Middle age. Sometimes “The Scream” is the work of art that best captures this stage of life. Youthful illusions depart and we are left in the setting sun, protesting feebly against the indignities of the second half of life in a world gone mad. Continue reading
As the Democratic National Convention continues its week-long stay in Philadelphia, accusations of Russian hacking continue to cloud the proceedings. At this point, it seems likely that Russia is responsible. What’s less clear is what that will mean going forward. — Wired **** Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, for a long time now, have aligned […]
For some days, I have been reading articles that raise concern about the Trump administration staging its own version of a “Reichstag Fire”. This was an incident early in the rise of Hitler to absolute power, in 1933. Hitler’s Cabinet had issued “temporary” restrictions on the press and political marches, campaigning, etc., claiming a national security emergency. In other words, it basically suspended some of the rights we take for granted under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This happened on February 4, 1933. On February 27, 1933, arsonists set fire to the Reichstag, the German parliament building. Hitler’s coalition government, the Nazis and the German Nationalist People’s Party, blamed the fire on the Communists and used it as leverage to get President von Hindenburg to issue another, more far-reaching decree “for the protection of the People and the State.” According to the United States Holocaust Museum:
Popularly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree, the regulations suspended the right to assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other constitutional protections, including all restraints on police investigations.
Justified on the false premise that the Communists were planning an uprising to overthrow the state, the Reichstag Fire Decree permitted the regime to arrest and incarcerate political opponents without specific charge, dissolve political organizations, and to suppress publications. It also gave the central government the authority to overrule state and local laws and overthrow state and local governments.
When people now refer to a modern “Reichstag Fire”, they mean some kind of staged national crisis, which is claimed to justify sweeping restrictions on the liberty rights of free private citizens and others, in the name of national security. An example that was NOT staged was the terrorist attack launched on 9/11. That was real, but it was seized upon by the Bush administration, especially Vice-President Dick Cheney, to justify the Patriot Act and the invasion of Iraq as well as Afghanistan. It was also used to quash any dissent or criticism of the Bush administration by labeling that as “unpatriotic” and insisting on the title of “wartime President” for George W. Bush.
9/11 was real and was not staged by the U.S. government. I am not a conspiracy theorist. However, I too have wondered if we are soon to witness a staged “crisis” that Bannon and others in the Trump White House will seize upon to justify sweeping restrictions on personal liberty. I am afraid many of our fellow Americans might fall for that.
And then it hit me. What if Trump HIMSELF is the “staged national crisis”? I have been bewildered at the acquiescence of Republicans in Congress as revelation after revelation of Trump aides’ dealings with Russia unfold, as detailed in the great Belly of the Beast blog. I am stunned that the recent resignation of Michael Flynn — the National Security Adviser — because of illicit communications with Russia, after and probably before the election, has not resulted in bipartisan cries for an independent investigation. Instead, we have Jason Chaffetz calling on the House Oversight Committee to investigate the leaks that brought out the truth, and we have Rand Paul shrugging and saying it would be a waste of time for Republicans to investigate other Republicans, and it would hamper their conservative legislative agenda.
Okay, I get that the Republicans want to rush that agenda through as quickly as possible. But I and many others see the last four weeks of chaos and conflict, confrontations with the federal courts, round-ups of immigrants, ridiculous interactions with other heads of state, rampant conflicts of interest, threatened mobilization of the National Guard, as a national crisis. Many concerned citizens are now clamoring for a full investigation; many others are clamoring for steps toward the impeachment of Donald Trump. But where does that leave us?
It leaves us with Mike Pence as President. And Mike Pence has a radical reactionary agenda. While Trump bloviates and makes a spectacle of himself and the White House, Pence is quietly racking up executive orders and legislative actions designed to undo not just what was achieved under President Obama, but also under President Clinton. The clear goal is to roll back two decades of progressive activity that has reined in the enormous corporate power that now seems to fuel the GOP together with fundamentalist religion.
I am starting to wonder if the real game in town is to get Democrats and others so distracted and riled up about Trump, that we 1) forget what’s happening in Congress; and 2) ultimately demand Trump’s impeachment, resulting in 3) a Pence Presidency. Think about it. The American people will have demanded the removal of Trump, to avert or resolve what are rightly seen as constitutional crises — and Pence steps in as the white knight, unsullied by the shenanigans of his running mate.
