How Foreign Powers Could Try to Buy Trump

Donald Trump is an unprecedentedly wealthy president, who owns or licenses his name to buildings, casinos, and luxury hotels around the world. An ethics watchdog group has already brought a lawsuit against him for violating the Constitution’s “Emoluments Clause,” which prohibits government officials from receiving gifts from foreign states. Trump has taken few steps to distance himself from his organization, and foreign governments could use the President’s business interests as bargaining chips to influence his policymaking. Atlantic writer Jeremy Venook has been monitoring the President’s growing list of conflicts of interests since November 2016, and breaks down some of the most alarming ones in this video.

There’s a local angle in all this: Whitewater is rife with possible conflicts of interest (although not of the same magnitude or kind as Trump’s, of course): from news sites that publishers claim have not simply advertisers but ‘sponsors’, dual roles as politicians and news people, and a general insider’s desire to boost well-positioned friends (even if the policy in question is, to use the technical term, a dog-crap policy).

Funnier still is the self-exonerating way that some try to avoid these conflict-of-interest problems (1) by insisting that they are immune from the psychological biases that would naturally beset billions of others on this planet or (2) by finding their way onto an ethics committee. (This latter way is not unique to Whitewater. After all, Saudia Arabia found her way onto the United Nations Human Rights Council.)

This is a way in which longstanding local mediocrity and the new national mediocrity present challenges in their respective venues. See, along these lines, The National-Local Mix (Part 2).

Rep. Adam Schiff’s Opening Statement Outlining Basis of Russia Investigation

Prepared text of the statement that Rep. Schiff delivered in the video embedded above:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank Director Comey and Admiral Rogers for appearing before us today as the committee holds this first open hearing into the interference campaign waged against our 2016 Presidential election.

Last summer, at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential Presidential campaign, a foreign, adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy, and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other. That foreign adversary was, of course, Russia, and it acted through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the 45th President of the United States.

The Russian “active measures” campaign may have begun as early as 2015, when Russian intelligence services launched a series of spearphishing attacks designed to penetrate the computers of a broad array of Washington-based Democratic and Republican party organizations, think tanks and other entities. This continued at least through winter of 2016.

While at first, the hacking may have been intended solely for the collection of foreign intelligence, in mid-2016, the Russians “weaponized” the stolen data and used platforms established by their intel services, such as DC Leaks and existing third party channels like Wikileaks, to dump the documents.

The stolen documents were almost uniformly damaging to the candidate Putin despised, Hillary Clinton and, by forcing her campaign to constantly respond to the daily drip of disclosures, the releases greatly benefited Donald Trump’s campaign.

None of these facts is seriously in question and they are reflected in the consensus conclusions of all our intelligence agencies.

We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election. Indeed, it is unknowable in a campaign in which so many small changes could have dictated a different result. More importantly, and for the purposes of our investigation, it simply does not matter. What does matter is this: the Russians successfully meddled in our democracy, and our intelligence agencies have concluded that they will do so again.

Ours is not the first democracy to be attacked by the Russians in this way. Russian intelligence has been similarly interfering in the internal and political affairs of our European and other allies for decades. What is striking here is the degree to which the Russians were willing to undertake such an audacious and risky action against the most powerful nation on earth. That ought to be a warning to us, that if we thought that the Russians would not dare to so blatantly interfere in our affairs, we were wrong. And if we do not do our very best to understand how the Russians accomplished this unprecedented attack on our democracy and what we need to do to protect ourselves in the future, we will have only ourselves to blame.

We know a lot about the Russian operation, about the way they amplified the damage their hacking and dumping of stolen documents was causing through the use of slick propaganda like RT, the Kremlin’s media arm. But there is also a lot we do not know.

Most important, we do not yet know whether the Russians had the help of U.S. citizens, including people associated with the Trump campaign. Many of Trump’s campaign personnel, including the President himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is, of course, no crime. On the other hand, if the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history.

In Europe, where the Russians have a much longer history of political interference, they have used a variety of techniques to undermine democracy. They have employed the hacking and dumping of documents and slick propaganda as they clearly did here, but they have also used bribery, blackmail, compromising material, and financial entanglement to secure needed cooperation from individual citizens of targeted countries.

