With Emoluments Clause, Trump Places “Brand” Above Constitution

 

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“Follow the money.” “It’s literally right there. It isn’t even trying to hide.”

 

The least surprising story of the week is also maybe the most enraging…

In January, Donald Trump’s lawyer said that the Trump Organization would donate any profits earned at Trump hotels from a foreign government to the US Treasury. The move was supposedly an attempt to stay on the right side of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits US government officials from taking gifts or benefiting from foreign governments. Ethics experts noted that the pledge, issued by attorney Sheri Dillon, did not truly address this violation of the Constitution. Trump needed to divest his ownership of the hotels, they contended. And now new documents released by congressional Democrats show that Trump is not taking even his insufficient effort seriously.

How does the Trump Organization determine which foreign funds ought to be donated? Not too assiduously, it appears. The House Oversight Committee several weeks ago asked the Trump Organization for information on this process. In response, the company sent the committee a nine-page pamphlet that instructs staff at its properties on how to handle this matter. The pamphlet indicates that the Trump Organization is not enthusiastic about gathering this information and doesn’t want its guests bothered by any efforts to comply with the Emoluments Clause.

The pamphlet notes that the hotels should not calculate the profit from foreign patronage but rather estimate it. After all, it says, calculating the actual profit would take a lot of effort: “To attempt to individually track and distinctly attribute certain business-related costs as specifically identifiable to a particular customer group is not practical, nor would it even be possible without an inordinate amount of time, resources and specialists.”

When it comes to identifying foreign revenues, the pamphlet tells Trump hotel staff not to try too hard, for that could annoy the customers: “To fully and completely identify all patronage at our Properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.” So, the pamphlet points out, the Trump Organization will not try to identify customers who do not inform the hotel that they are representing a foreign government.

(All from Mother Jones, which, as always, is on it)

This is, first of all, a textbook case of how Trump has always worked. Make a big show and then nothing coming of it, whether it is the huge birth certificate announcement or a solemn pledge to uphold the Constitution. Because in his oily reptilian brain Trump knows that the announcement gets the headline, but the follow-through never does.

It’s clever, too: “estimating profits” is perfect. They will “donate” a certain amount of hotel profits that they estimate come from foreign sources, which means, as MJ points out, a foreign government could spend millions of dollars at a hotel that is just breaking even, and none of that would be reported. And it goes without saying that “Trump Possibly Donating Only Percentage of Estimated Profits From Hotel Business” isn’t going to be front-page news.

But you don’t even have to get into the weeds of this scheme to see why it is breathtaking and maddening. They are literally saying that following the Constitution would be too hard, and that it wouldn’t be good for their business. To which one could say, well, shithead, you didn’t have to run for President, but that would be belaboring the obvious. He clearly ran for President partly as a way to make more money. He’s exactly the greedy and terrible person he always was. This isn’t a surprise.

This is exactly how corruption works. Not the minutia, or the actual taking of money; we’re all familiar with how greedy people try to enrich themselves. But how systems and countries become corrupted and rotted. This is how it happens.

I’m not being naive here. America has always been a greedy land, a capitalistic engine that destroys everything in its path. Politicians have always taken from the till, when they haven’t been outright controlling the till. But this is something different.

This isn’t just theft. It is a subversion of the Constitution itself, and it is done flagrantly and openly. That they are sort of dancing around it by being cute isn’t an attempt at subtlety; it is making the crassness behind the moneygrab even more blatant. They are saying, openly: what are you going to do about it?

That’s true corruption. It’s exposing the weakness in a system, which assumes decency but is also ruthlessly partisan, for you own advantage. It’s daring anyone to stop you and knowing that they won’t. It both assumes, and promotes, a moral decay.  Because what this says, clearly, is that the institutions, the rules, the very documents to which we pledge allegiance, don’t matter if you are powerful.

We’ve always known that power corrupts, and all that, but in ths history of the American Presidency it has generally been to get more power. People around the President have been greedy and venal, but even Nixon wasn’t bagging cash, for the most part. At least, that wasn’t his sole or even primary goal. It was “just” to crush the Democrats so he could run the world the way he goddamn saw fit.

