WAY worse than Watergate

Swamp Rabbit was trying to read the news to me but I was on the porch feeding the swamp cats and blasting Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch through my JBL speaker.

“I can’t hear you,” I shouted through the window. “Who is it that won’t testify?”

“That guy who looks like Fred Flintstone at Wilma’s funeral,” Swamp Rabbit said. “The attorney general.”

I went inside and read the story on my laptop screen:

[Attorney General William] Barr is expected to appear before the Senate and House Judiciary committees Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, to address questions about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. But according to senior aides for the panel’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Justice Department officials have objected to Democrats’ plans to permit extended questioning, including by the committee’s lawyers, and threatened that Barr may withdraw.

Bottom line, the AG did what Trump hired him to do: sugarcoat the Mueller report’s findings to protect Trump. Barr is reluctant to answer questions about this because he, like his boss, believes in an imperial presidency.

“They should quit wasting time and subpoena the guy,” I said. “He’s just another Trump lackey.”

“But he’s the AG,” Swamp Rabbit replied. “This is some serious shit, Odd Man. It could turn into Watergate all over again.”

I said yes, the current crisis is another test of whether a president can get away with ignoring the popular notion that the Constitution calls for three distinct and co-equal branches of government.

“But this is bigger than Watergate,” I added. “Trump is hiding a hundred times as many crimes as Nixon hid. Anybody else would be impeached by now. In jail, maybe.”

Swamp Rabbit, beside himself with angst, wondered aloud if the rule of law can survive a profoundly corrupt and ignorant president who dismisses the concept of congressional oversight. A would-be dictator, in other words.

“Trump says he’s gonna tell all his lackeys to ignore subpoenas,” he said. “What can them Congress critters do if that happens?”

“They can hold the lackeys in contempt and have them locked up,” I replied. “They can start with Flintstone.”

But then there’s the question of what happens if the courts get involved. I’m glad the rabbit didn’t ask me that.

Footnote: Check out this piece, which cites Garry Wills’s A Necessary Evil in arguing that the so-called Founders meant for Congress to have more power than the executive or judicial branches.

Another: David Cay Johnston, who’s been tracking the Trump monster’s ups and downs for decades, is convinced the courts won’t save him.

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‘The fix is in’ — a cliche, but how true

No collusion… No collusion… No collusion.”

I could hear Donald Trump’s mantra through the window yesterday as I was hanging clothes on the porch at my shack. But it wasn’t Trump speaking; it was William Barr, the attorney general, who was holding a press conference an hour before the release of the redacted Mueller report.

My friend Swamp Rabbit was watching Barr’s speech on the TV. “The fix is in,” he said as I walked in from the porch.

I groaned. “Spare me the cliches, rabbit.”

“I ain’t the one said the fix is in,” Swamp Rabbit said. “It was Jeffrey Toobin.”

He was right. Toobin is an attorney, a writer for the New Yorker, a talking head on CNN, and not exactly a flame-throwing radical. He usually avoids cliches, but what else can you say in light of the way the Mueller report has been handled by Barr who, not long before being chosen for AG by Trump, wrote a memo arguing there was no legal basis for bringing obstruction charges against the president?

Here is Barr at the press conference, kissing up to his boss:

The White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims… And at the same time, the President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.

“Give me a break!” I shouted at the TV. “Trump fought Mueller tooth and nail, every step of the way. He refused to be questioned in person by Mueller. He would have fired Mueller if Don McGahn hadn’t threatened to quit.”

Swamp Rabbit put his feet up on a milk crate. “Calm down, Odd Man, we knew it would go down like this. Ain’t no use crying over spilt whiskey.”

But it was hard to move on. Robert Mueller, everybody’s great hope for justice, seems to have wimped out. He didn’t subpoena Trump, Trump Jr., Eric, Ivanka or Jared Kushner. He identified ten instances of possible criminal obstruction of justice by Trump but wrote no suggestions regarding what should be done with the evidence his team had gathered.

Mueller is no partisan hack like Barr, but one might argue that his apparent decision to protect the institution of the presidency by not charging Trump played directly into the hands of Barr and Trump.

“Then one would be wrong,” Swamp Rabbit said, mocking me. “Mueller was punting the ball to Congress and hoping they’d run with it. And he was counting on average Americans to do the right thing in 2020.”

Later on yesterday, I worked a sales job at the Iron Pigs game in Bethlehem. The ballpark’s loudspeakers cranked out advertisements and bad rock & roll. The noise was deafening but the average Americans in attendance didn’t seem to mind. It might be too late to count on them for anything.

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Even Nielsen wasn’t creepy enough for the chief

Swamp Rabbit and I pored over Rick Wilson’s 2018 book Everything Trump Touches Dies and wondered about the accuracy of the title.

“Interesting thesis,” I said. “The author is assuming Trump’s flunkies aren’t dead to begin with.”

Swamp Rabbit quibbled. “The title says everything, not everybody. Most of them peeps who got close to Trump are still alive.”

I demurred. “They may still have a pulse but their souls are dead. Look at Kirstjen Nielsen.”

Nielsen had just that day been forced out of her job as Homeland Security chief by Donald Trump, even though she’d been on board with his inhumane directives, including his decision to separate immigrant parents from their children at the Mexican border.

“Think about it,” I said to the rabbit. The middle-aged Nielsen could have finished her cybersecurity gig in comfortable obscurity but instead chose to work in Trump’s Cabinet, presumably because the proximity to greater power thrilled her. Like her predecessor John Kelly, she embraced Trump’s core values — bigotry, cruelty, dishonesty — but not ardently enough to keep Trump from turning on her.

“The question is, did her soul die after she took the job or was it dead all along,” I said.

The rabbit was silent, but I persisted. Are fascists born or are they made? Is it really possible to corrupt someone who isn’t corrupt to begin with? Were Stephen Miller, Betsy DeVos, Andrew Wheeler, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke and the other flunkies decent people before Trump touched them?

“I’m guessing they were scumbags from the get-go, but what’s your point?” the rabbit said. “A lot of peeps go through life without working for Trump.”

“Only because they don’t get the opportunity,” I replied. “There’s no end to the number of decent people who would sell their souls to that hog monster for the promise of money and power.”

“I ain’t into morality lectures, Odd Man,” the rabbit countered, reaching for his whisky bottle. “Everybody gotta serve somebody, including you.”

I asked him about the word “serve.” Did he mean serving or sucking up? Working for someone or selling one’s soul? The problem was not so much about morality as it was about digestion, I confessed. I’d never been able to stomach working for Trump types.

The rabbit looked around at my shack. “Dog gone it,” he said. “No wonder you’re such a high achiever.”

I asked him to pass the bottle, not knowing if I would drink or just hit him with it.

Footnote: Wilson was a pretty sick soul, a highly skilled propagandist who worked for right-wingers to undermine Barack Obama and other Democrats. I guess it took the nomination of Trump to make him see the light. Now he gets to be a talking head on MSNBC.

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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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