Watch 1997 Mike Pence Say Presidents Should Be Held Accountable for Adultery (VIDEO)

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Vice President Mike Pence thinks a President should resign in disgrace if they commit adultery. At least, if they’re a Democrat.

Pence was outraged in a column for his radio show’s website in 1997 that President Clinton lied to the American people about an extramarital affair. That was unforgivable in 1997.

“If you and I fall into bad moral habits, we can harm our families, our employers and our friends. The President of the United States can incinerate the planet,” Pence wrote. “Seriously, the very idea that we ought to have at or less than the same moral demands placed on the Chief Executive that we place on our next door neighbor is ludicrous and dangerous.”

He said that the only way America could move on from a President who had an affair and was dishonest was for that President to move on to a new occupation, either through resignation or removal from office.

Of course, not only did Donald Trump have an affair with, among others, a Playmate and a porn star and paid them hush money, but he lied to the American people about it.

According to 1997 Mike Pence, that means Trump has to resign or be removed from the office. Especially if any laws were broken, as Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen said they were Tuesday.

“This may seem drastic to the average American. It is,” Pence wrote for his congressional campaign website. “Our founders intended it to be so because they intended the President of the United States to be the center of the government of the United States.”

Mike Pence went on to quote Alexander Hamilton, calling such a president feeble and saying that in such cases, the whole of the government is bad government.

He also said that Congress had no choice but to remove a President who had an affair, lied and was implicated in breaking even minor laws.

“The American people may deeply wish to move on and put this unpleasantness behind us. Regrettably, the Constitution does not permit such a national denial,” he said. “Absent an uncharacteristic act of selflessness by the President, it is left to the Republicans to live up to their label and defend the laws and institutions of this Republic.”

If only Pence knew what the President he served under would be like twenty years later.

“For the nation to move on,” said Pence, “the President must move out.”

 

Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.

Documents Reveal Successful Cyberattack in California Congressional Race

The FBI investigated hacking attempts targeting a Democrat who ran against “Putin’s favorite congressman”

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via Rolling Stone

By ANDY KROLL

WASHINGTON — FBI agents in California and Washington, D.C., have investigated a series of cyberattacks over the past year that targeted a Democratic opponent of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Rohrabacher is a 15-term incumbent who is widely seen as the most pro-Russia and pro-Putin member of Congress and is a staunch supporter of President Trump.

The hacking attempts and the FBI’s involvement are described in dozens of emails and forensic records obtained by Rolling Stone.

The target of these attacks, Dr. Hans Keirstead, a stem-cell scientist and the CEO of a biomedical research company, finished third in California’s nonpartisan “top-two” primary on June 5th, falling 125 votes short of advancing to the general election in one of the narrowest margins of any congressional primary this year. He has since endorsed Harley Rouda, the Democrat who finished in second place and will face Rohrabacher in the November election.

 

 

Cybersecurity experts say that it’s nearly impossible to identify who was behind the hacks without the help of law enforcement or high-priced private cybersecurity firms that collect their own threat data. These experts speculate that the hackers could have been one of many actors: a nation-state (such as Russia), organized crime, so-called e-crime or a hacktivist with a specific agenda. The FBI declined to comment.

Kyle Quinn-Quesada, who was Keirstead’s campaign manager, tells Rolling Stone that the campaign is now going public about the attacks for the sake of voter awareness. “It is clear from speaking with campaign professionals around the country that the sustained attacks the Keirstead for Congress campaign faced were not unique but have become the new normal for political campaigns in 2018,” Quinn-Quesada says. He added that the Keirstead campaign did not believe the cyberattacks had an effect on the primary election results.

The timing of the attacks is significant. Last month, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said the warning lights for future cyberattacks aimed at the U.S. were “blinking red.” A week later, a senior Microsoft executive said that Microsoft had identified and helped block hacking attempts aimed at three congressional candidates during the 2018 midterms. The executive declined to name those candidates, but the Daily Beast reported that the Russian intelligence agency responsible for the cyberattacks in 2016 had attempted to hack the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who is running for reelection this year. (A Microsoft spokesperson declined to say if Keirstead was one of three people targeted by hackers, citing “customer privacy.”) Just last week, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that Russian hackers had “penetrated” county voting systems in Florida. 

