Whatever the ring of spies that entrapped the Trump Organization ends up being called, this so-called ‘Russian meddling’ plot will have some damned difficult names to pronounce when all is said and done. As former President George W. Bush used to like to do, I suggest a few nicknames to keep track of all these characters, and we’ll start with ‘The Professor,’ Joe Mifsud. He dangled Olga Polonskaya to the Trump dupes, calling her ‘Putin’s niece’ to entice the star fuckers in the Trump ‘brain trust.’ Olga was actually a dupe herself, apparently only Facebook friends with ‘The Professor’ Mifsud – who flew (on a whim!) to New York with Olga to attend a shady meeting at Trump Tower with a bunch of guys in shiny suits. In what the Papadopoulos Complaint described as a ‘Female Russian National’ attending the infamous June, 2016 Trump Tower meeting, The 31-year-old lives in St. Petersburg and apparently graduated from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. Her Russian Facebook page says she works for a wine import company, but there’s no picture of her, so we can’t see if she looks anything like old Uncle Putin. Also apparently, Olga Vinogradova was her maiden name, and the New York Times has reports that her name is now Polonskaya, so I don’t know what the fuck to think. Let’s call her ‘Olga.’
The other ‘carrot’ offered to the Trump dupes was the so-called ‘Crown Prosecutor of Russia,’ Natalia Veselnitskaya, who said that they only talked up the Magnitsky Act, before Donald Jr. stupidly blabbed about the real reason for the meeting: dirt on Hillary! Anyone know who Magnitsky was? He was murdered in jail after he revealed bad stuff about Putin (while doing his job as an accountant) and the U.S. placed sanctions on Russia as a result. We’ll call Natalia, (while wishing her name was Natasha) ‘The Crown Prosecutor.’ Then there’s Rinat Akhmetshin, the shady ‘lobbyist’ who attended the Trump Tower meeting as well, taking copious notes. This one I’ll call ‘The Spy,’ because Akhmetshin is a ‘former’ Russian counter-intelligence officer, by his own account. Back to Moscow in 2013, the Agalarov father/son team, promoters of the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow (all mixed up with hookers and other blackmail-able shit) we’ll call ‘The Russian Trumps.’ Then we have Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who received daily briefings from the campaign from Paul Manafort in exchange for – what exactly? He’s ‘The Olegarch,’ oh, and there’s also another Russian businessman Sergei Millian, who once said about Trump, “He likes Russia because he likes beautiful Russian ladies. He likes talking to them, of course. And he likes to be able to make lot of money with Russians, yes, correct.” Millian is head of the so-called ‘Russian American Chamber of Commerce (RACC),’ and he insists the organization has nothing to do with the Russian government. Millian was a BIG source in the mysterious Steele Dossier, even though he denies that he’s the nattering nabob that forwarded the most salacious accusations. His real name is Siarhai Kukuts, but who cares, we’ll call him ‘Source E.’ He also appears in the ‘Paradise Papers,’ revealing Russian government-linked VTB Bank and Gazprom among his organization’s ‘angel’ investors. A Russian named ‘Yuri’ is Yuri Milner, a high-tech billionaire and an early investor in Twitter – plopping down a whopping $800 million on Twitter in 2011. Nice play! Along with his business partner Alisher Usmanov (a close associate of Vladimir Putin) they paid $200 million for a 2% stake of Facebook in 2009 and sold it for $525 mil just four years later, in 2013. Another nice play, but they probably should have held that one.
Eric Trump’s Georgetown bro, Boris Epshteyn, is an interesting character, born in Mother Russia, a friend and confidant of the ‘other Trump kid,’ Boris had a Trump love fest with Bill Maher that you gotta see to believe, and for that reason, he’s ‘Boris Badanov.’ This is fun! Felix Sater is ‘The Rat,’ who did time for stabbing a guy in the face with a margarita glass. Any questions? Okay, moving on, Viktor Khrapunov, a former government minister (and mayor in Kazakhstan) is ‘Borat,’ (your welcome) and Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian foreign minister, is ‘Russian Mike.’ Sergei Ryabkov, another Russian foreign minister is ‘The Contact,’ because he contacted the Trump campaign, by his own admission, during the campaign. Jared Kushner decided to ‘pass’ on an offer of help from the Russians because it didn’t strike Jared as particularly plausible, warning the email chainers that they should be careful who they trust. Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell, the lawyer who successfully defended Bill Clinton against impeachment in 1998, said Monday,
If you look at the content of these emails, he’s the hero. He’s the one who’s saying there shouldn’t be any contact with foreign officials or foreign entities. That’s what the Senate Judiciary Committee should pay attention to and not create some sort of partisan gotcha game.
Some hero! A hero would have done the right thing and gone straight to the F.B.I to set up these bastards in a sting! It seems Kushner rarely does the right thing. Abbe Lowell would go on to say, “In my communications with the Senate Judiciary Committee, I said, ‘Take these documents, and let’s talk about what else is relevant. They jumped the gun to make a media event.” In other words, the Kushner team said to Mueller, “Hey, here’s a few documents directly related to Russian meddling, let’s see if you find any more and we’ll talk then!” Does Lowell even hear himself? Mueller’s team caught his client in a lie of omission, then Lowell calls it a ‘media event’ because the committee is using it as leverage? That’s their fucking job! At least lawyers are paid to lie, and Abbe is well paid. Trump campaign officials handed over “communications with Sergei Millian, copied to Mr. Kushner,” that Jared had failed to disclose voluntarily. Kushner also received an email that discussed ‘RE: Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ (the email subject header, I shit you not) from Alexander Torshin, the deputy head of Russia’s central bank, according to NBC.
The Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, is obviously ‘The Ambassador’ in our continuing saga and should be played in the movie by the versatile character actor Toby Jones – who played ‘The Tinker’ in Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 film adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Lesser players on the Russian stage, and also of great interest to grand juries in Virginia, New York, Maryland and elsewhere, include: Arkady Dvorkovich; Shlomo Weber; Ivan Timofeev; Andrey Baranov; Igor Sechin; Randa Kassis and Dmitry Peskov among an expanding list of difficult to pronounce names.
We haven’t had such interest in spying and espionage since the end of the Cold War, so it’s a real shot in the arm to the genre, as far as I’m concerned. Spy novels and films have a largely male audience and most spy movies are eye-rollers to wives and girlfriends everywhere. A few films try to play up the romance and exotic scenery along with the complicated plots, like the cheesy Bond films and Hitchcock’s wonderful North By Northwest (1959), but for my money, Hitchcock’s 39 Steps (1935) and Notorious (1946) are the best examples of spy movies, with precise casting and direction, shot in beautiful black and white. Nazis and Russians have a monopoly as spies since as long as anyone can remember, and either Germans during the world wars or Russians after, spy vs. spy has been a fairly black and white game.
Donald Trump is a big movie buff, once sitting down with the intelligent, missed by millions, Robert Osborne on TCM’s guest programmer series, currently featuring David Letterman and Alec Baldwin. Trump’s favorite film, Citizen Kane, was inspired by the huge blowhard William Randolph Hearst – more on that in my next post – and it turns out that The Donald and I actually like a lot of the same movies. I bet we would get along fine if we only talked sports and movies instead of politics. Unfortunately, he’s the President of the United States. I relish with anticipation all the unwritten books and undirected movies that will be made about the Trump Administration, and this ‘Russian thing’ is a central plot in the mystery. I hope it plays out like the Coen Brothers’ funny and imaginative Burn After Reading (2008), with Trump the bumbling hero versus their latest Cold War spy effort, Bridge of Spies (2015), a collaboration produced and directed by Stephen Spielberg dramatizing the ‘Hollow Nickel Case’ and the high stakes prisoner exchange of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers with captured Russian spy Rudolph Abel.
Abel was convicted of the same charge that Paul Manafort’s attorney says are ‘old and never prosecuted’ and well, here the ‘old’ FARA charges were concurrent with a criminal conspiracy charge, in addition to conspiracy to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government, without notification to the Secretary of State. On October 25, 1957, a U.S. jury found Abel and his accomplices guilty on all counts and they received three sentences to be served concurrently, equaling 45 years of hard time. Perhaps Manafort might also be available for a prisoner exchange with Russia for, say, Russian turncoat Colonel Alexander Poteyev? I’m sure the U.S. government would love to catch up with ‘ol Alex.
We all learn about Benedict Arnold in grade school, his name synonymous with the word ‘traitor.’ Prior to the Revolutionary War, Arnold dueled with a British sea captain in South America who called him a “damned Yankee, destitute of good manners or those of a gentleman.” The captain won the argument, but lost the duel, apologizing for his heated remarks while tending to his gaping leg wound. Arnold later famously tried to hand West Point over to the English and then fled to the Redcoats to lead them in future battles against his former brothers-in-arms. Benedict Arnold will forever be a byword for treason and treachery.
Some of our earliest, most legendary heroes were spies. Nathan Hale, caught behind enemy lines in New York City during the American Revolution and executed just after uttering his famous line, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’ Hale’s last words were paraphrased – inaccurately – from a report on his death the Boston Chronicle published six years after his execution. He actually said, “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.” I like the Reader’s Digest version better.
We also know the story of the heroic Harriet Tubman, Union spy among her many history-making feats, and yet another African-American hero (and spy) known to us only as ‘Cato‘ may have done more to promote what would become known as abolition more than any man in history. As part of the famous Culper spy ring, Cato may have saved George Washington’s life more than once during the Revolutionary War, and was credited by his former ‘master’ Hercules Mulligan by introducing the first society to end slavery in America. Other famous Confederate spies include Rose O’Neal Greenhow, prominent Richmond, Virginia socialite and spy credited by Confederate President Jefferson Davis with ensuring the South’s victory at the First Battle of Bull Run in July, 1861. The value and effectiveness of spies has been obvious long since, highlighted by the most common punishment for spying: death by hanging.
Pinkerton Security was born as a counter-intelligence network in Washington, D.C., with Alan Pinkerton sending undercover agents to infiltrate the Confederate capital of Richmond at the outbreak of Civil War. A spy associated with John Wilkes Booth – Sarah Slater – was extremely valuable to Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, (impressed by her beauty, french-speaking skills and bravery). Slater was the granddaughter of a Revolutionary War veteran, and during the Civil War, began carrying messages for the Confederacy, and although she only served as a spy for a few months, managed to work her way into John Wilkes Booth’s inner circle, occasionally staying at co-conspirator Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse in Washington D.C.. Lost to history, Sarah Slater, as many spies before and since, vanished without a trace.
By WWI, the infamous German spy Mata Hari (executed by a French by firing squad) offered up her body to enter the shady world of ‘spies among us,’ especially those that are beautiful and horny. Spying for the Good ‘Ol USA during WWI, the femme-fatale (and founding member of the Society of Women Geographers) Marguerite Harrison and the estimable General Julius Klein worked for the good guys versus the Imperial German war machine, however it really wasn’t until WWII that spies, and spy fiction, really got into gear.
We start with the odd cases of Julia Child, TV chef and foodie icon who spied for the OSS (precursor to the CIA) during WWII, going on to marry her sweetheart – also an OSS spy; and Moe Berg: a Princeton and Columbia Law School-educated, multilingual Boston Red Sox catcher in the summer – and U.S. spy in the off season, gathering information on the Nazi nuclear program while barnstorming in Europe. Other famous spies include the Rosenbergs, of course, and the meek Klaus Fuchs, and the meeker Ted Hall, the Russian-born spy who gave the Soviets the blueprints to the Little Boy in perhaps the world’s greatest espionage coup. The Manhattan Project bore a slew of Russian spies, names like David Greenglass; Jones Orin York; Bill Weisband; Harry Gold; Alger Hiss; Whitaker Chambers; Nathan Silvermaster (of the Silvermaster spy ring); Henry Dexter White; Alexander Koral; Frank Coe; Jacob Golos; Charles Kramer; Laughlan Currie; Victor Perlo; J. Peters; John Abt and the sneaky Elizabeth Bentley, who confessed to everything and exposed the entire Soviet plot after her defection. Lee Harvey Oswald said in his only public statement, after being arrested in Dallas, “I want that attorney in New York, Mr. Abt. I don’t know him personally but I know about a case that he handled some years ago.”
The whole ‘atom spies‘ case was blown open by a few cryptanalysts working at Arlington Hall, Good ‘Ol USA’s version of England’s Bletchley Park, the famed breakers of the Nazi ENIGMA code. Meredith Gardner and a few intrepid linguists and mathematicians, after making short work of the Japanese government’s diplomatic PURPLE cipher, got to work on coded Soviet diplomatic cables from New York to Moscow during the war, over 200,000 intercepted in 1946 alone. These unsung heroes of WWII figured out that the Soviets had made a big mistake, by repeating identical passages of text, opening up the ‘unbreakable’ code to solution. The VENONA project revealed many Russian atomic spies and was a huge success, and by May, 1947, Lieutenant Richard Hallock, working on Soviet diplomatic codes (and who first discovered that the Soviets were reusing pages) with Genevieve Feinstein, Cecil Phillips, Frank Lewis, Frank Wanat, and Lucille Campbell, went on to break into a huge amount of Russian ‘trade’ traffic. Gardner then used this info to crack the KGB codes:
Gardner read a decrypt that implied the Soviets ran an agent with access to sensitive information from U.S. Army Air Corps Major William Ludwig Ullmann. It became apparent to Gardner that he was reading KGB messages showing massive Soviet espionage in the United States. Meredith later related how a young pipe-smoking Englishman named Philby used to regularly visit him and peer over his shoulder and admire the progress he was making. Gardner “was appalled at the fact that his discovery had led, almost inevitably, to the electric chair, and felt that the Rosenbergs, while guilty, ought to have been given clemency.”
Meredith Gardner died on August 9, 2002, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at the age of 89 – a true American hero. By the way, the Russian code name that Gardner revealed for Washington D.C. was Carthage, a Phoenician city-state which gained independence around 650 BC, and by the beginning of the 5th century BC, Carthage had become the commercial center of the West Mediterranean. An oligarchy marked with a few democratic social reforms, a code name for Moscow today could easily be Carthage.
The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service or ‘SVR’ is the successor to the foreign agent branch of the KGB under Soviet leadership. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent and the President of Russia, is a card-carrying member of this clandestine class. He oversaw the Russian Federation’s transitional baby-steps from the KGB to the current GRU (army) and SVR (diplomatic) clandestine services, and as President of Russia since 1999, he directly oversaw the Russian ‘Illegals’ program in the United States. Looking suspiciously like so many Russian spy operations under Stalin and Khrushchev before, the ‘Illegals Program‘ was blown by Russian double-agent Colonel Alexander Poteyov, and on July 9, 2010, the Russian spies were busted. Anna Chapman and others tried to compromise the Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton for two years, which was set into motion many years earlier. Anna’s ex-husband, Alex Chapman, told the London Telegraph,
When I saw that she had been arrested on suspicion of spying it didn’t come as much of a surprise to be honest. Towards the end of our marriage she became very secretive, going for meetings on her own with ‘Russian friends’, and I guess it might have been because she was in contact with the Russian government.
The FBI tried to warn us back in 2010, saying that these Russians were a ‘new breed’ of spy, revealing that we were entering a new arena of ‘political warfare,’ building on Russia’s nearly century of experience in espionage. Since 1919, the Comintern (or Communist International) set into operation hundreds of plots to discredit and slander Western leaders and undermine democratic elections worldwide. They trained agents for infiltration into the capitalist West with the purpose of advancing Marxist ideology and sewing doubt about social democracy. America has done this as well, of course, advancing Western ideology and democratization around the world, and yes, we have committed some pretty heinous acts in the defense of our liberty since 1776. I’ll leave that discussion to America’s critics, for now. Donald Trump, when asked by Bill O’Reilly in February if he was repelled by Putin’s record of human rights abuses and the remarkably short life spans of (good) Russian investigative reporters under his leadership, Trump retorted dismissively, “We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” Nice. What the ‘illegals’ plot reveals is that unlike the United States, a free and open democracy where we have always revealed wrongdoing through commission after commission since our first days a a nation, the former Soviet Union, or Russia, has continued to deal from the bottom of the deck without so much as a slap on the wrist. Since the founding of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, Russia has been an Autocracy.
Within the past ten years, Russia planted spies among the Democratic Party and specifically, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Obama Administration made short work of the plot, with the FBI exposing the smokin’ hot Russian spy from England, Anna Chapman, before she could spring her trap. She was the bait, the Mata Hari if you will, prepared by her handlers in Moscow to trap a particular Obama Administration official in a standard ‘honey pot’ arrangement, cooked up to embarrass Obama after it was clear that he wasn’t going to play ball with Putin. In another part of the plot, a big-time Hillary Clinton donor and Democratic big-wig was targeted the dupe. The whole thing was handled very quietly and ‘in house’ by U.S. intelligence agencies, but the British tabloids had a field day, revealing Chapman and her 10 co-conspirators, charged with (surprise!) FARA violations. They couldn’t be charged with anything else, because there was no evidence that any part of their plot succeeded – except for the ‘Trump piece’ that may have emerged last year. According to the complaint, Chapman used a laptop computer to transfer intelligence to another laptop computer, operated by another spy for the Russian SVC, from a Starbucks on 47th Avenue in New York City and a Barnes & Noble on Warren. “They’re not all sneaking around in capes and floppy hats.” said CIA analyst Peter Earnest recently, ‘It’s a carefully executed influence campaign, and might be more like lobbying and fundraising than what we traditionally think of as espionage.” While some, like Anna Chapman, were more active, others were doing little more than low-level networking and information gathering in the final years – not unusual in a long-term influence campaign. Current Prime Minister of Russia, (then) President Dmitry Medvedev bestowed the highest state award on Chapman during a Kremlin ceremony in 2010 where (then) Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (who served as a KGB agent in East Germany in the 1980s) met with the agents and sang patriotic songs with them over toasts of Stolichnaya.
