A Confederacy of Morons

Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.
– Mark Twain

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
– Benjamin Franklin

It’s hard to be astonished anymore during the era of Trump. It seems that you barely have time to grasp one amazingly ridiculous proposal, dubious policy, outrageous statement or incredibly inept blunder before another one smacks you right in the gob. I never understood news fatigue until the election of our current president. I have heard talking heads say this is part of some brilliant plan, that the Trump team wants to so overwhelm us with idiotic actions that we become numb to the reality of just what they are doing.

Well, I can’t disagree with the idea that Trump is devious. Nor that he is a greasy, cheap, egotistical serial liar. I think, however, that his greatest attribute is that he is cunning. But not like Dick Cheney was cunning or Lee Atwater was cunning or Henry Kissinger was cunning. There was intelligence behind these examples of cunning, albeit a dark, dangerous intelligence.

There is no intelligence behind Trump’s cunning. There is the street smarts of the greasy snake oil salesman who makes a lot of noise upon his entry into a rural town, peddles his wares and then slides away in the middle of the night before the rubes can realize he’s fleeced them.

He reminds me of the Duke in Huckleberry Finn. One devoutly wishes that Trump could share the same fate.

It would be bad enough if we only had to deal with this intellectual vacuum in the president. Sadly, he has surrounded himself with people who, like him, seem to be as dumb as a bag of hammers.

Take for example the recent comments of Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross, another billionaire of dubious integrity in the Trump administration. While appearing on CNBC Ross said that he was puzzled by stories about federal workers needing to turn to food banks and other forms of relief in order to tide themselves and their families over while waiting for the government to send them their paychecks. “They should just be able to obtain bridge loans to tide them over,” Ross burbled on.

Only a man who is lived most of his life in the 1% could fail to understand why people, many of whom must live paycheck to paycheck, need to seek relief from food banks and other organizations. To label it as the statement of spoiled, out-of-touch asshole is an insult to assholes everywhere.

Then you have the human circus that is Rudy Giuliani. Seldom has one man done so much to undermine his employer then Rudy has recently. Not only has he raised serious questions about Trump’s actions during the 2016 election campaign, he successfully knocked the news about Robert Muller’s team publicly disagreeing with the Buzzfeed story about Trump instructing Michael Cohen to lie to Congress off the front pages, airwaves, and computer screens of media outlets across the country.

Giuliani is Mini-Me to Trump’s Dr. Evil. Very much like him in every way except so much “smaller.”

Nor can we forget KellyAnne Conway, one of the official designated liars of the Trump administration (an appointment she shares with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders). Conway, who invented the unforgettable term “alternative facts,” and make sure she uses them every chance she gets, reminds me of what Dandy Don Meredith once said about a running back in the NFL – she’s slippery than a watermelon seed.

I always used to think Conway was at least somewhat intelligent. But the revelations this week contained in the book Team of Vipers by former White House aide Cliff Sims has caused me to reconsider my evaluation of Conway.

Sims writes in the book about the time he was asked to write an official statement denouncing accusations that Conway was one of the sources leaking information to the media from the White House. Conway lent Sims her Mac Book to write the statement. Meanwhile, Conway went into a corner and started using her smartphone.

What she didn’t realize was that every tweet she was sending was also appearing on her computer, now being used by Sims. Sims watched as she tweeted back and forth with several journalists from media outlets like CNN, the Washington Post, and Politico, bashing other officials in the Trump administration like Jared Kushner and the then Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus. Sims notes that the irony of him writing a statement about her not leaking to journalists as she leaked to journalists was not lost on him.

Sims writes that Conway reminded him of a cartoon villain brought to life. But it appears that like all cartoon villains, she is not quite as smart as she thought she was.

Oh, you can write for days about the imbecility on display every day at the White House. But one only has so much time. I leave you with the unforgettable words of Forrest Gump…

Stupid is as stupid does.

Mueller’s Non-Denial Denial

Michael Cohen (Photo by IowaPolitics.com)

Many years I ago I took a sabbatical from my job at the Halifax Daily News to finish my degree. I took a course in advanced composition from a battleship of a woman named Patricia Monk, who was maybe the best teacher I ever had. Prof. Monk knew I was a journalist and worked me hard because she expected more from me. I remember when we studied “dirty word” (because in Prof. Monk’s world, dirty words were just as good as regular ones). She would write words on the blackboard that would make a sailor blush but I learned the difference between profanity, obscenity, and scatology. She knew the professor who next used the room was a bit of a prude so she would not erase the words at the end of class.

Prof. Monk drilled one lesson into us again and again. If you know how to use words, they can never be used against you.

