and at cost of human lives, in order to fulfill a campaign promise in 2016, as a campaign theme in 2018 to assist the GOP in mid-terms, and as a campaign stunt for re-election in 2020. As he said, the “border is my issue.”

He has issued unlawful orders as part of his ongoing campaigning under influence of former adviser anarchist Steve Bannon and white nationalist Stephen Miller, a current White House adviser.

The Republican Party aids and abets this — endorses this — as political practice as long as it fails to check the de facto leader of their party. Cruelty and indifference to non-white, non-English-speaking people including infants and families is now their brand along with disregard for treaties and laws.

In doing so, the Republican Party destroys any pretensions to legitimacy if it supports systematic unlawful behavior.

We need to ask if it is now fact that there is no Republican Party.


Trump’s Gone Full Jessep

[NB: The byline is mine. /~Rayne]

If you haven’t haven’t recently watched the 1992 film, A Few Good Men, it’s a good time to do so. Especially for this particular monologue delivered from the stand by Colonel Nathan Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson (spoiler alert: this scene is the climax of the movie):

The colonel gave an illegal order — a Code Red — to his men to dispense extrajudicial punishment to PFC William “Willie” Santiago after which Santiago died.

Up to this point Jessep has been a hard ass, bordering on rude. But this particular monologue depicts Colonel Jessep at his worst, when the mask slips off and the monster who can justify his worst impulses does so because his ego won’t permit any serious questioning of his authority.

This is Trump — from reports based on feedback from those in his presence, he’s gone full Jessep and whatever mask he’s worn has slipped off. He’s given illegal orders, in direct opposition to his oath of office and the Constitution, the law and a court order, when he demanded the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border while “ranting and raving” that “border security security was his issue.”

He believes he is the law, as if he’s king.

No one in the White House seems able to disabuse him of this concept — if they are trying at all.

A number of senior staff have been fired throughout Trump’s 26 months in office, the latest such termination resulting in the departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

It’s not clear whether the departure of Secret Service director Randolph Alles was for the same reason; he denies it but the timing is suspicious given the appearance of a purge across DHS leadership.

One employee whose continued employment suggests they aren’t explaining the limits of executive authority is White House counsel Pat Cipollone. His presence was noted in reports about a meeting in which Trump had a narcississtic meltdown about DHS’ inability to stop asylum seekers at the border. Why was Nielsen the sole target two weeks later instead of Cipollone?

~ ~ ~

In A Few Good Men, the story arc centers on the two Marines charged with Santiago’s death as a result of the Code Red. They argued they were following orders from their superior officer, and as we see in the climax, Col. Jessep finally admits he gave the order. The court renders its verdict:

The Nuremberg defense will not hold; an illegal order is illegal no matter the rank of the person issuing it, and obeying it is illegal as well. Government employees who commit illegal acts even at the order of the president violate the law as well as their oaths of office:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” (5 USC 3331)

Support and defend the Constitution. Well and faithfully discharge the duties of office. Obeying an illegal order fulfills neither of these.

Founding father John Adams said, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” Walls are useless if they defend not the law and our country’s values, but one man’s sick, skewed ego.


The Strongbad Bite, Ack!: Kagan’s Neocon Hypocrisy

[NB: Note the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Neoconservative Robert Kagan’s recent op-ed in the Washington Post — The Strongmen Strike Back — made me think of a classic episode of MST3K:

Pick one of Dave Ryder’s many names — Big McLargeHuge is my personal favorite — and then imagine Kagan’s op-ed as a cheesy, sweeping space opera. A production which the screenwriter and director took far too seriously, expecting the audience to treat it as if it were Oscar worthy.

Yes, authoritarians abound around the world. The U.S. has unfortunately called some of them allies though it shouldn’t cater to authoritarian leaders given its values based upon liberal democracy.

While fretting about the emergence of autocrats, Kagan is blind to his own role in the promulgation of authoritarianism. Has he forgotten neoconservatives’ insistence the U.S. launch the Iraq War, relying on increased nationalism and authoritarianism in response to 9/11? What blindness; what hypocrisy.