Before the Berlin Wall went up, on November 10, 1958, Nikita Khrushchev issued to the West an ultimatum to withdraw from Berlin. Shortly after that, President Eisenhower and Khrushchev met at Camp David and talked turkey while negotiating over a few days and made real progress toward peace. Khrushchev reportedly came away thinking that a deal was possible over Berlin and they agreed to continue the negotiations at a summit in Paris in May, 1960. However, the Paris Peace Summit that was to resolve the Berlin problem was cancelled after the fallout from Gary Powers’ failed U-2 spy flight on May 1, 1960. A year later, the Berlin Crisis of 1961 brought East and West to the brink of World War III, where the legendary U.S. Army General Lucius D. Clay, John F. Kennedy’s Special Advisor in West Berlin, faced down the Russians as if he were Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper from Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant Dr. Strangelove (1964). From October 27, 1961 until October 28th, American and Russian troops lined up against each other across the Brandenberg Gate, and as per standing orders, both battalions of tanks were loaded with live munitions and both sides’ commanders had issued orders to fire if fired upon. At that time, Robert F. Kennedy secretly negotiated with Russian spy Georgi Bolshakov, a Soviet operative under journalist cover posted to Washington, D.C. and the Kennedys used this ‘back channel’ to Moscow to diffuse the volatile standoff, and then they used Bolshakov again to set up the successful Vienna Summit in June, 1961, which was in turn scuttled by the Cuban Missile Crisis. It seems that every time the Russians talked peace, weird things began to happen – just like last year.
I’ve always been partial to actor Michael Caine. Born Maurice Mickelwhite, Jr., Caine was born to play a real spy, most notably the middle-class Harry Palmer, the workaday British spy who resented the high hat aristocrats in charge of London’s Foreign Office in author Len Deighton’s spy novels. In movies like The IPCRESS File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Caine delivered that unmistakable, understated British sense of duty and honor, portrayed best by stalwart actors such as Alec Guinness, Robert Shaw and Laurence Olivier. Later, in 1987’s The Fourth Protocol, based on the Fredrick Forsyth book, Caine matched wits with a Russian spy played by Pierce Brosnan in one of the best roles delivered in either actor’s career.
Kevin Costner, before he was famous, was only known as the ‘dead guy’ – his character committed suicide in The Big Chill, providing the plot device for the film, and he is never shown in 1983’s Best Screenplay winner. In his film No Way Out (1987) with Gene Hackman – spoiler alert (thirty years after the movie premiere) – Costner was revealed as the Russian sleeper spy at the end of the movie. This extremely clever casting, with Costner remembered as the Western sheriff archetype Wyatt Earp in Silverado (1986) and starring as the squeaky-clean Eliot Ness in The Untouchables (1987) in his previous two films, provided a great twist – that Costner was the Russian spy known only as ‘Yuri’ all along.
Yuri Shvets was a Major in the KGB during the 1980’s and from 1985 to 1987 worked in the Washington D.C. ‘rezidentura’ (residence) of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, the predecessor of the current SVR, and may have been the inspiration for the character. Costner’s Yuri, working as a double-agent for the Russians, is put in charge of finding a Russian mole, implicated in a political murder with a faint Polaroid image of Costner, himself, providing the film’s MacGuffin. Another famous Russian spy named ‘Yuri’ was Yuri Nosenko, who arrived at the CIA’s doorstep a scant two weeks after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. To this day, there is significant debate in U.S. intelligence circles about the truth behind Nosenko’s ‘defection’ to the West in 1963. Yuri offered up that he was a former KGB agent with direct knowledge of Lee Harvey Oswald’s connections to Soviet intelligence, and said that no connection existed between Oswald and the KGB. He was kept in isolation and interrogated by the FBI for three solid years and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, after reading a book about the Nosenko affair in 2007, expressed serious concerns about who was behind the Kennedy assassination.
An unsung hero in the world of American counter-espionage is a man by the name of William G. Sebold, who was a German-born, naturalized American citizen who, like Cary Grant in North By Northwest, was an unwitting player in the Cold War who tried to do the right thing. After visiting Germany before WWII, Sebold was confronted by Nazi thugs who threatened him and made him pledge to spy against his adopted country. Sebold immediately went to the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, unlike EVERYBODY in the Trump campaign, and told them what had happened. In one of the greatest counter-espionage stings in American history, Sebold set up dozens of other co-opted German spies, unraveling the famous Duquesne Spy Ring.
A word here about The Americans and the rant in my last post about movie sequels, and how awful they usually are. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) was a good sequel, I’ve been recently reminded, yet I’ll stick to my guns: sequels usually suck. The long form TV series format, begun with David Chase and HBO’s success with the groundbreaking The Sopranos, has changed the game in the entertainment business. The quality and production associated with some of these film series are as good as it gets, and some of these shows will stand among the greatest movie franchises of all time. The Americans, a complex and hard-to-tell story – set during the Reagan years – is a fine docudrama that shows how little has changed with the standard Russian-trained spy. They are capable of offering up their own children to the Russian Federation, to raise them as little baby spies, created in a sham marriage of spies, hatched by a commiserat of spies working just outside St. Petersburg, Russia.
Ramón Mercader, the Soviet spy who assassinated Leon Trotsky in 1940, reversed the standard Russian ‘honey pot’ arrangement, having the suave, debonair Mercado seduce the (butt ugly) American intellectual Sylvia Ageloff from Brooklyn. A trusted friend of the deposed Trotsky in Paris (founder of the Red Army, Trotsky was expelled from Russia in 1929), Ageloff was Mercader’s dupe after he assumed the identity ‘Jacques Mornard,’ supposedly the son of a Belgian diplomat, who followed Ageloff to New York with plans to marry her. He then ‘broke up’ with her shortly thereafter and headed to Mexico City, a location where Leon Trotsky was rumored to be hiding. The dupe Ageloff dutifully followed her (base) instincts, and lead Mercader directly to the archenemy of Joseph Stalin, where he promptly plunged an ice axe into Trotsky’s head, killing him. While in jail awaiting trail for the murder, Ramón Mercader was awarded the Order of Lenin by Stalin in appreciation for his service to the Motherland. The story was recently made into a movie shot in Barcelona, Spain and Mexico City titled ‘El Elegido‘ (2015) or, The Chosen.
The recently released Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the original Blade Runner, was based on the book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Recently, non-traditional film studios such as HBO Pictures; FX; Netflix; Showtime Originals, you name it – have handled the the idea of the sequel, or follow-up, much better than the traditional Hollywood studios. The Amazon Studios-produced The Man in the High Castle (2015-present) is a great example of the high quality of these new long form films. Based on Philip K. Dick’s Man Booker prize-winning, first novel published in 1963. The book imagines a dystopian outcome to WWII, with Nazi Germany using the ‘Heisenberg Device’ (or an atomic bomb) to wipe Washington D.C. off the map, thus winning the war. An uneasy piece then exists between victors Japan and Germany, where the United States is carved up into three zones. The Pacific zone is controlled by the Japanese and the Eastern zone is controlled by the Germans – but the middle zone is neutral – and this neutral zone, a kind of Orwellian ‘Wild West,’ is where the last true Americans have escaped from being chased down, tortured and beaten into submission in this alternate reality set in 1963.
The British actor Rufus Sewell delivers a fantastic portrayal of the Nazi In charge of the German Eastern zone, headquartered in New York City. Philip K. Dick cleverly replaces the United States and Russia with Germany and Japan in this recast Cold War scenario in which Germany and Japan find themselves approaching something like Thirteen Days, Robert F. Kennedy’s book which recounts the United States response to the provocation of Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba in 1962. In the Amazon film series, we have a scenario where Germany and Japan enter territory that the United States and Russia never entered – tactical nuclear war. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear power has never been used as a weapon against populations. They were used to kill innocent people, yes, during the conflagration of WWII, and the idea that the Nazis could acquire such a weapon drove the scientists at the Manhattan Project, and all civilized societies in general, to defeat the Nazis in 1945. The war was held in the balance in 1943 and to imagine an America in 1963 – defeated and partitioned – is healthy medicine in the Trump era.
The treatment of the Japanese in the series is handled far more delicately than the Germans – Nazism can easily be separated from the idea of the modern, democratized German. The old order in Japan is less easy to explain, with prewar Japan slightly less ‘propagandized’ than Nazi Germany, perhaps, but with a long history of conquest and bushido-based militarism drummed into the culture from the earliest age, with similar ideas to Aryanism – and they were destined to clash. In The Man in the High Castle, the crown prince of Japan, visiting San Francisco, is murdered by a sniper, inviting comparisons to the Kennedy assassination. Philip K. Dick leaves no doubt that he believed that the Russians were involved in Dallas, as Germans were involved behind the crown prince’s murder in the book and the film. It’s a fascinating retelling of the Kennedy assassination yarn – written just after Kennedy’s murder. Later in the series, Nazi General Reinhard Heydrik eventually leads a coup in Berlin to eliminate the ailing, elderly Adolf Hitler. Here, Philip K. Dick imagines that the only guy in the room more evil than Hitler himself would eventually take over if Germany had won. Heydrich, The architect of the Holocaust, would be as good a choice as any. Hitler outwits his would-be killer and survives the attempt in this chilling parable.
On Long Island, New York, just prior to the war, American Nazis met 40,000 strong in the summer during the 1930’s, boarding the ‘Siegfried Special’ train from New York City to Camp Siegfried – the purpose of which was to “Raise the future leaders of America – and make sure they were steeped in Nazi ideals.” The modern day remnant of German Gardens in Yaphank, Long Island is a vivid reminder of just how close the Nazis came to the heart of America: just 50 miles outside New York City, where the German-American Bund paid for the camp with money provided by the German government. Camp Siegfried was just one of many of these camps in the U.S. in the 1930s, including Camp Nordland in Andover, New Jersey; Camp Hindenberg in Grafton, Wisconsin and Deutschhorst Country Club in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. At this time, it was well understood that German financial support came from the blood and treasure of the Jews of Europe, whose wealth and property the German government was expropriating on a massive scale. Camp Siegfried also had swastikas and Hitler Youth flags displayed on the grounds, where you could meet for coffee on the corner of Goering and Hitler streets, and where men were photographed in Italian Fascist blackshirts, SA brownshirts and Nazi military uniforms:
According to a court case brought against the German American Settlement League in 1938 for failing to register with New York’s Secretary of State – a violation of the Civil Rights Law of 1923, which was enacted to control the Ku Klux Klan – to become a member of the League one had to swear allegiance to Hitler and to the leaders of the German American Bund; the court found against the League.
To this day, the owners association of German Gardens has successfully kept out African-Americans and Jews from their neighborhood since the end of the war. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (while also investigating Trump-Russia connections) as recently as this year, (June, 2017) had to employ punitive measures just to get these ex-Nazis to allow the freedoms that all Americans share as a birthright.
Back to Russian spies, Kim Philby, one of the most famous spies of the 20th Century, (and the one peering in on the U.S. Venona team at Arlington Hall) was also a peer OBE (as in, Sir Kim Philby), yet he was also awarded the Order of Lenin (Russia’s highest civilian honor) in 1965 – after he defected from the West. The Cambridge Five spy ring was broken up by happenstance, when American scion Michael Straight (of the rich and famous Whitney family of New York) revealed, when being vetted for a U.S. government position to friend (and Secretary of State) Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., that he had been a Soviet spy while a young student at Cambridge University in the 1930’s – outing Sir Anthony Blunt and four others as spies for the Russians, providing the treasure trove of material for the British spy novels and films that we guys love so much. This because a man by the name of David Cornwell, who worked as a British intelligence officer for both MI5 and MI6 in the 1950’s, said that Kim Philby, along with betraying his country, betrayed his (Cornwell’s) identity to the Russians at the same time, which ended his intelligence career in 1964. Fortunately for us all, that gave him more time to work on his writing. His pen name was (and is) John le Carré, a German language scholar and expert on the German intelligence network created under KGB guidance, the notorious German Stasi, which took surveillance to unprecedented, intrusive levels to gather deep knowledge about what the East German people did and said, which they then used to manipulate and control the population.
In his first book, Call For the Dead (1961) le Carré introduces the earliest days of spymaster George Smiley’s service to country, where his close, German friend ‘Dieter’ worked with him as allies against the Nazis. After the war, as relations between the East and the West began to cool, they found themselves on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall. In a showdown that le Carré only hints about, he reveals that Smiley had killed Dieter – even though his friend refused to raise his weapon against him. Smiley had put country over friendship (or family, as his wife is compromised later in the saga), solidifying his place as Britain’s finest spy, “Dieter had let him do it, had not fired the gun, had remembered their friendship when Smiley had not.” Statecraft is bereft of any kind of ‘moral’ structure – beyond the fact that it is simply an extension of the pure self-interest of governments themselves. “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?” Our president said that about China, while on Chinese soil, then he got home and got in a Twitter spat with LaVar Ball, saying he should have left his NBA bound son, LiAngelo, cooling his ‘Big Baller’ heels in a Chinese jail. You couldn’t make this stuff up, folks. Comedian Seth Meyers made the obvious point:
Helping to keep American citizens out of communist prisons is part of your job. That’s not above and beyond… Not only are these tweets childish and embarrassing, they’re also part of a disturbing pattern: Trump is clearly a thug and wannabe dictator who lashes out at anyone who isn’t sufficiently obedient.
Donald Trump is a moron, as his Secretary of State, National Security Advisor and Secretary of Defense certainly know. What isn’t clear is why Trump would take the word of Vladimir Putin over America’s own intelligence professionals. Since our founding, many of these brave and selfless men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our democracy, and to dismiss the work of the FBI, NSA, CIA and DIA as ‘political’ is counter-intuitive for an American, let alone the President of the United States. The only realistic conclusion is that Putin has Trump by the short ones. As so many ‘cultivates’ before, Trump was entrapped into a plot of some kind, and the Steele Dossier lays out just one of the possible Russian game plans. Trump’s personal body man Keith Schiller recently admitted that the Russians offered Trump ‘five women,’ to which The Donald, apparently, politely declined. I wish I could believe him, but my gut tells me there’s a whole lot more to the Russian story than we know today.
Christopher Steele, the former British agent who wrote the infamous dossier, is no fly-by-night operator. The Clinton campaign and Fusion GPS didn’t waste their $10 million, believe me. In the dossier, Trump associate Sergei Millian has been identified as either ‘Source D or E,’ and the FBI sure as hell knows which one is which. By the way, Steele was head of MI6’s Russia desk when the infamous poisoning of British agent Alexander Litvinenko (the Russian assassin using a Stalin-era umbrella-dart) occurred in 2006. Sir John Scarlett, Chief of Britain’s MI6 from 2000 to 2004, put Steele in charge of the investigation and it was Steele, sources say, who uncovered that Litvinenko’s death was a Russian Federation-approved assassination. Steele also served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, overseeing highly sensitive intelligence operations, and is, by all accounts short of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, a solid citizen. A graduate of Cambridge University, Steele is a real-life George Smiley, if you will. Better yet, he is a new John Cornwell, driven from the ranks of the intelligence services (yes, even the private ones) – as true defenders of democracy – in defiance of mortal danger from the enemies of the West, straight into the arms of eager publishing houses. You gotta love free speech!
This Christmas, I plan on giving two gifts in my yankee swaps, one is 86-year old John le Carré’s new book, Legacy of Spies (2017), well reviewed, it looks like a fine retrospective of his wonderfully bland and complex characters. I can’t wait to read it. On a recent tour to promote his new book, in a rare public appearance, le Carré worried that,
Something truly, seriously bad is happening and from my point of view we have to be awake to that, and I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running [again] in Poland and Hungary.
Another new book I plan to gift is by Guardian journalist Luke Harding, titled Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, written in collaboration with Christopher Steele, in which he predicts that the essential findings in Steele’s eponymous dossier will prove to be “70% to 90% true.” Should be one hell of a read. If that book hasn’t been optioned yet, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. It’s got Best Picture written all over it. Trump lawyer Ty Cobb said this weekend that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and that the president and those close to him will be exonerated. That’s weird, because the trial of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, for example, is many months away and Mueller’s investigators are still gathering documents and other evidence to present in those cases. So far, at least nine people in Trump’s campaign had contact with Russians during the election or the transition to the White House according to the charging documents and records obtained by The Washington Post. George Papadopoulos is a cooperating witness with the FBI and wore a wire, so who else might be on Mueller’s naughty list? One thing for sure, he’s got a yuge chunk of coal for the Trump dupes.