Rep. Rohrabacher is arguably the most ardent supporter of the Russian government and its leader, Vladimir Putin, in Congress. He has voted against Russian sanctions and was once warned by the FBI that Putin’s government was trying to recruit him as an asset. More recently, drawing on information provided by Russian officials, he sought to remove the name of Russian anti-corruption activist Sergei Magnitsky from the Global Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that permits sanctions on foreign officials who engage in human rights abuses or acts of corruption. And unlike many of his Republican colleagues, Rohrabacher refused to criticize President Trump for not raising the issue of Russia’s interference in American elections during his press conference last month with Putin. Rohrabacher’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

The hacks on Keirstead began in August 2017 with a spear-phishing attempt — a fake email intended to deceive the recipient into typing in his or her password or other confidential information — sent to Keirstead’s work email address. The phishing attempt was successful — Keirstead thought it was a legitimate Microsoft Office message and entered his password before quickly realizing the message was fake and having his company take measures to secure their email system. (Keirstead had used his work account for campaign purposes, emails show.) This was similar to the phishing attack on Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that later resulted in the release of thousands of Podesta’s personal emails. 

In December, the cyberattacks on Keirstead took a different form: a sophisticated and sustained effort to hack into the campaign’s website and hosting service.

Campaign officials detected repeated attempts to access the campaign’s website, Hansforca.com. Hackers or bots tried different username-password combinations in a rapid-fire sequence over a two-and-a-half-month period to get inside the campaign’s WordPress-hosted website. According to the campaign, there were also more than 130,000 so-called brute force attempts over a month-long period to gain administrator access to the campaign’s server via the cloud-server company that hosted the Keirstead campaign’s website.

 

 

In January, according to the campaign’s digital consultant, there were also several attempts to access the campaign’s Twitter account by unknown users. And later that same month, Keirstead’s company was briefly hacked again, according to campaign emails and interviews.

While the spear-phishing attack targeting Keirstead’s work account was successful, none of the attempts to gain unauthorized access to the campaign’s website, hosting company or Twitter account were effective, according to the campaign emails.

Quinn-Quesada, Keirstead’s campaign manager, informed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the FBI about the August spear-phishing message. He also told the DCCC about the attacks on its website and server several months later. According to campaign emails, news of the various cyberattacks — beginning with the initial spear-phishing incident — quickly reached the DCCC’s top IT executive and the organization’s chief of staff, who reports directly to DCCC Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico. The DCCC relayed the information to the FBI, according to campaign officials. (The DCCC declined to comment.) After the brute-force attacks last winter, the FBI contacted the Keirstead campaign.

Two agents based in California met with Quinn-Quesada in late January, according to the emails. Quinn-Quesada wrote in an email to his staff that the two agents said they were assisting with an investigation into the past and present hacking of political campaigns and committees. The campaign told the two agents about the successful and attempted hacks of Keirstead’s email, website, hosting service and Twitter account. Soon afterward, an FBI special agent based in Washington contacted the campaign’s digital consulting firm, Veracity Media, and requested a meeting. A team of FBI employees visited Veracity Media’s office and collected reams of forensic data about the attempted hacks.

Ed McAndrew, a former federal cybercrime prosecutor who now leads the privacy and data security group at the law firm Ballard Spahr, tells Rolling Stone that the FBI’s request for information suggested the bureau was taking the attacks on the Keirstead campaign seriously. “That’s fairly comprehensive in terms of an initial list of things you would want if you were looking to investigate unauthorized access to a web server,” McAndrew says. “They weren’t short-arming; those were real requests.”

 

 

McAndrew, who spent nearly a decade investigating cybercrime, said the FBI would likely take that information and run it through various criminal and intelligence databases. They would look for IP addresses, browser information and various types of software operating systems that matched those used by nation-state actors, organized crime or hacking syndicates.

He added that it’s not uncommon for federal law enforcement to conduct a cybercrime investigation and not inform the victims of the findings. “This is the constant tension between helping members of the public and maintaining confidentiality around intel sources and methods,” McAndrew says.

Quinn-Quesada tells Rolling Stone that the FBI never told him or anyone else on the campaign if it had identified who was behind the cyberattacks.

He says the accounts he’s heard from fellow political operatives about cyberattacks and other suspicious online activity grow more common by the day. “The targets aren’t just high-profile statewide candidates or elected officials,” he says. “Individual congressional campaigns are being targeted on a regular basis.”

The Texas school shooting reminds America what vets already know: civilian gun culture is a dysfunctional mess

Compared to the weapons training that military and law enforcement personnel undergo, the training required of civilian gun owners is a joke.

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via NBC NEWS

Michael E. Diamond

The U.S. military has a lot of guns, but not a lot of non-combat fatalities. Why is this? Because of common sense military regulations. That’s why, like many other military veterans, I view America’s civilian gun culture as dysfunctional.

Today, Americans mourn yet another tragic mass shooting, this one in a Texas high school. It has been a mere three months since 17 teens lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Much has been made of U.S. gun control laws — or lack thereof. But instead of listening to politicians battle across the partisan divide, we should be listening to the men and women who work with guns the most. 

