Rx for Your Psychic Health: Enjoy Trump as an Epic Farce

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 2For everyone exhausted by Trump’s Follies and terrified the world as we know it is about to collapse in a steaming pile of Keystone Cops criminality, I urge you to chill just a bit. Try this: Tamp down the stress by absorbing this absurd drama less as a nightmare and more as trashy reality TV on an epic scale.

Sure, sure there is no end of reasons to spike your blood pressure over things like the “unimaginable cruelty” of Trump’s budget. But that thing, like virtually all of his promises/threats/delusions isn’t going anywhere. (You gotta love the minor $2 trillion math error involved in its grand design.)

In fact, one of the truest things I’ve heard recently was some talking head urging calm by reminding viewers that, “As long as doing nothing is the default option” all this incompetence and venality is survivable. What he meant is that with 98% of Trump (i.e. Steve Bannon’s) ideas doomed to fail, we can get through Trump with the rudder and sails still attached to the ship of state. Obamacare will remain (perpetually imperiled, but “un-repealed”), the tax code will go “unreformed” (meaning another GOP giveaway to the rich will wait for a later day) and Big Bird will not be plucked and roasted (by government, although maybe eventually by the commercial marketplace.)

So with the normal consequences of incompetence in mind, it may be beneficial to our psychic health to dial back the grim expressions of stress and view this story as a kind of slapstick Ring Cycle. Instead of The End of Days, think of the Trump presidency and its inevitable collapse as a sprawling, time-consuming tale of dozens of strange, silly, improbable characters and lots of noise. True, like “Big Brother” or “Jersey Shore”, “The Trump Show” its a crass epic lacking anything in the way of moral grandeur and honorable tests of mortality. Just the opposite in fact. The whole thing is playing like the Farrelly brothers reimagined Wagner. It’s “Dumb and Dumber” inflated to international proportions.

This is why I don’t share the sense of dread and panic of some of my fellow liberals.

Unlike say Richard Nixon, much less truly psychopathic thugs like Benito Mussolini, Stalin and what’s his name back in Germany, Trump is both ideology-free and resoundingly lazy. Beyond ego-gratification he doesn’t really know what he wants and is not about to put in the effort to find out. Moreover, since he has no friends in D.C., and no deeply connected Dick Cheney-like consigliere to work the system and connive with a deep closet of corporate cronies, Trump’s more isolated with every passing pratfall. And they’re coming at the rate of about one an hour.

Hell, the only guy he could imagine defending him against this Robert Mueller investigation is his long-time apologist Marc Kasowitz, a guy — wait for it — who also includes among his best clients, Russia’s biggest bank. (See above for “slapstick”.)  The word “literally” is getting a work out these days, but … literally … every move Team Trump makes to defend itself from accusations of collusion adds a new layer of farce.

Add to this the stage whispering that the White House “person of interest” mentioned in that Washington Post story last week is over-ambitious, over-burdened son-in-law Jared Kushner, he of recently reported Baltimore litigious slumlord infamy.

(Since young Jared has been in the Middle East this past week we can assume he’s got the handle on that little problem and will be having Hezbollah and the Israelis over for a Shavuot barbecue.)

If true, and it fits so perfectly it’s in the range of “very highly likely”, Jared-as-person-of-interest suggests a laser point on Trump family financial machinations vis a vis Russian “investors.” (For my money Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been as good as anyone at connecting the bizarre characters on the money trail between Trump and Russian oligarchs/mobsters.)

The story even has standard issue domestic farce, like the First Lady uh, rebuffing, the touch of the guy proud of being able to grab any woman anywhere anytime he wanted. (I keep thinking our old friend Tom Arnold may have the best explanation for that particular chill.)

One of the next acts in this grand burlesque will be crushing legal bills dropping on the Kellyanne and Spiceys of the world. Will the narcissistic emperor pick up those tabs? Would you count on it if you were them? Moreover, who would be stupid enough to step in and replace them once they are reduced to “losers”, the absolute worst thing you can say about someone? (See above for “isolated”.)

Shortly after that the spillway will open wide when Michael Flynn, the show’s paranoid general, (think Sterling Hayden as Gen. Jack D. Ripper), realizes he’s not going to get immunity and spills everything he knows in the hope of the court’s mercy.

Point being friends, there is a choice here. You can laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. It’s easier on the nerves.

There Are People Who Know What The Russians Have Been Up To With Trump

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3I’m not so sure “no one knows” what’s going on with Trump and the Russians.

