We got Barr’s report. Where’s Mueller’s?

I remember telling Swamp Rabbit’s parole officer last month that the Senate confirmation of William Barr for attorney general did not bode well for those of us who were hoping Robert Mueller’s report would be Trump’s undoing.

“Barr is Trump’s boy, Victor,” I said. “He’s the guy who wrote that Mueller’s investigation of possible obstruction of justice by Trump was ‘fatally misconceived.’ That’s why Trump nominated him for AG.”

It’s amazing. Everybody following the story understood that Barr believed in “broad presidential authority,” a belief he acted on while serving as AG for George H.W. Bush.

And we all knew that Barr said Trump was doing the right thing when he fired James Comey as FBI director, even though Trump had admitted in a TV interview that he fired Comey because of “the Russia thing.” (If that’s not an admission of obstruction, what is?)

And yet a lot of mainstream media types profess to be shocked that much of Barr’s four-page summary of special counsel Mueller’s report reads like a spin doctor’s press release for Trump. Barr wrote:

After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

So Trump remains in the clear for now, partly because he and his Republican toadies in the Senate were and are in a position to appoint and control lawyers who interpret the law from an extreme right-wing perspective.

Footnote: Barr likes to pretend he is above the fray, on a plane that is purer than partisan politics, despite the fact that he is a militantly conservative Catholic and has been “associated with” the extreme right-wing Federalist Society and the equally extremist Heritage Foundation.

Another: The Mueller report hasn’t even been released for public scrutiny yet, but Republicans, citing Barr’s press release, are saying Trump has been exonerated. We’ll see about that.

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The right to become a one-man army

From The New York Times:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand on Thursday announced a national ban on all military-style semiautomatic weapons, all high-capacity ammunition magazines and all parts that allow weapons to be modified into the kinds of guns used to kill 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch last week.

“How come they don’t ban them semiautomatics here?” Swamp Rabbit said as he read over my shoulder at the shack.

“You know why, rabbit,” I replied. “The NRA wouldn’t allow it. They’d take the money they set aside to buy the current crop of Congress critters and spend it to elect new critters who promise not to mess with existing gun laws.”

Swamp Rabbit looked dubious. “It’s more than that,” he said. “The U.S. ain’t New Zealand. They only got five million peeps and a few islands. It’s easier for the gov’mint over there to make them give up their guns.”

I corrected him. There are plenty of gun owners in New Zealand, and plenty of gun lobbyists who, like their U.S. counterparts, are always trying to prevent gun control laws. The difference is that New Zealanders accept the fact that assault-style guns — AR-15s and so on — are in a more dangerous category than other guns because of their high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire capability and so on.

I got up on my soap box – there’s one next to my front door — and told him assault-style guns are weapons of war and shouldn’t belong to civilians. He just stared at me, so I stated the case in more down-to-earth terms.

“They’re for wackos,” I said. “An assault gun turns a wacko into a one-man army. He — and it’s always a he — can wipe out a full squad of civilians in two minutes.”

“That’s the whole point,” Swamp Rabbit replied, playing devil’s advocate. “In this country a man’s got a right to become a one-man army. It’s in the Second Amendment.”

I corrected him again. The Second Amendment calls for a “well-regulated Militia” to keep and bear arms. It does not say wackos can own assault guns to use for massacres. It doesn’t even guarantee an individual right to bear arms.

“Millions of peeps would say you’re wrong, Odd Man. The gov’mint bans assault weapons and the next thing they might ban unlicensed gun sellers from selling at gun shows, and then where would we be?”

I told him we’d be in a country with a lot fewer homicides. If semiautomatic guns were harder to get, there wouldn’t have been massacres in Las Vegas and Orlando and Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook and Parkland… If Congress had pursued gun control instead of taking orders from the NRA… If the NRA hadn’t worked for decades to convince rednecks everywhere that the government wanted to seize all their guns… If millions of rednecks in rural areas hadn’t put pressure on their Congress critters…

“Like I said,” the rabbit interrupted. “This ain’t New Zealand.”

Footnote: One of the dirty secrets about these mass killings is that cops, for obvious reasons, are sometimes slow to respond to reports of wackos rampaging with assault weapons. Only once in a while will you encounter this alarming fact in the mainstream media.

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D.C. is a cesspool, not a swamp

Swamp Rabbit was reading from a newspaper column by a guy who dissed the Trump administration for hesitating to ground all of Boeing’s 737 Max airliners, even though two airplanes of this type have crashed and burned in the past five months, killing all aboard:

The swamp has overflowed, with lobbyists employed by Trump quintupling over two years. Boeing, American Airlines and 31 other corporate entities landed at least five former lobbyists apiece. Public Citizen reported that, five months into the administration, nearly 70 percent of top nominees had corporate ties.