The issue of U.S. person involvement is only one of the important matters that the Chairman and I have agreed to investigate and which is memorialized in the detailed and bipartisan scope of investigation we have signed. We will also examine whether the intelligence community’s public assessment of the Russian operation is supported by the raw intelligence, whether the U.S. Government responded properly or missed the opportunity to stop this Russian attack much earlier, and whether the leak of information about Michael Flynn or others is indicative of a systemic problem. We have also reviewed whether there was any evidence to support President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama in Trump Tower – and found no evidence whatsoever to support that slanderous accusation – and we hope that Director Comey can now put that matter permanently to rest.

Today, most of my Democratic colleagues will be exploring with you the potential involvement of U.S. persons in the Russian attack on our democracy. It is not that we feel the other issues are not important – they are very important – but rather because this issue is least understood by the public. We realize, of course, that you may not be able to answer many of our questions in open session. You may or may not be willing to disclose even whether there is any investigation. But we hope to present to you and the public why we believe this matter is of such gravity that it demands a thorough investigation, not only by us, as we intend to do, but by the FBI as well.

Let me give you a little preview of what I expect you will be asked by our members.

Whether the Russian active measures campaign began as nothing more than an attempt to gather intelligence, or was always intended to be more than that, we do not know, and is one of the questions we hope to answer. But we do know this: the months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal. It was at this time that the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is why? What was happening in July/August of last year? And were U.S. persons involved?

Here are some of the matters, drawn from public sources alone, since that is all we can discuss in this setting, that concern us and should concern all Americans.

In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.

According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. Intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin (SEH-CHIN), CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share in Rosneft later takes place, with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees.

Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share – policies which, even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.

In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager and someone who was long on the payroll of Pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, attends the Republican Party convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump Advisors JD Gordon and Walid Phares. It was JD Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow. Ambassador Kislyak also meets with Trump campaign national security chair and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests. Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign in altering the platform. But the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, JD Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision at the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.

Later in July, and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on Wikileaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to Wikileaks. But leading private cyber security firms including CrowdStrike, Mandiant, and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT28 and APT29, who were known to be Russian intelligence services. The U.S. Intelligence community also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. Also in late July, candidate Trump praises Wikileaks, says he loves them, and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponents’ emails, telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press.

On August 8th, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump political advisor and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in a speech that he “has communicated with Assange,” and that more documents would be coming, including an “October surprise.” In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cutout Guccifer 2.0, and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence. Then, later in August, Stone does something truly remarkable, when he predicts that John Podesta’s personal emails will soon be published. “Trust me, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. #Crooked Hillary.”

In the weeks that follow, Stone shows a remarkable prescience: “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #Lockherup. “Payload coming,” he predicts, and two days later, it does. Wikileaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis up to election day.

On Election Day in November, Donald Trump wins. Donald Trump appoints one of his high profile surrogates, Michael Flynn, to be his national security advisor. Michael Flynn has been paid by the Kremlin’s propaganda outfit, RT, and other Russian entities in the past. In December, Michael Flynn has a secret conversation with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over its hacking designed to help the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn lies about this secret conversation. The Vice President, unknowingly, then assures the country that no such conversation ever happened. The President is informed Flynn has lied, and Pence has misled the country. The President does nothing. Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the President is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The President then praises the man who lied, Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie.

Now, is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform was a coincidence? Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with the Russian Ambassador, not only at the convention, but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians? Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian Ambassador Kislyak about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke – the U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump? Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company Rosneft sold a 19 percent share after former British Intelligence Officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size? Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russia had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for pro-Russian policies that would later come to pass? Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be the victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published, and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?

Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated, and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out.

Director Comey, what you see on the dais in front of you, in the form of this small number of members and staff is all we have to commit to this investigation. This is it. We are not supported by hundreds or thousands of agents and investigators, with offices around the world. It is just us and our Senate counterparts. And in addition to this investigation, we still have our day job, which involves overseeing some of the largest and most important agencies in the country, agencies, which, by the way, are trained to keep secrets.