That’s why this is different. It’s cheap and it is dirty. It’s grubbing and low and vile. This corruption is entirely about money. It reduces the Presidency to a casino, a back-alley game of craps, a bunch of sweaty mooks in a garage office selling phony insurance to widows. Jack Abramoff and and Boss Tweed broke the law to get money. Trump is breaking the Constitution, entirely for money, and no one is stopping him.

Think about it: they literally said that protecting their “brand” was more important than scrupulously following the Constitution. Their brand! I can’t think of a better encapsulation of our idiot moment, one that let a remarkably stupid and inhumanely crass and greedy reality show idiot lie his dumbfuck way to the White House. He won on his “brand”, and his brand is a guy who relentless promotes his brand. It’s looping nonsense, a post-postmodern commerical for commercials.

And no Republican is stopping this. That’s corruption in its truest sense. Putrefaction doesn’t happen because of death; death just allows the bacteria that was always inside to work its rotting ways. Death means you can’t fight off worms any longer. Death is merely the precipitating factor to corporeal corruption.

That was Trump. But we were already on our way. We are a nation obsessed with brands and disinterested in facts. We’re too big and unruly, and have become too partisan. Our system has allowed for the tyranny of the minority (and the seating of Neal Gorsuch is the starkest example of that). Trump corrupted us by being the final death, but we were on our way.

Russia’s Caspian Problem: Weird News Update About the Workings of the World

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Every day, there are millions of stories that don’t make the headlines, and don’t get written up in the papers, but that reflect the slow and grinding way the world really works. They reflect the tiny changes in policies, the historical patterns that ebb and flow but are never really absent, the way that past actions impact present decisions, and the way that political abstractions like “countries” and “borders” crash against the real world.

All of these factors are interesting, and I think especially so to Americans, a nation which is nearly unique in trying to ignore history, the ramifications of decisions, and geopolitical realities. But all that is catching up.

I bring this up due to a neat little story by Paul Goble in Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor, called “Collapse of Russian Shipping in Caspian Put’s Moscow’s Regional Strategy at Risk.” Even though shipping in the inland sea is booming, Russian ports, a key part of both its North-South and East-West regional strategies, is drying up. It’s about how the other Caspian nations are essentially colluding against Russia to starve its seaports, creating new regional alliances based on both underwater rights and the laws that govern surface territory, all hinging on the question: is the Caspian more like a lake or like an ocean?

What then is going on?  The answer can be found in the complicated politics of the Caspian region, the continuing difficulties the littoral states have in demarcating the seabed, as well as growing tensions among some of these states with Russia. And because that is the case, the decline of freight traffic at Russia’s Caspian ports in the first quarter of 2017 is even more significant than might appear at first glance.

In Soviet times, Moscow and Tehran divided the Caspian into two unequal zones, a division that even then had important implications because of the oil and natural gas reserves discovered on the seafloor as well as due to the rising trade between the Soviet Union and Iran. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the number of littoral states increased from two to five: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan thus become involved in talks about delimitation and trade on the Caspian alongside the Russian Federation and Iran.

For 25 years, these five littoral states have been unable to reach an agreement on the division of the seabed, something Moscow has exploited to block many pipeline projects that would not have involved Russia. Yet, at the same time, that deadlock has led to expanded contacts between other pairs of littoral states and increased shipping between and among them—again to the exclusion of the Russian Federation (Abo.net, April 18, 2016; Natural Gas World, May 6, 2017). Now, Moscow’s policies have returned like a boomerang to limit its future role in the region.

Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan call for treating the Caspian as a lake rather than an ocean, an arrangement that would divide the seabed among the countries but leave surface commerce open to all. Whereas, Turkmenistan and Iran want it to be treated as a sea and be divided totally into five sectors. Despite suggestions at a January 2017 ministerial in Baku that the five Caspian littoral states would sign an agreement overcoming the divergence of positions (see EDM, May 8), the participating foreign ministers could not even say when such a meeting would occur this year, an indication that they remain far apart (Mfa.gov.az, Azernews.az, January 25).