“What swamp is this guy talking about?” the rabbit said. “You live in a swamp, Odd Man, and me too. We got egrets and snakes and frogs and raccoons and water rats, even a dead biker once in a while. But there ain’t no lobbyists in the swamp. The critters wouldn’t stand for it. Neither would the pond scum.”

I told the rabbit that “the swamp,” when the media use the term, refers to Washington, D.C., and specifically to the pervasive climate of corruption in the capital — to the bribery and influence-peddling and other unseemly practices that go on there 24/7.

“The newspaper guy is making a joke about Trump,” I explained, taking a seat on the porch of my shack. “Around when he first took office, Trump said he was going to drain the swamp.”

The rabbit looked horrified. “Why would anybody want to drain the swamp?” he said. “That would kill all the critters and the plants, and bring floods and droughts and them tacky townhouses.”

I rolled my eyes. “It’s a metaphor, rabbit. Most people think swamps are murky, rotten places.”

The rabbit spit off the porch and into my recently thawed-out pond. “That ain’t fair. This here swamp is funky, but it ain’t rotten.”

“It’s just an expression,” I said, losing my patience. “Just a word.”

“Words are important,” he replied. “Washington is a cesspool, not a swamp.”

I shrugged. “Call it what you want. Just don’t expect anyone to drain it, even after Trump goes to jail.”

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Bribery can get you into top schools. (This is news?)

The mainstream media is obsessed this week with parents who got their under-qualified kids into prestigious colleges by using a fixer who funneled bribes to “certain college officials,” as Alia Wong of The Atlantic put it before stating the obvious:

The country’s elite have long used their wealth to get their kids into top colleges via legal and widely recognized means — legacy and athletic admissions tend to favor the wealthy, and those who can pay for test prep and expensive sports get an additional leg up. In extreme cases, wealthy parents make hefty donations to schools, or, for example, pay for new campus buildings. The 33 parents now being charged allegedly opted instead for organized conspiracy.

“The media focused on this story because it’s crude and involves a few celebrities,” I said to my friend Swamp Rabbit. “They usually ignore college admission scams. There are no front-page stories about mediocre students like George W. Bush and Jared Kushner getting accepted at Ivy League schools.”

“Of course there ain’t,” the rabbit said. “Unethical and legal is okay, but unethical and illegal gets you arrested. What else is new?”

Nothing is new, I told him. The cost of education (and everything else) keeps growing, along with the gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the country. As the student loan bubble expands, it’s clear that the middle class — what’s left of it — no longer has the earning power to handle college costs. The poor never did.

So a lot of people walk around feeling angry and frustrated. Some of them, the dopes who voted for Trump, blame the cost of higher education and the rest of their woes on Mexican desperadoes and so on. Others just step back and say the hell with all politicians, and thus help monsters like Trump come to power and make the situation even worse.

“You must be one of them experts,” the sarcastic rabbit said. “So tell me, when are the peeps gonna get wise?”

I thought of the busload of Democrats running for president — Beto O’Rourke is the latest — of all the confusion and in-fighting up ahead.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But when they do, it won’t be because of the mainstream media.”

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Re Murdoch and Trump: Who’s zoomin’ who?

Swamp Rabbit was replacing a plank on the front porch of my shack while I read aloud from Jane Mayer’s comprehensive takedown of Fox News:

…As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead…

“Ain’t technology grand?” the rabbit said. “Who knew back in the day we’d have a president who tweeted Fox News stories like they were gospel? Who knew what a tweet was?”

Mayer noted in her lengthy article that 88-year-old Aussie billionaire Rupert Murdoch launched the Fox television network in the 1990s and hired Roger Ailes to create for it a conservative news station that would mimic his “unapologetically lowbrow” tabloids. Under Ailes, Fox and its talking heads perfected a hatefully paranoid style that won the hearts and minds of poorly educated, anti-elitist white people all over the country.

Swamp Rabbit hammered a nail through the new plank and into a crossbeam. “The best part of the article is where Mayer explains that Murdoch helped turn Trump into a tabloid star forty-some years ago, even though he knew Trump was an idiot.”

I disagreed. “The best part is where Mayer says Murdoch unknowingly invented Trump’s base. He didn’t like it when Trump ran for president, but Fox viewers did.”

Ailes had been wary of cozying up to candidate Trump and had reportedly told Murdoch, “Trump gets great ratings, but if you’re not careful he’s going to end up totally controlling Fox News.”

But Murdoch eventually warmed up to the idea of a President Trump, especially after Ailes was forced out of the picture (sexual harassment allegations). A source told Mayer, “[Murdoch has] always wanted to have a relationship with a President — he’s a businessman and he sees benefits of having a chief of state doing your bidding.”

So is Trump a useful idiot for Murdoch, or has Murdoch merely fooled himself into thinking this is so? Which of these ugly old white men is the true master of the right-wing media universe?