Which brings me to the present moment. Robert Mueller knows how to use words. So when I read his statement about the Buzzfeed story alleging that President Trump instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, I paid close attention to language. At no point in the story did Mueller and his team say the story was “wrong.”

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,” the statement from the Mueller team read.

Not accurate. Hmmm. That’s the kind of language you use when someone is close to the mark but not quite on target. If something is wrong, then just say it’s wrong or that that story is not true. Not accurate is a completely different kettle of fish.

Then you have Rudy G’s statement made on the talking head shows yesterday that maybe Trump did speak to Cohen before he testified to Congress about him but “So what?” In Rudy’s world, if Trump really did shoot someone on 5th Avenue, Rudy would go on CNN and say “So what?” (Jonathan Swan of Axios explains why it’s not a “so what?” thing.) We already know that after months of Rudy telling us that Trump made no attempt to do business with Russia during the campaign, he now admits that, well, they did talk about it until November of 2016.

Marcia Wheeler of Empty Wheel has a great piece on why Mueller had to make the statement in order to preserve Cohen’s ability to testify in a trail.

I would also argue that Mueller did Trump no favors, especially after Trump then tweeted Mueller his thanks for making the statement about the Buzzfeed story. It’s going to be hard now for Trump to keep crying “WITCH HUNT!!!” It will give the Mueller report much more street cred when it finally comes out.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed continues to stand behind the story.

And that’s why words matter.

I Smell Impeachment in the Air

President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project

So Mueller knows that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his business dealings with Russia. And Mueller has emails and testimony to back it up. Maybe this is why Rudy G. has thrown everybody overboard except the president.

“The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.”

If the report backs this up, I see no way that the House cannot begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. It will be then very difficult for GOP senators to not convict Trump with such a blatant example of him ordering his subordinates to lie to Congress.

I think the endgame is starting.

No Low Too Low for Trump and Health Care Lies from Rand Paul

Trump invokes one of the worst Native American massacres to mock Elizabeth Warren

By now, the vast majority of Americans have accepted the fact that our president is a crude racist. There is nothing presidential about Donald Trump, not in any way, shape, or form – which makes the fact that he is president so hard to accept even two years after his election.

He’s really little better than a schoolyard bully, especially when it comes to the way that he responds to any real or imagined adversary or critic. I know Trump doesn’t like Elizabeth Warren and the fact that he calls her Pocahontas is bad enough but to tie that vile remark to little Big Horn is just one of those things that leaves you speechless. There does not seem to be any bottom for Trump, no crude remark he leaves unsaid, no racist thought he keeps quiet.

On the other hand, watching him lately tells me he’s worried. He knows his time is up and that all of his lies and racism and under the table dealings with Putin and laundered Russian money and his obstruction of justice are about to rain down on him like a monsoon.

I hope he gets soaked.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is going to Canada for surgery

Twenty-eight years ago, my mother-in-law came to visit us in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada to have hip replacement surgery. We had a very good midsize hospital just outside Windsor. Therefore my mother-in-law, who was more or less on a fixed income, knew that the hip replacement surgery costs in Canada, even with American healthcare (what there is of it) were substantially lower than those in the United States. So she came to have it done there.

The key is why they these costs so much lower. With universal healthcare in Canada, administrative costs are reduced, everyone pays into the system through taxes and as a result, the overall cost to purchase healthcare in Canada is substantially less than in the United States for someone who is not a Canadian. Basically, Canadians subsidize the cost of foreigners purchasing their healthcare in Canada.

So Rand Paul is going to Canada for a hernia operation as the result of the attack by his neighbor a couple of years ago. But Rand Paul says he’s not really going to Canada for “healthcare.” He compared the idea of universal healthcare to “slavery” a few years ago. So far be it from him now to seek out the care that he needs in Canada because of “socialized” medicine.

Rand Paul is one of America’s worst senators, who consistently talks the talk, but inevitably fails to walk the walk. A promise from Rand Paul to take a tough stand and two dollars will help you by a latte but you’ll still need $0.75.

Mr. Paul should thank his lucky stars that Canada has universal healthcare or else be paying through the nose just like he would if he were in the United States. What a phony.

Go North, Young Man…And Woman

Trump’s immigration policy has foreign tech talent looking north of the border

Trump’s immigration policies are driving talented foreign workers to Canada. Excellent

Part of this article states that Canada is not very good at selling itself. Well, part of that may be that unlike Americans, Canadians tend to understate how great the country is. And it is a great country that offers so much more than the United States.