Think about it. It CAN happen here.
John Podesta has published an article called “Trump’s Dangerous Strategy to Undermine Reality.”
Trump is deploying a strategy, used by autocrats, designed to completely disorient public perception. He’s not just trying to spin the bad news of the day; all politicians do that. He seeks nothing less than to undermine the public’s belief that any news can be trusted, that any news is true, that there is any fixed reality.
Trump is attempting to build a hall of mirrors where even our most basic sensory perceptions are shrouded in confusion. He is emulating the successful strategy of Vladimir Putin.
There’s that name again: Putin. For the life of me, I cannot understand why and how the GOP has suddenly become so passive and acquiescent in a President’s cozying up to Russia and its leader, a former KGB agent with the dead eyes of a shark. This is such a radical about-face that it defies explanation.
Even a mere reader and private citizen like myself has read enough to see that there are many threads that seem to connect Trump to various Russian interests, from his advisers to his loans to his real estate. Now that his National Security Adviser has been forced to resign for LYING about his contacts with Russian diplomats before this Administration took over, we have every right to demand a full and independent investigation of what is starting to look like Russiagate, complete with a coverup by the GOP.
(Footnote: did we really want a National Security Adviser who didn’t realize any phone call to the Russian ambassador was certainly going to be recorded by our own intelligence agencies? Duh).
This won’t go away. No amount of gaslighting, no hall of mirrors, will make this disappear. It is the most serious potential White House scandal with the most potential for criminal convictions that I have seen in my lifetime — and I remember Watergate.
And it is really, really stupid for this President and this White House to go on the attack, repeatedly, against the American intelligence community. They number in the tens of thousands. They are smart. They work hard. They know their work is important. And they have ALL the records, all the tapes, all the wiretaps. If he pushes them too far, payback is going to be a bitch.
Resistance is not futile, but it is exhausting. In the middle of the night following the election, as the sick reality was starting to set in, I began to get frantic texts, emails, and messages on social media from people who were trying to wrap their minds around the absolute worst-case scenario. They were processing what seemed like……
Quartz Media has published a short guide to understanding what news photographs do and don’t tell us about the true situation: Want To Resist the Post-Truth Age? . The example it uses is that of Inauguration Day, when some published photos were taken at an angle and with tight cropping that showed a smiling Trump family and Pence family walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to the crowd. Except that there wasn’t much of a crowd. Wider angle shots like the one above, published by The Atlantic, showed mostly empty viewing stands. There are many other similar published images.
I remember when President Ronald Reagan’s White House manipulated images in this way. When he would arrive at a location, there were actually barriers that kept the press at a far distance. So in order to have any kind of publishable photo, they would use powerful zoom lenses to get close-ups. Here is the kind of intimate photo that resulted:
Looks like the photographer was right next to him, doesn’t it? And see how the image focuses on Reagan’s cheery smile, his jaunty salute? It makes you feel as if you know him. Creating a sense of that kind of intimacy was Reagan’s specialty as a politician and public figure, starting from his TV days as an ad spokesman for General Electric.
But in reality, even the press pool photographers who were assigned to cover Reagan routinely were kept at an unprecedented distance from him, as documented by The New York Times in 1981, his first year in office:
One effect of many of the security steps has been to establish a physical distance between Mr. Reagan and the reporters who directly accompany him in a small representative group, or pool. For example, reporters at the airport at South Bend were kept too far away from the President to ask questions, which is a normal feature of airport arrivals and departures.
The rationale given by the White House was the then-recent 1981 attempt on Reagan’s life. Okay, that seems legitimate — except the attempt on his life happened on a city street. It had nothing to do with scheduled, controlled airport locations on tightly controlled, limited-access tarmac. The effect was to insulate a President who was known to make misstatements from pesky press questions, while creating a situation where they were almost forced to generate falsely intimate images.
It will be even more essential for us all to develop better skills in media literacy and critical thinking, given the propagandists who now occupy our White House. Good night, and good luck.