I point this out for two reasons: First, because we cannot do this work alone. Nor should we. We believe these issues are so important that the FBI must devote its resources to investigating each of them thoroughly; to do any less would be negligent in the protection of our country. We also need your full cooperation with our own investigation, so that we have the benefit of what you may know, and so that we may coordinate our efforts in the discharge of both our responsibilities. And second, I raise this because I believe that we would benefit from the work of an independent commission that can devote the staff and resources to this investigation that we do not have, and that can be completely removed from any political considerations. This should not be a substitute for the work that we, in the intelligence committees should and must do, but as an important complement to our efforts, just as was the case after 9/11.

The stakes are nothing less than the future of liberal democracy.

We are engaged in a new war of ideas, not communism versus capitalism, but authoritarianism versus democracy and representative government. And in this struggle, our adversary sees our political process as a legitimate field of battle.

Only by understanding what the Russians did can we inoculate ourselves from the further Russian interference we know is coming. Only then can we help protect our European allies who are, as we speak, enduring similar Russian interference in their own elections.

Finally, I want to say a word about our own committee investigation. You will undoubtedly observe in the questions and comments that our members make during today’s hearing, that the members of both parties share a common concern over the Russian attack on our democracy, but bring a different perspective on the significance of certain issues, or the quantum of evidence we have seen in the earliest stages of this investigation. That is to be expected. The question most people have is whether we can really conduct this investigation in the kind of thorough and nonpartisan manner that the seriousness of the issues merit, or whether the enormous political consequences of our work will make that impossible. The truth is, I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: If this committee can do its work properly, if we can pursue the facts wherever they lead, unafraid to compel witnesses to testify, to hear what they have to say, to learn what we will and, after exhaustive work, reach a common conclusion, it would be a tremendous public service and one that is very much in the national interest.

So let us try. Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

Via Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Schiff Opening Statement During Hearing on Russian Active Measures @ U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence website.

So Much for the ‘Master Race’

I’m white. (I’ll joke and say that, in fact, I’ve been white for as long as I can remember). It’s simply a natural characteristic for me. (It’s easier, unquestionably, to describe matters this way – as though without a social context – if one has not experienced discrimination).

One can’t say the same about Richard Spencer, white nationalist and Trump supporter. He is

a leader in the so-called “alt-right” movement, which has been energized by President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. He has said that the United States “at the end of the day, belongs to white men,” and at a November conference in Washington, D.C., he received Nazi salutes from supporters.

He’s also too indifferent or too ignorant to comply with the existing tax laws of the country that he believes belongs to his – and only his – race and gender:

The Internal Revenue Service has stripped prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer’s nonprofit of its tax-exempt status because the group failed to file tax returns, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times….He runs the National Policy Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank which bills itself as “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States.”

The group stopped filing tax returns with the IRS after 2012. Failing to file for three consecutive years results in an automatic loss of tax-exempt status. There are also questions about whether Spencer, a vocal supporter of Mr. Trump, violated rules that prohibit nonprofits from supporting any particular candidates or campaigns….

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to make a comment because I don’t understand this stuff,” Spencer said. “It’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s not good. We’ll figure it out.”

Via IRS strips Richard Spencer’s nonprofit of its tax-exempt status @ CBS News.

If a similar failure had happened to a racial minority, one could be sure that Spencer would attribute the failure to some sort of intellectual or moral inferiority. When Spencer commits the same act, however, he contends that he doesn’t “understand this stuff” and shrugs it off with how “it’s a bit embarrassing.”

This repulsive, racist failure, who washed out of Duke with the lame excuse that he left to pursue a life of “thought-crime” (although speech alone has never been criminal), begs off that it’s all a muddle, isn’t it?

We are taught – and I do not dispute the teaching – that we are to love even our enemies. I will, however, candidly confess of how deeply one can despise men like Spencer, how their words are a spur to action and opposition, how much one might wish to see the utter ruin of their racist band.

Spencer’s followers – pustulous every one of them – want the command of this continent, forever. They claim this through blut und boden, that their race (as they see it) should command this territory.

They disingenuously tell others to stand down so that they might march on. They tell others to speak softly so that they might shout. They dismiss others’ legitimate concerns so that they might advance their own unchecked lies. They now bring challenges to us, but we will return far worse to them.