This isn’t a headline story, and nor should it be. Could you imagine if you got a buzz on your phone signifying a news alert and it was this? “Russia, Turkmenistan Remain Deadlocked on Oceanographic Nomenclature!” Holy shit, you’d be furious.

But that’s a reflection of how, regardless of the way time feels right now, the world doesn’t work in headlines. People come and go, and the decisions they make are momentous, but slow patterns of geography and history grind underneath their feet, constraining and shaping their actions.

Moscow’s centuries of expansion, whether as Russia or the Soviet Union, influence its relations with its former vassal states, as well as Iran, not to mention the ethnic federal entities that actually border the Caspian (most notably restless Dagestan, whose port revenues were seen as a guarantor of some stability). Russia also has no non-arctic  oceanic sea ports; it is a continental power. That’s why it is so aggressive in the Caspian and Black seas, as a way to control the Eurasian sphere.

But its aggression can often backfire, as we see here, when its oppressive thumb led other states to pair with each other and Iran, bypassing Russia, and perhaps putting its regional goals in check. This gives more lie to the “Putin is a flawless puppet master” myth. I still think Russia will rue their cruel Middle East adventures. He just got lucky with America and Trump.

But then, what choice did Putin have, with the Caspian? He was dealing with the legacy of an empire that rushed from the colds of northern Europe to the sunbaked sea, colliding with Iran and with other ancient Muslim nations, having to bloodily hack their way through the Caucuses to get there.

The sea is what mattered to Russia, as an easier way to get across the continent. And then, after WWI, for its insane abundance of oil and natural gas. This was heightened in WWII, when Hitler diverted a good chunk of his invading army south to secure the oil fields near Baku. And certainly, after the fall of the USSR, Russia fought to hang on to it Caucus territories both to stay by the sea, and to avoid letting the rest of its hard-fought empire, which we take for cartographical permanence, from spiraling away.

These things matter. History matters. Geography matters. America, whose long racial history is catching up with it, which is seeing the impact that its centuries of continental aggression and century of global aggression have wrought, and who is slowly learning the real lessons of geography, needs to understand that. Russia does. Iran does. The butchers of the ISIS and al Qaeda do. It’s time we do, too.

Vessel Incidental Discharge Act: Even The Boring Stuff Is Made Terrible by Republicans

 

I admit this image from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is boring. But check out below! Monsters! 

 

Odds are you rarely think of ballast water tanks from ocean-going ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway. God knows I rarely do, and I spend 18% of my waking hours thinking about the Great Lakes. But the water from the ballast, which is scooped up in the ocean or the weird and frigid depths of the Black Sea, contains critters. And when it is dumped to balance out the lightened load from taking off the cargo, those animals escape.

And they kill the whole damn Great Lake system.

See, for thousands of years, the Lakes lived in virtual isolation. Niagara Falls served as a natural barrier from the ocean, which meant any species that somehow made it up the St. Lawrence river, with it’s punishing ocean-going rapids, would hit a wall. That changed with the canal system, and then was blown away when the Seaway opened up and the canals were dredged for oceanic freighters.

 

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Lamprey! Ahhh!

 

Lampreys, gobies, zebra mussels, quagga mussels: all of these have come from ballast, the terrible price of opening up the Great Lakes to the world. There have been heroic attempts to save the Great Lakes from invasive species, and they have largely worked. It’s still uphill, but there has been legislation that regulates ballast to try to keep other unknowns out.

So, of course

The Commercial Vessel Act would eliminate existing legal protections against aquatic invasive species discharged in the ballast water of big ships, according to the letter. In particular, the legislation seeks to preempt traditional state authority to take the actions necessary for protecting state water resources, while doing away with existing federal laws that safeguard the nation’s waters against harmful pollutant discharges from vessels, the letter said.

The attorneys general also blasted the legislation as an attempt to jettison the Clean Water Act, the federal law that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to scientifically develop and regularly improve uniform minimum pollution treatment standards, and then incorporate them as discharge requirements in permits that are renewed every five years.