“What’s it to you?” the rabbit said after driving another nail into the porch floor. “Ain’t neither of them chumps gonna help you get this shack back in shape.”

Footnote: Life is less dreary in the movies. My idea of a media mogul is Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane — a charming and dynamic dreamer who wanted to save the world until he was corrupted by power. The real-life Kane is Murdoch, a cold-blooded money counter who, like Trump, is (in Mayer’s words) “devoid of almost any ideology besides self-interest.”

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GOP still clings to Trump’s sinking ship. Good.

The heater in my shack broke down yesterday, so Swamp Rabbit and I put on heavy coats and huddled around a space heater to watch newly disbarred lawyer Michael Cohen testify at the House Oversight Committee hearing. Cohen started with a summary assessment of his former guru, Donald Trump: “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat.”

“Yo Mike, tell us what you really think,” Swamp Rabbit said to the flat screen. “Stop beatin’ around the bush.”

It was refreshing to hear Cohen state the obvious, but the Republicans at the hearing weren’t having any of it. One after another, they scolded Cohen for being a liar and a fixer but somehow never addressed the fact that he’d been a liar and a fixer for Trump.

The hearing — what I saw of it — was a monotonous charade, with only a few instances of comic relief. At one point Rep. Paul Gosar, a vile wingnut from Arizona, ended a tirade against Cohen by shouting, “You’re a pathological liar. You don’t know truth from falsehood.”

Not missing a beat, Cohen replied, “Sir, I’m sorry. Are you referring to me or the president?”

Cohen’s testimony will probably be a big help when the feds indict Trump for insurance fraud, tax fraud, and/or bank fraud, and who knows what else. Cohen even showed copies of two checks he says he received from Trump’s gang as partial reimbursement for paying Stormy Daniels to keep quiet regarding her alleged one-night (two-minute?) stand with Trump.

I told the rabbit this: Republicans will ignore the checks and all other evidence that their dear leader is a racist, a con man and a cheat, as well as a fool, ignoramus, bully, coward and, yes, a would-be dictator. (Mainstream media prefers the more polite word “autocrat.”) They’ll ignore it all because they’re as rotten as Trump and would gladly accept him as dictator if that was the price for their re-election.

“Yo Odd Man, tell us what you really think,” the rabbit replied.

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Don’t flip out, it’s only a movie

Swamp Rabbit was booing the selection of Green Book for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. “That movie sugarcoats racism,” he said. “They had to rewrite history so white peeps would like it.”

“You’re a white guy, but you don’t like it,” I countered. “I’ll bet you haven’t even seen it.”

This was a good year for diversity, I reminded him, even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is still mostly white and male. I told him to wise up — award shows are not so much about singling out works of art as about trying to guess which way the culture is trending and which films have pleased the most people.

Members of the academy voted to split the difference this year, I explained, running through the list of nominees:

Green Book and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman are both about racism. Both did well at the box office, but Lee’s film was deemed too didactic (one critic called it a “cinematic sermon”) and not the sort of feel-good movie that often wins the big prize. It had to settle for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Roma is about class issues, filmed artfully in black and white. It got a strong push from Netflix but it’s still an indie film, subtitled, made on a relatively small budget. But Alfonso Cuarón was named best director. (Five of the last six “best director” Oscars have gone to Mexicans!)

The Favourite features three strong women characters, but its humor is too subversive for middle-of-the-road audiences. It won for Best Actress, the very British Olivia Colman.

Black Panther made a ton of money and is visually stunning, but its characters are cartoonish. It’s a fashionably black variation on all the other Marvel movies.

Bohemian Rhapsody has a gay hero and an eerie performance by Rami Malek (Best Actor), but it’s essentially a corny musical biopic like Hollywood has been cranking out since The Glenn Miller Story (1954).

And so on. There were too many nominees, which is a reflection of the fact that tastes are becoming more diverse and Hollywood is struggling to please more and more audiences.

“I kind of like Bohemian Rhapsody,” Swamp Rabbit said. “It brought a tear to my eye.”

“That’s what it was supposed to do,” I replied. “It follows a formula that was invented to make swamp rabbits cry.”

“I resent that, Odd Man. What was the best new movie you saw?”

I named Cold War, a masterfully directed, unsentimental Polish film about the fragility of romantic love and the inevitability of loss and misery.

“Well, ain’t you the sophisticated one,” the rabbit said. “Why don’t you move to Poland or somewhere else with subtitles? You could be miserable over there instead of here.”

“I can’t afford to,” I admitted. “I have to settle for being miserable on U.S. soil, at least for now.”

Footnote: It was another bad year for music at the awards show. The guys in Queen were/are good musicians, but I can’t think of two songs more obnoxiously stupid than “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Lady Gaga is talented and hard-working but her song “Shallow” is overwrought. That’s the kindest adjective I can think of.

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