So many of us are of Spencer’s race (united truly with vast millions of all races, ethnicities, faiths), are also on this continent, and are equally committed to oppose his false teaching. His claims are not simply ‘offensive’ to us, not simply ‘hurtful,’ they are instead the animating and motivating force for a relentless, increasing opposition until Spencer comes to see the loss of all he professes.

We in opposition seek the preservation and growth of a free, diverse society of individual liberty and equal rights. These are principles worth defending, and we find ourselves now, against our hopes for amity with others, in a fight for the defense of that free society. It’s a long path ahead, with many hardships to come, but for it all we will see it through.

The 1940 Map That Depicts America as a Nation of Immigrants

“America—A Nation of One People From Many Countries,” by Emma Bourne published in 1940 by the Council Against Intolerance in America. FROM THE COLLECTION OF STEPHEN J. HORNSBY/COURTESY THE OSHER MAP LIBRARY AND SMITH CENTER FOR CARTOGRAPHIC EDUCATION (click for larger image)

Lauren Young describes The Powerful 1940 Map That Depicts America as a Nation of Immigrants:

In the years leading up to the Second World War, isolationist sentiment coursed pretty strongly throughout the United States. Some Americans feared that immigrants were a threat to the country. Sound familiar? Then you’ll have no trouble understanding the reasons why the map below, titled America–A Nation of One People From Many Countries, was published in 1940 by the Council Against Intolerance in America

“With the exception of the Indian, all Americans or their forefathers came here from other countries,” the illustrator Emma Bourne inscribed on the map. The Council Against Intolerance commissioned Bourne’s work in an effort to remind Americans that the U.S. had always defined itself as a country of varied national origins and religious backgrounds.

 

Principled Conservatives Organize Against Trump

One needn’t be a conservative to admire the efforts of thoughtful conservatives to organize against Trump.  Evan McMullin and Mindy Flynn have now launched Stand Up Republic to resist the Trump agenda from a conservative vantage. Jennifer Rubin reports on this in Evan McMullin makes a splash by going after Trump and Putin. Above, I’ve a video accompanying the launch of their 501(c)(4) organization. (It’s designed to appeal directly to conservatives who rightly find Trump’s authoritarianism objectionable.)

Rubin quotes McMullin on Trump’s use of lies:

“Undermining truth is a typical authoritarian tactic. It is incredibly dangerous,” McMullin explains. If truth is up for debate, then leaders “cannot be held accountable.” He continues, “Accountability depends on Americans’ ability to know the truth. Undermining truth is a way to undermine other sources of information. If they’ve done that, they can provide their own narrative.” Welcome to the era of Trump, and the response it is evoking. “We never thought we’d be talking about this in America,” he says with the same incredulity many are expressing about Trump’s attachment to easily disproved lies.

Gaps on many issues between conservatives, liberals, and libertarians (as I am) probably are as Rubin notes ‘unbridgeable,’ but McMullin’s more general critique of Trump is, and will be, welcome. She writes of McMullin’s insight on this point:

While he is conservative, McMullin has confidence that his message will have resonance on both sides of the aisle. “We saw this very interesting thing. Most of our support in the campaign was from constitutional conservatives,” he tells me. “Since the election we have gotten a ton of people joining from the left. They came because we are standing up for the Constitution.” Despite real, unbridgeable differences on policy issues, he says, “We see an existing common ground to defend these [democratic] institutions. It’s organic. We don’t have to compromise anything.”

We’ve likely a long and hard path before us, with more than a few setbacks along the way. A grand coalition will serve well for all of us who share a common commitment in opposition & resistance.

Trump Will Force Choices the Local Press is Too Weak to Make

A sound critique of the national print press says that it has a limited time left. See, concerning the work of Clay Shirky, A Prediction of Print’s ‘Fast, Slow, Fast’ Decline. Market forces will also take their toll on the local print press, and even now local papers are useful only for The Last Inside Accounts (rather than inquisitive reporting).