Far worse though, is Kagan’s difficulty facing mounting autocracy here at home. To say the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are responses to problems here while ignoring the white nationalist impulse behind them is shallow and uninformed.

— Sanders had the benefit of 20-plus years of anti-Clinton propaganda and eight years of anti-Obama racism greasing the way for him to carpetbag into the Democratic Party.
— Trump had more than 13 years of glitzy production effort by former General Electric property NBC to construct his BigBlond McStrongboss persona on top of his appeal to the racist element pervasive in white American culture.

Ignoring these factors combined with a feckless GOP field of also-rans is just plain stupid.

Not to mention the role of the GOP-majority Congress’ strategy of stifling all rational legislation after they took the reins in 2010.

What’s particularly galling in Kagan’s overlong and droning piece whining about the rise of authoritarian strongmen is that he doesn’t mention Putin by name at all with regard to free and open elections and voting whether in Russia or in the U.S. Not once. Zero. Nada.

Not as a killer of Russian journalists. Not as an assassin of Russian dissidents and political opponents. Not even as the propagandistic image created we might call Punch BigSixPack.

He makes rather thin observations about Putin’s autocratic regime, but makes no mention of how this particular strongman interfered with the very thing Kagan wants us to be believe he is defending — our liberal democracy.

No acknowledgment at all that this particular strongman made a concerted effort not only to interfere with our democratic processes but to seat a kleptoautocrat as our nation’s leader.

Further, Kagan fails to mention the steady attack by the Republican Party at state and national level on our voting rights and infrastructure. The GOP has systematically attacked the foundation of the United States’ liberal democracy in which every citizen possesses the right to vote, by way of suppressive voter identification laws to implementation of hackable and inauditable electronic voting machines, to failure to renew the Voting Rights Act and denying voters at the polls by way of fake software check systems.

Yes, fake — when a system does exactly the opposite of what it is allegedly designed to do as in the case of Crosscheck, it’s fake. And the GOP pushed its use across the country, especially where minority citizens lived in greater concentrations.

And none of this was Robert Kagan’s concern when bemoaning the alleged decline of liberal democracy.

But he’s a historian and he wrote looking at world history, one might say. As if history hasn’t also informed us about blind spots in ideology or the possibility historians have their own hidden agendas.

This bit is egregious:

…The world’s autocracies, even the “friendly” ones, are acquiring the new methods and technologies pioneered by Russia and China. And, as they do, they become part of the global surveillance-state network. They are also enhancing the power and reach of China and Russia, who by providing the technology and expertise to operate the mechanisms of social control are gaining access to this ever-expanding pool of data on everyone on the planet. …

The only attribution he makes to the origin of the digital panopticon is a link in that paragraph to a January 17 article in WaPo, How U.S. surveillance technology is propping up authoritarian regimes. Yes, us, the U.S., we are the progenitor of the ubiquitous surveillance state — but not only because of intelligence and defense technology. Our internet platforms offering search tools and social media provide the base on which surveillance thrives.

Kagan never calls out these privately-owned companies, from Facebook to Google, though these companies also played a role in Russia’s interference with our elections. Their role is purely incidental, accidental, while Kagan holds China up as an example of social surveillance ubiquity:

Developments in China offer the clearest glimpse of the future. Through the domination of cyberspace, the control of social media, the collection and use of Big Data and artificial intelligence, the government in Beijing has created a more sophisticated, all-encompassing and efficient means of control over its people than Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler or even George Orwell could have imagined. What can be done through social media and through the employment of artificial intelligence transcends even the effective propaganda methods of the Nazis and the Soviet communists. At least with old-fashioned propaganda, you knew where the message was coming from and who was delivering it. Today, people’s minds are shaped by political forces harnessing information technologies and algorithms of which they are not aware and delivering messages through their Facebook pages, their Twitter accounts and their Google searches.