November 21, 2017
We’ve been here for five years, publishing the first edition of the Newes From America on October 17, 2012. Beginning as a traditional news site, rehashing top stories and writing up celebrity and gossip ‘snacks’ that most web surfers like to read, the work was tedious and boring. When a 20-year old kid confused reality with one of his violent video games, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012 was the first, big news story that we tried to tackle as an editorial story. We wanted to try and make sense of that insane tragedy, and that lead directly to the screed that you see here before you. It was impossible to look at the huge problem of gun violence while being overwhelmed with the many, pressing news stories that crop up every day. The still unexplained horror of Sandy Hook, similar in some ways to the tragedy recently unveiled in Las Vegas, reveals deeper, more fundamental issues that go far beyond the Second Amendment or whether the N.R.A. supports the banning of ‘bump stocks.’ Our society has been manipulated by corporate interests that have made a lot of money tapping into our minds, changing our behavior and attitudes through advertising that fill our most important psychological needs – and define our very personal identity.
With the pages of flattery on this website for our President, Donald Trump, the reader may have the impression that I’m obsessed with him. Since his nomination, little else has concerned me as dozens of non-Trump related stories have gone unwritten. I’m also certain that Trump supporters who read these pages know that I am an asshole liberal who just likes to hear the sound of my own voice. Beyond the fact that my voice is silky smooth, (and I have a face for radio), I have to admit to acute bouts of Lapham’s Disease, even though Harper’s magazine wouldn’t print my (awful) writing with a ten foot pole. That said, the Trump MAGA phenomenon, feeding on violent and salacious stories such as Sandy Hook and Orlando, channeled popular fear and anger to gain power, now it’s Trump who must confront the results of our broken system. Who better, he argued during the election, to ‘drain the swamp’ than one who knows how the (broken) system works. Pushing the Reagan-era mantra of ‘small government,’ with Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan selling ‘A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats’ to the working class, aspiring to rise to a higher class, was (and is) the deal from Republicans, make it easy to stay rich – and when you get there, you’ll be happy you did! The problem is that 99% of us never get there. As the long odds that most working adults rely on – their weekly state lottery outlay – the hope for a better future is offered at a 1% return on investment, and we voters keep coming back for more.
The legendary ad man Jack Trout passed away this summer at the age of 82, a pioneer of the concept of ‘positioning’ in brand advertising. Positioning is closely related to the concept of subjective value in economics, referring to the place that a brand occupies in the mind of the customer, and how it’s distinguished from products offered by competitors. After a career that began at GE, Trout wrote Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind in 1981 and Marketing Warfare in 1986, seminal books in the advertising and marketing business. A follower of David Ogilvy, founder of Ogilvy & Mather, and known as the ‘Father of Advertising,’ Ogilvy trained at Gallup, attributing the success of his campaigns to meticulous research into consumer habits. After founding Trout & Partners, Jack Trout later headed the ‘Brand America’ program, launched by the George W. Bush Administration in 2002 in the build-up to last Iraq war. When he arrived in Washington, Trout felt the image being projected by the Bush Administration was simply awful. “America had one idea attached to its brand. We presented ourselves as the world’s last superpower,” said Trout, “And that was the world’s worst branding idea.” Over the next few months, Trout and his team groused as W. began to make the case for war in Iraq. In their view, the problem wasn’t policy but presentation. Markets, as Jack Trout knew very well from his years introducing U.S. products to the newly opened Chinese market in the 1970’s and 1980’s, are highly subject to persuasion. Brand USA re-positioned the debate about American power and hegemony to include a discussion about Iraq’s ‘mobile’ chemical weapons program, and how unacceptable that was to American citizens. Mobile? They could drive them down Main Street! It didn’t matter if the weapons turned out to be real, it just mattered that consumers bought into it. Prospects (or marks, as con men call them) enter a communication agreement with a brand that must be simple and straightforward. ‘Coke is it.’ ‘Evildoers are bad.’ ‘Plop, plop fizz, fizz; oh, what a relief it is.’ Then, the marketing strategy must be ‘rolled out’ with the goal of conquering market share. As Bush Chief of Staff Andy Card said truthfully before the Iraq War build-up, you never roll out an ad campaign in the summer, because in brand marketing, timing and positioning is everything. To gain control of market share, brand managers must employ warfare tactics in which very few people actually die in ‘battle,’ but a marketing ‘attack’ is made on the very same ‘targets’ of a war – leading with public opinion. The campaign is designed to be total and overwhelming – as in ‘Shock and Awe.’
The Russian cyber-war against the United States, relying heavily on brand marketing strategies developed by these brilliant American advertising executives, extended the techniques successfully in 2016 to subvert the American presidential election. Russian operatives set up an array of misleading web sites and social media pages to identify American voters susceptible to propaganda, then used targeted advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google with complicated, expensive tools to repeatedly send them messages designed to influence their political behavior. Trump, also, used these marketing techniques to target political consumers who could (and would) be persuaded to vote against their very interests. As a result, Brand America has slipped significantly under Trump’s leadership: U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 ‘Best Countries Ranking,’ reads like the sports pages with America lagging behind Britain, Canada and Switzerland in the standings, slipping 3 slots from the 2016 season finals to #7, risking being relegated to the minor leagues behind surging Germany, Sweden and perennial contenders Japan. With a humming U.S. economy, this baffles, yet nearly three-quarters of survey respondents said they lost some respect for U.S. leadership after the 2016 presidential election. The Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index, which uses the same tools marketing consultants use to value corporate brands, estimates the ‘Obama effect’ raised the value of ‘Brand America’ by over $2 trillion in the first year of his presidency alone.
A case study in business schools the world over, copier titan Xerox is very often used as the prime example of a great brand name gone bad. Once the gold-standard of photocopier brands, creating and expanding the copier market worldwide in the 1950’s and 60’s to find themselves a corporate behemoth in the 70’s with a 90% share of the business. The fall of Xerox in the 80’s and 90’s was paralleled by once great companies across America at that time, old and calcified, these great brands were subject to the same assault that we now face from the marketing warriors, hatched by the ‘me generation’ of the 1980’s. In Republican-speak, the consent letter signed by Xerox in 1975 is what directly lead to their fall from greatness. The government fucked up Xerox. But why would the Federal Trade Commission and the Fed destroy a great American company, opening up their sacred patents in photocopier technology to foreign competition? These foreigners would go on to build the same machines smaller, cheaper and faster and sell them back to an eager public drenched in toner ink and service contracts. By the way, my latest Canon all-in-one cost me $99 way back in 2011 and is still going strong. Our Canon ImageClass machine at work has never needed service.
Canon famously used Lanchester’s Laws to attack market share (instead of land and infrastructure as in war) and the ‘Canon–Xerox battle’ as it became known, looked like a classic ‘force concentration’ military campaign in hindsight. In this case, Lanchester’s famous laws, drawn from studying Lord Nelson’s unquestioned inspirational and tactical military skill, were used in Canon’s establishment of a ‘revolutionary base’ by concentrating all their resources on a single geographical area until total dominance could be achieved. In the U.K. this meant Scotland, for Canon defined specific regions to be individually ‘attacked’ again and again, with focused allocation of resources based on changing consumer demand. Sales and distribution forces were built up to support these regions, and in turn, were used in the final ‘push’ into London with a numerically larger sales force than Xerox (or Rank Xerox as it was known in Europe). Within 10 years, Xerox’s market share fell in half to under 40%. Within 20 years, Canon was the number one copier manufacturer in the world. Today, Canon has 75% of the worldwide copier business and Xerox, which once literally meant ‘to photocopy,’ is an also-ran. Since then, ‘divide and conquer’ has prevailed as an ethos in the world of finance.
The genius behind photocopy technology, inventor Chester Carlson, took his inspiration from copying patents for a law office he worked for early in his career, and his curiosity took hold of him as he wondered if he could make perfect copies with light instead of the mimeograph’s messy (and expensive) carbon transfer system. After he perfected the process, he formed Xerox with partners in Rochester, New York and London, England – and within ten years became filthy rich, and in 1968, Fortune magazine ranked Carlson among the wealthiest people in America. He sent them a memo: “Your estimate of my net worth is too high by $150 million. I belong in the 0 to $50 million bracket,” this because he spent many years quietly giving most of his fortune away. He told his wife his remaining ambition was “to die a poor man” and ended up donating over $150 million to charitable causes while he was alive, and was an active supporter of the NAACP. Inspired by his wife, he built various Buddhist temples in the New York area, as well as endowing the New School for Social Research in New York City, The Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Virginia (for parapsychology research purposes only!) among many other pursuits. That Carlson was a humble patent clerk, as Albert Einstein had been, is made even more interesting because the original reason that Xerox was required to sign the punitive ‘consent letter’ was because they created an illegal ‘patent thicket’ that had nothing to do with the copiers that they sold and serviced. The vast majority of Xerox-owned patents were acquired only to block competitors from using similar technology, the judge ruled in 1975. This ‘patent monopolization’ is why the Federal Trade Commission went after Xerox.
Steve Jobs, in his famous ‘lost’ interview in 1994, blamed Xerox for fumbling away one of the greatest brands in history because they got greedy, lazy and stupid. He almost gloats how he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (then selling illegal AT&T ripoff hardware) were given a tour of the famed Xerox/PARC and the future of computer technology – where the mouse, Mac-style GUI and other goodies that Xerox wanted to ‘park,’ patent and prevent competitors from using in their own product lines were spirited away. This anti-competitive, stupid behavior is why Apple Computer, as we know it, exists today. Jobs said that Xerox could have been ‘bigger than Microsoft’ (and Apple, of course) if they had just realized what they had actually discovered in their precious labs. Instead, the ‘toner heads’ were relegated to the dustbin of history because their marketing-bred management team ran them straight into the ground. Last year, Xerox paid a ‘golden parachute’ package to one of the few female African-American CEOs in the country, Ursula Burns (also an Uber board member), over $17 million for guiding the company through it’s last spin-off, leaving a few thousand employees and a once great brand name in her wake. Earning an average of $18 million a year during her tenure, Burns lamented the ‘terminal niceness’ at Xerox before she left the collegial, old money crowd that nearly bankrupted the company.
The sequel to the original strokes of genius that began some of the world’s greatest brands have oftentimes been their death-knell. I think of the great Edwin Land and the Polaroid Corporation, inventor of instant photography and the revolutionary Land Camera here in Cambridge, Massachusetts – gone forever, a victim of the digital revolution, with Japanese behemoth Canon Corporation a leader in this market as well. Much of Canon’s success against Xerox was on the watch of then company president Fujio Mitarai, a nephew of one of the founders of Canon. He spent 23 years working in New York before returning to Japan in 1995 to head the company. “I never dreamed Canon would eventually match Xerox,” he recalled. “For me, Xerox was a giant.” Interestingly, the brand name ‘Canon’ is an anglicized spelling of ‘Kannon,’ which in turn was named for the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin (short for Guanshiyin), meaning ‘[One Who] Perceives the Sounds of the World.’
A simpler, more concrete example of marketing gone bad is the concept of the sequel. I’m a huge fan of the original Blade Runner (1982), and with the release of Blade Runner 2049, and the rave reviews for the film, I’m apprehensive. Good reviews of sucky sequels have caused me to waste my hard-earned dollars through the many years I’ve been able to get into R-rated movies. The box office for the Blade Runner reboot is lagging, however, (especially considering it’s $160-185 million budget) so I’m going to take this a sign that it might actually be a good movie, after all, the original Blade Runner tanked at the box office as well. The last truly funny movie I remember seeing was The Hangover (2009), with Mike Tyson in a perfect cameo appearance and the introduction of the hilarious Dr. Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow. The $35 million investment returned $44 million the first weekend alone and the film eventually grossed $277 million worldwide. Beyond joining a class-action lawsuit against Warner Brothers and director Todd Phillips for The Hangover, Part II (don’t believe it, it’s a sequel), I promised back in 2011 that I would never pay to see another sequel again. Period. For the record, The Hangover, Part II grossed a quarter of a billion dollars. The Hangover, Part III grossed another $100 million, however with a budget of 100 mil, they just broke even, so we’ll have to wait a few years for The Hangover 2020 – Trumped Up. Producer and director Todd Phillips broke through with Old School (2003), another very funny movie that grew from his previous documentary work, 1998’s Frat House.
In movie sequels, audiences are lured back into the theaters with the promise that a story that they thought was over, was really just beginning. Sequels have never been about great storytelling, they’re really just brand extensions of successful movies. Sequels to the hugely popular James Bond and Pink Panther films from the 1960’s set the stage for the episodic movie franchises such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and The Lord of the Rings tentpoles to follow, each sucking a little more than the last, except Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, (2005) – which was actually Star Wars 6. The James Bond franchise, starting with Dr. No in 1963, has produced over 20 sequels and not a single one is as good as the original. The only truly great sequel (or prequel) of all time, the Godfather, Part II, (1974) really started the sequel trend in the 1970’s with awful sequels French Connection II (1975), Jaws 2 (1978) and Rocky II (1979) cashing in shortly thereafter.
All the Indiana Jones sequels, except the fourth, were pretty good but they were based on ‘Saturday serials’ on TV to begin with, but I digress. Sequels rarely live up to expectations. Lately, they’re just episodes, designed to carefully lead you to the next three episodes in the boring, effects-driven trilogy. This sucks. All great drama has a beginning, middle and an end. They don’t have to be in that order, but they have to be in your story, unless you’re some genius like Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman or Charlie Kaufman. A story must end in order for it to mean anything. Endless retelling of a successful story will be endlessly boring. Stephen Spielberg, well aware of the conundrum of the follow-up, had the best idea I ever heard for a sequel. After the success of Jaws (1975), the pressure to follow with Jaws 2 was immense. Spielberg wanted nothing to do with reliving his horrendous experience of the soggy production, regardless of the rich payday, and took himself out of the director’s chair – unless he could remake the blockbuster franchise as a comedy. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown thought about meddling with their newfound riches for about three seconds and, as most producers since Jesse Lasky before them, made a shitty sequel instead. Spielberg’s title was going to be: Jaws 2, People 0. That’s absolutely hilarious. We got the comedy 1941 (1979) instead, and that was kinda funny! Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead 2 took Spielberg’s angle and made a spoof sequel that stands, weirdly, as a truly funny flick (and a cult classic), and the only sequel ever made that’s better than the original. Wes Craven, with his Scream franchise made a billion dollars with this tilt on the genre.
You’ve never seen the film The Fall of a Nation, because it’s the first movie sequel of all time – and not coincidentally a lost film. Released in 1916 as a follow-up to D.W. Griffith’s epic, racist The Birth of a Nation released earlier that same year, the film bombed at the box office. Producers and distributors in the ‘70’s figured out the optimal turnaround time to let popular demand build for a sequel is about two years. Blade Runner waited a very long time between sequels and you would think that more time between sequels would be a good thing. It isn’t, as countless stinkers such as Psycho II; Blues Brothers 2000; 2010 (A Space Odyssey) and, unfortunately, The Godfather, Part III prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Only George Miller’s recent Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and perhaps, Blade Runner 2049 will join the very short list of decent sequels. Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986) should be mentioned here for bucking the trend as a fine follow-up, fifteen years after the superb The Hustler. Aliens didn’t appear until seven years after the original Alien and should be included here as well. These few examples pale in comparison to the overwhelming tide of shitty sequels, delayed or not. In fact, what was once known as the ‘summer blockbuster’ has been all but killed by them as a result.
My favorite director, Martin Scorsese, was never tempted to make a sequel to Taxi Driver and we are all the better for it. Robert DeNiro’s searing Travis Bickle is a character for the ages and will be remembered without the distraction of Vince Vaughn in Taxi Driver 2: The Last Fare. Fans of the indie masterpiece Easy Rider (1969) with Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper would be smart to steer clear of the unimaginably bad Easy Rider 2: The Ride Home (2010), easily one of the worst sequels ever made. When tempted by the success of Goodfellas, a perfect film, Scorsese followed it with the almost perfect Casino and even then, the stench of the sequel wafted over to spoil the full enjoyment of this great film, even though it wasn’t even a sequel, just the same theme and style with many of the same actors. The marvelous character actor Frank Vincent, who died this past summer, was totally in his element – I remember him as Frankie Marino using a lollipop to block his lips while whispering to Joe Pesce’s smoldering, violent hitman Tommy DeVito, as the Feds train their mics and cameras on them in this awesomely good movie.
In 2010’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the shitty sequel adage holds, with Oliver Stone returning to helm this steaming pile of (sleepless) money. A brilliant director, even Oliver Stone can swing and miss. Other than starting out in real estate and having a raging case of narcissism, Gordon Gekko is not based on Donald Trump. Stone actually cast and shot The Donald in his Wall Street reboot, only to have his cameo end up on the cutting room floor. Oliver Stone said that Gekko was inspired by Ivan Boesky, the arbitrage king of the 80’s, who unlike Trump, was finally taken down by the SEC in 1987. Boesky also took down Drexel, Burnham Lambert and Michael Milkin with him, Milkin recently having a comeback, though, and is now #200 on Forbes latest list of richest Americans at over $3 billion. Boesky famously gave the actual ‘greed is good’ spiel to UC Berkeley Business School graduates in 1986 and was last seen looking like an actual wizard rather than a financial one. Boesky’s biblical fall from grace – he was a professor at NYU and one of the most successful brokers on Wall Street – prompted him to remove himself from society to live as a hermit in a home he won from his (richer) wife in the divorce settlement.