The weather? Well as the article again notes there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

“The Soul of America”

Trump claims he never said Mexico would cut a check for the wall. Let’s go to the tape.

I just finished reading Jon Meacham’s wonderful book, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.” It is both a delightful read and at the same time a cautionary tale. Meacham cautions us, as the New York Times reviewer notes, that America’s survival is not automatic. The book examines times in the past when fear, confusion, and hatred have gripped the country in situations very similar to our own.

I took two main things away from “The Soul of America.” Something that I have told my own children many times – that the struggle never ends and never will and that we have to keep fighting for what’s right because the forces that would haul us backward never stop striving to undo the progress that we have made as a nation. And secondly, when faced with a crushing tsunami of lies and obstructions to the truth, the media needs to continue to publish the facts, even if those facts are unpopular.

Sometimes this requires the media to publish or broadcast those facts again and again. Such is the current situation in which we find ourselves. President Donald Trump is the master liar. He lies, and lies, and lies… And then lies again. He continues to lie even when his lies have been totally debunked and shown to be lies and half-truths. Trump never uses reasoned arguments against his critics but attacks and slanders them as unworthy or cowards or haters of America because they are unwilling to accept his malignant vision of the nation.

The same is true of those minions that doing his bidding like his children, Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Homeland Security Sec. Kirstien Nielsen, to name just a few. They lie in service to Trump. One senses occasionally that they wish they could be more truthful. But access to power numbs any personal misgivings they may have.

This is not the first time a demagogue has sought to rend our country asunder and to divide us into camps. Never before, however, has that person been the president of the United States. As Meacham points out, flawed as they were, past presidents were the ones that help the country move beyond these moments of crisis even if they sometimes did so halfheartedly.

Now we face a crisis unlike any the country has known before. Our president is a man totally devoted to mendacity, to egotism, to personal gain, to the retention of power and not the welfare of the people. This crisis will not be solved easily. Even if Trump is impeached and through some miracle, enough Republican senators voted to convict him and throw him out of office, his malicious and dangerous spirit would survive to haunt us. For, as Meacham again notes, you do not get someone like a Trump without some of the people wanting someone like a Trump.

And so, at the end of his wonderful book, Meacham calls for Americans who care about their country to take up the struggle. And for most of us, that means to take up the struggle politically. To knock on doors, lick envelopes, put up signs or even run for office. We must not shrink from that struggle, and to find a way to talk to and communicate with those who feel differently than we do.

Because the reality is that now that we’ve had one Trump, the chance that we will have another Trump-like politician in our future will be that much more assured. The struggle never ends.

Old White GOP Men Are Terrified of Ocasio-Cortez

GOP Strategist Calls Ocasio-Cortez ‘The Little Girl.’ She Lets Him Have It.

It’s amazing to me how scared Republicans, and particularly Republican white men, are of new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They attack her relentlessly. The other day when Nancy Pelosi was being sworn in as the new Speaker of the House, the GOP only booed one person when their name was called during the vote and that was Ocasio-Cortez. Conservative talking heads criticize her every move, every idea she has, they even tried to make fun of her because she likes to dance.

Oh how scared they must be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of covering politics and living in a political family is that you don’t attack someone like this unless you are really scared of what they represent and you need to try to knock them down. Unlike others in the past, however, who have been attacked this way Ocasio-Cortez gives as good as she gets and she is unafraid to clap back. And how it must bother these old white men that a young Latina is unafraid of them.

What really scares them is how much she is admired by young people. Her ideas, like a 70% tax the ultrarich (which is an idea that is supported by several Nobel prize-winning economists), resonate with young people who are struggling with student debt and only able to find minimum-wage jobs. I know my four children all between the ages of 16 and 23 feel that she speaks for them and their concerns. And that is really what has the GOP terrified.

Did the U.S. Cover Up a Civilian Massacre Before Black Hawk Down?

A few years ago, when I was still working at the Christian Science Monitor, photos showing the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became public. I was writing about what the pictures told us about the US military one day when a member of our management team came by, saw what I was writing, and commented how terrible it was and this was the first time that he’d ever heard of any such thing connected to the US military.

I told him it was far from the first time that the US military had been accused of atrocities during wartime. The US war in the Philippines (in fact, the US committed so many atrocities in his conflict that then Pres. William McKinley asked the press not to write about them because it was endangering his chances of reelection), World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq all saw such atrocities take place along with an effort by the US military and the US government to cover up these incidents. We like to excuse these incidents as “the fog of war” but very often as with the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, American troops and commanders knew exactly what they were doing.