You hear something like that four or five times an hour as pundit-reporters compete to be the most flabbergasted by the latest tweet and revelation from TrumpWorld. But, if there is any credibility to Steve Bannon’s “deep state” paranoia, it strikes me as very-to-highly likely that within the gargantuan US intelligence apparatus there are people, and my guess is they would be senior career professionals, who have a real good idea of the games Trump has been playing with Russians, or to be more precise, games Russians have been playing with Trump.

Over just the past two weeks three separate pieces of reporting have etched a portrait of the Trump reality in clearer detail. None of them can be described as “sound bites.” You’ll need an hour to digest them all. Two have appeared in consecutive issues of the New Yorker and one is a series of posts by Josh Marshall for his site, Talking Points Memo.

“Trump, Putin and the New Cold War” by New Yorker editor David Remnick and two colleagues is a fascinating overview of the populist forces that first Putin and now Trump have very cynically exploited (and in Putin’s case sustained) to grab power. “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal” by the same magazine’s Adam Davidson uses a bizarre development deal in Baku, Azberbaijan to lay out a money-laundering operation involving comically corrupt Azerbaijani officials, Trump and … Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Over at Talking Points Memo, Marshall’s series, zeroing in on Trump’s long-standing, very close association with a strange fringe mob/wannabe spy character named Felix Sater and Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen. Begin, if you’re interested, with, “The Innocent Explanation, Part 1.”

To compress a very broad narrative to its essence, you have this: In the late ’90s and early ’00s Trump was effectively bankrupt and no American bank would do business with him. What he found were Russian oligarchs, newly and fabulously wealthy from mob-style “privatization” in the post-Soviet economy. That crowd needed ways to launder money, and a lot of it. They bought into Trump projects, often at absurdly inflated prices, enriching Trump as their cash got legitimized. As the pattern repeated itself, Trump and family become ever more beholden to their “business partners.”

Now, it is interesting from a media critic perspective to note how little anyone else in the press is playing with this Felix Sater keyhole to Trump’s empire. Sater, as Marshall reveals, not only served prison time for stabbing a guy, Joe Pesci-style, with the broken stem of a wine glass, but has established connections to New York mob families.

It is a long-standing fascination of mind at how the once enormously influential crime families of “Godfather” legend have all but entirely disappeared from media attention, as though they were never anything but a fiction. (Remember, until 1957 J. Edgar Hoover insisted organized crime did not exist in the United States.) The general explanation being that they all went “legitimate” at some point 25-30 years ago and there’s nothing more to see here.

I don’t think so. More likely is that the families figured ways to better launder their criminal earnings and are probably as wealthy today as they’ve ever been.

Whatever, this Felix Sater story is the extraordinarily rare instance when American organized crime reemerges in mainstream reporting. (The New York Times has reported on Sater, but to date has not pressed the connections Marshall has.) On the other hand Russian mobsters are a common subject of conversation. (It’s another form American exceptionalism, you see. We are the only culture in world history exempt from the scourge of organized criminality, and the corruption and violence that comes from it.)

Marshall acknowledges the normal viability of Occam’s Razor — (Definition: “Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the simpler one is usually better. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is.“)

Says Marshall, “The simplest explanation isn’t necessarily the right one. But in the spirit of Occam’s Razor, we should prefer it because it usually will be. To state the key point for clarity and emphasis, it is not the simplest explanation. It it is the simplest explanation which accounts for all the known facts. That distinction makes all the difference in the world.”

I could go on, but the reading list above lays all this out in compelling fashion.

My point, regarding the likelihood of senior people in the permanent government, (the part of the government Steve Bannon wants to “deconstruct”), knowing what all this Russia business is about also has a bit of Occam’s Razor to it.

Specifically, fabulously wealthy Russian oligarchs, essentially organized international criminals, many (but not all) aligned with Vladimir Putin (who is reputed to be one of the wealthiest people in the world thanks to his looting of the Russian economy), would be precisely the people enriching and enabling all sorts of nefarious activity all over the world, including here in the United States. They would therefore be primary targets for US (and allied) intelligence operations, intercepting their communications and monitoring their contacts and money flows.

If they weren’t/aren’t being regularly surveilled it would be an astonishing dereliction of duty on the part of our $80-$100 billion annual intelligence apparatus.