“The Commercial Vessel Act takes the radical step of eliminating these vital Clean Water Act protections and relegates EPA — the federal agency with the greatest knowledge and experience in addressing water pollution — to an advisory role,” they said in the letter. “The Commercial Vessel Act vests primary responsibility for controlling vessel pollution with the U.S. Coast Guard, an agency mainly focused on homeland security that has little water pollution expertise.”

Between this and the attempted dismantling of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which would hurt Trump’s beloved working white class the most, it is like they want to destroy the Lakes. All in the fetishistic lust for letting industry control their own regulatory regimes. It’s madness.

There’s nothing in this world that the GOP doesn’t want to make worse.

(Fun fact! If you were to drain Lake Michigan, you could walk from top to bottom without ever touching the ground. It’s all covered with mussel shells from invasive species over the last half century. Don’t, though. You’d cut your feet to ribbons. Pro tip.)

Jared Kushner, Slumlord, Gets Richer By Destroying Lives

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These men are no different. They are rich vampires who prey on the weak.

The invaluable Alex MacGillis at ProPublica has an in-depth story about one of the ways in which Jared Kushner, he who will solve the Middle East, takes advantage of other people to whom the world has been less than kind. It’ll take some block-quoting.

But amid the high-profile Manhattan and Brooklyn purchases, in 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real-estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty. The properties were spread across 12 sites in Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh; and other Rust Belt cities still reeling from the Great Recession. Kushner had to settle more than 200 debts held against the complexes before the deal could go through; at one complex, in Pittsburgh, circumstances had become so dire that some residents had been left without heat and power because the previous owner couldn’t pay the bills. Prudential, which was foreclosing on the portfolio, sold it for only $72 million — half the value of the mortgages on the properties.

In the following months, Kushner Companies bought another 1,700 multifamily units in similar markets, according to the trade publication Multifamily Executive. Unlike the company’s big New York investments, the complexes were not acquired with an eye toward appreciation — these were not growing markets, after all — but toward producing a steady cash flow. “Our goal is to keep buying and incrementally growing — they’re good markets where you can get yield,” Jared Kushner told Multifamily Executive in October 2011, predicting that the net income for the year’s purchases would be $14 million within a year. The complexes buttressed the Kushner portfolio in another way, he said: They would serve as a hedge against an upswing in inflation he believed was looming on the horizon.

So how does this make him money? Lawsuits. He apparently has a team of turkey vultures swooping in for any little mistake on the lease, any minor violation, and any discrepancy they could find in order to sue.  A woman who broke a lease early to tend to her dying mother lost thousands of dollars. A woman who didn’t replace her carpet after the sink backed up was sued for $600.

But you don’t even have to be in the wrong to get screwed by Kushner. You just have to be less wealthy than he is, and not able to stand up to him in court.

(Kamiia) Warren sent a letter reporting the problem to the complex’s property manager, a company called Sawyer Realty Holdings. When there was no response, she decided to move out. In January 2010, she submitted the requisite form giving two months’ notice that she was transferring her Section 8 voucher — the federal low-income subsidy that helped her pay the rent — elsewhere. The complex’s on-site manager signed the form a week later, checking the line that read “The tenant gave notice in accordance with the lease.”

So Warren was startled in January 2013, three years later, when she received a summons from a private process server informing her that she was being sued for $3,014.08 by the owner of Cove Village. The lawsuit, filed in Maryland District Court, was doubly bewildering. It claimed she owed the money for having left in advance of her lease’s expiration, though she had received written permission to leave. And the company suing her was not Sawyer, but one whose name she didn’t recognize: JK2 Westminster LLC.

Warren was raising three children alone while taking classes for a bachelor’s degree in health care administration, and she disregarded the summons at first. But JK2 Westminster’s lawyers persisted; two more summonses followed. In April 2014, she appeared without a lawyer at a district court hearing. She told the judge about the approval for her move, but she did not have a copy of the form the manager had signed. The judge ruled against Warren, awarding JK2 Westminster the full sum it was seeking, plus court costs, attorney’s fees and interest that brought the judgment to nearly $5,000. There was no way Warren, who was working as a home health aide, was going to be able to pay such a sum. “I was so desperate,” she said.