But this was a new one to me. In an attack described as “mass murder” by Human Rights Watch, US forces destroyed a building in which many Somali elders had gathered to talk about ways to find a peaceful solution to the problems in Somalia. Over 200 civilians were killed. The attack so angered Somali citizens that they attacked and killed four Western journalists in retaliation. The attack also played a direct role in the incident we know as “Black Hawk Down,” where several American soldiers were killed and their bodies dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

At the time, there didn’t seem to be any reason for the Somalis brutal treatment of the bodies of the dead American soldiers. Now that this incident is being exposed, perhaps it gives us more context to understand this horrifying reaction.

How 2 Student Reporters Exposed One Of The Internet’s Biggest Neo-Nazis

And this, friends, is why we need good solid journalism more than ever. These two Canadian journalism students at Concordia University in Montréal, through hard work and lots of shoe leather, discovered the identity of one of the most racist and terrifying figures promoting hatred on the Internet. They did so knowing that they would be attacked by the far-right not only digitally but perhaps even physically.

With the help of a reporter on the Montréal Gazette, their hard work led them to a self-employed information technology consultant in his early 30s, Gabriel Sohier Chaput, also a resident of Montréal. Unlike the United States, Canada has laws against hate speech. In Montréal when police moved in to arrest him, he vanished and his whereabouts are still unknown.

The actions of these two students illustrate why journalists become journalists. We don’t do it because we think that one day they’ll make a movie about what we do and ask some big Hollywood personality like Robert Redford to portray us. Most of us start our careers at small papers or media outlets reporting on local council meetings or chasing ambulances. We do it because we care about the truth and we believe that people have a right to know the truth, even little truths like you learned at council meetings. Sometimes that truth makes people angry, even the people who should know about it. That will not stop us from doing what we need to do.

It’s why people like Gabriel Sohier Chaput need to know we are out there and we will not stop at exposing what they do.

Democrats Know How to Play Dirty Tricks Too – Musings, 12/27/18

[Illustration by Georgia Democrats, Creative Commons]

Internet billionaire Reid Hoffman apologizes for funding a group tied to disinformation in Alabama race

And they don’t like being caught doing it any more than the Russians or the Republicans did.

Apparently, a pro-Democrat research firmed used “Russian-like disinformation tactics” during the Alabama Senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones (Jones apparently had no idea this was being done). And these dirty Russian like tactics were done by none other than the firm that presented a major report on the Russian disinformation campaign to the Senate.

This disinformation campaign was apparently funded by Internet billionaire (anytime I see Internet billionaire I always get suspicious) Reid Hoffman, co-founder of Linked In who was throwing around a lot of money to support democratic causes. He apologized for supporting this one in particular but offered no real details about the actual campaign itself.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Leave it up to the Democrats to shoot themselves in the foot while at the same time finding a way to make Vladimir Putin and his Russian thugs seem less ominous. I don’t know who okayed this particular operation but whoever it was needs to have his goddamn head examined. Idiot.

LeBron James apologises for ‘Jewish money’ Instagram post

LeBron James said that when he posted the lyrics from a song by 21 Savage he thought it was a “compliment.” LeBron James is no dummy so I fail to see how he could think that any reference to the term “Jewish money” is a compliment when it reinforces an anti-Semitic stereotype that stretches back centuries. Republican politicians and right-wing talking heads have been using it lately to smear Jews like George Soros.

Maybe he really didn’t know. But I hate the “I’m sorry if I offended anybody” nature of his apology. How about just saying “I screwed up and used a really anti-Semitic reference that did offend a lot of people.” And then using his massive bully pulpit to explain to people why it’s anti-Semitic. At this moment in history, with the Pittsburgh shooting so fresh in our memories and regular attacks on Jews in the U.S., it could’ve made a big difference if he had handled in the right way.

But he’s LeBron James. So he gets to skate. The NBA accepted his explanation that it was a mistake. ESPN carried a short piece about the comment, no doubt not wanting to upset one of America’s biggest sports stars. While this story may fade in a day or two, you have to wonder if LeBron’s posting the remarks, followed by his weak apology. will linger. Millions of young people pay attention to what he does and says. As this piece in SB nation puts it, will there be people who now think it’s okay to make allusions to “Jewish money” because LeBron did?

The Dollar Store Backlash Has Begun

An interesting piece about the boom of Dollar Stores across the United States and what it says about the real economy – not the one followed by billionaires on Wall Street, but the one everyday people live in. Basically, the article argues that if a Dollar Store appears in your neighborhood that means your neighborhood is in economic trouble.

