Posts Tagged ‘ Jeff Sessions ’

Coup du clown: Day 3

OK, forget every official and authorized statement emitted over the last day-and-a-half from the White House. They are all, officially now, prevarications. Or perhaps, more precisely, the first draft of the official lie (which we are not yet sure has been determined on). Donald Trump still doesn’t quite get that this is not reality TV. He doesn’t get a chance to re-shoot something that didn’t turn out right. The pre-edited tape still gets to be seen by everyone. But so what? 40% of the country will ride through the gates of hell with him. What matters is that 8% more, strategically placed, who will determine whether representative democracy (such as it was before Corrupt-o-mania / Going-Out-of-Business-Sale-USA came to town in January of this year) remains or whether we will will continue in this poorly produced Reality TV Show where chaos, buffoonery, deception and vile and vulgar actors pretend to be running the government. The question is whether those folk buy into the explanation. And what had been offered up to yesterday didn’t cut it.

So forget everything that was in the letters released to justify the firing and the explanations of Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried yesterday. The new explanation, given from the horse’s ass’s mouth itself, is that Donald Trump, who played an executive on a long ago TV program, had decided to fire Comey, and it had nothing to do with the memo by Rod J. Rosenstein, assistant Attorney General, and acting Attorney General on those subjects on which Jeff Sessions has recused himself. (What those issues are seems to be a moving target.) It could not have been based on Rosenstein’s memo, of course, because Rosenstein evidently threatened to resign if he had to take the fall for the firing of Comey. Now that the story has been revised, however, he seems happy to be back into the center of Pandaemonium. Don’t expect Rosenstein to reprise the role of Elliot Richardson in this low budget revival of Watergate.

No, the new, old rationale is that Comey was “a showboat” and “a grandstander.” And if there is anything this buttoned-down administration hates, it’s a showboat and a grandstander. God knows that’s been Trump’s position from the beginning. That is no way to act with important executive responsibilities.

That interview aired before new celebrity apprentice Sarah Huckabee Sanders came out to continue her performance art before the White House press corps. When asked why the president’s explanation was different from what she said the day before, her answer was: “though she had conversations with Trump about the termination, she had not asked specifically about when Trump had made the decision.” So if she had had the foresight to ask him when he made his decision, she wouldn’t have offered up the howlers of yesterday, and offered some other lie which would have had to have been retracted when Trump extemporized his lies this morning.

Incidentally, after the President in his interview with Lester Holt explained that the FBI with a completely demoralized and dysfunctional organization under Comey and after Sanders claimed that she had “heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision,” the acting FBI director,Andrew McCabe, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Comey enjoyed “broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.” He added that “[t]he majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.” Of course McCabe was acting under the constraint that his statements were under oath, something that you won’t catch Donald Trump or Sarah Huckabee Sanders doing. That tends to impede improvisation.

So three days out, this coup looks like it has been bungled, a surprising result given that minds as sharp as Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions were behind it. This doesn’t mean we are out of the water yet, but the thing to always keep in mind is that Donald Trump has brought down much bigger of his own empires than this administration. And although Donald Trump has lived his life in the swamp that is New York commercial real estate, the swamp he is currently swimming in has bigger predators and his mouth is his only protection. That organ is pretty paltry when he is not entertaining New York tabloids.

Two-bit Nixon

If there was ever a proof about the adage about what happens when you ignore history, Trump just offered it up. The firing of FBI Director James Comey today has many of the hallmarks of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” except Trump and side-kick Jeff Sessions are too clownish to even act with the degree of prudence as Nixon did during his stupidest act. Nixon the arch-plotter had hatched (with the aid of Alexander Haig and University of Texas Law Professor Charles Alan Wright) what he thought was the perfect trap to either cause Archibald Cox (the Independent Counsel who had in process indictments of cabinet officials and high advisers to the President and was breathing down the neck of Nixon himself) to resign or justify his firing. (It involved setting up a “compromise” for independent review of the subpoenaed White House tapes instead of compliance with the court order to produce them.) Wright bullied Cox into a position of not accepting the deal, and the conspirators thought they could fire Cox while retaining public confidence (at a time the U.S. was facing down the Soviets in the wake of the Yom Kippur War) by insisting that Cox was being unreasonable while the President had national security issues to worry about. As it turned out, Cox took to TV and persuaded the American people that he was being reasonable, not Nixon. Nixon fired Cox, public wrath fell squarely on the White House in a way and to a degree that they never expected. Nixon’s lawyer, Leonard Garment, said of Nixon’s reaction to the public response: “He thought of little else except to marvel ‘over the mischief we had wrought and the public relations disaster we had brought on ourselves.'” (Stanley I. Kutler, The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (New York: Knopf, 1990), p. 410.)

All it will take is someone with half the folksy charm and reputation for impeccable integrity of Archibald Cox to bring down this administration. Do we have such a person? Probably not. But the Republicans had spent much of the last year puffing up the integrity of James Comey. That faux-integrity might serve as well as the real thing these days.