Wall Street was released in December, 1987, two months after the Black Monday stock market crash and just one week before Boesky was sentenced to three years in prison for securities fraud. Stone said that he also based the Gekko character on Burt Lancaster’s towering performance as J. J. Hunsecker in The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), one of the best films of the Fifties. In my favorite moment of the film, the sleazy hypocrite J.J. Hunsecker, leaving his swanky NY club with Tony Curtis’ sycophant turned ‘hero’ Sidney, encounters the raw energy of the streets of Manhattan at night and whispers, “I love this dirty town.” An ego to match Hunsecker, Donald Trump loves the dysfunction and chaos of life as much or more than the fictional, bilious character so masterfully handled by Lancaster.
As art imitates life, Donald Trump exposed Palm Beach’s racist, anti-Semitic underbelly in order to buy his way in to Palm Beach society (as in Caddyshack!) and that is the first place that Trump divided the electorate in his fledgling career as a rich ‘man of the people.’ Shackled as a sequel, Caddyshack 2 (1988) had to revisit the same plot points and references to the original that distort all sequels, yet it did try to introduce a much more robust defense of the rich ‘everyman’ hero, this time with comic Jackie Mason playing the lead. Donald Trump was the real ‘everyman’ who made it big, never forgetting where he came from. He’s crude and talks plain and likes to take on the ‘establishment’ and their (unfair!) policies. ‘Forget all that shit, let’s party!’ as Trump pushes another supermodel into the pool. Indeed when Trump invaded Palm Beach in the 80’s, the old money knew that the understated, sedate Palm Beach of yesterday was gone forever. They worried that the super-exclusive Bath and Tennis Club, or the ‘B&T’ as they chummingly called it, would come to be known as the ‘Bridge & Tunnel,’ for the crude crowd Trump brought with him from New York – an assortment of celebrities and new money assholes that were an affront to the old Palm Beach set who took pride in being in the news but three times in their lives – birth, marriage and death. Palm Beach also took discreet pride in excluding Jews and African-Americans from mingling with the jet-set: Jewish members had to be content with the kosher Palm Beach Club and black millionaires were still welcomed at the back of the jewel-encrusted bus at the Breakers Club. African-Americans were called ‘blacks’ by the European-American ‘whites’ back then, but that was before The Donald made Palm Beach a haven for African-American and Jewish millionaires and billionaires. For the working-class and the poor, there’s West Palm Beach and the real world beyond, yet back then in the days of Caddyshack and Rodney Dangerfield’s 80’s hedonism, Trump represented the new ethos rising up from urban centers such as New York, against restricting ‘minorities’ – especially if they were rich. Decades before Charlottesville, Donald Trump spoke to the African-American and Jewish communities as equals, as long as they could pay their yearly dues to Mar-A-Lago. This was in contrast to Trump in the early 70’s, when he and his father were still redlining against largely poor, black New York tenants. If Trump had just been accepted in the B&T back in ‘82 in the first place, President Donald Trump* would still be just a punchline. Now we have President Gekko.
In the original Wall Street, Gordon Gekko’s most famous line, lifted from Ivan Boesky, was that ‘greed is good.’ Michael Douglas has said that he couldn’t believe how many business-types told him through the years that they got into finance because of his portrayal. Gekko going to jail at the end of the film is never brought up. The more character-revealing line in the film was when Charlie Sheen’s Bud asks Gekko why he would wreck a longstanding, profitable company, a company where Bud’s father (played by Charlie’s own father Martin Sheen) worked, Gekko yells back at him indignantly, ‘Because it’s wreckable!” For his zeitgeist-inspired icon Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas was rightly awarded the Oscar for Best Actor in 1988. Oliver Stone’s own father was a broker and was the inspiration for the old-fashioned broker in Wall Street played by the commanding Hal Holbrook. President Trump, the unparalleled Wall Street hero, a card-carrying ‘victim’ of liberal establishment regulations – killing entrepreneurial spirit – was at the crest of 80’s Wall Street cool, a new-breed of players placing old school brokers and investors, such as the Hal Holbrooks of the world, out on the retirement rolls. By the late 1990’s, reality had taken hold and Trump went bust for the first time, and for his sequel, he penned another shitty book called The Art of the Comeback, a follow-up to his best-selling The Art of the Deal. Written with (by) Kate Bohner, a knockout CNBC and Forbes magazine writer described as ‘leggy’ by Page Six, wife at the time of Michael Lewis, future author of Moneyball – she left Lewis shortly after he wrote an article for his (then) job for the New Republic magazine titled Scenic Beauty where he unfortunately complained about being married to a beautiful woman. Kate was ‘blindsided,’ by the article, recalled Joshua Levine, who worked with her at Forbes. Apparently, Lewis didn’t tell her about the article before it was published in the spoof ‘sex issue.’ Whoops! With Harvey Weinstein’s recent sexual harassment allegations, the energy between The Donald and his young, attractive employee back then seemed, well let’s just say it was interesting – and the sexual tension between them was palpable. Her good looks were central to Howard Stern’s pubescent fascination, as usual, when Trump appeared with Bohner on Stern’s radio show in 1994:
Stern: Yeah. And evidently she will give you a boner. I bet he [Trump] did her too. I wonder, cause Gary says she’s really hot.
Robin: Well that kept him interested in the book probably.
Howard: How did you choose — Please. How did you choose Kate?
Donald: Purely on her looks. She’s very talented.
Howard: There’s nothing wrong with [judging] someone based on their appearance. Did you work nude?
Robin: Where did you work on it?
Donald: In my bedroom.
Howard: Did you work on a laptop? Kate, your last name is Boner?
Kate: It’s Bohner, Howard. I knew you’re gonna go there.
Howard: Did you do it in a hot tub? I — cause Donald loves to relax and he enjoys, you know, fine things in life. Would he take you to somewhere special to work on a book?
Howard: All I know was I’m distracted by your co-writer. Are you wearing — What are you wearing underneath that? Is that — You just have a jacket on, and no shirt underneath. Wow you are cute.
Kate Bohner was, and is, a knockout. Smart and sexy, she’s a real keeper. The character played by Kim Cattrall, Samantha Jones in the HBO hit Sex and the City was inspired by her, and one could draw the conclusion that she was a woman on the make back in the Clinton Era. She would later date the (then) CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt for four years. Her best friend Candace Bushnell, (writer of the original New York Observer column on which the show was based) wrote in a later column that Kate was devastated by the experience. Unable to talk about their relationship due to a confidentiality agreement, bff Bushnell (whose character ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ was played by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City) spoke up for Kate and related that Schmidt, one of the richest men in America worth more than $10 billion, promised to leave his wife for her and broke her heart when he traded Kate in for a younger model. It all plays like an episode from the TV show. Bohner cleaned up, got her act together and today is one of the few Buddhist nuns to run a PR company, specializing in governance and compliance. For research purposes only, I see that she’s still single. Hmmm. Contrary to popular belief, Carrie Bradshaw’s love interest in the show, Mr. Big, was not based on Donald Trump, even though he did make three cameo appearances on the Sex and the City TV show back in the 90’s. He’s been here for years, folks.
Sex and the City: The Film was a huge commercial success, making $27 million in North America on its first day alone. The three-day opening weekend total was $57,038,404 – the biggest opening ever for an R-rated comedy (or for a romantic comedy, for that matter). The worldwide gross revenue for the movie was $415 million, making it the highest-grossing romantic comedy of 2008. Of course, the awful follow-up had to be made and Sex and the City 2, nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards, including worst picture (winning three of them), grossed $295 million for Village Roadshow and HBO Pictures. Although a quarter lower than the first film, it was still 2010’s highest-grossing romantic comedy. No word yet if Kim Cattrall can be coaxed back for one last time for Sex and The City 3. I sure hope so, it has such a nice ring to it.
In the Art of the Comeback, Trump recalls how he singled out a homeless man on the streets of New York and said to (then) wife Ivana, “That guy is rich compared to me. He has $900 million dollars more than I do. He has nothing, and I have $900 million in debt.” Trump did recover from bankruptcy, and as usual, instead of learning his lesson, he capitalized on his experience with America’s rigged laws to figure out a way to actually make money by going bust by the time his fifth bankruptcy was submitted to the courts in Puerto Rico in 2015. When people are too stupid and lazy to care about the truth, pitch men like Donald Trump will always be there with the Next Great Thing. Don’t believe it, it’s just another shitty sequel.
October 17, 2017
Trump’s policy agenda, other than his insane Tweets and obsession with the Russia Investigation, looks to me like a typical, Republican administration. Nominated by the Republican Party, elected president as a Republican, Donald Trump has effectively governed as a tax-cutting, small government conservative – eventually becoming a wartime president. As George W. Bush wanted to go after Saddam, (he tried to kill my daddy!) Trump has chosen the war he wants – North Korea versus Iraq for W. Only then, fashion a rationale for bringing the nation to the carnage. This wasn’t an entirely successful approach for Bush, who famously said at the time that it would be for historians to decide if his Iraq policy was just and sound (spoiler: it wasn’t). The Hussein dynasty was removed from a (then) unified Iraq, and the remaining failed state is obviously less a threat to U.S. interests than before 2004, yet the chaos and disorder following a war usually produces this effect, for a while, and then popular resentment always seems to morph into something else more powerful and deadly. Where Al Queda was defeated in Iraq, ISIS has risen from the blackened ashes.
A recent report from the British Royal United Services Institute, an eminent think tank founded in 1832 to protect United Kingdom interests around the world, is a frightfully drab affair titled, Preparing for War in Korea:
President Trump has shown that he is keenly aware of the impact of his actions on his popularity rating. His unexpected decision to authorize a limited air strike against Syria in April 2017, in response to President Bashar Al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, led to a temporary improvement in his approval ratings. War against North Korea might produce a similar outcome, at least in the short term, rallying public support behind the commander-in-chief and dividing his Democratic opponents. He could, no doubt, emphasize that he was prepared to take a tough decision that former President Barack Obama, who was wary of military adventures, would never have taken. He might also believe that it would be difficult for the mainstream media to maintain their focus on his past ties with Russia when US forces were fighting and dying in a Korean war.
The report here recognizes that the American media and people generally love a good television war and are willing to back most of them at the beginning. Ouch. The report continues the political punditry with a stiff upper lip regarding Trump’s ‘America First’ policy:
This approach has already been reflected in the decisions to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Trump may also be close to taking a decision on whether to undermine the nuclear deal with Iran…
A decision to attack North Korea, seeking to protect the US from a possible future threat, even if this risks devastating attacks on regional allies, would be the most striking demonstration of America First so far, defining a Trump presidency just as surely as the Iraq War did for President George W Bush.
And how about this for a final buzz kill:
Casualties in such a conflict would likely reach the hundreds of thousands, even if no nuclear weapons were used. There could be far-reaching consequences for the global economy, involving sustained disruption of vital supply chains and markets.
The British are perhaps the most knowledgeable (and fearful) of an ‘American First’ policy, probably since the Battle of Yorktown, and have the most to lose because of our ‘special relationship’ with Dear Old Blighty. The last America first movement that worried the staid British so much was the isolationist movement of WWII in America, who watched patiently as the Rape of Nanking went down in China, and as London and it’s people were nearly razed to the ground during the Battle of Britain, before the cavalry rolled in to save the day. America first means everyone else, including Britain and our closest allies, comes after.
North Korea’s leaders are well aware of the fate of Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya – both coerced into giving up their nuclear weapons programs only to be overthrown in US-led invasions (in which the UK tagged along). The US would never have attacked Hussein or Gaddafi if they had already acquired a nuclear weapon. To demand that North Korea relinquish it’s nuclear weapons program is a fool’s bargain. They already have them.
Korea has, for most of it’s history, been a vassal state to the military power projected from the north and east from Russia, China and Japan. Korean history, though not as ancient as their Asian neighbors in China and Japan, parallels Vietnam and Cambodian history in more often being overrun rather than triumphant conquerors. The dynastic power of the Han people made China a world powerhouse, making the House of Windsor look like a cadet branch of the Saxons. Professor Michael Wood presented a fine series on the history of China called The Story of China on PBS this year and if you missed it, it’s worth a look. Professor Wood’s earnest respect and awe for human culture, especially his curiosity and wonder, make him a great storyteller. Ken Burns has some of that greatness in him as well, displayed in his latest (and my opinion, greatest…so far) documentary produced: The Vietnam War. In Dr. Wood’s and Ken Burns’ stories, we have a perspective on two Asian nations that should directly inform our baby steps to war in Korea. It should be no surprise that Donald Trump still wants to pull the plug on PBS…
Anyone watching The Vietnam War may have caught the unique name ‘McPeak’ among the airmen interviewed as retired four-star general and former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Merrill McPeak. He spoke most forcefully about his desire to do his job well in Vietnam and to stop traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail by delivering his ordinance with deadly accuracy. With such capable war fighters and such high-tech weapons on our side, his analysis that we did everything right in hitting the trail over and over again – to no avail – because a determined enemy was convinced of the rightness of their cause, leads us to his most hard-won conclusion of the war: make sure you fight the right one. Make sure the enemy is actually what you say they are or you will most probably lose.
McPeak holds the Vietnamese to a high level of respect and admiration to this day, earned from their tenacity and belief in themselves. His words should be heard and understood by a generation unaware of the underlying, human and financial cost of a ‘television war.’ Trump knows that the tail wags the dog with American military adventures and he now intends to start using his ancient Chinese secret: Sun-Tzu. Tzu’s The Art of War is what armchair generals and businessmen claim as their extensive knowledge of tactics in war that make them understand the nature of war better than those who have actually served in war. These uber men (and women!) read the book – which basically says lie and deceive your enemies until you can finally annihilate them – and think that because it works (how can a millionaire or a conquering general be wrong?) everyone has to do it to if you want to succeed in the savage world of war and finance.
Donald Trump’s shameful treatment of airman and war hero Senator John McCain – shot down by Russian jets and Chinese flak over Vietnam – for simply voting his conscience on healthcare (while undergoing cancer treatment) is a national disgrace – never to be forgotten. Armchair general Donald Trump let bone spurs and five deferments keep him from serving his country when asked to serve during the Vietnam War. As Joe Scarborough writes in his latest article in the Washington Post, that never kept The Donald from mastering the game of golf.
The greatness of American leadership is in direct proportion to when our leaders take us to war because they have to versus when leaders take us to war because they want to. Sometimes, war is inevitable, such as when innocent civilians are being burned and blown up with rockets or raped and pillaged by foot soldiers. Other times we are tempted to war by the thrill of the kill.
Sun-Tzu’s book was really just an anthology of the well-known sayings and precepts that surrounded the warring, dynastic culture of early China, first written 300 years before the Bible. The fabled ‘36 Stategems’ foretold of Trump’s latest ham-handed attempt at the ‘madman theory’ (handled far better by actor-president Ronald Reagan vs. the Russians) by calling Kim Jong Un ‘Little Rocketman’ and other (modern presidential) epithets. Dotards aside, the madman theory doesn’t work as well when atoms are split over innocent civilians. From the 3,000 year old Strategems:
Feign madness but keep your balance. Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.
Note that last part of the stratagem: ‘then you may attack.’ Reading the text of Sun-Tzu and the 36 Stratagems, the sane reader is left with an overwhelming desire to avoid war at all costs. The Chinese know well that war is the result of a leader’s loss of the ‘Mandate of Heaven,’ equal to the Western concept of the ‘divine right of kings.’ The mandate differs, however, in that the ruling elite – informed by largely Confucian ideals – must support successive families, or dynasties, regardless of heredity or social position. If peace and stability are returned and maintained to the Chinese people, a leader had won the Mandate of Heaven. The greatest dynasties in Chinese history were born to then unknown families: the all-powerful Han family set the framework as the greatest dynasty, followed in modern times by the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties – each an orphan family, none a cadet branch of the prior. Of the nearly ten dynasties of Chinese hegemony over Mainland China and the Korean Peninsula, five lasted longer than the age of the United States – 241 years or longer. The last dynasty of China, the Qing, and the Last Emperor (following the Boxer Rebellion and the 8 Nation Alliance to overthrow China in 1900) ended the longest, most prosperous kingdom in human history. China had lost the Mandate of Heaven and where Ghengis Khan and his son Kublai and the Mongols brought the ‘outsiders’ to the mainland in 1271, the nations of the West, lead by the United States and President Theodore Roosevelt, were now favored by the Great Mandate – and it has remained in a white house in Washington, D.C. ever since.
Donald Trump inherited this mandate in January of this year and is in terrible danger of losing it for the nation as certain as the Last Emperor of China did in 1900. The unfair(!) treatment of The Donald after his piss-poor response to Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria, (after his super-energetic, poll-enhancing response to Hurricane Harvey) is the result of his frustration with losing this heavenly mojo. Fair or not, the Mandate of Heaven is a harsh mistress, and bad weather and natural disasters are fair game to judge a leader and his dynasty in fitness for leadership. The tragedy in Las Vegas speaks to the loss of mandated-ness going on here. I just pray that The Donald remembers the most important and last of the ancient 36 stratagems, offered to leaders who find themselves in an unwinnable position:
“Of the Thirty-Six Stratagems, fleeing is best”
October 3, 2017
Donald Trump has played so fast and loose with so many hot button topics in his brief political career, none so hot as playing footsie with the Nazis. That’s strange considering that Trump is our oldest president. The son of Tom Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation,’ especially as a German, Trump should be extra touchy whenever the N-word is thrown around, in my humble opinion, and not so much with the ‘good people on both sides.’ From what I can see, the only group marching in the ‘Unite The Right’ protest in Charlottesville that had any claim to legitimacy were the weird ‘Promise Keepers.’ The rest were a bunch of asshole quasi-Nazis, spouting hateful, anti-Semitic nonsense.