JK2, is, of course, Jared Kushner, the most absurd man in an absurd administration. There is something particularly venal about him, a rich New York socialite who yokes himself to evil incompetence for more power, who is using his status to further enrich his family, and who encourages obstruction of justice while doing nothing to rein in the racist cruelty of his father-in-law’s ghoulish entourage.

But that’s probably because he doesn’t want to. This is a mean shark, a rich bully who thinks he’s the underdog. He’s a scion who can drop hundreds of millions on a deal and pretend he’s earned the chip on his shoulder.

Early in the Adminstration, there were stories about how Kushner had become close with the horrible xenophobic racist Jeff Sessions. “Then there is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who considers Sessions a savant and forged a bond with the senator while orchestrating Trump’s trip last summer to Mexico City and during the darkest days of the campaign.”

Jeff Sessions has spent a whole career in pursuit of one thing, and one thing only: white power. Whether that came from jailing black longer and in crueler conditions, protecting police from charges of racial brutality, closing off the border, or cutting welfare from strapping young bucks, his project has been the same. He didn’t wow Jared with his ability to talk the deficit. So what did Kushner consider him to be savant-like about?

This seemed incongruous. But it clearly isn’t. Kushner is a deeply cruel and shallow sociopath. He clearly feels that wealth is for the wealthy and privilege, including racial privilege, is for the privileged.

Look at this nightmare.

Kamiia Warren still had not paid the $4,984.37 judgment against her by late 2014. Three days before Christmas that year, JK2 Westminster filed a request to garnish her wages from her in-home elder care job. Five days earlier, Warren had gone to court to fill out a handwritten motion saying she had proof that she was given permission to leave Cove Village in 2010 — she had finally managed to get a copy from the housing department. “Please give me the opportunity to plead my case,” she wrote. But she did not attach a copy of the form to her motion, not realizing it was necessary, so a judge denied it on Jan. 9, on the grounds that there was “no evidence submitted.”

 

The garnishing started that month. Warren was in the midst of leaving her job, but JK2 Westminster garnished her bank account too. After her account was zeroed out, a loss of about $900, she borrowed money from her mother to buy food for her children and pay her bills. That February — five years after she left Cove Village — Warren returned to court, this time with the housing form in hand, asking the judge to halt garnishment. “I am a single mom of three and my bank account was wiped clean by the plaintiff,” she pleaded in another handwritten request. “I cannot take care of my kids when they snatch all of my money out of my account. I do not feel I owe this money. Please have mercy on my family and I.” She told me that when she called the law office representing JK2 Westminster that same day from the courthouse to discuss the case, one of the lawyers told her: “This is not going to go away. You will pay us.”

The judge denied Warren’s request without explanation. And JK2 Westminster kept pressing for the rest of the money, sending out one process server after another to present Warren with legal papers. Finally, in January 2016, the court sent notice of a $4,615 lien against Warren — a legal claim against her for the remaining judgment. Warren began to cry as she recounted the episode to me. She said the lien has greatly complicated her hopes of taking out a loan to start her own small assisted living center. She had gone a couple of years without a bank account, for fear of further garnishing. “It was just pure greed,” she said. “It was unnecessary.” I asked why she hadn’t pushed harder against the judgment once she had the necessary evidence in hand. “They know how to work this stuff,” she replied. “They know what to do, and here I am, I don’t know anything about the law. I would have to hire a lawyer or something, and I really can’t afford that. I really don’t know my rights. I don’t know all the court lingo. I knew that up against them I would lose.”

That’s right. That’s the way of America’s worst family. Take on those who can’t stand up for themselves, who can’t afford your lawyers. That’s “toughness” to them. They attack the weak. They prey on economic insecurity and exploit it for power. They dig at the margins of society.

America is a terrifying place. The line between getting along and tumbling into unrecoverable poverty is a thin one. There is no way that Jared Kushner will ever notice that $5000, minus lawyer fees. He’ll get, what, a grand maybe? Two? He would scoff at that if he found it in his glove box.