Let’s not get to far ahead, however. In those days, the Democrats had control of both Houses of Congress and it still had a tough slog. And from the Saturday Night Massacre to the resignation was another 10 months of gut-wrenching daily agony spilled out from the news each day. And this after we had become sick of the daily agony of news out of Southeast Asia for nearly a decade. So for those of my much younger friends who long for the romance of the 60s-early 70s (without having lived through those days), welcome to the new (old) reality. If History is as vindictive as we think it is, Trump will learn yet that Andrew Jackson is not the President he should have read the Classics Illustrated story of.

Age of New Corruption

The second half of the Eighteen Century is a time of particular interest to us because it was the time when classical American thinking on government was formed, first in the revolution when American republicanism was thought out and then during the constitutional ferment when governmental organization was considered. At that time, the advanced segment of British political thinkers (from progressive Whigs to radicals) all fixed on one feature of the prevailing mechanics of British government as the predominant evil, and they called it “Old Corruption.” Identifying and then rooting out that corruption was particularly difficult, because freedom of speech or press was not a feature of the British constitution. So the first rumblings had to come from an anonymous insider, and the Letters of Junius from 1769 to 1772, which detailed in language like a rapier the corruption of the ministry of the Duke of Grafton, became hugely popular (in both Britain and the colonies) and spurred radical thinking on the evils of corruption, how it distorted British constitutional order, and how it could be eliminated.

British corruption was not simply pay-offs to government officials. It was the traffic in patronage, office, pensions, monopolies, licenses and in fact everything that could be bought and sold. And the way government looked at the sum of goods and services was that everything could be bought and sold. It was not just that ministers or members of parliament could be bought. It was that the entire mechanism of government operated on the basis of mutual advantage. On top of the incestuous relationship between Crown, ministers and MPs (and the “voting” for MPs was profoundly corrupt itself), the government appointed clerics (there was an official church, you remember) and gave out substantial advertising and other emoluments to the press, so that both God and public opinion were reliably bought. Most American thinkers believed that it was the fault of a monarchical government. Thomas Paine in Common Sense attributed the failure of the British government to the fact that “the corrupt influence of the crown, by having all the places in its disposal, hath so effectually swallowed up the power, and eaten out the virtue of the house of commons (the republican part in the constitution) that the government of England is nearly as monarchical as that of France or Spain.” The authors of the Federalist Papers thought the evil was to be found in “faction” and tried to devise a system where self-interests would be played against each other so that no one interest could gain control of the government. William Cobbett, once a rabid monarchist but radicalized during the corruption of the Napoleonic wars, attributed the problem to a corrupt press (among other things):

“What can be the cause of this perverseness? It is not perverseness: it is roguerycorruption, and tyranny. The tyrant, the unfeeling tyrant, squeezes the labourers for gain’s sake; and the corrupt politician and literary or tub rogue find an excuse for him by pretending that it is not want of food and clothing, but want of education, that makes the poor, starving wretches thieves and robbers. If the press, if only the press, were to do its duty, or but a tenth part of its duty, this hellish system could not go on. But it favours the system by ascribing the misery to wrong causes.” Rural Rides (T. Nelson & Sons: [?1934] (originally published in 1830)), p 274.

I took you on this little trip to quainter times when corruption merely kept substantial numbers in dire poverty because the 2010 edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Barometer is now available. It’s conclusion, no surprise: The world is becoming more corrupt. (This apparently is not the illusion of us old fogies who remember a mythical past of honor and respect.) And while the usual suspects top the list (and once again our clients, Iraq and Afghanistan, have front row seats in the corruption slop fest), what it has to say about us is particularly interesting. Here in what we like to call the “West” the largest threat of corruption perceived is not from the police or the judiciary (the seats of corruption in petty dictatorships), or even corporations (rated particularly low on the corruption scale in the US), but rather in political parties. This may be one of those instances where Lincoln was absolutely right about not being able to fool all the people all the time. In our country in particular, business need not rip off customers directly; they need only to pay off politicians to get exactly what they need for their bottom line. The same is true of every other “interest” that has what is the currency of corruption–that is, currency. Of course in our wealthy country it takes a lot more currency to effect a good bribe than in two-bit tyrannies. In places like Afghanistan, as the Wikileaks cables have shown us, the entire establishment can be floated essentially on the money that our military loses and thinks so little of it doesn’t even worry about it–with, of course, the occasional gratuities from Iran and the hard-working opium growers and smugglers. In our country, in order to bring big business to the table with big checkbooks you have to organize on a large scale. And fortunately that’s why we have political parties.

Now, the parties take a different approach to corruption. It is really not true that all politicians are the same. If that were true we’d have more of the likes of Jeff Sessions, Arlen Specter and Joe Lieberman. (There’s a scary thought, no?) There are indeed fundamental differences in the approach to corruption

As for the New GOP, corruption is the purpose of the party. They make no pretense of standing for anything except policy for the highest bidder. This has been evident since the charming days of Jack Abramoff, when Corruption was King. The combination of big money, big money facilitators, the “professionalization” of lobbyists and the unabashed corruption of a “leader” like the recently convicted Tom DeLay made it a perfect storm for corruption. As the Washington Post put it in the 2005 article entitled “The Road to Riches Is Called K Street“:

The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent. Only a few other businesses have enjoyed greater prosperity in an otherwise fitful economy.