I often use movie references for understanding things in life and many are films made by director Stephen Spielberg. He’s an unqualified genius and many of his films are the best ever made. He inherited the mantle left by John Ford, Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock as the quintessential filmmaker of our time, matched with David Lean’s epic eye. In Spielberg’s masterpiece Schindler’s List (1993), Amon Göth, the grotesque Nazi commandant of the Płaszów death camp in Kraków, Poland, whom Liam Neeson’s Oskar Schindler must bargain with for names to add to his list of life, was humanized in a way that was at once unsettling and thought provoking. The great British actor Ralph Fiennes, portraying Göth, delivered to Spielberg and his audience a hint of the human within the Nazi. We see Göth’s humanity tempted by his love for a Jewish woman – Göth had two Jewish housemaids: Helen ‘Lena’ Hirsch (now Helen Horowitz) and Helen ‘Susanna’ Sternlicht (now Helen Jonas). In another scene, Schindler encourages Göth to pardon inmates in his death camp rather than kill them for minor infractions, telling him that the ultimate use of power comes from restraint rather than action.
Göth, against character, lets a boy walk away after using soap instead of lye to clean a bathroom. When the boy leaves, Göth looks at himself in a mirror as he practices pardoning someone as a king might, with his two fingers outstretched. He reflects on his effeminate posture and at once, all humanity is drained from him. He stares at his fingernails as the Nazi within him returns to form. Earlier in the film, we know that the Austrian Göth takes pleasure in using his rifle to murder innocent Jewish inmates in the yard. In the next scene, the boy from before is walking the open yard of the camp as a rifle shot ricochets just next to him. He continues walking along, gait unbroken, as a second shot misses, closer this time. We cut to Ben Kingsley’s powerfully moral character, the list-keeper Itzhak Stern, as the sound of a third rifle shot rings out. He walks, gait unbroken, past the lifeless body of the boy as the camera pans past the insane horror.
As the outrages of Donald Trump flow past the desk of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, not to put too fine a point on it, will cause Trump to feel embarrassment as Göth did in the film. I wonder if Gerald Ford ever felt the embarrassment of that particular empathy? Of course, The Donald couldn’t wait to play with his new pardon bauble, becoming the first president to use the kingly power in his first year since Ford’s singular pardon of Nixon. Trust me, the ingrate Arpaio will say or do something that passes for ingratitude and this will enrage Trump, who will then ‘unpardon’ him, even though you can’t do that.
Our vacillating, wildly unpredictable president has managed to scuttle his vaunted business panel because of his footsie with the Nazis, and this isn’t the first time that The Donald has tempted the wrath of David Rothschild. When Sean Spicer was mealy-mouthing about Adolph Hitler not gassing his ‘own people’ as opposed to Bashar al-Assad back when Trump actually held press briefings, he was just mouthing his boss’s putrid meal. For those who need a refresher on the Nazis, I recommend watching some testimonies of Survivors on the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation website, IWitness, one of the many great things to come from the success of Schindler’s List.
The USC Shoah Foundation was established by Spielberg in 1994 to preserve a visual history archive, one of the largest digital collections in the world focused on genocide. The vast majority of the testimonies contain a complete personal history of life before, during, and after the interviewee’s firsthand experience with the Shoah. They are highly recommended to any Holocaust deniers in the Trump ranks. Another great thing to come from the success of the film was the Emmy-winning PBS documentary Inheritance (2008) by filmmaker James Moll, the Founding Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation. Moll first came in contact with Göth’s daughter, Monika Hertwig, in 2003 while doing research for Schindler’s List. He made Inheritance to document the German Hertwig and Jewish Helen Jonas meeting in person more than 60 years after Göth was executed for genocide and crimes against humanity. Hertwig’s own daughter, Jennifer Teege, has a Nigerian father and wrote the book, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me in 2008.
With this past month’s job performance, at least Donald Trump is lowering into the grave the notion that the business approach to government is the way of the future. For years, CEO world-beaters have been crowing about how small government would flourish under the hand of a billionaire Commander in Chief. Bye, bye to all that bunk. Trump’s management style is based on his DSM-6 qualification as a narcissist, gamely taking a ‘you’re with me, or against me’ attitude to all things in life. Everything for Trump is a negotiation, so when Trump has to fire Bannon, Chief of Staff Kelly has to allow him to riff about Charlottesville. When Alt-Right Gorka’s gotta go, Trump gets to pardon Arpaio. It’s the art of the deal, only each ‘victory’ that Trump thinks is adding to his base is actually eroding his ability to govern. He’s a lame duck in his first year and has only himself to blame. The ultimate calculation, as Trump’s news dump ahead of Hurricane Harvey proves, is to divert attention from things that matter – such as the Russia Investigation. Trump knows how the world works, as frenemy Roger Stone would attest, and hijacking a news cycle is what he lives for, believe me – Donald Trump doesn’t care if transgendered Americans serve in the military or not, base polling supports a ban – and the work of Robert S. Mueller, III must be ignored! I know when a Russia bombshell will be heading our way via the Times or the Post based on how unhinged Trump’s Twitter feed gets. Trump wants Klinger written off M.A.S.H. and out of the Korean War, and that speaks to the urgency of the matter: the Russia Investigation is a WITCHHUNT! Can you imagine M.A.S.H. without Maxwell Klinger?
From the beginning, I thought the Russia collusion stuff was far-fetched. I mean, how fucking stupid would a person have to be to collude with a foreign government prior to a U.S. presidential election? Pretty fucking stupid is the answer. Even the dumb Donald Trump, I surmised, isn’t that stupid. Or so I thought. Following Roger Stone and Roy Cohn’s political playbook, Trump was elected by dividing the electorate, however, where politicians usually pivot and actually try to govern a little after winning, Trump keeps right on campaigning and campaigning while his approval ratings slip and public appearances grow less and less enthusiastic. My first indication that he’s guilty is because he always acts guilty when this Russia stuff comes up. Why so touchy, Don? As Billy Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, methinks Trump ‘doth protest too much.’ Then, my natural detective’s instincts were heightened by reports of a meeting at Trump Tower on June 9th with The Donald, Jr., et al., and a bunch of Russians. Not a movie scene, an actual happening. Now Trump’s personal attorney (although apparently, he’s never met him) Michael Cohen is caught talking up the totally awesome Trump Tower Moscow with Putin’s team during the election:
Where will it all end? Hint: it’ll come just after his greatest Twitter outrage of them all.
August 30, 2017
After 20 people had been brutally put to death in 1692 (one pressed!) for the crime of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, merchant Thomas Brattle, Jr. wrote a letter to a cleric associate that was widely circulated among the citizens of a fearful and angry Salem. His thoughtful, reasonable answers to the religious and legal questions at hand were a carefully worded argument against the ghastly trials. His letter could be considered a founding document of the United States, a forceful rebuff to the judges and accusers in the ‘oyer and terminer‘ court of the time. The ultimate proof of power was that the trials ended less than a month after it’s circulation and opinion shifted virtually overnight. No one has ever been convicted of witchcraft in America since. That, of course, until the sad case of United States v. Donald Trump – as he has continuously tweeted, the Russia investigation is nothing but a ‘WITCHHUNT.’
Brattle attended Harvard College in 1676, after graduating from the Boston Latin School, where classmate Cotton Mather (son of Harvard President Increase Mather) would go on to become one of the leading prosecutors of the Salem Witch Trials. Donald Trump is such a blithering moron that his cries of ‘WITCHHUNT’ have little meaning when Twittered to his 30 million Celebrity Apprentice fans. The red hats will probably confuse the reference with Frankenstein anyway and carry torches to Congress in some midnight, Roger Stone-led ‘protest’ when he finally gets impeached.
The 1692 trials have spawned eternal clichés about witch hunts since the servant and sassy slave got devilish in the forest. Their acts and words have had reverberations throughout American history, lately verbed by our President, Donald J. Trump. He claims he’s the worst treated president ever! The Russia investigation is fake news cooked up by the Democrats! The case against him for obstruction of justice (real or not) is a WITCHHUNT! What’s lost in much of the discussion, as per usual with Don John, is what actually happened. Playwright Arthur Miller struck back in the same way Thomas Brattle struck back at the original time of the trials, only in his medium, drama. The Crucible stands as a powerful indictment of lying and manipulation, highlighted by the powerlessness, fear and humiliation associated with an aggressive and unjust prosecution. Cotton Mather, stung the most by Thomas Brattle’s even-handed indictment, never recovered his reputation and was denied the presidency of Harvard College. He is remembered today as the personification of pompous and brutal judgement.
With the Salem trials, Miller saw a weapon to wield against the folly of Cold War fear-mongering, namely Joseph McCarthy and the obtuse House Committee on Un-American Activities. His defiant stance (insuring his blacklisting in 1956) culminated in 1953, when The Crucible opened in New York – and it’s been performed to this day as a canon of the American stage. “I began to despair of my own silence,” he said, “I longed to respond to this climate of fear.” Miller, a ‘Presbyterian’ Communist more interested in attracting bombshells like Marilyn Monroe than politics, was caught up in the storm of fear that swarmed around Joseph McCarthy like flies. In Miller’s play, he wanted to dramatize the powerlessness of being persecuted, “Rather than physical fear, there was a sense of impotence,” he said. McCarthy and the committee blacklisted him and made his life miserable during the Red Scare. In 1956, the committee subpoenaed him to testify and Miller complained that it was only because of his marriage to Marilyn, and that House prosecutors were only seeking yet more publicity. When he refused to name names, Miller was cited for contempt of Congress.
Of the many dramatic works of the Salem trials, few can compete with Arthur Miller’s groundbreaking play. He was aware of the strain created while being under investigation, and the consequences for fighting back. His passport was denied by the State Department and he was unable to attend the European premiere of his play and he would suffer years of scrutiny and humiliation under red baiters. It’s interesting that Donald Trump would choose the same trope that Miller so adroitly staged, more interestingly, witchcraft is currently a crime in Saudi Arabia. Trump made sure to visit the King of Arabia first in his inaugural trip overseas, the first president ever to do so. It’s not like the crime of witchcraft is some outdated misdemeanor in Saudi law, as with most Sharia Law guided nations, Saudi Arabia regularly features a witch or warlock in Chop Chop Square, the most recent executed in 2014. I doubt that Trump really knows anything about the Salem trials, and as he has done repeatedly since being nominated, he has inspired me to read up on my history! I suppose I should give him some credit for that and for every stupid thing he blathers, he inspires millions to refute him with knowledge and fact.
The investigation of the Trump campaign began last year, started by James Comey and the F.B.I. as part of the overall attack on our election system. The Russian involvement in tampering has been confirmed by all U.S. intelligence agencies and that is the main thrust of Special Investigator Robert Mueller’s job. The Trump campaign’s Mike Flynn (along with son, Mikey, Jr.) is directly implicated in illegal election tampering. Peter W. Smith, in his final act of ratfucking after a long, fulfilling life of ratfucking, just rat fucked Donald Trump from the grave. This is only what we know now, what the so-called ‘fake news’ journalists have somehow stumbled upon these past 160 days.
Joseph Story, famously remembered as the presiding judge in United States v. The Amistad case, was portrayed by Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in one of Steven Spielberg’s finest films, The Amistad (1997). Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1812-1845, Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University and one of the most articulate voices of American Federalism, Story was one of John Marshall‘s strongest allies on the Supreme Court – of the Marshall Court’s landmark opinions, Story wrote more than any other than Marshall himself. Story argued that the language and intent of the Constitution made it clear that federal power and the power of the judiciary was total and absolute. He saw state power as a threat to stability in America, asserting the sovereignty of the people of the United States, rather than the states themselves, as integral to the successful founding of our republic. Story noted that, “The Constitution of the United States was established, not by the states in their sovereignty capacities, but emphatically, as the preamble declares ‘by the people of the United States.” After Justice Marshall died in 1835, Story fell out of favor with the Taney Court during the Jackson Administration and his opinions were far more often in dissent. In the famous case preceding the Civil War, which foreshadowed the conflict between the states, Story dissented in Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge in 1837:
I seek no new principles, but I apply such as are as old as the very rudiments of the common law. Upon the whole, my judgment is, that the act of the legislature of Massachusetts granting the charter of Warren Bridge, is an act impairing the obligation of the prior contract and grant to the proprietors of Charles River bridge; and, by the constitution of the United States, it is, therefore, utterly void. I am for reversing the decree to the state court (dismissing the bill); and for remanding the cause to the state court for further proceedings, as to law and justice shall appertain.
The case went back to the 1640s, where Harvard University operated a monopoly ferry service across the Charles River for over two hundred years. After years of handsome profits, when an enterprising engineer proposed to build a bridge across the Charles River, Harvard and the State of Massachusetts were vehemently against it. The bridge builder, true to his name, proposed a solution: a toll bridge, of which all three parties would share in the profits for 40 years. The contract was signed and the bridge was built and became a big hit, connecting the towns of Boston and Cambridge to this day. Six years after the first bridge was built, the state entered negotiations with a different bridge builder (after public outcry ensued when it was revealed that the first bridge had already paid for itself) and signed a new contract with the Warren Bridge Company to build a cheaper bridge 240 yards upstream.
In his dissenting opinion in 1837 America’s version of Bridgegate, Joseph Story wrote that the federal government, in the role of defending American and international rights of contract over local and state interpretation, should not allow the new Warren Bridge to be built. After the 7-5 ruling, the new bridge was built and the old bridge went out of business, bankrupting the speculative investors of the first bridge who bought the company from the original builder expecting 40 years of steady returns. In the twenty years prior to the Civil War, the Supreme Court changed the foundation on which the Constitution was based – from federal power to state power. This move reflected the the times and in doing so, helped shape them. The Civil War was 100 years in the making, yet there were crucial moments in American history that pushed us toward civil war. This landmark case was one of them.
The work of the U.S. Supreme Court, while often the final arbiter on decisions at the state level, such as with the Christian school Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, where the court recently ruled, is primarily concerned with issues that meet a constitutional standard. The court seeks to hear cases that represent larger constitutional issues that are (hopefully) drawn from the lower court cases at hand. In Trinity v. Comer, the Roberts Court made a decision on whether the Trinity Lutheran Church could participate in a federal voucher program (it may) and the opinion speaks to the current court’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause:
Establishment Clause erects the backstop. Government cannot, through the enactment of a “law respecting an establishment of religion,” start us down the path to the past, when this right was routinely abridged. The Court today dismantles a core protection for religious freedom provided in these Clauses. It holds not just that a government may support houses of worship with taxpayer funds, but that— at least in this case and perhaps in others, it must do so whenever it decides to create a funding program.
Cases that are heard by the Supreme Court meet larger constitutional requirements that can only be resolved by amending, or leaving in place, current law as written in the document of the Constitution itself. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court has ‘amended’ or interpreted the Establishment Clause in favor of making taxpayer funds available to religious organizations. In it’s wisdom, the court sought this case of the thousands of disputes that it could have chosen for review. Another case decided in this term, the limited, idiotic, immigration ban – held for the Trump Administration as well. This ruling increases Executive Branch power (incrementally) in the area of immigration enforcement.
In another case the Supreme Court heard this term, Davis v. Bandemer, the court held that claims of partisan gerrymandering were subject to trial, but failed to agree on a clear standard for judicial review. The word ‘Gerrymander,’ by the way, is a blending of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry‘s last name, ‘Gerry,’ and the word ‘salamander‘ – the weird shape his partisan district in Massachusetts then resembled. Gerry was also involved in a famous secret negotiation scandal named the XYZ Affair, which was a political and diplomatic scandal in 1797-98, early in the John Adams Administration. It was a diplomatic situation between the United States and France that led to an undeclared war (the Quasi-War), where an American delegation to France had been told that the American government had to pay $250,000 just to see the French ambassador. The affair was scandalous in America, infuriating both the Federalists and the Democrat-Republicans. The diplomats, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Gerry, were approached through informal channels by agents of the French Foreign Minister Charles Talleyrand, who demanded bribes and a loan before formal negotiations could begin. This revelation caused a political firestorm in the United States when the commission’s reports were published. The Federalists, who controlled the government, took advantage of national anger to build up the U.S. military. They attacked the Jeffersonians for their pro-French stance, calling them ‘Jacobins,’ and the Federalists also attacked Elbridge Gerry (nonpartisan at the time) for his ultimate role in the failure:
Nicholas Hubbard, an Englishman working for a Dutch bank used by the Americans (and who came to be identified as “W” in the published papers), notified Pinckney that Baron Jean-Conrad Hottinguer, whom Hubbard described only as a man of honor, wished to meet with him. Pinckney agreed, and the two men met the next evening. Hottinguer (who was later identified as “X”) relayed a series of French demands, which included a large loan to the French government and the payment of a £50,000 bribe to Talleyrand. Pinckney relayed these demands to the other commissioners, and Hottinguer repeated them to the entire commission, which curtly refused the demands, even though it was widely known that diplomats from other nations had paid bribes to deal with Talleyrand. Hottinguer then introduced the commission to Pierre Bellamy (“Y”), whom he represented as being a member of Talleyrand’s inner circle. Elbridge Gerry resolutely refused to engage in any substantive negotiations with Talleyrand, agreeing only to stay until someone with more authority could replace him. The release of the dispatches produced exactly the response Adams feared – Federalists called for war, and Democratic-Republicans were left without an effective argument against them, having miscalculated the reason for Adams’ secrecy.