(I’ll share a funny story from a local school board meeting touching on this topic. Some months ago, during a discussion of points the district wanted to make sure were in print, a school board member saw a local stringer in the audience, and called out to him, ‘did you get that?’ Locally, whether in print or online, most local publishing is publishing-as-stenography. Significantly, local reporting in this area is access journalism, designed to give officeholders an unquestioned say in exchange for an interview.)

The national press will not be able to carry on this way, to the extent they did, as Trump is an existential threat to the free exercise of their work. Margaret Sullivan’s right: The traditional way of reporting on a president is dead. And Trump’s press secretary killed it. (Credit where credit is due: Trump, himself, made access journalism unsound in a free society before Sean Spicer ever took the podium.)

It’s possible – one hopes – that through digital publications the national press will find new life in a battle for solid reporting in opposition to an authoritarian administration. (I subscribe to quite a few solid digital publications, and am always on the hunt for more. One can and should criticize weak publications and while firmly supporting inquisitive ones.)

But there’s a local angle in all this: the local press is weak & dysfunctional, living in fear of both dissatisfied advertisers and aging, give-me-happy-news readers. They’re to timid to take a firm stand on Trump, for or against.

On the biggest national (and international) story of our time, the local press is too timid to say much at all. It’s head down, eyes averted, for them.

That makes their work this year even less significant than it was last year. They were already stumbling about, but Trump’s rise demands someone who can walk, determinedly, in a particular direction. They can’t do that.

Trump didn’t set out to make the local press even less significant, of course, and yet, he’s done just that. Those who’ve bet on hyper-local have made a bad bet. (Local affairs through application of national standards was always a more sound approach.) Trump divides all America in ways that force stark choices, and an anemic local press lacks the vigor, let alone the courage, to address the fundamental topics of our time.

Trump, His Inner Circle, Principal Surrogates, and Media Defenders

We’re early in the formation of a grand coalition in opposition to Trump, but however long the task, that effort should focus on the top: Trump, his inner circle, principal surrogates, and media defenders. All in all, that’s a small group on which one may concentrate.

There will be endless tactical debates about how to reach this voter or that one, to shrink Trump’s room to maneuver here or there. These discussions will be well-meaning (as they’ll be directed at Trump’s political ruin), but they shouldn’t be our principal focus.

A focus on Trump, key aides, and those who defend him in the media will accomplish three things: (1) assign responsibility where it is most deserved, (2) allow concentration of resources, and (3) speed a separation of Trump from ordinary people who are mere marks in his long confidence game.

Blaming those he’s conned is a sideshow. (There’s a necessary exception for the very few who are of the alt-right; they deserve, in-and-of-themselves, obloquy whenever one has the time.)

If Trump breaks politically, it will come from the case against him, and his present supporters will by turns break away (or in any event will have nothing left to support). In this way, his remaining supporters won’t be able to bolster him adequately in the end. He’ll stand or stumble despite them.

If Trump should meet his ruin (and he will), it will come from a relentless case against his mediocrity, lies, bigotry, character disorders, and authoritarianism. One needn’t ask why people support him now; it’s enough to show him again and again as unworthy of support.

Now, there are alliances to build, and a case to make, against Trump and those in his circle.

On Obama & Trump

From columnist Dusty Nix of the Ledger-Enquirer, a comparison of Obama and Trump:

Barack Obama is everything so-called conservatives have, at least since the dismal dawn of the Moral Majority, told us a political figure should be: a dedicated and loving faith-and-family man, personally beyond reproach, publicly untainted by scandal or corruption. The man who succeeds him in five days is everything the same people have told us we should abhor and loathe: repulsively crass, gleefully promiscuous, serially adulterous, spiritually indifferent (at best), morally void and demonstrably corrupt.

Via Godspeed, Mr. President, and thank you.

One can guess that libertarians have had principled objections to Pres. Obama’s administration, yet for them all I’d not change a word of this comparison of Obama & Trump.

The work that awaits, as part of a grand coalition of millions of Americans, has only begun. Much is uncertain, and there are sure to be many difficult moments ahead. It is, it seems, for those opposed to Trump the regrettable but necessary work of our time to declare our views, and to act diligently each day on them.

And so we have, and will.