The lobbying boom has been caused by three factors, experts say: rapid growth in government, Republican control of both the White House and Congress, and wide acceptance among corporations that they need to hire professional lobbyists to secure their share of federal benefits.

“There’s unlimited business out there for us,” said Robert L. Livingston, a Republican former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and now president of a thriving six-year-old lobbying firm. “Companies need lobbying help.”

Lobbying firms can’t hire people fast enough. Starting salaries have risen to about $300,000 a year for the best-connected aides eager to “move downtown” from Capitol Hill or the Bush administration. Once considered a distasteful post-government vocation, big-bucks lobbying is luring nearly half of all lawmakers who return to the private sector when they leave Congress, according to a forthcoming study by Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.

Ah, the good old days of new corruption! It was so unabashed that like the pigs entering the farmer’s house at the beginning of the revolt in Animal Farm, lobbyists were invited on the floor of Congress to draft and mark-up bills. John Boehner handed out tobacco company checks to Republicans before a vote on a subsidy for tobacco growers. Jack Abramoff flew Congressmen to golf in Scotland. And Tom DeLay told lobbyists the rules: only hire Republicans and pay the amount determined by the schedule in his “book.” The GOP pioneered organized New Corruption.

The GOP remains true to its new creed even up to today. We learn that its single-minded obsession with ensuring that the filthy rich continue to bleed this country dry trumps all other concerns. Of course it would trump issues of social justice and the country’s welfare, that goes without saying for a Republican. But we learn today that they won’t even let a vote on DADT to go through until they get the vigorish for rich people, dead rich people and corporations they demand. Imagine how the GOP has changed. They used to jump at the chance of voting against gays, women, minorities, science, etc. to shore up their Neanderthal base (the ones who are too poor to vote for them for self-interest, so must be motivated by hate). But stakes are high. The GOP rejects an opportunity of throwing red meat to its confederate base, just to make sure a day doesn’t unnecessarily go by which could bring concern to the accountants of the plutocrats.

The New Democrat (that phoenix that has risen from the party of FDR, Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey) treats corruption not as something that they can squeeze from economic actors (but, hey, if a few crumbs land in their personal campaign chests, no harm in that, right?) but rather as the currency of good government. Bill Clinton’s administration, and the Democratic Leadership Council which is behind this New Democratic Party, saw this as “triangulation.” You give the GOP just about everything they want, and you can dry up their cash. The problem with that approach was that it made Republicans mad. And you can just imagine what they’ll resort to if they are driven by the kind of rage that Republicans fall into when deprived of big money: they will even seek your impeachment.

Barack Obama is much more cool than Bill Clinton. It’s like the difference between late 40s Count Basie and late 50s Miles Davis. Barack Obama is so cool, he may actually have less affect than David Duchovny. So his way of dealing with big money is simply to give them what they want so they don’t interfere with the policies he wants. So in the health care debate, he simply gave Big Pharma the assurance that he wouldn’t allow the country to get cheaper drugs from abroad and he told them that the government would not use its bargaining power to drive the price down. In other words, he gave them a monopoly. All he requested was they not attack the bill. Simple, no? This is the “genius” of his government: Just pre-emptively cave to get part of what you want. Or at least to get to fight (tooth and nail, but that’s done by others) for part of what you want. We saw that this week with his “compromise” with the GOP. No fighting, just pre-emptive caving. He gave them the upper-income tax breaks, AND a deal on federal estate taxes, AND included all the tax breaks he used as a “sweetener” for GOP support for his stimulus (which they unanimously voted against). In exchange he got a shorter extension of unemployment benefits than the extension for the tax cuts. And even before “negotiating” he announced a relatively meaningless (for the deficit) freeze on federal salaries.

And yesterday he did the same thing in the Middle East negotiation. He dropped US insistence on a short-term settlement freeze. In exchange he got kind words from the Israeli government that this would in fact “help” negotiations. Before finally caving, the Administration tried to buy the Israeli government off with 20 F-35 stealth airplanes and some assurances of UN votes. When that failed, the Administration just caved altogether.

This strategy of buying off the parties opponents has some good government types (i.e., hopelessly out-of-date Democrats and liberals) enraged. In turn, the rage has the Obama people upset. Didn’t the Democrats know what they were buying? It surely wasn’t political experience or reliable ideology, because, frankly, he just hadn’t been around long enough to establish any credentials. What they were buying was a flavor of the month. After George W. Bush we were so desperate for anybody who said he wasn’t George W. Bush that we took the freshest thing to come along. We picked a rock star, not a statesman. We should have known. After all he was the “rock star” that Rupert Murdoch put his money on. And Rupert Murdoch is certainly not someone who spends his money and influence unwisely. He knows how New Corruption works.

It’s time to go back to square one. Junius, where are you?