The XYZ Affair, when you really look at it, was a fart in the wind. John Adams sent diplomats to France who refused blackmail and seemed to act with good judgement and integrity. The media-fueled backlash resulted in a pyrrhic victory for Adams and the Federalists – their overreach in the subsequent Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which allowed the president to arrest and deport anyone who was not an American citizen and called dangerous, or to jail and fine anyone who criticized Congress or the President, pissed off a lot of Americans. The Adams Administration shut down the press and arrested the editors of many newspapers – and the public reaction was so severe that Adams lost to Jefferson in 1800 and the Federalists were all but finished as a political party twenty years later.
The investigation into Trump and the Russians, and the subversion of our election, portend to make the XYZ Affair look like a pastoral primer for the Republicans. If the Grand Old Party intends to last the next twenty years, they better get used to the idea of impeaching another of their own. Joseph Story believed that the government represented, above all, the people, and wrote in Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States in 1833, regarding the parliamentary history of impeachment in England,
It will be found that many offenses, not easily definable by law, and many of a purely political character, have been deemed high crimes and misdemeanors worthy of this extraordinary remedy. Thus, lord chancellors and judges and other magistrates have not only been impeached for bribery, and acting grossly contrary to the duties of their office, but for misleading their sovereign by unconstitutional opinions, and for attempts to subvert the fundamental laws, and introduce arbitrary power.
Story makes a distinction between advisors to the king and the king himself. He relates the case of Charles I, second son of King James VI of Scotland. After his succession, Charles had major problems with the evolving Short, Long and Rump Parliaments of England, which severely limited his royal prerogative. Charles held the divine right of kings and thought he could govern according to his own designs. The Recall and Impeachment of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford stands, for William Blackstone, Edmund Burke and the history of the Commonwealth of England itself, a cornerstone in English law, right up there next to the rights of habeas corpus enshrined in the Magna Carta.
The impeachment of Strafford was the first time in history that a Parliament, and a people, stood firm against the military power and immense wealth of the sovereign kings, in this case the Stuart King Charles. It was less than a year later that Charles, himself, would be impeached by Parliament. His prosecutor, John Pym, was grouped with five other Parliamentarians after his clear and concise prosecution revealed a possible treasonous Royal Army plot involving arch-enemy France and the Catholic Church. The ‘Gang of Five’ flew the coop when Charles and his troops barged into Parliament seeking their arrest – to this day, on the State Opening of Parliament, an emissary from the House of Lords must knock three times with a big ‘ol stick before entering the chamber because of Charles’ rude behavior.
From 1642, Charles fought the English and Scottish Parliaments in the First English Civil War. After his defeat in 1645, he surrendered to the Scots, who handed him over to the English. Charles refused to accept his captors’ demands for a constitutional monarchy, and escaped. The legal history of impeachment was born during the reign of King Charles I, where impeachment was nearly identical, in definition and application, to trial and execution. Before the First English Civil War, the despotic and tyrannical leadership of the Stuart Kings paved the way for the rise of Parliament and the birth of the English Commonwealth as a democratic republic. Story closely examined this British precedent and found the keystone for impeachment:
Some of the offences, indeed, for which persons were impeached in the early ages of British jurisprudence, would now seem harsh and severe; but perhaps they were rendered necessary by existing corruptions, and the importance of suppressing a spirit of favoritism and court intrigue. Thus, persons have been impeached for giving bad counsel to the king, advising a prejudicial peace, enticing the king to act against the advice of Parliament, purchasing offices, giving medicine to the king without advice of physicians, preventing other persons from giving counsel to the king except in their presence, and procuring exorbitant personal grants from the king. But others, again, were founded in the most salutary public justice; such as impeachments for malversations and neglects in office, for encouraging pirates, for official oppression, extortions, and deceits, and especially for putting good magistrates out of office and advancing bad.
What a wonderful, little used word malversation is, from the Latin male or bad, and versari or behave. Described as ‘corrupt behavior in a position of trust, especially in public office,’ it’s been forgotten in the English speaking world today. From Old French, the word shows up more often in places like Angola and in the Philippines. Strangely, it has also survived as a legal definition in another foreign place called ‘New Jersey.’ In fact it was one of the charges levied against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in Bridgegate, or the innocuous-sounding Fort Lee lane closure scandal.
In recent weeks, moderate people who are paid (handsomely) to talk about this stuff, people like David Brooks, Chris Matthews and David Gergen have been warning against impeaching Trump. Some argue ‘too soon,’ and ‘let the investigation take it’s course.’ Some say, ‘look, Trump won.’ David Gergen and others go so far as to imagine Trump winning again in 2020 because of the overreach of a failed impeachment. If the lies of Donald Trump (that we already know) haven’t been enough to tip the balance of the impeach-o-meter, let’s consider this list of malversations. We have a dishonest, uniformed, obnoxious, corrupt and potentially treasonous Commander in Chief. If we are unwilling to face facts, then we are as philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce pitied,
The person who confesses that there is such a thing as truth, yet dares not to know the truth and seeks to avoid it, is in a sorry state of mind indeed.
Remember James Rogan? No? He was one of the House Managers in the 1998 Impeachment of Bill Clinton. One of Georgia Representative Bob Barr’s attack dogs, he lost his House seat in the 28th Congressional District of California as a result of his constituency blaming him and his role in the failed impeachment. Nonetheless, Rogan was rewarded by George W. Bush with a plum appointment to the federal bench. The man who defeated him? That would be Democrat Adam Schiff, the current Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, who recently said that there is “more than circumstantial evidence now” that Trump and his advisors colluded with Russia and who is also currently seeking any and all secret recordings made by Trump regarding James Comey. And Trump calls it a WITCHHUNT.
In I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, writer Maryse Conde brings Tituba to life as an amalgamation of her possible Arawak and African-American identity. She represents a post-feminist view of the trials (the book’s forward was written by Angela Davis) from the perspective of the least powerful – yet perhaps the most intelligent – participant in the Salem trials. A cynical, smart and frankly lovable character, Tituba is the ultimate survivor. She was also a liar. After slavery and imprisonment, her survival may have depended on her gift of gab, yet in saving herself (she survived, but is lost to history), she condemned others to die in her place. In an illuminating article written for Smithsonian, writer Stacy Schiff tries to make sense of the life of Tituba and the witch hunts that have followed since:
We continue to favor the outlandish explanation over the simple one; we are more readily deceived by a great deception—by a hairy creature with wings and a female face—than by a modest one. When computers go down, it seems far more likely that they were hacked by a group of conspirators than that they simultaneously malfunctioned. A jet vanishes: It is more plausible that it was secreted away by a Middle Eastern country than that it might be sitting, in fragments, on the ocean floor. We like to lose ourselves in a cause, to ground our private hurts in public outrages. We do not like for others to refute our beliefs any more than we like for them to deny our hallucinations.
Trump is caught up in a perfect storm of prosecution and hysteria, caused by his incessant lying – and his impeachment should be a foregone conclusion. What will 65% of the American population who might want to see President Pence do? What of the 35% of the public who want President Trump to keep up the good work? The framers of our Constitution, aware of the brutality and violence of Stuart Kings and Short and Rump Parliaments, gave the power of impeachment to the people, through representatives who speak for them in Congress. These powers reside in the very House and Senate Committees that are coordinating with Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller, III, who is then under the jurisdiction of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself in this investigation leaving Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein in charge.
Trump’s Russia ties include associations with Russian organized crime figures, Russian, Azerbaijani and Ukrainian intelligence operatives (Army, GRU and former KGB) and Russian government spies under the control of Putin himself. When we click on the final Mueller report, a .pdf file to be posted on the Bureau web site, Republicans and Democrats will have to seriously consider articles of impeachment against an undeniably corrupt and untrustworthy president. As our American image suffers internationally to historic new lows, it’s interesting to note that America still wins praise for its people, culture and civil liberties, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. Our people and our civil liberties. That Trump can’t seem to manage normal press briefings and flouts open meeting law indicates how he feels about the people and our civil liberties. From Benjamin Franklin’s copy of Cato’s Letters
Guilt only dreads liberty of speech, which drags it out of its lurking holes, and exposes its deformity and horror to day-light. Horatius, Valerius, Cincinnatus, and other virtuous and undesigning magistrates of the Roman commonwealth, had nothing to fear from liberty of speech. Their virtuous administration, the more it was examined, the more it brightened and gained by enquiry. When Valerius, in particular, was accused, upon some slight grounds, of affecting the diadem; he, who was the first minister of Rome, did not accuse the people for examining his conduct, but approved his innocence in a speech to them; he gave such satisfaction to them, and gained such popularity to himself, that they gave him a new name. Misrepresentation of publick measures is easily overthrown, by representing publick measures truly: When they are honest, they ought to be publickly known, that they may be publickly commended; but if they be knavish or pernicious, they ought to be publickly exposed, in order to be publickly detested.
An honest man would welcome an open and thorough investigation. What does that say about a man who thwarts an investigation and seeks to discredit the investigators? What of the people who continue to support his lies and innuendo? Perhaps we should look back to the old days when America was really great, when the Constitution was framed in Philadelphia – the Founders considered these issues and wrote for all Americans on what we should do. Joseph Story, too, considered what might arise if we were to elect a corrupt Commander in Chief, at the dawn of the Age of Jackson:
Cases may be imagined where a momentary delusion might induce a majority of the people to re-elect a corrupt chief magistrate, and thus the remedy would be at once distant and uncertain. The provision in the Constitution of the United States, on the other hand, holds out a deep and immediate responsibility, as a check upon arbitrary power; and compels the chief magistrate, as well as the humblest citizen, to bend to the majesty of the laws.
When Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, I walked among the symbols of our democracy at the Mall in Washington as I listened to the Senate votes being counted one-by-one on my Walkman. I had voted for Bill twice, and even though I was totally pissed off about Monica Lewinsky, I thought his impeachment was an overreach. I found myself in the nation’s capital on that sunny day, the first and only time since, fully participating in our national democracy.
June 29, 2017
After World War II, the transition from war and conflict to peace and stability was the main problem in which most U.S. presidents grappled. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and also U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam from 1963-1964 during the Kennedy Administration, which viewed South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem as an ineffective leader, tacitly supported the coup d’etat that overthrew his presidency. In reviewing the conditions that lead to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Lodge said in an interview in 1979:
Well, there was a big to do in the Eisenhower administration. Vice President Nixon took part and Admiral Radford took part, about uh sending US forces into…into Vietnam. And Eisenhower let them all talk and the upshot was he was against it and we didn’t do it. It was just as simple as that.
The interviewer pressed:
Interviewer: Do you think perhaps the attack on the pagodas was calculated to impress you as you were on your way out to Saigon? In other words, do you think the attack was staged to coincide with your appointment and your imminent arrival in Saigon?
Lodge: That might have been. I’ve often thought of that but you can’t tell. You don’t know.
Interviewer: Now, just the day, about the day after your arrival, two South Vietnamese generals, Le Van Kim and Tran Van Don, made contact with two CIA representatives in Saigon, Rufus Phillips and Lucien Conein and the generals wanted to know whether the United States would support the army in a coup against Diem.
Lodge: I [had] discussed it with uh, um, with Tran Van Don.
Recognizing that this was not going to be a relaxing, nostalgic interview about the good ‘ol Kennedy years, Lodge quickly lost interest in answering any further questions. As Ken Burns and Lynn Novick revisit the Vietnam War this summer with their new PBS documentary, I recommend also the seminal Vietnam: A Television History as well.
I have something of a soft spot in my heart for Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., after all, he was truly a man for his time. Privileged and educated with limitless opportunity to succeed in life – he laid it all on the line to serve his country in combat during World War II. He resigned as the Senator from Massachusetts and went back to France to serve his country with distinction, among other heroics, winning the French Legion of Honor as well as taking out a four-man German patrol all by himself. When he returned to the United States after the war, his experiences shaped his life and the collective life of our country developing at such a frenetic pace around him. He also died in the same year, and is buried in the same cemetery, as my grandmother or ‘Gram’ as I lovingly called her.
While serving in the war, Lodge made an association and lifelong friendship with French-born Lucien Conein, who became a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and Lodge’s liaison or ‘back channel’ to coup plotters and the ultimate assassins of the President of South Vietnam. Lodge was then working for President Kennedy, and agreeing with administration policy in trying to ‘shake things up’ in Vietnam because the U.S. needed a bulwark against a surging Communist China (as we now know from the release of the Pentagon Papers and after Nixon admitted as much). This tragic decision lead to a failed policy of mass bombings, torture and threats to go nuclear. Literally.
Lodge was Nixon’s running mate in 1960 and Nixon calculated that John F. Kennedy’s arch-rival, the Boston Brahmin dynasty’s heir-apparent, would help divert Kennedy’s attention closer to home and away from the swing states. That analysis was proven incorrect and Nixon/Lodge lost to Kennedy/Johnson in one of the closest presidential elections in American history – yet unlike Trump – Kennedy still won both the electoral and popular vote.
John and Bobby Kennedy had a hand in the assassination of Diem and Richard Nixon was outraged that they got away with it unscathed. It was no secret that he hated Robert Kennedy, saying that Kennedy got Hoover to ‘bug’ everybody in Washington and wondered if he was also ‘bugged’ by Kennedy as well. As he perceived it, Nixon was blamed and hampered for the billowing fiasco of the Vietnam War with the (illegal) release of a yellowing, Rand Corp. study written by eggheads that he had nothing to do with.
He never read the report and knew nothing of its existence. The Pentagon Papers were compiled by low-level ‘think tankers,’ like “James Jesus Angleton’s weirdos at the CIA,” as Nixon called the agents, and ‘know-it-all’ Harvard assholes such as Daniel Ellsberg that were associated with Robert McNamara in the military-industrial corner of the shop with their charts and graphs. When the Tet Offensive tipped the balance of the Vietnam War, too much blood had been shed, and regardless of the cries of ‘you started it!’ Democrats and Republicans were locked in an internecine battle to the death. This was the background to Watergate.
The U.S. was embroiled in an unwinnable war and public opinion turned decidedly sour. Nixon needed to change the news cycle fast and began to secretly negotiate a peace deal with North Vietnam while continuing to leverage against China, now further West, in Pakistan and (the future) Bangladesh. These policies were set forth in secret negotiations (and illegal military support) for the Pakistan government in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, as it became known. As the war progressed, it became clear that India was going to invade Pakistan in matter of weeks, so Nixon spoke with USSR Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev on a hotline on December 10, 1971, where Nixon urged to Brezhnev to restrain India “in the strongest possible terms, which you [Brezhnev] have great influence and for whose actions you must share responsibility.”
This period of time shaped Nixon in ways that no one could have imagined. If there was a ‘turning point’ of Nixon’s support within the goverment, regardless of his popular support, this was surely the moment. The military was probably trying to figure out why the hell the U.S. would support a war against a democratic India. The Joint Chiefs decided to do something about it by leaking the developments to the press:
At 6:09 on the evening of December 21, 1971, President Richard Nixon convened a tense and confidential meeting in the Oval Office with his three closest advisers—John N. Mitchell, his Attorney General; H. R. Haldeman, his chief of staff; and John D. Ehrlichman, his top domestic-policy aide. Notably absent was Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national-security adviser. The men had come together to discuss a crisis unique in American presidential history—”a federal offense of the highest order,” as Nixon would put it in the meeting.
The Moorer-Radford Affair was a seismic shift in Nixon’s White House. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, through Admiral Moorer and Lt. Colonel Alexander Haig at the N.S.A., tasked a lowly yeoman stenographer (Radford) to spy on Kissinger and Nixon for over a year. By the time Nixon secretly ordered the moving a carrier group out of the Mekong Delta and into the Bay of Bengal to support Pakistan, the military chiefs were fed up and columnist Jack Anderson took it from there. From Fox News:
Nixon’s team of in-house investigators — informally known as ‘The Plumbers,’ since their primary mission was to stop leaks of classified materials to the news media — discovered Radford’s covert activity in December 1971, during their probe into a sensational series of stories published by the syndicated newspaper columnist Jack Anderson. A thorn in Nixon’s side since the 1950s, Anderson had obtained highly classified minutes of NSC meetings about the India-Pakistan War then roiling South Asia, and published excerpts from the documents just days after they were typed up. In addition to disclosing sensitive information about the movement of a carrier task force in the Bay of Bengal, the series showed that the Nixon administration had deceived the public about its true aim of supporting Pakistan in the conflict, and later won Anderson the Pulitzer Prize.
A joint Plumbers-Defense Department investigation quickly zeroed in on Radford, who was known to have had contacts with Anderson, a fellow Mormon, and to have enjoyed access to virtually all of the documents the columnist had published. Under intensive polygraph testing in late 1971, Radford denied having leaked the India-Pakistan documents to the columnist. Anderson died in 2005 without ever disclosing who had been his source, but he told author Len Colodny in November 1986: “You don’t get those kind of secrets from enlisted men. You only get them from generals and admirals.”