Paul Krugman Asks ‘How This Ends’

On Twitter, Paul Krugman (@PaulKrugman) has a nine-tweet chain on possibilities after Trump becomes president. The chain begins at 1:05 PM – 6 Jan 2017 and ends at 1:16 PM – 6 Jan 2017.

Here are those tweets, in order:

Some musings on the next few years: We are, I’d argue, in much deeper and more treacherous waters than even the pessimists are saying 1/

It would be one thing if voters had freely chosen a corrupt authoritarian; then we’d be following a terrible but familiar path 2/

But as it is we had a deeply tainted election, and everyone knows it; in truth the FBI was the biggest villain, but Russian involvement 3/

is just so startling, and so contrary to the usual GOP flag-waving, that 2001-type whitewashing of illegitimacy isn’t taking hold 4/

A clever, self-controlled Trump would be careful now to preserve appearances and wait for revenge; but instead he’s confirming his status 5/

as Putin’s poodle/stooge with every tweet. Pretty soon everyone will think of him as a Manchurian candidate, even those pretending not to 6/

Yet there is no normal political mechanism to deal with this reality. So what happens? The GOP decides to impeach to install Pence? 7/

Mass people-power demonstrations? He orders the military to do something illegal and we have disobedience by the national security state? 8/

Or, alternatively, overt intimidation of critics by Trump gangs? Don’t call this silly — tell me how this ends. 9/

Krugman’s last tweet asks readers to tell him how this ends, and he’d be the first to see that it’s the easiest question to answer.

We don’t yet know.

Distillation for a Resistance (First Edition)

We’re early in this new political era, with a long time ahead of us, and there’s a need to get a sense of one’s bearings. (The sound way to approach the new politics that has overcome America through the three-thousand-year traditional of liberty to be found in many places, the Online Library of Liberty being only one. But that’s the reading and study of a lifetime; there are essays contemporary to us that are both useful and readily distilled.)

These recent essays and posts consider, or a useful to understand, the incipient authoritarianism of America’s next administration. They are a good basis for a beginning, for a distillation of one’s thinking.

Some recent essays for consideration:

Wes Benedict Has a Book to Sell

Last month, the Libertarian Party’s executive director (Wes Benedict) sent me a tone-deaf, form email. I posted Libertarianism is Enough: Goodbye to the LP in reply, in which I argued that the Libertarian Party was an unworthy vessel for a liberty-oriented politics:

Imagine, then, after an election in which the LP did poorly, and in which libertarians now face a long struggle against radical populist advocates of state power, the surprise in reading an invitation from Wes Benedict, executive director of the national LP, that

It is time to party…

You are invited to an end of the year

CELEBRATION!

2016 has been a record-breaking year for the Libertarian Party!

Wes Benedict may go to hell, and celebrate there in the outer darkness for so long as he wishes.

Wes wrote again recently, and how touching it is to see that he’s concerned for me:

I see that your Libertarian Party membership has expired.

Any chance you could renew today?

You can renew your membership by clicking here

Or go to LP.org/membership

I hope all is well!

Thanks,

Wes Benedict

P.S. If you want a copy of my book Introduction to the Libertarian Party for renewing, you can renew at the link below for $27.53 or more.

A Trump Administration awaits, and Benedict writes “hope all is well.”  One would think Benedict had been living in a cave these last eighteen months.

Funnier still is Benedict’s offer (for a price) of his book – an introduction to a party of which his recipient had already been a member for many years. 

I’m from a movement family (those who have been liberty-oriented long before there was a party, and even before the term libertarian was coined), and from that vantage Benedict’s emails are instructive but have no emotional impact. If anything, they seem silly, almost absurd.

For one who recently joined, however, and let his or her membership momentarily lapse, Benedict’s message might seem different, as an insult to someone who sought meaning through party membership. 

Odd that he’s too clueless to see how silly his message seems to some, and how insulting it may be to others. 

Benedict’s book? No, the enduring works of the last three thousand years are the ones we’ve need of reading and reading again.

Benedict’s party? We need more than a single, small party now. 

Libertarianism has a long road ahead, and those devoted to it have much work ahead, in a grand coalition with those of different but friendly ideologies, to preserve free institutions in this country.

That may be the task of our time, and membership in the LP contributes nothing to it.