What a lack of insight and imagination. Kagan wants us to look abroad to condemn authoritarianism, gear up our foreign policy with defense against ‘strongmen’ in mind, while failing to live our values here at home on an individual, collective, society-wide basis. The U.S. can’t be a legitimate democratic leader when it not only blindly spawns surveillance-as-an-incidental-product, but when creating new forms of old suppressions.

For example:

— North Dakota’s GOP-led state legislature demanded the Sioux acquire physical street addresses before they could vote during the midterm election year;
— Florida’s Republican legislators submitted a proposal to deny voting rights to former convicts if they have not paid all their fines and fees, constituting a poll tax on former felons after voters chose to restore rights after imprisonment;
— Georgia’s secretary of state (now governor) refused to recuse himself while running for governor after having conducted racially-biased voter roll purges;
— Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to take up bill H.R. 1 after it passed the House. The bill bolstered voting rights and improved accountability by candidates and incumbents to voters.

If we truly wanted to promote liberal democracy abroad, we need to practice it here at home — put on our own oxygen mask before helping others.

One person who advocated for an improved democracy here was John Dingell. In one of his last op-eds he called for

— the abolishment of the Senate, which dilutes the votes of individuals in populous states;
— automatic and comprehensive voter registration at age 18, to encourage full participation of citizens in voting;
— protection of the press because an electorate can’t make informed decisions without free and open access to information;
— elimination of money from campaigns as it has a corrupt influence on candidates and unduly shapes opinions of the electorate.

Do read Dingell’s op-ed because he expanded upon each of these points I have only summarized. He did far more to encourage liberal democracy here in the U.S. in that one instructive essay as BigJohn TwitterDean than Kagan did in his space opera-ish piece hyping the Autocrat McStrongbads abroad.

This is an open thread.


The Rwandan Genocide’s 25th Anniversary

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. / ~Rayne]

25 years ago today — within hours after the assassination of Rwanda’s and Burundi’s presidents — Rwanda’s Hutus began systematic killing of minority member Tutsi and Pygmy Batwa.

By mid-July 1994, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandan citizens had been brutally killed — 70% of the Tutsi and 30% of the Pygmy population wiped out by xenophobic rage. It’s not clear exactly how many Rwandans had been slain during the roughly 15-week period because the deaths weren’t documented as they occurred.

The U.S. knew about the threat of violence having intelligence about Hutus seeking “a final solution” but chose to do nothing because the Clinton administration worried they might face another ‘Blackhawk Down’ scenario as they did in Somalia during the Battle of Mogadishu the previous October.

The UN pulled out and did nothing after 10 Belgians serving the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) had been killed during the first week of the genocide. They had been protecting Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana who was slain 25 years ago today; she was the country’s first and so far only female prime minister.

In an interview with Radio France later in the evening on April 6, 1994, she said,

There is shooting, people are being terrorized, people are inside their homes lying on the floor. We are suffering the consequences of the death of the head of state, I believe. We, the civilians, are in no way responsible for the death of our head of state.

Her children survived the attempts on their lives by hiding behind furniture as she and her husband went outside to meet Rwandan soldiers seeking her. They were later smuggled out by a UNAMIR volunteer to safety.

The violence had been fomented for years, its roots likely in the manner by which colonialist Belgium and Germany distinguished for arbitrary reasons the Tutsi over the Hutu, inculcating an idea of separation and otherness with the Rwandan people.

The mounting xenophobia was further fed by hate speech over broadcast radio programming, via Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines. Tutsi were depicted as alien, intent on subjugating the majority Hutu, and as non-Christian.

They were killed in horrible ways; in weeks ahead of the genocide, machetes had been imported in much greater quantities than in previous years. Tutsis were also subject to a broad campaign of torture by rape, resulting in maiming, unwanted pregnancies, and death in many cases, as well as a surge in HIV infections which remain with the survivors and those born after to this day.