Trump Brags To Troops About A Fictional Giant Pay Raise He Got Them

Because he’s Donald Trump and because lying is as natural to him as breathing is to most human beings, President Screw-Up couldn’t help himself when he went to visit U.S. troops in Iraq over Christmas. First, I’m glad he went to visit the troops. That’s a good thing. But rather than quietly and humbly (ha ha) thanking the men and women who put their lives on the lines for America every day, he tried to make the event all about himself by bragging that he had got them their first pay raise in a decade and it was a 10% pay increase!

Lies, damn lies and pretty poor statistics.

First, the military receives a pay increase every year. So the last time the military got a pay increase was last year, not a decade ago. And the pay increase they are receiving this year is 2.6%, not 10%. The people that I know in the American military watch their money pretty closely because we really don’t pay them very well. They are more than well aware of what is in their paychecks. They would know immediately that he was just gasbagging them. But Trump believes he can baffle the entire world with his bullshit.

By the way, that wasn’t the only screw-up that President Screw-up made. After his trip, he posted a video of his meeting with Seal Team Five, which had been deployed to Iraq. Only you’re not supposed to do that. Technically, as president of the United States, he can make any secret instantly not secret. But we all know he wasn’t thinking that.

Instead he posted a video that revealed the identities of members of a special operative squad. People who actually pay attention to things like security say that the president’s actions would normally be viewed as a violation of operational security because it endangers the lives of the members of that team. Not that Donald Trump ever even thought about that for a second.

Americans Trust Clergy Less Than Ever, Gallup Poll Finds

With good reason. Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals do bad things to little boys and little girls. Evangelical clerics turn a blind eye to the many sins of Donald Trump in order to get the power that they want. There are many good people of faith in the United States. There may be even some in the clergy. But as the article above points out “a whole lot of really bad apples” spoil the bunch.

I do note that the group immediately below the clergy were journalists. We are unpopular because we tell people things they don’t want to hear. The clergy is unpopular because too many of them are liars and hypocrites. Like Congress, which finished last in the poll.

Christie’s “Crazy Uncle” Theory of Donald Trump

Christie compares Trump to ‘72-year-old relative’: Harder to convince them they’re not doing the right thing

A lot of families have them. An older relative, usually an uncle (although in my case it was a great aunt) who you wish you didn’t have to invite to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner but you have to because he’s related. The reason you wish you didn’t have to invite him is that you know he is going to sit there throughout dinner talking too loudly, pronouncing crazy theory after crazy theory, muttering darkly about “the blacks” or “the Mexicans”, telling you repeatedly why he thinks the country is going to hell in a handbag, and attacking anyone who dares to challenge him on his totally stupid and unrealistic theories.

“When people get older, they become more and more convinced of the fact that what they’re doing is the right thing and it becomes harder to convince them otherwise.”

Well, according to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, this is Donald Trump. Trump has become the “crazy uncle” who always thinks he’s right and is not willing to change. Christie made the comparison while appearing on a Sunday talk show and explaining why it will be difficult for Trump’s advisors to get him to change. “When people get older, they become more and more convinced of the fact that what they’re doing is the right thing and it becomes harder to convince them otherwise, ” Christie said.

Lovely. Well, it’s hard enough to have a crazy uncle in your family. To have a crazy uncle running the country is a BIG problem.

How Russian Money Bailed Out Trump

How Russian Money Helped Save Trump’s Business

A great investigative piece by Foreign Policy that shows just how much Donald Trump owes to Russian oligarchs and banks.

As the early 90s, American banks were finished with Trump and his money-losing ways. He was a terrible businessman. As late as 2003 he was in desperate financial trouble and pressed his siblings to sell off his late father’s estate which Fred Trump had warned them not to do when he was alive. Then he declared bankruptcy again in 2004.

But Trump made a comeback largely due to an influx of foreign capital in particular from Russia.

But remember, he has no business dealing with Russia. The Donald told us so himself…

Faces of a new capitalism: How Millennials are embracing socialist values

I’m not sure why socialism is a “new capitalism,” but this is still a good piece from the Christian Science Monitor and spot on. As a longtime socialist myself (and a strong supporter of the NDP in Canada) I have seen much of this change in my own children and their friends. It’s been seven years since the Occupy Wall Street movement. While it didn’t make big inroads at the time, its ideas spread, particularly among young people.

On the one hand, you see the growth of corporations like Amazon, which has been tagged as being anti-worker for many of its practices. Yet even Amazon is paying its workers more money these days, attuned to the change in public perception about the way businesses treat workers.

There is something happening in the American economy. It’s not gonna happen all at once. But ten years from now the American economy will be a much socialist (in the Canadian or European model) as capitalist. Can’t happen fast enough for me.