When highly-classified COINTELPRO documents were stolen by a leftist activist group from an F.B.I. office in Pennsylvania on March 8, 1971, and leaked to the press, it had to be clear to Nixon by then that both law enforcement and the military were positioning their agencies against him. Watergate was just another job for the Plumbers, yet perhaps Mark Felt, Deputy Director of the F.B.I. and the future ‘deep throat’ of Woodward and Bernstein fame – may have been waiting for them all along.
Alan J. Pakula’s film All The President’s Men (1976), based on the Woodward and Bernstein book, vividly dramatizes the night on June 17, 1972, when security guard Frank Wills (playing himself in the film) found tape on a door in the Watergate complex and called the police. A four-man, undercover (plainclothes) detail just happened to be working a drug bust in the neighborhood. They responded to this ‘third-rate burglary’ call without the use of a squad car. This unlucky, unexpected arrival at the Watergate complex went unnoticed by E. Howard Hunt – encamped across the street in the Watergate Hotel – monitoring the job for the Plumbers team now inside the Democratic National Headquarters. Watching the professional, intense actor F. Murray Abraham surprising and arresting the petty thieves, one wonders – Hoover’s F.B.I. certainly had the assets to make such a thing happen.
Conspiracy theories aside, after the break-in, Nixon said the reaction is going to be primarily in Washington and not the country:
I think the country doesn’t give much of a shit about it other than the ones we’ve already bugged… Everybody around here is all mortified by it. It’s a horrible thing to rebut… However, most people around the country think that this is routine, that everybody’s trying to bug everybody else, it’s politics.
Richard Reeves writes in Alone in the White House that gave Nixon an idea. Nixon said whenever there was a leak about Republican plans, the campaign should say that McGovern was bugging them – and maybe they should plant a bug on themselves and say McGovern did it. Creative! The next day, presidential advisor Charles Colson said, “I think we could develop a theory as to the CIA if we wanted to, we know that Hunt has all these ties with these people.” They talked for more than an hour about how to subvert American democracy, then the president finally said, encouragingly, “Don’t let the bastards get you down, Chuck… I don’t think they’re going to see a great uproar in the country about the Republican committee trying to bug the Democratic headquarters.”
Impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon began on February 6, 1974, and on August 9, Tricky Dick was waving goodbye to the nation after resigning, boarding Marine One and escaping clear across state lines. The obvious affinity of Donald J. Trump for Richard M. Nixon missed me at first. In previous posts, I’ve compared him to Herbert Hoover and Benito Mussolini (little bit). I did think his connections to Roy Cohn were creepy, but I just didn’t put 2 and 2 together to come up with 4. While perusing the Wikipedia page on the Committee to Re-Elect the President or CREEP as it was derisively known, the last name on the committee caught my eye. Trump’s creep frenemy, Roger Stone. Now how the fuck did I miss that?
Roger Stone was then a boy at the knees of cold war men such as Mitchell, Ehrlichman, Haldeman and all the 50-100 president’s men who betrayed him and let him down. Of course they only did this because they knew that’s exactly what he would’ve wanted. Nixon was a maladapted, paranoid, alcoholic loner with an unhealthy death drive. He was democracy’s version of Adolf Hitler to totalitarian dictatorships. He got away with about as much wrongdoing as you can get away with it in a western democracy, pushing the limits decency and morality far beyond what John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson ever dreamed of.
Before the Supreme Court rules on the latest smackdown from the federal courts on Trump’s idiotic executive order on immigration, they may perhaps take up a case, soon to come, about executive privilege. As Nixon believed in his famous interview with David Frost when he said, ‘Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,’ he found out the hard way that the political requirements of the presidency demand that he or she may be removed from office for simply being an obnoxious asshole, forget about what the definition of ‘is’ is. He looked at his interview with David Frost as a chance for redemption, as in his famous Checkers Speech where he used television in a way no politician had before to change public opinion.
At the height of the Watergate investigation, Nixon was recorded in a conversation with Kissinger saying, “Maybe will even consider the possibility of, frankly, just throwing myself on the sword… and letting Agnew take it. What the hell.”
“No!” Says Kissinger:
That is out of the question, with all due respect, Mr. President, that cannot be considered. The personality, what it would do to the presidency, and the historical injustice of it. Why should you do it, and what good would it do? Would it help? It wouldn’t help the country.
Kissinger continued, “You saved this country, Mr. President. The history books will show that, when no one will know what Watergate means.” Nixon replied, “Yup. Well, it’ll be a great day on the other side for all of our enemies, won’t it? The Times, the Post, the rest – shit.” As we know now, the Times and the Post prevailed while David Young, Jr., Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Liddy, Hunt, McCloy and dozens of other co-conspirators assured that Nixon’s memory would never escape the taint of scandal and crime.
Will Donald Trump’s legacy be similarly defined by Steve Bannon, Kushner, Flynn, Manafort, McGhan and others? What Bannon’s done has changed the optics of the impeachment debate (that he knew was coming) to position Trump to the left of Nixon, literally sitting with the 94 year-old Kissinger the day after firing the director of the FBI. This was political theater at its most subversive – Henry Kissinger, beside Pat Buchanan, is one of few to the escape the void of darkness that was the Nixon Administration. He represents a faint image of Watergate, yes, but more of the Nixon of the Paris Peace Accords, détente with China and other secret wars and treaties. Say what you will about Henry Kissinger, he is a uniquely American celebrity and will be remembered as a legend in politics for his cultural identity, nerdy Republican style and international influence.
On June 23, 1972, just 6 days after the break-in, Nixon said that the administration should go to the Deputy Director of the FBI and ask them to request the Acting Director to halt the Bureau’s investigation on the grounds that it was of national security interest. This information was recorded on audio tapes that Nixon himself had ordered, and as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in United States v. Nixon, issued July 24, 1974, it limited the power of any president to claim executive privilege in criminal proceedings argued in U.S. courts.
As much as Donald Trump wants to make the Russia story a debate about executive privilege, he has again miscalculated. The vast majority of American citizens are simple, honest, hard-working people, who are at times living lives of ‘quiet desperation’ as Henry David Thoreau lamented. We yearn for change, yet are also creatures of habit. Historian Stephen Ambrose wrote in his great study of Nixon that, “Nixon wanted to be judged by what he accomplished. What he will be remembered for is the nightmare he put the country through.”
May 29, 2017
Let’s get this out of the way: The Newes from America is Fake News. We are as fake as a $2 bill. Even our name, the ‘Newes’ isn’t real. It’s Olde English. I’m not John Underhill. We’re not even a real news gathering site. Our only agenda is to provide links to the stuff we like and tell the stories we want to tell while trying to make you laugh every once in a while. Donald Trump may have introduced the term Fake News into the lexicon, however, he is far from the first politician to call into question what’s real and what’s fake. Manipulation of the truth is a human trait, and Trump is correct in pointing out that sometimes, even the New York Times is Fake News and sometimes, even the National Enquirer is Real News.
Fake News is not a new thing. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams trolled each other on ‘Colonial Twitter’ – pamphlets and gazettes – before they became cordial and even friendly in old age. Bad mouthing and planting lies in the press is standard practice in American political life since before our founding – and it’s been the task of citizens ever since to sleuth out the fact from the fiction. Coherent arguments, supported by facts, are the only way to achieve a meaningful understanding and trust in our institutions. Democracy is like the social scientific method – a free and open inquiry style government.
We at the Newes from America do cite our sources with the help of links that take you to articles and information available on the big, wide, world web. Readers have always been responsible to figure out for themselves what’s true and what’s not. It’s called freedom. When your government gives you one newspaper, radio channel, blog and TV channel to watch – and tells you what to think – the true propaganda danger of Fake News comes to life.
As Fake News site Breitbart moves from it’s humble origins in the basement of Steve Bannon’s parents’ Washington townhouse, The Newes from America toils on beneath the kiosk of Out of Town News at Zero Harvard Square. On the walls of our subterranean offices adjoining the Harvard Square ‘T’ station, the portraits of Thomas Nast and Walter Lippmann oversee all of our daily activities. Our foreign desk, managed by the estimable Myron ‘Mucky’ Taylor, is supervised by an enormous portrait of emeritus editor Hubert Renfro Knickerbocker, or ‘H.R.’ to his admirers.
H.R. Knickerbocker was born in Yoakum, Texas in 1898, the son of Reverend Hubert Delancey and Julia Catherine (Nee Opdenweyer) Knickerbocker. His career in journalism began in 1920, when he became a reporter for the Newark Morning Ledger and in 1922 he worked for the New York Evening Post and the New York Sun. He went to Germany to further his study in psychiatry, but history gave him a psychotic to study in Adolph Hitler.
Fluent in German, he was witness to the Beer Hall Putsch on November 8, 1923, where he saw for himself that the only way to stop the Nazis was to confront them with greater force. He became assistant Berlin correspondent for the New York Evening Post and the Philadelphia Public Ledger and then chief Berlin correspondent from 1928 until 1941. He won a Pulitzer in 1931 for his series of articles on the Five Year Plan in Russia and later, in his book The Boiling Point: Will War Come In Europe? he correctly predicted the outbreak of World War Two.
Right up until November, 1941, Knickerbocker argued for U.S. military intervention against Nazi Germany. His stance left him an outcast among much of the New York cognoscenti. When his book, Will War Come In Europe? was published in 1934, Kirkus reviewed it with it’s nose thrust high:
Lots of personal impressions, interviews, anecdotes about people. Knickerbocker is a rabid interventionist. He writes well, but he has nothing particularly startling or new to say.
Yes, one could call Knickerbocker a ‘rabid interventionist.’ His writing had a clear agenda at moving public opinion in favor of the individual over the state. He believed in democracy and knew how to frame the tough positions of the day. He advocated that the United States needed to go to war with the Nazis as early as 1929 and his opinions made him a target of the powerful isolationist movement of the 1930’s in America. I wonder what the masthead at Kirkus Reviews might have looked like had the Nazis succeeded in their goal of world domination just ten years after their snooty review.
One of the first journalists to call out Charles Lindburgh as a Nazi sympathizer, Knickerbocker likened him and his kind to the Copperheads – Democrats prior to the Civil War who wanted to avoid conflict by offering to keep slavery in place to placate the South. U.S. soldiers’ rejection of Copperheads and their overwhelming support for Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in 1864 was decisive in securing Northern victory and preservation of the Union.
Knickerbocker died just after the war, in 1949, in the line of duty. A plane carrying a delegation of journalists on a dangerous tour of Indonesia reporting on post-colonial independence movements in Southeast Asia went down, killing all on board. I have a sneaking suspicion that H.R. was also working a story about a little known French colonial outpost called Vietnam.
Many of today’s conflicts are woven directly back to the end of World War Two. The Soviet Union, with the help of the United States, won the war against Germany and thus were entitled to enjoy some of the spoils. As Germany had in the 1930’s, The Soviet Union attempted to create, again, a centralized state based on the national pride won at the expense of millions of Soviet war casualties. It was a dream that somehow, post-war Russia would make amends with the Revolution of 1917 and move into a post-war leadership position as a fully communist government.
As Knickerbocker pointed out in his biting criticism of Stalin’s First Five Year Plan and the overall dysfunction of Communist Economics in general, the dream of 1917 was to be the nightmare of 1946 for neighbors surrounding mainland Russia. Just as Hitler and Mussolini began their careers in the ashes of World War One, Russia, or the newly minted Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was all the rage. They went about consolidating the assets of unfortunate wealthy (and not-so wealthy) folks – and things didn’t go so well for the royal family either. The wealth and influence of most of the churches were consolidated into the state, and by the time all the big companies were owned and run by communist power brokers, Trotsky got an ice axe plunged into his head.
Forty plus years of political repression and the inevitable economic collapse that followed, the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor indicated the meltdown of Soviet communism itself. In the blink of an eye, Reagan acolytes will tell you that America’s Strategic Defense Initiative and years of hard-line military budgets paid off and the U.S.S.R. collapsed in a heap. What they don’t tell you is that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was written during the historic 1977 Soviet Constitution, or the Brezhnev Constitution, effectively stating that the dictatorship of the people had succeeded and that the people, the true leaders of the Revolution of 1917, would finally be allowed to rule themselves – unintentionally leading to the dissolution crisis ten years later.
The original four states of the Soviet Union wanted out bad, including Russia itself, and in 1991 the Commonwealth of Independent States was born. As we remember, the old, Soviet order was supposed to be replaced with a new openness (or Glasnost) and baby steps were made toward a new Russian form of democracy, given voice in a movement called Perestroika. Moscow at this time was at a crossroads – the ‘Unions’ of the former Soviet Union decided, largely, to break away from their former Russian overseers. In heartening displays of democracy the world over, people from the former communist bloc took to the streets and demanded freedom. These ‘Breakaway Republics’ represented one of the best opportunities to spread democracy since Woodrow Wilson declared that the U.S. was making the world safe for it after The Great War.
Western democracies emerged from the wars determined to create a framework that would never again allow nations to ‘go it alone’ in the world. The hundreds of nation states that were born after the war needed a common language to allow for new cycles of peace instead of war. The strangled League of Nations and the ridiculed United Nations were created to give a voice to all nations on how each would interact with one another. The U.N. Security Council, represented by the five top nations of the world, would oversee any future conflicts and vote democratically on international declarations of war.
Russia was an important partner in the formation of the U.N., after getting up off the mat and dusting itself off after decades of devastating war. The grand plans of Soviet Communism finally flickered out during the heady days of Perestroika, when free markets, it was hoped, tightly controlled by the state, would return Russia to a functioning economy. A little known fact is that Russia retained their coveted seat on the U.N. Security Council (in negotiations leading up to the C.I.S.), still representing these newly born ‘republics’ in all international security matters.
It’s 1129 miles from Berlin to Moscow, less than a day by car. I once drove on a whim from Boston to Naples, Florida. I can’t say I’d do it again, but no Donner Party as it turned out – I grabbed a bite at South of the Border and was poolside by noon. Europe seems to Americans to be worlds away from Russia, yet Google Maps show you that a day’s drive from Moscow to Paris is some 1758 miles. New York to Denver is 1780 miles.
In 1991, the broken, former Soviet Union (and the resulting hopes of Glasnost) were dead, replaced by the bumbling Boris Yeltsin and the remnants of the old Soviet guard. I remember Boris playing tennis with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes back in the day. The next thing I remember was a power struggle between intelligent, liberal Dmitry Medvedev, the current Prime Minister of Russia and the KGB’s hand picked successor, Vlad (The Impaler) Putin. Fifteen years of phony Russian ‘democracy’ later, Instead of playing tennis with Anderson Cooper, Putin decides to fuck up the U. S. Presidential elections – as if the former Soviet Union didn’t have enough to concern itself with. Today, Medvedev is busy cracking down on opposition leader Alexei Navalny, arresting him along with hundreds of protesters in the latest display ‘free’ Russian elections in action. So much for hope in Medvedev. Apparently, eight years of a real democrat in the White House pissed the Russians off so much that they decided to give the NSA some serious payback: Donald John Fucking Trump.
Fifteen new nation-states, frozen in place since 1945 by communist bureaucracy, began to sprout from the edges of the former Soviet Union in the 1990’s, each created with national identity as their rallying cry (with ethnicity and religion being of primary importance). One of the breakaway republics after the fall of the Soviet Union was the country of Azerbaijan. According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, Azerbaijan is among the most corrupt nations in the world. President Ilham Aliyev, the son of the former President Heydar Aliyev, has just appointed his wife Vice-President. He was first appointed, then ‘elected‘ President in 2013.
Azerbaijan is the bridge which links mainland Russia to the Middle East, and like Texas, it’s where most of the oil is found. Baku is like Dallas, only this boom town sits on the largest oil deposit on the planet. The Baku is the geological faucet for the ocean of oil that pools under Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is a never-ending gush of sweet crude that was so important to world domination that Hitler went South (in vain) to take it when he could have waltzed into Moscow instead.
The Azeris are the proud people who populate this area of the former Soviet Union, yet you would be hard pressed to find a cultural heritage museum to take in while you stay at the Trump hotel complex in Baku. Actually, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku has never opened. The Azerbaijanis behind the project were close relatives of Ziya Mammadov, the Transportation Minister and one of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful oligarchs. U.S. diplomats described Ziya Mammadov as “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.” After the election, The Donald reluctantly pulled the plug on the obligatory TRUMP sign atop the totally awesome Trump Baku.
Ivanka Trump, the nation’s ‘First Daughter’ as evidenced by her new West Wing digs (filling the vacant Melania Trump Anti Bullying Campaign offices) was the most senior Trump Organization official on the Baku project. In October, 2014, she visited the city and “had very strong feelings, not just about the design but about the back of the hotel—landscaping, everything.” an Azerbaijani lawyer said, “Ivanka personally approved everything.” From The New Yorker:
On her Web site, Ivanka posted a photograph of herself wearing a hard hat inside the half-completed hotel. A caption reads, “Ivanka has overseen the development of Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku since its inception, and she recently returned from a trip to the fascinating city in Azerbaijan to check in on the project’s progress.”