Steven Harper nails it again. Have we put a Putin puppet in the White House? I want an investigation.
“Time makes more converts than reason.”
— Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)
Stay on message. The Trump Resistance Plan focuses on two messages that are central to our democracy: “Russia interfered” and “Presidential corruption matters.” This installment covers the first one: “Russia interfered.”
In a joint interview with Senator Lindsay Graham on January 7, Senator John McCain described the stakes: “What Putin did poses a threat to the very fundamentals of our democracy…”
Senator Graham emphasized that this is not a partisan issue: “We should get to the bottom of all things Russia when it came to the 2016 election, period. Wherever it leads in whatever form…”
Trump and Russia
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We are living in an era that I call The Gaslight Zone: where the President of the United States routinely lies to us on a daily basis, enabled by power-hungry staff who are accountable only to him and his delusions, and power-drunk GOP Senators and Congressmen who think they can control him to achieve their own goals.
We have just witnessed the spectacle of several hundred travelers being detained, or denied entry, or removed from airplanes, or stopped at departure gates — including US citizens, legal permanent residents, and holders of special immigration visas. Several of the US citizens detained were young children who were separated from their parents, at Dallas-Fort Worth airport and Dulles airport. US citizens were also detained at O’Hare airport, among others.
Holders of special immigrant visas were also detained; they are usually people who actually worked with the American military in Iraq or Afghanistan as interpreters or contractors, and whose lives are in real danger there as a result. Some came to the U.S. long enough ago that they are now legal permanent residents with green cards — no matter. They were detained anyway. Try to wrap your head around this: these are people who put much more on the line for our country than over 99% of Americans, because most of us don’t serve in the military and even those who do, have mostly not served on the ground in Iraq. These are Iraqis who faced the same danger as our own troops, but without body armor. This, from a President who dodged the draft when it was his time to serve.
But the chaos of this past weekend is just the most recent, visible sign of tyranny emanating from the Trump White House. The reorganization of the National Security Council, also done by sudden executive order this past weekend, gives unprecedented priority to a purely political adviser with virtually no national security expertise: Steve Bannon, until recently the CEO of Breitbart News, proudly identified as the platform of the “alt-right” — a neutered term for white nationalists. This sends a strong signal to the experts — Trump is putting his alt-right political adviser ahead of our top military and intelligence officials. And, by the way, he made that announcement on the same day as his weekend phone conversation with Putin.
Knowledgeable observers and journalists are actually starting to use the word “coup”. One commentator compiled a sequence of substantiated news reports from different sources to show a truly disturbing picture of what looks like a deliberate strategy to leave the State Department and National Security Council bereft of experienced personnel and create chaos, possibly as a cover for the lifting of sanctions against Russia and the oil company Rosneft. And guess what? In December (the same month when there were multiple contacts between Trump’s now National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the Kremlin), Putin privatized Rosneft. Reuters reported last week that 19.5% of Rosneft stock had been transferred under mysterious and indecipherable circumstances. Remember that “Steele Dossier” of alleged intelligence against Trump? One of the allegations was that Trump’s adviser Carter Page had used his Russian connections to broker a deal with the Putin regime that they would offer Trump and his associates 19% of Rosneft stock if he lifted those sanctions. And now a number of high-ranking FSB/KGB officers, suspected of being Steele’s sources, have been very publicly arrested and charged with treason. Another was found dead, also in December. What else happened in December? Trump and his closest aides started getting the most detailed, most sensitive intelligence briefings. You can’t make this stuff up.
Trump isn’t new to getting tens of millions of dollars from Russian plutocrats. In 2008, he sold a Palm Beach estate, which he had bought just three years earlier for $41 million, to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. For $95 million. That’s a $54 million premium in three years. Rybolovlev has never lived there. Sounds fishy to me — almost like someone wanted to pour tens of millions of dollars into Trump’s pockets and needed a cover story.