‘His thoughts are so correct’

Consider a letter from Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, autocrat, murderer, and imperialist.

Putin recently sent Trump a letter, only a few brief paragraphs, and Trump gave a statement in reply:

Download (PDF, 55KB)

“A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct,” Trump said in a statement. “I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path.”

The alternative path to Putin’s would, in fact, be desirable, as it would encourage democracy and productivity at home, and peaceful international relations abroad.

(Small but worth noting: for all the nativism Trump’s kicked up, he has a poor grasp of his native language. In his obsequious reply to Putin, Trump misuses alternate for alternative, and is maladroit even in his praise, using the awkward, ‘his thoughts are so correct,’ something a struggling newcomer to English might use. He has no valid defense against this criticism: Trump’s insisted that his own bar should be high, as he’s assured us that “I know words, I have the best words…“)

As it is, both words and actions show Trump to be unfit for, and hostile to, the fundamental characteristics of a free society.

Garry Kasparov on Vladimir Putin’s Election Interference and America’s Response

Garry Kasparov‘s a great hero of mine (and of many millions across the world), not simply for his unquestioned understanding of chess, but even more for his commitment to human freedom and democratic institutions. In the audio interview below, Kasparov speaks about Putin’s manipulation of our recent election.

(By the way, Kasparov’s excellent book, Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, is now out in paperback, and is also available @ Amazon in hardcover, Kindle, Audible, or mp3 CD format.)

 

Putin Revels in Victory Over America


A man wants to read a woman’s diary, so he breaks into her house, steals it, and publishes it to all the world. When confronted, he denies he’s done anything wrong, and instead revels in his act, on the theory that it’s more important for others to know the woman’s private thoughts.

It should come as no surprise that a dictator, having eviscerated private life in his own country, would see no wrong in transgressing the distinction between public and private in a foreign, still-free society.  There is no freedom if there is no private space,  such as that of a private political party, beyond others’ reach.

Here’s Putin, crowing over Russian hacking and Trump’s victory:

“Democrats are losing on every front and looking for people to blame everywhere,” Putin said in answer to a Russian TV host, one of 1,400 journalists accredited to the marathon session. “They need to learn to lose with dignity.”

The Kremlin leader pointed out Republicans had won the House and Senate, remarking “Did we do that, too?” [N.B.: Yes, Russians interfered in legislative elections, too.  See Democratic House Candidates Were Also Targets of Russian Hacking.]

“Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him,” Putin said, adding with a grin. “Except for you and me.”

Putin has repeatedly denied involvement despite the accusations coming from the White House, and the Kremlin has repeatedly questioned the evidence for the U.S. claims. On Friday he borrowed from Trump’s dismissal of the accusations, remarking “maybe it was someone lying on the couch who did it.”

“And it’s not important who did the hacking, it’s important that the information that was revealed was true, that is important,” Putin said, referring to the emails that showed that party leaders had favored Hillary Clinton.

Wait, Really? Bill O’Reilly?


Erik Wemple reports today that Bill O’Reilly becomes spokesman for white America.

Honestly, I had no idea. I’ve been white all my life, and no one even bothered to ask me. No SurveyMonkey, no paper questionnaire, not even an unscientific online poll…nothing. I had to read about it in Wemple’s blog.

There must be – simply must be – at least a few other whites who find O’Reilly’s selection surprising. A quick look at the latest Census data shows that over 70% of Americans are white, amounting to approximately 226,000,000 million people. Is Bill O’Reilly the best that we could do? (To get an idea of how repulsive O’Reilly is, he gave a defense in July 2016 of slavery – by his justification, some slaves were “well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.”)

America has produced some pretty darn noteworthy whites, among whom one finds more than ‘spokespeople’: Abraham Lincoln, Jonas Salk, Lou Gehrig, Sandra Day O’Connor, Bob Dylan, and (of course) the always-charming Betty White.

Now?

Bill O’Reilly’s somehow, in some way, our unrequested racial spokesperson.

Honest to goodness, so much for a holly jolly Christmas; it’s going to take more than one eggnog to turn this around.