Mammadov has been financially entangled with an influential Iranian family tied to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the year that the project was announced, in his role as Transportation Minister, Mammadov awarded a series of multimillion-dollar contracts to Azarpassillo, an Iranian construction company accused of supporting criminal activity such as drug trafficking, terrorism and money laundering.
Paul Manafort’s dealings with that other breakaway republic, the Ukraine – one of the original four of the Soviet Union – have been well documented and reveal the Trump Administration’s problem with capitalism over democracy. When companies and their officers look the other way when doing business with dictators and terrorists, and cover up their illicit financial dealings, well that’s just bad business. When the President of the United States does it? That’s an impeachable offense.
To see what the Ukraine might look like after the Russians complete their reacquisition of it, one should look no further than Azerbaijan. Like Kim’s North Korea, Azerbaijan has a dark, scary tension surrounding it that can only be described as dictatorial. Putin’s Russia has lately turned it’s attention West, to it’s lifeline of natural gas pipelines to Europe which cross the Ukraine like fractures in stone. As we find out more about Trump’s fascination with all that’s Russian, the reports of H.R. Knickerbocker sound like something you might read today in the New York Times or the Washington Post.
His example drives us to find out what’s really happening in the world and what we can do to make it a better place. We in America have chosen democracy – with all it’s capitalistic excess as a necessary evil – over kings and dictators. Our brilliant founding fathers (and mothers) – being taxed by the British without a voice in Parliament – constructed a government that limited the power and influence of any one person, or group of people, over another. A plurality of opinion, marked by fair and free elections, must be achieved in a true democracy for the will of the people to be expressed. Our government is based upon the simple idea that the masses decide important matters of state by electing representatives by popular vote (except in the case of the Electoral College).
I’m talking to you, Don John.
March 26, 2017
There once was a time when I actually admired Donald Trump. I had never liked him before – for all the obvious reasons – yet on August 18, 2006, I was watching a Friday night Red Sox game against the Yankees and there he was, throwing out the first pitch in hallowed Fenway Park. There was a different vibe to the usual, let’s say, ungracious response from the crowd to the hated Yanks that evening – it was the kick-off to the annual, late summer Jimmy Fund telethon. The Jimmy Fund is one of those great organizations that make you proud to be a Sox fan. They support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, raising millions of dollars to help save lives and give hope to cancer patients everywhere.
It was a brutal day for the home team, losing the first game of a double header by double digits, then later in the second game, which the Yankees won 14-11, The Donald visited the broadcast booth and he had a very good appearance with announcers Jerry and Don. They yakked about baseball stuff and then Trump had a lot of nice things to say about the Red Sox organization and the Jimmy Fund. That went a long way with me, and I found myself thinking, “Hey, maybe he’s okay.“ He was funny, engaging and even came off sounding a little humble.
After raising $2.3 million in 2005, they were aiming to reach a target of $2.6 million that year and were only $60,000 away from reaching their goal. Like a golf ball teed high, Trump struck – I’ll cover it! He said without hesitation. PING! It was one of those perfect moments that will be part of the Trump Presidential Library collection, I assure you (admission fee required). It was as if the billionaire from New York swept the broadcast booth and the audience off their feet while his team swept the Red Sox off the field. The Sox would go on to finish third in the AL that year, 11 games behind the first place Yankees.
The Red Sox turned it around the next year and won it all. The Yankees? Well, they suck. And they have sucked ever since. Call it The Curse of the Trumpino. After all, he’s a traitor to his so-called team. Hmmm. “So-Called President Trump.” That has a ring to it. Or, how about “The President Who Cried Wolf?” No. Perhaps “The Leaker of the House?” Nah. I think he’s our So-Called President. That because he Tweeted:
The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
So our Federal Judges “essentially take(s) law-enforcement away from our country?” Just how fucking stupid is he? Isn’t it the job of the U.S. Courts to arbitrate decisions based on U.S. law? Y’know, that separation of powers thing? If said judge threw out the case based on personal bias, would he then be allowing our country to enforce the law? He just keeps going, and going and going and going…
When a country is no longer able to say who can, and who cannot, come in & out, especially for reasons of safety &.security – big trouble!
Trump Cuck and all-around slimy weirdo Roger Stone noted with glee that the smarter a person is, the more likely they are to hate Trump. So Trump’s fucked up behavior makes far more sense when you consider his warped influences. Here’s a story Stone related about a visit in the 80’s with Roy Cohn:
He told me to ride down to the courthouse with him. He had a young lawyer with him, and it was clear that Roy knew nothing about the case he was going to argue. But he knew it didn’t matter. He used to say, ‘Don’t tell me the law. Tell me the judge.’ Roy knew how the world worked.
Trump’s ridiculous Tweets about his phone being tapped by Obama invoked the ghost of Joseph McCarthy without ever realizing that it is he, our So-Called President, along with his father Fred Trump, who hired Roy Cohn as their counsel to defend them in cases brought by the federal government against them in the 1970’s for racist redlining. Trump is such a pathetic slimeball that he libeled our former president in order to provide ‘limited hangout’ about his voluminous ties to Mother Russia and Azerbaijan. That is exactly what Roger Stone is doing now, trying to get ahead of the story that he coordinated with the Russian hackers before the election on behalf of the Trump team.
Trading in sleaze and blackmail, Roy Cohn is one of the vilest human beings to ever walk the earth. His self-hatred was such that he smeared and denigrated all gay people, leading the U.S. government to ban gays from public office during the Red Scare because they might have been blackmailed and/or compromised. In the late 1980’s, Mr. Cohn lobbied friends in the Reagan White House to nominate Donald’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry to the federal bench. (Questioned about this, Mr. Trump said his sister “got the appointment totally on her own merit.”) Totally fucking laughable.
Trump’s frenemy Stone recently admitted to communicating privately with Russian hackers via their #GUCCIFER Twitter account. Stone’s relationship with Donald Trump goes back to Roy Cohn, Stone being a long-time lobbyist for Trump’s casino business and also the leader of the “Draft Trump” campaign. The Stone-Cohn axis of influence over Donald Trump is the single most important factor in the making of our So-Called President. Stone’s rule: “Attack, attack, attack—never defend” and “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.” Sound familiar? “Remember,” he said. “Politics is not about uniting people. It’s about dividing people. And getting your fifty-one per cent.”
Among other unsavory characters, The Catholic Diocese of New York also hired the disgraced, disbarred Cohn in the 1970’s – but Trump, along with super fat gangsters of the New York mob – relished his association with the closeted, self-hating Jew who once held a pen in a dying millionaire’s hand to forge his signature on a will naming himself executor. Roy Cohn was such a close associate of Donald Trump that Trump felt obligated to appear on Cohn’s behalf during his disbarment hearings:
“If I summed it up in one word, I think the primary word I’d use is his loyalty.”
Ravaged from the effects of AIDS, Mr. Cohn nevertheless managed to attend a dinner with his lover, Peter Fraser at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach shortly after Trump purchased the property in late 1985. Ah, to have been a fly on that wall! “He was a very good lawyer if he wanted to be,” Mr. Trump said when asked about Mr. Cohn in 1980. Trump was more blunt in his assessment later: “He’s been vicious to others in his protection of me.” I should say so.
Cohn’s actual lover, Australian Peter Fraser, inherited all of Cohn’s possessions after he died: Manhattan townhouse, a weekend place in Greenwich, a Rolls-Royce, his private plane and much more. But the Internal Revenue Service, collecting on Mr. Cohn’s tax debts, confiscated nearly everything. With typical, warped conservative logic, Stone once said that Roy Cohn wasn’t gay:
He [Cohn] was a man who liked having sex with men. Gays were weak, effeminate. He always seemed to have these young blond boys around. It just wasn’t discussed. He was interested in power and access. He told me his absolute goal was to die completely broke and owing millions to the I.R.S. He succeeded in that.
Cohn’s lover Fraser did get to keep a pair of exclusive Burburry cuff links Mr. Trump had given Mr. Cohn before he died. Years later, Mr. Fraser had them appraised; they were fake, he said.
* Where Donald Trump insulted a Federal Judge appointed by George W. Bush after the judge’s decision to halt his first idiotic Executive Order on immigration, we at the Newes have chosen “So-Called President” to refer to him going forward. What was Trump’s problem with the judge in question? He based his ruling on American law and jurisprudence.
March 15, 2017
With President-elect Titan Donald Trump’s cabinet now firmly in place, it’s abundantly clear that he will most definitely not govern with rational thought as his guide. He will, as he has always done, conduct himself in a way that is highly emotional, compulsive and weird. That millions of Americans voted for this buffoon is befuddling enough, yet it’s with this prerogative (if not mandate – the guy lost the popular election by THREE MILLION VOTES), Trump is still Tweeting inane rants about the CIA, Jill Stein and the recount and anything else that keeps him up at night. It’s all so very unsettling. In the elitist enclaves of Harvard Square, liberals are freaking out as never before while my barber, an early Trump supporter, gave way with some back story on Christian Evangelical Trump support during my latest haircut: apparently, some firefighter predicted Trump would win the Presidency back in 2011 and save America. He then prophesied that Armageddon would be next on the agenda. Makes sense to me!
End of the World prophecies are as old as the written word itself and there’s no shortage of end-time entertainment to suit all tastes, from Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement to the film 2012 (2009) when, as you may remember, the world was supposed to end because it was penciled in the Mayan calendar. The Four Horsemen have been corralled since then, but with the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the United States Presidency, our culture is once again primed and ready for some serious Revelation! Make that Revelations 21:8:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Baba Vanga, the Russian mystic who predicted that the world would end in the year 3793 and who foretold the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Chernobyl disaster, the date of Stalin’s death, 9/11 and the Kursk disaster, also said that America’s last president would be black. The human tendency to self-fulfill prophesies will spawn insane Alex Jones-style theories that wackos who believe in Fake News will greedily lap up, re-tweeted by Steve Bannon’s idiot fear machine – all care of septuagenarian Donald J. Trump at 3AM Washington time. Let the tribulations begin!
I suppose a more quaint analogy to the end of the world may be the oft-used example of the RMS Titanic and the unintended consequences that resulted in her sinking. It was the end of the world for more than 1500 people on the night of April 14, 1912 when the great ship struck an iceberg and sank into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The Titanic has come to symbolize the hubris of man – the unsinkable ship, sunk on her maiden voyage. The owner of the Titanic, the White Star Line, was one of the many holdings of the industrialist and billionaire J.P. Morgan, who hoped to dominate transatlantic shipping through contractual arrangements with the railroads. That proved impossible because of the unscheduled nature of sea transport, American antitrust legislation, and an agreement with the British government. The cause (or causes) of the disaster have been debated ever since 1912, and in an article published in Physics World in 2012, Dr. Richard Cornfield attempted to explain the top ten reasons for the accident:
The Titanic became fully submerged within three hours before dropping four kilometres to the bottom of the Atlantic. The steel plates of the time may have been inadequate for the task in waters of those temperatures, and the rivets were of inferior quality. Second, mistakes were made by the crew once the vessel was under way: the absence of binoculars in the crow’s nest; Smith’s decision to maintain a high speed despite the abundance of iceberg warnings; the radio operators’ tardiness in getting crucial information to the officers and their emphasis on passenger messages rather than operational ones; and, of course, the almost cynical lack of lifeboats…
… It seems that in 1912, in a way not dissimilar to our own box-ticking, responsibility-avoiding culture today, lack of effective oversight on the part of the authorities caused the consequences of the disaster to be much worse than they might have been… No one thing sent the Titanic to the bottom of the North Atlantic, rather, the ship was ensnared by a perfect storm of circumstances that conspired her to her doom. Such a chain is familiar to those who study disasters — it is called an ‘event cascade.’
This ‘Event Cascade’ continued rolling on when Mr. Morgan’s fortunes sank faster than the Titanic, culminating in the House Committee on Banking and Currency’s investigation into Morgan’s ‘money trust.’ The resulting Pujo Committee investigation found over $22 billion in assets controlled through 341 directorships held in 112 corporations by members of an empire headed by Morgan. The findings of the committee inspired public support for ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913 (authorizing federal income tax), passage of the Federal Reserve Act that same year and passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act in 1914. Talk about unintended consequences! In fact, Morgan partners blamed the April 1913 death of J.P. Morgan on the stress of testifying at the Pujo hearings.
The ship’s famous sinking – the year before J.P. Morgan’s death – was a financial disaster for IMMC, the holding company of the White Star Line, which was forced into bankruptcy in 1915. Analysis of financial records shows that IMMC was over-leveraged and had inadequate cash flow when the Titanic was pressed into service. Morgan was on top of the world, and in two hours, a cascade of events that he inadvertently set into motion conspired to take him down.
As with Donald Trump, Mr. Morgan was born into wealth and privilege and went on to distinguish himself as a robber baron and textbook narcissist-billionaire. The ‘elites’ in New York City – some of them even friends of mine – are talking in somber, hushed tones about the looming storm that the good ship Trump is bound to endure. These are the voters who know Donald Trump better than anyone else in America. They voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton – 2.1 Million to Trump’s 930,000 in New York City (Kings, Suffolk, Queens, Nassau and Manhattan counties). In Queens and Manhattan, Where Donald Trump was born and raised and where he runs his business empire, Hillary Clinton won the vote by 800,000 votes. What do these urbane people know that the rest of America Doesn’t? A hint may come from the mutant administration that Trump is now assembling. New Yorkers have seen this act before. As Hillary Clinton might have said, The Donald has fashioned himself a Cabinet of Deplorables.
Let’s start with Rex Tillerson, former Exxon Valdez CEO, for Secretary of State. None other than Dr. Evil himself, Dick Cheney lobbied for Tillerson – as the feckless Mitt Romney was summoned twice to prostrate himself in front of The Donald while he quaffed frog legs while Trump snickered at him all the while. To see the video of Trump looking ‘annoyed’ by the camera at his overpriced dinner at the swanky Jean Georges Restaurant in New York City is practiced and priceless. The kabuki theater of the naming of the new Secretary of State exemplifies the weirdness of Trump’s style – he clearly had Tillerson in mind for State, but saw a unique opportunity to humiliate Romney. It was too good a chance to pass up and the opportunist Romney was an easy mark. Take a chair next to ‘tough guy’ Jebbie Bush, Mitt!
Trump and Tillerson’s pal, Vladimir Putin has been accused by the CIA and the FBI of hacking our election – and this can only be seen in the context of: The Oil Play. An indication of this is also seen in Climate Change Denialist Scott Pruitt as head the Environmental Protection Agency. As attorney general of Oklahoma, he described himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has openly lobbied for the abolishment of the agency he now heads. In his opinion, the “EPA shouldn’t be in the business of writing regulations.” Cue the blasting of mountaintops, the fracking of what’s left of Oklahoma and oil pipelines as far as the eye can see! More concretely for the white, uneducated voters who backed Trump in the election for better financial prospects, gasoline prices will double within two years.
Rick Perry for Energy Secretary is another pure example of Trump’s decision making in assembling a oil-centric administration. This is the same Perry, who, during a 2011 presidential debate, infamously attempted to list three government agencies he’d do away with. He stuttered and couldn’t think of the third, finally saying, “Oops!” This, of course, denotes his idiocy – Perry is as dumb as a bag of rocks (as The Donald said about Jeb Bush). I suppose he’ll make his boss look good by comparison? Of course, this is all just political payback for Perry’s support of Trump during the campaign as opposed to the treatment of (unemployed) Mitt Romney. Perry will be another compliant cipher in Trumps Oil Play, unlike Romney may have been.
The list of anti-government appointments that Trump has added to his abnormal basket also includes billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, a longtime and passionate proponent of school choice, as in “we choose to bankrupt the public school system.” And then there’s Ben Carson, Trump’s pick for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He’s a surgeon with no experience in government, housing policy or urban development, who never lived in public housing, once saying, “My stance is that we the people have the responsibility to take care of the indigent in our society,” during a CNN town hall. “It’s not the government’s job.” He mumbled. This pick is Trump’s most basely political, a reward for Carson’s early support for Trump as well as the subtle placement of the only prominent African-American in Trump’s Administration – in charge of America’s crumbling housing projects. Ugh.
In James Cameron’s billion dollar mega-hit Titanic (1997), as the ship slipped slowly into the icy Atlantic below, actor James Lancaster as Father Thomas Byles, a Catholic priest from England, prayed with and consoled passengers during the ship’s final moments. A witness said that “All Father Byles had to do was raise his hand when panic and chaos broke out, and calm returned. “The passengers were immediately impressed by the absolute self-control of the priest. He began the recitation of the Rosary. The prayers of all, regardless of creed, were mingled, and the responses, ‘Holy Mary,’ were loud and strong.” As the witness described it, “After I got in the boat, which was the last one to leave, and we were slowly going further away from the ship, I could hear distinctly the voice of Father Byles and the responses to his prayers. Then they became fainter and fainter, until I could only hear the strains of Nearer My God, to Thee.”
Father Byles was among those who died that awful night and his body was never recovered. The day before, on the morning of Sunday, April 14, he celebrated Mass and preached a homily which, according to news reports, was on the need to have a “lifeboat in the shape of religious consolation at hand in case of spiritual shipwreck.” In the film, Father Byles is portrayed reciting Revelation 21:4 when the ship finally breaks in two and is doomed to Davey Jones’ Locker:
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
December 17, 2016