I don’t know what to think about all this, but none of it is normal. The activity since the inauguration feels as if boundaries are being tested on many fronts. It feels as if much of the uproar is orchestrated as a distraction. It feels like a “shock event.” The Reuters news service has now instructed its reporters to cover the Trump administration under the same protocols they use in authoritarian countries “such as Turkey, the Philippines, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Thailand, China, Zimbabwe, and Russia, nations in which we sometimes encounter some combination of censorship, legal prosecution, visa denials, and even physical threats to our journalists.”
Think fascism can’t happen here, because that’s like, so last century? It can happen here.
What to do? Resist. And here is some guidance. First, there is the “Indivisible Guide“, a list of practical tips from former Congressional staffers on how to make yourself heard by elected officials. Second, below is even more advice:
Resistance advice from a high-level Senator staffer in the Democratic Party (but worth reading by all, regardless of party, who fear that our system of government is under attack):
“Bottom line of this long but worthwhile read – we should be calling our senators and representatives daily!!! Even in deeply blue states it seems. We need them to know we want them to delay and resist Trump at every turn. None of this is normal. None of this is okay!!!
You should NOT be bothering with online petitions or emailing.
Online contact basically gets immediately ignored, and letters pretty much get thrown in the trash unless you have a particularly strong emotional story – but even then it’s not worth the time it took you to craft that letter.
There are 2 things that all Democrats should be doing all the time right now, and they’re by far the most important things:
1. The best thing you can do to be heard and get your congressperson to pay attention is to have face-to-face time – if they have town halls, go to them. Go to their local offices. If you’re in DC, try to find a way to go to an event of theirs. Go to the “mobile offices” that their staff hold periodically (all these times are located on each congressperson’s website). When you go, ask questions. A lot of them. And push for answers. The louder and more vocal and present you can be at those the better.
2. But, those in-person events don’t happen every day. So, the absolute most important thing that people should be doing every day is calling.
You should make 6 calls a day: 2 each (DC office and your local office) to your 2 Senators & your 1 Representative. Calls are what all the congress people pay attention to. Every single day, the Senior Staff and the Senator get a report of the 3 most-called-about topics for that day at each of their offices (in DC and local offices), and exactly how many people said what about each of those topics. They’re also sorted by zip code and area code.
And this is IMPORTANT:
She said that Republican callers generally outnumber Democrat callers 4-1, and when it’s a particular issue that single-issue-voters pay attention to (like gun control, or planned parenthood funding, etc…), it’s often closer to 11-1, and that has recently pushed Republican congressfolks on the fence to vote with the Republicans. In the last 8 years, Republicans have called, and Democrats haven’t.
SO WHEN YOU CALL:
A) When calling the DC office, ask for the Staff member in charge of whatever you’re calling about (“Hi, I’d like to speak with the staffer in charge of Healthcare, please”). Local offices won’t always have specific ones, but they might. If you get transferred to that person, awesome. If you don’t, that’s ok – ask for their name, and then just keep talking to whoever answered the phone. Don’t leave a message (unless the office doesn’t pick up at all – then you can…but it’s better to talk to the staffer who first answered than leave a message for the specific staffer in charge of your topic).
B) Give them your zip code. They won’t always ask for it, but make sure you give it to them, so they can mark it down. Extra points if you live in a zip code that traditionally votes for them, since they’ll want to make sure they get/keep your vote.
C) If you can make it personal, make it personal. “I voted for you in the last election and I’m worried/happy/whatever” or “I’m a teacher, and I am appalled by Betsy DeVos,” or “as a single mother” or “as a white, middle class woman,” or whatever.
D) Pick 1-2 specific things per day to focus on. Don’t go down a whole list – they’re figuring out what 1-2 topics to mark you down for on their lists, so, focus on 1-2 per day. Ideally something that will be voted on/taken up in the next few days, but it doesn’t really matter…even if there’s not a vote coming up in the next week, call anyway. It’s important that they just keep getting calls.
E) Be clear on what you want – “I’m disappointed that the Senator…” or “I want to thank the Senator for their vote on…” or “I want the Senator to know that voting in _____ way is the wrong decision for our state because…” Don’t leave any ambiguity.
F) They may get to know your voice/get sick of you – it doesn’t matter. The people answering the phones generally turn over every 6 weeks anyway, so even if they’re really sick of you, they’ll be gone in 6 weeks.