But that’s money that can ruin a life. It can push some down into the cracks, and foreclose on their dreams. It can spiral them into an unstoppable cycle of poverty and despair. It can stop them from finishing school, from opening a business, from providing even the most meager future for their kids. It can take away the roof over their head.

That’s Kushner. That’s the cruel and petty man behind the cruel and petty man-child. If he goes to prison for obsturctuion of justice it will be a perversion of the system. It’s the least of his crimes. This story proves that he represents the worst of the vampire rich, the heartless techno/plutocrats, with his vapid wife and snarling lawyers.

We had the American Psycho wrong with Don Jr. and Eric. It was Jared all along. There’s a reason why he’s the closest to Trump. They’re the same terrible person.

 

Trump’s Saudi Arabia Speech Condemns Yemen; Shows Shallow Weakness of His Phony Tough Guy Approach

 

Admit it, you’d like to see how Trump would do filling this out, right?

 

I was in the car during the President’s big speech on terrorism to a bunch of gilded heirs in a gilded palace, and there was a certain peculiar horror at hearing that voice saying those words. Even ignoring for a moment the substance of what he said, it was the fact that Donald Trump, who couldn’t be bothered to learn the first thing about terrorism other than “it’s bad, ok, believe me?”, was giving a major talk to rapt heads of state, forced to listen because this was the most powerful man in the world, representing the United States of America. It really put into stark relief the absurdity of our moment.

In a way, it was even worse that most of what he said was insipid and banal, a series of rolling cliches that sounded like the book report of a middling college Republican. His teleprompted bromides made him sound, in our dumb media formulations, “Presidential”. But you also didn’t have to dig very deep to see the bloody soil right beneath his feet.

The President made very clear that only one thing mattered: “defeating terrorism” by force. The drumbeat of his speech, the part they probably most want remembered, is when he dimly intoned with fake-machismo that the collected autocrats and kings should “DRIVE THEM OUT”.  It’s a strange formulation, because for all his anti-PC swagger about how this is an Islamic problem, he seemingly ignores that you can’t just “Drive them out” without addressing the sicknesses and pathologies in society, both internal and imposed, that have led to ISIS.

Clearly, thinking about those contradictions aren’t important to Trump or Bannon or Miller. What’s important is to give free reign to the collected autocrats, which is why the triumph of the weekend was to sell the Saudis $110 billion worth of arms. We should remember that selling rich people something they want to buy could only be done by a master of the deal.

This landmark agreement includes the announcement of a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase — and we will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies. This agreement will help the Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations.

And what are these security operations? Well, there is the internal defense of the Kingdom, of course. But he really gave away the game when he was talking about how the assembled countries are already…

“…making significant contributions to regional security: Jordanian pilots are crucial partners against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia and a regional coalition have taken strong action against Houthi militants in Yemen. The Lebanese Army is hunting ISIS operatives who try to infiltrate their territory. Emirati troops are supporting our Afghan partners. In Mosul, American troops are supporting Kurds, Sunnis and Shias fighting together for their homeland.”

I was thinking that we can ignore that he pronounced “Houthi” as if it should be followed by “and the Blowfish”; that’s the sort of internet-type snark that obscures bigger issues. Every politician makes mistakes, and anyway, who can blame him? It’s doubtful he’d ever said, or maybe even heard, the word “Houthi” before.

But that’s sort of the point. He blithely lumps the Houthi faction in the overlapping Yemeni civil wars with ISIS, even though Sunni extremists and the Houthis are bitter enemies. And while there is no question that the Houthis aren’t exactly stabilizing the region, the greatest damage has been done by the Saudi coalition, recklessly carpet-bombing the country into a bleak future of starvation and war. And disease. Due to the country’s already fragile infrastructure being destroyed, the WHO estimates as many as 300,000 cholera cases over the next six months.

Yemen shows the disastrous focus of the Trumpian approach. “We won’t tell you how to do your business, as long as you fight ISIS and stand against Iran.” There are so many areas where that is contradictory nonsense. To the extent that the Houthis are aligned, it is with Iran, against the Sauds, and against Sunni extremists, whether that is ISIS or al-Qaeda (in fact, multiple bombings of Houthis by extremists helped start the latest round of fighting, and helped draw them further into national battles). Allowing, or in fact encouraging, Saudi Arabia to have free reign in a country that we see only an “area of active hostility” will hurt the enemies of ISIS and create the very same “safe zones” that the Administration decries.