~ ~ ~
Some may say that what the U.S. is currently experiencing is just politics, matters of opinion in which some like our president may get carried away with their rhetoric. But we’ve seen politics become deadly after systematic use and normalization of hate speech and eliminationist talk, often exemplified in Nazi, Germany of the 1930s.

We don’t need to look back a lifetime for an example of the deadly effects institutionalized hate speech can have on populations. People responsible for decisions that led to many deaths 25 years ago still walk among us. Survivors still bear witness to the genocide and the events that led to it.

We’ve already seen marked a marked uptick in hate crimes since the 2016 election because hate speech by American leaders gives implicit permission to escalate hate. Trouble is brewing here now, and media whether broadcast or social plays a role in its spread. It’s on us to call it out and reject it.

Hate speech and eliminationist talk is not acceptable. It is toxic and corrosive to a democratic society in which every human is equal under the law. Do not look away or ignore xenophobic talk; it is already excusing the loss of lives both American and Central American alike and it can get worse without intervention.

We owe it to the Rwandans who died 25 years ago to learn something from the hateful madness which took them.

This is an open thread.


Three Things: This Ain’t No Fooling Around

[NB: The byline, check it as always. /~Rayne]

It may be April Fool’s Day but this isn’t a joke. We have some serious matters to tackle urgently today. Let’s get to them pronto.

But first, write down this number or add it to contacts, you’re going to need it:
Congressional switchboard (202) 224-3121

~ 3 ~
Mitch McConnell is expected to bring a Senate rule change to a vote, possibly today; he wants to shorten the amount of time for the Senate to debate nominees before approval 30 from hours to 2 hours. This move was approved by the Senate Rules Committee along party lines and is horribly anti-democratic (little d) as it provides an inadequate amount of time for both senators and their constituents to air problems with nominees and evaluate their suitability for office, which in some cases are lifetime appointments.

McConnell, the man who refused to allow a vote on an Obama SCOTUS nominee, claimed this rule change was necessary because of “‘unprecedented obstruction’ by Democrats.” What amazing projection.

The media also did a pissy job informing the public about this change.

Call your senators, tell them to vote NO on SRes 50. This rule change is unacceptable. You need to know they are fulfilling their role to advise and consent — and that role doesn’t mean rolling over and doing the White House’s bidding. If they don’t fully debate nominees’ qualifications, why do we even need the Senate?

~ 2 ~
And now for the perfect example why the previous rule change is unacceptable: Stephen Moore, economics hack extraordinaire, deadbeat father, and one of the reasons the GOP members of Congress have been especially jacked up since January 2017. McConnell doesn’t want a full debate about him.

This guy is Trump’s nominee for the Federal Reserve and he’s completely out of his depth. I’ll point you to economist Justin Wolfers for details, though — start at the top of his Twitter thread (click on the dte to open it):

And here:

Back when the 115th Congress was sworn in, the House GOP caucus was corralled into a closed door session. Few details have emerged but we know Moore was used to persuade the caucus members they were “no longer the party of Reagan” because popularism. This laid the opening for the POS tax cuts passed last year which were supposed to lead to all kinds of economic growth due to reinvestment. Psych! It was either a massive snow job by Moore on behalf of corporations or it was utter stupidity about the stickiness of corporate profits (they go into shareholders’ pockets, not reinvestment into workers or equipment).

If we ignore the red flags waving about Moore — including a $75,000 tax lien for 2014 income — the ridiculousness of the tax cuts points to Moore’s unsuitability for the Fed Reserve. He’s a complete hack who offers little more than a front to which the GOP can point to legitimize their ransacking the country.

Call your senators: No on Moore for Federal Reserve.

~ 1 ~
This sums up the problem:

A senior administration official with direct knowledge of the meeting described Trump’s stance: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”

Puerto Rico is still in very bad shape 19 months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. I can’t begin to do the scale of the additional problems inflicted on Puerto Ricans by the horrible management of financial aid. Please read this piece at the Washington Post for a better take on how bad things are:

Puerto Rico faces food-stamp crisis as Trump privately vents about federal aid to Hurricane Maria-battered island

The Bigot-in-Chief continues his deadly vendetta against Puerto Rican Americans still badly affected by Hurricane Maria’s devastation. He doesn’t want to send them any additional aid for reasons which are opaque to the rest of the country but are readily guessed at based on his past behavior.