From experience since the election: If you hate being on the phone & feel awkward, don’t worry…there are a bunch of scripts (Indivisible has some). After a few days of calling, it starts to feel a lot more natural. Put the 6 numbers in your phone all under Politician or Favorites, which makes it really easy to click down the list each day!
Now go get ’em!
Reblogging from historian John Fea, who specializes in American history with an emphasis on politics and religion:
Heather Cox Richardson of Boston College is one of my favorite historians. I highly recommend her most recent book To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party. Today Richardson gave me pe…
The former Public Editor of The New York Times, Margaret Sullivan, has issued a harsh warning to all journalists and members of the press who try to hold President Donald Cobblepot accountable: A Hellscape of Lies and Distorted Reality. The Columbia Journalism Review notes that Trump acts more like a media organization than anything else, one that is heavily influenced by the tactics and tone of Breitbart News, formerly led by his top adviser Steve Bannon, and Fox News, formerly led by his mentor Roger Ailes: Donald Trump is a Media Organzation.
What happens when emotion-driven messaging dominates over policy-making and good governance? Propaganda. I hate overblown comparisons to Nazis, but let’s not forget that Hitler and Goebbels were masters of communication innovation and used the most advanced means at their disposal to spread their poisonous dogma. And that dogma plunged the world into war and caused the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people. They too acted like media organizations. I think a sober analysis of how their propaganda succeeded in what had been one of the world’s most advanced and cultured societies is worth our time and attention, to avoid going down the 21st century version of that road.
Remember the TV show The Twilight Zone? If you’re middle-aged, you probably do. It was famous for its unsettling introduction by narrator/creator Rod Serling, which always ended with the dark words: “You’ve entered … The Twilight Zone.” And thus would begin another episode of warped reality, almost like science fiction but set in the quotidian, humdrum, familiar environments of American homes, small towns, cities.
It has become ever more clear that with the election of Donald Trump, we are entering uncharted territory: the most powerful nation on earth is now led by a malignant narcissist with a tenuous grasp on the truth, a lot of hatred in his heart, and many unsavory supporters. I call him President Donald Cobblepot: “Only I Can Protect You…” . The coming years will severely test our culture and our democracy. Do you think “it can’t happen here”? Yes, it can. In fact, there’s a Twilight Zone episode about that very possibility: “He’s Alive”.
“Portrait of a bush-league Fuehrer named Peter Vollmer, a sparse little man who feeds off his self-delusions and finds himself perpetually hungry for want of greatness in his diet. And like some goose-stepping predecessors, he searches for something to explain his hunger, and to rationalize why a world passes him by without saluting. The something he looks for and finds is in a sewer. In his own twisted and distorted lexicon, he calls it faith, strength, truth.” Sound familiar?
And so in honor of Rod Serling, I am naming this era “The Gaslight Zone.” We have entered The Gaslight Zone. Donald Trump’s favorite method of communication, like abusive spouses and bosses, and tyrants everywhere, is the tactic known as “gaslighting.” He makes statements that are recorded, then baldly denies having made them. He sends outrageous “tweets” to distract the press and the public from his actions. He lies, then doubles down on his lies when caught. He attacks people and groups who correctly describe his statements and activities: from a teenager, to CNN, to individual journalists and Hollywood stars, to the BBC. He is a modern version of an American fascist, and he has fanatic followers whose chants at his rallies, pre and post-election, are eerily reminiscent of German brownshirts and whose “alt-right” neo-Nazi activities are clearly inspired by 1930s Germany: American Nazis Rising as Trump’s Armed Brownshirts to Target Jews.
Trump’s campaign included many “dog-whistles” to white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He has barely commented that they should “stop” when pressed on that point, and he has appointed one of the “alt-right”‘s chief spokesmen, enablers and promoters, Steve Bannon, to be one of his closest advisers in the White House. OUR White House. The house of the American people.
We must all work against the hatred and gaslighting that this administration will constantly inject into our government and politics. Check facts. Call out lies. Demand accountability from Trump and the GOP. Go to work at the grass-roots of democracy. Try to counter the tide. We cannot let this man take our country and the world down this road. We’ve been there before. It’s not a good place.