The problem is that the the primary focus is Iran, and stopping Iranian power. It’s part of Jared Kushner’s big play to unite the Sunni Arab world to stand against Iran, and get a peace treaty for Israel and Palestine out of it. This is one of those grand world plans which was drawn by the great Arabists and Orientalists in the early 20th century, drawing lines on a map, and assuming that “If we get Sunnis here, we’ve got it made.” Those ended in failure and bloodshed, and weren’t drawn by idiots with zero experience.

The problem is that these people think it is simple: a matter of will, and some brilliant negotiating tactics. They have zero knowledge of history, zero concern for how the region actually works, and zero ability to see past their own shallow ideas. They think it is an easy math problem, a quick sell. And there might even be surface-level successes!

There is no doubt that the gilded heirs sitting in Arabesque thrones are happy to see one of their own, and that the strongman tyrants are glad to see someone who emulates them, with his soft hands yearning to be considered callous and callused. I’m sure there will be papers signed and treaties made and grins exchanged. But by papering over everything but the headlines, and focusing on quick results rather than intelligent gains, this administration will set back the cause of freedom, of peace, and of actual security, another generation.

For them, the Middle East is, as is everything else in their dumbshow lives, a quick con and a chance to soak up applause before getting out of town. In going international, we’re finally giving thr world the bill of goods we so eagerly bought.

 

McMasters, Comey, and the Trump Endgame

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The fake king at the end of days

There are two ways that the Trump Presidency could end.

OK, that’s not true. There are many, many ways the Trump Presidency could end, including relatively normally. But that seems impossible, because we’ve elected a spoiled, ignorant, dauphin to become the most powerful person in the world. We’ve elected someone who is, without a doubt, in the bottom 10% of people in this country who should be President. You pull nearly anyone off the street, and the wouldn’t be as implusive, reckless, and vainglorious. They wouldn’t be as poor a manager or judge of people, and they wouldn’t let their ego overtake every affair. I’m not saying most people would be good Presidents (I’d be terrible), but few would be this bad.

And because of that, there are right now two paths that stand out among many, both with terrible repercussions.

The more straightforward one is that with the firing of Comey and the purported memo we’re pretty clearly in an Obstruction of Justice phase. Even Republicans are beginning to come around. Vulnerable ones in Illinois, like Adam Kinzinger, are calling for independent prosecutors, and others are just hiding. They feel the worm turning. Paul Ryan hasn’t come up for air in days, as he basically wants to avoid the parts of his job that don’t involve starving people.

The main counterargument, as Ross Douthat, of all people, points out, is that Trump probably is too stupid to even know he was obstructing justice. He was just asking Comey to do him a solid, lean on him a little bit, etc. No biggie. (Douthat thinks this is true, but says it proves Trump’s manifest unfitness for office).

Now, it is true that obstruction of justice is hard to prove, and it is true that there are enough emotional Trump supporters that the GOP might be scared of offending. They might duck behind the incredibly cynical “oh, so now you like Comey” ploy, as if (not actual!) hypocrisy by Democrats is an absolution for actual crimes. There will be a lot of wrangling as Republicans deal with the full scope of their moral failure, their irrational hatred for Hillary Clinton, their insane partisanship, and most of all, placing their desire to throw millions off health care and cut taxes for the rich over the needs of the Republic.

Will they be able to own up to it? If so, expect a lot of talk of their courage and bravery (mostly self-praise), and the nauseating spectacle of their “rising above partisanship”. A Trump impeachement will unleash all the howling anger that is already shaking this country, and they shouldn’t get praise for stopping, too late, a beast they helped create. But we’ll deal with that when we get to it if, hopefully, we do.