He couldn’t bother to do adequate pre-hurricane preparation; he sat on his goddamn fat ass and bitched about NFL players taking a knee rather than get off his ass and make sure Puerto Rico was prepared. We know he had ample time and instead he was either malignant in his duties or incompetent, take your pick.

— He had to be shamed by Hillary Clinton into dispatching the Navy’s hospital ship. The ship did not treat as many patients as it should have nor did it stay long enough. At least one entire ICU ward on the island died because medical attention didn’t get to the most obviously needy places fast enough.

— Under his watch management of disaster recovery services was totally botched, from water bottles sitting on the tarmac undelivered to electrical service contracts let to what appears were profiteering outfits unprepared to deal with the scale of the problems. So much money was wasted because of this gross incompetence.

— Too little attention was given to Puerto Rico’s businesses as critical national infrastructure. The entire country faced medical supplies shortages because manufacturers in PR were the only sources in the U.S. and they were ignored rather than treated as essential.

Three thousand Americans died after the hurricane; most of them died because of the fucked up and opaque personal agenda Trump has against Puerto Rico. More people may have been affected here on the mainland but I’ll bet there’s no way to record the impact.

Me, for example — I had to manipulate the schedule for major surgery back in early 2018 because the hospitals here in Michigan were reporting tight supplies of IV equipment made in Puerto Rico. Thank goodness it worked out, that I didn’t have another episode requiring transfusions and days of IVs. But I couldn’t help think of patients elsewhere across the country who were negatively impacted; there were reports of reusing disinfected IV equipment because supplies had run out.

Trump thinks Puerto Rico has received too much money already. I suspect Trump’s real issues are:

1) He has a personal bias against Puerto Rico because a Trump-branded golf course there failed in 2015;
2) He simply hates brown and non-English speaking people — just look at how he responds to situations where persons of color need help versus whites;
3) He doesn’t see Puerto Rico as part of the U.S.

American persons of color are highly aware of the treatment of Puerto Rico. How the White House and Congress respond to Puerto Rico shapes their opinion, and failure to do right by Puerto Ricans can affect these voters’ attitudes going into 2020.

But Puerto Ricans don’t have a senator, one might say. True — but it’s estimated 6% of the population left the island after the hurricane and more may still leave. They’ve been moving to Illinois, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Wisconsin because it’s cheaper to live in these states than it is now in Puerto Rico. What a pity for GOP senators in those states up for re-election in 2020 who continue to vote against aid for Puerto Rican recovery — they’ll have more Democratic voters to contend with at the polls.

Call your senators — tell them to ensure Puerto Rico has more financial assistance for post-hurricane recovery. We owe it to our fellow Americans just as we would if they were in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, or California after a major disaster. We owe them for the failure to provide equal protection under the law before, during, and after the hurricane resulting in nearly as many Americans’ deaths as 9/11.

~ 0 ~
Lock and load, people, this ain’t no disco. Roll out to the phones. When you’re done you can use this as an open thread.

P.S. For those of you who aren’t on broadband or have challenges making calls, try sending a fax to your members of Congress. There are sites on line which offer free faxes to Congress; my personal favorite is FaxZero.com as they have the numbers for each member already listed. Just type up a short note — be sure to included your real name and address so they can verify your residency in their district/state — then follow the instructions at the site. I keep a blank letterhead template with address header for each of my members of Congress just for this purpose. All I have to do is fill in the body and send. I have a nice copy in my records of what I sent and when. But do keep in mind these fax services will send an email immediately after you press Send to validate your email address. Check the link the fax service emails before confirming.

Copyright © 2018 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/author/rayne/