Gingrich’s Defense of a Self-Pardoning Administration: From Bad (12.19) to Much Worse (12.21)

On the Diane Rehm Show of 12.19.16, former Speaker of the House Gingrich offered that a Trump Administration could simply pardon its own advisors to remove those advisors’ unlawful conflicts of interest:

I think in the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon. I mean, it is a totally open power, and he could simply say look, I want them to be my advisors, I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules, period. And technically under the Constitution he has that level of authority.

An administration like this would be – not merely technically, but in fact – a lawless one (where law was used to negate the demands of the law).

Two days later, Gingrich repeated his assertion that a president could act this way (revealing it as a trial balloon of sorts, “I’m not saying he should. I’m not saying he will’):

The Constitution gives the president of the United States an extraordinarily wide grant of authority to use the power of the pardon. I’m not saying he should. I’m not saying he will. It also allows a president in a national security moment to say to somebody, “Go do X,” even if it’s technically against the law, and, “Here’s your pardon because I am ordering you as commander-in-chief to go do this.”

Under this reading of the Constitution, what couldn’t a commander-in-chief do, in the name of national security?  The answer is that there is nothing he could not do, or (affirmatively formulated) that he could do anything and thereafter pardon those responsible.

Note also the change in circumstances on which Gingrich grounds his remarks: on 12.19 he’s talking about conflicts of interest within an administration, but by 12.21 he’s discussing use of state power under a claim of national security. Perhaps Gingrich thinks the change in circumstances limits the scope of how a president might use the pardon power, but it fact his later example actually expands dramatically the power of the chief executive.

The 12.19 example’s use of pardons might involve wrongful but non-violent business conflicts; the 12.21 example’s use of pardons would exonerate the use of violent force (whether used abroad or domestically) of any possible magnitude against supposed national enemies.

Gingrich’s new second formulation is worse than his first: any location, any amount of force, thereafter subject to pardon by the president of the United States.

Declaration Over Pledge

When I was a child, we would – as students and politicians do today – recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It sticks in my memory, and so it’s easy to type its words without looking them up: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Among those thirty-one words, there’s mention of liberty, but not so much, so vividly, as the first thirty-six words that declared to all the world America’s deepest, founding principles:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Someday, a time that will be a better day, I believe that we will wisely begin our affairs with a declaration over a pledge.

The Work of the Next Several Years 

Charles Blow writes of the work ahead for those many citizens who now find themselves compelled to defend their rights:

I fully understand that elevated outrage is hard to maintain. It’s exhausting.

But the alternative is surrender to national nihilism and the welcoming of woe.

The next four years could be epochal years in the history of this country. They could test the limits of presidential power and the public’s passivity.

I happen to believe that history will judge kindly those who continued to shout, from the rooftops, through their own weariness and against the corrosive drift of conformity: This is not normal!

Via Donald Trump, This Is Not Normal! – The New York Times.

One cannot say that this will be the work only of the next few years, knowing that often a few years stretch into several. There will be some moments of weariness; they will prove nothing as against the vigor that comes from being in the right.

When Are We?

A simple but significant question about the time in which we live: when are we?  That is, looking at past events, how far along would we say we are in within a given historical progression (assuming one can say)?  Assuming one can say is hardly a simple conditional, but if one could venture a guess, what might one guess?

I’d say that, nationally, we’re at the beginning of something, where that beginning will lead to far worse and far more volatile conditions, perhaps for many years.  I say that locally, we’re in the middle of something much smaller, where this small city is likely to see a continuing but slow decline, likely for several more years.

Which, though, matters more?  In good national times, one might principally focus on local matters (although I’ve always argued that local should be considered from a national perspective).  Yet, I’ve not even the least perceptible feeling that these are good national times.  On the contrary, these days have the feel of incipient loss, with this beautiful republic at risk, of a kind unlike that expereienced within our time.

I write all this coldly, with composure, as I’d guess the country has a not a sudden, but rather a lengthy, time of struggle ahead.

Perhaps one can’t find the comparison, but it’s worth noting that a man in the Boston of 1861 or in the New York of 1939 would have more on his mind than events close at hand.

At the least, one would hope so.

If ever one had confirmation that a narrowly and exclusively local focus was foolish, then one has that confirmation now.