There is a worse scenario, here, and that involves H.R. McMaster, who has long been one of the most respected people in America, and certainly in the military, but who has been tainted and corrupted by proximity to Trump, as is inevitable.  Fred Kaplan captures the sadness of McMaster standing up for Trump, in a statement that is mostly a lie, at best an evasion, and in a way, aiding and abetting our deranged king. There is a part in Kaplan that truly stands out.

At the same time, he is still an active-duty officer, duty-bound to obey all legal orders from his commander in chief and perhaps inclined to regard him with respect. Will he remain conscious of the tension between his obligations and his character, asserting the latter whenever opportunities arise? Or will the former subsume all else?

That’s very true. McMaster is active duty, and sworn to civilian primacy. That’s the founding genius of our nation. But what happens if Trump, facing impeachement and disgrace, orders the military to do something terrible and drastic? What if he tries to bind it to him, instead of the country. In August, I argued that such behavior was the primary danger of electing Donald Trump.

Unlike in Turkey, the armed forces here take pride in the fact that they don’t need to guarantee democracy through domestic force; indeed, the fact that they don’t is why our democracy works as well as it does. But if an order is illegal, and insanely so, what then? Do they refuse the order and go against the basis of their existence? Do they do something illegal, which is also a betrayal of their values, because then it means that the military isn’t loyal to the US, but just its temporary and titular head? What happens? Which betrayal is worse? And at what point do they enact the ultimate betrayal in the name of the country: that is, a legitimate overthrowing of civilian power?…

The crisis can come because Donald Trump is a fascist, and think he can and should rule like one. He has no respect for the rule of law, and believes that everything is his toy, and should be used for his greater glory. He feels that civilian control of the military means that they should be loyal to him. That’s not what we are about. The result of this collision is impossible to know. But if he is elected, you can be sure it is coming, and it will be unlike any crisis we’ve faced since the Civil War.

McMaster obviously isn’t in charge of the military, but he is key to this. How long do they stay loyal? Are there mass resignations? Or do they actually betray one duty to uphold another? This is the most terrifying endgame for Trump, and it is far from outside the realm of possibility. It’s what we might be facing. It’s the question that will get hot as the summer starts to boil and the temper of our President reaches rageful and spiteful tantrumic heights: what will the military do?

That we are even asking that is reason why every politician who supported Trump should be disgraced, forever.

Pebble Gold Mine in Bristol Bay A Real Goldmine, Unless You Like Food Or Water

 

Image result for bristol bay alaska

“You know what this could use? Open-pit mining.” -Scott Pruitt

 

May 12 U.S. environmental regulators have cleared the path for a stalled copper and gold mine in Alaska by agreeing to settle current lawsuits and other issues over the project, which had drawn environmental concerns over its potential impact on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a statement on Friday, said the settlement does not guarantee the proposed Pebble mine project in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region would ultimately win approval, but that its review would now be carried out “in a fair, transparent, deliberate, and regular way.”

Bristol Bay is one of the world’s most productive salmon breeding grounds. But there is a lot of gold and copper near it, so some companies want to create an open-pit copper mine, even though mining runoff will certainly pollute the waters, and possibly decimate the fishing economy.

But, you know, so what? This is Scott Pruitt’s EPA, in which the “E” and the “P” are strictly optional. It sure is an Agency, though. And they are giving the fishermen the human agency to go pound sand. The extraction industry wants something, right now, and there isn’t a single Republican with any desire not to give it to them.

These people have everything they want for the moment, and are in a mad to sell off public land, reverse any environmental regulations, create open door policies for the extraction industry, punish the poor, and maybe get around to a little light earth-salting before President Cuckoo Clock from Hell fires Reince Priebus and replaces him with a 50-ft high self-portrait.

It seriously seems like they had a contest where users could submit ideas with the theme of “What’s the Worst Thing We Could Do?” and they picked everyone’s entry.  Everyone’s a winner! Well, not the 85% of fishermen who think this could destroy their livlinhood, or the Natives opposed to turning the unspoiled and sacred beauty of the land into something a little more spoiled, and really not anyone who doesn’t own stock in Pebble Limited Partnership, which went up 500% when Trump was elected. But hey: there will be more gold in the world. Who could be opposed to that?