So … here’s the assumption. Senior intelligence people, knowing with very high confidence what Trump has been involved with for years, begin a series of strategic leaks to the media to prod judicial action. After all, enabling by ignoring quasi-to-overtly criminal association with foreign adversaries is diametrically opposed to what they signed up for.

And this is very serious stuff for whoever is leaking. They themselves are risking criminal prosecution. Which is why I find it hard to believe it’s just a few Bartleby the scrivener types buried in the bureaucracy. People like that have essentially no political cover. But further up the chain, where senior officials have personal relations with influential political leaders — from the likes of Diane Feinstein and John McCain and Lindsay Graham, etc. — such a risk becomes more tenable.

In summary, while the pundit press saying “we don’t know” is credible.

But that is not at all the same thing as saying, “No one knows.”

 

 

 

 

What’s Even Scarier Than That Press Conference.

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3As completely whacked as His Orangeness’s press conference was yesterday, there are at least two things to keep in mind that are even scarier.

1: His nihilistic true believers, the crowd that has been “left behind”/”hasn’t kept up” with the 21st century and desperately needs someone else to blame for their misery, loved the whole thing. Love! Love! Love! Check any comment thread you choose. Spraying the room with a fire hose of shameless lies, accusing every reporter other than the beyond-parody mannequin hosts of “Fox & Friends” of being “fake” and “dishonest” is like glorious music, a goddam Lee Greenwood – Kid Rock duet, to the ears of the 27% who will submit to whatever Trump says, no matter what.

But, 2: There is no doubt — none — that career D.C., i.e. career “Big Gubmint”, is leading the resistance to the appalling level of incompetence (and worse) they see first hand, up close and behind the scenes. A key line from Talking Points Memo boss Josh Marshall’s spiel (posted on Facebook yesterday) was this, in the context of career intelligence people and their assessment of Trump’s credibility.

Said Marshall: “Almost half the sixteen agencies which make up the ‘Intelligence Community’ are various military intelligence agencies – Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, DIA, et al. All of this is to say that the idea that the people in this world are liberals or inclined to be anti-Trump for partisan reasons is laughable. What is especially worrisome is that the people in this world seem to have more specific concerns about Trump’s ties to foreign governments than observers on the outside. That’s worrisome because they have access to information we do not.”

Anytime a “disrupter” takes over management of a bureaucracy, government or corporate, there will be people resisting change. In the corporate world they can be bounced out of the way fairly easily. Not so much in “gubmint”. But the key thing here is that, as Marshall correctly argues, these are anything but disgruntled liberal partisans feeding the “fake media” “true leaks” about what is and isn’t going on in the Trump White House. With the intelligence community, people who we can assume truly do know (a lot) more than we do about things like Trump’s campaign contacts with the Russians and, I’m betting, his financial obligations to Putin-friendly oligarchs, the driving motivation is to destabilize this clown act before it gets them and all of us into something truly godawful.

Put more bluntly, it is reasonable to assume that the culturally conservative U.S. intelligence has already made a judgment about Trump’s credibility, and it ain’t good. It is reasonable to assume they have well-founded reasons — via routine wiretaps and spooky surveillance of banking transactions — that Trump not only can not, but must not, be trusted with potentially critical information. To the point that they are already — a month into this farce — risking felony prosecution for leaking damning information to the failing New York Times and other media outlets … you know, people they actually do trust. (It would not surprise me at all if somewhere, thanks the country’s $50 to $80 billion intelligence budget someone has already snagged Trump’s taxes and knows damn well who has what on him.)

Because Trump’s taxes/financial obligations/Russia is the key issue, the intelligence community’s clear decision to provide leaks to drive public investigations is the Gold Standard, DefCon 4, Ultimo Primo Bureaucratic Resistance. But on less critical levels, we should be prepared for intense bureaucratic resistance to the manifest incompetence of Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, Ben Carson and Scott Pruitt at their respective agencies. God only knows how the State Department — which was shut out of meetings with Bibi Netanyahu, (but Jared Kushner was there), and had over 100 people led out of the building yesterday — will respond if/when Rex Tillerson is also iced out of fresh intelligence because of his complicity with the Russians.

Trumpist chowderheads can cheer this on all they like. They are fools. But their boy’s chances of surviving what’s coming down on him were remote at best on Jan. 20 and are diminishing by the hour. A different kind of “disrupter” might have a better chance of succeeding, whatever that ever meant. But Trump, as everyone else knows, is two things for sure.

He is not smart about the reality of the Presidency.

And, he’s lazy.

He believes he can fake it.

He can’t.