Most Americans would be surprised, for example, at how little time military personnel in particular spend with their weapons over the course of a career. Apart from firing on highly structured firing ranges or routine maintenance, access to your weapon on base is rare. Military Police provide security, so soldiers move about the base unarmed. There’s a reason for this: In the military, anything that reduces accidents, homicides or suicides isn’t put up for a vote. It’s a requirement.

The military’s strict rules on weapon and ammunition access can apply to wartime as well, as my own experience demonstrates. In 1991, I was a military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. My unit was mobilized and sent to Fort Bragg, N.C. Shortly before boarding a plane to Saudi Arabia I was issued my M16 along with several magazines of live ammunition.

Although I had fired countless live rounds over the years on various military weapons ranges, it’s a different feeling when you’re issued live ammunition before heading to a combat zone. This time it was real.

That’s right. Once we arrived in an operational war zone, one of the first things the U.S. Army did was take our ammunition away.

After a 16-hour trip — most of which I spent sitting on the hood of a truck with my back against the windshield trying to stay warm — we emerged into the intense desert heat. Because of the ear-splitting noise of departing jets we quickly inserted hearing protection, and then surrendered our ammunition.

That’s right. Once we arrived in an operational war zone, one of the first things the U.S. Army did was take our ammunition away.

We were in a location where small-arms engagement with enemy forces was unlikely, so, as far as the Army was concerned, there was no need for a bunch of wound-up soldiers to be walking around with live rounds. Even without any ammunition, before entering a building every soldier had to demonstrate his or her weapon was empty by pointing it down toward a barrel of sand and pulling the trigger, causing it to make the “click” sound of an empty weapon (hopefully). 

Eventually, my unit moved north toward Kuwait, where we were re-issued ammunition just before the start of the ground war. Several weeks later, after successfully completing our mission in Kuwait City, we were re-routed to northern Iraq to address the Kurdish refugee crisis. On arrival, we once again surrendered our ammunition.

These military safety requirements are a stark contrast to civilian U.S. gun laws. Where the military requires background checks before a service member is allowed anywhere near a live weapon, the majority of U.S. states allow private gun sales without a background check. Where military personnel are trained to take a weapon away from a soldier who poses an extreme risk to himself or others, most states do not have laws enabling law enforcement or loved ones to do the same.

Compared to the weapons training that military and law enforcement personnel undergo, the training required of civilian gun owners is a joke — if it exists at all.

Before I was sent out to use it, I had to prove an intimate familiarity with my weapon — how it worked, its maximum effective range in meters, how to load and unload it safely, how to disassemble and reassemble it, how to clean it, clear jams, sight it and fire it accurately. So it’s hard for me to fathom how easy it is for almost any civilian to walk out of a gun retailer carrying a new weapon without a clue about so many of these standards.

And where military and law enforcement undergo extensive training on how to make the right shooting decision quickly while under extreme stress, civilians receive no such training, contributing to avoidable deaths arising from poor decisions and petty disputes. In this context, the National Rifle Association’s favorite slogan about good guys with guns defeating bad guys with guns is more naive myth than solution.

It’s crucial that veterans now bring our voice and experience to the national conversation about reasonable gun reform. As a group, we understand guns and appreciate that responsible gun ownership is an important part of American life — but we also understand that a safe environment is achieved through training and regulation.

 

We fought to protect our country, yet see our fellow citizens being gunned down in schools, churches, restaurants and concert venues at a rate unseen anywhere else in the developed world. More Americans have been killed by guns since 1968 than in all of the wars in U.S. history. It’s ridiculous and tragic.

As a veteran, I am often asked what lessons the civilian world can learn from the military. There are many insights each can gain from the other. When it comes to guns, however, the greater wisdom lies with the military. It maintains a high-functioning gun environment because it remains serious about background checks, training and accountability.

It is time for the civilian world to do the same.

Michael E. Diamond served as a military intelligence officer in the United States Army Reserve for seven years.

 

REBECCA SOLNIT: THE COUP HAS ALREADY HAPPENED

After the coup, everything seems crazy, the news is overwhelming, and some try to cope by withdrawing or pretending that things are normal. Others are overwhelmed and distraught. I’m afflicted by a kind of hypervigilance of the news, a daily obsession to watch what’s going on that is partly a quest for sense in what seems so senseless. At least I’ve been able to find the patterns and understand who the key players are, but to see the logic behind the chaos brings you face to face with how deep the trouble is.

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via LitHub

May 15, 2018  By Rebecca Solnit

A lot of people are waiting for something dramatic to happen, some line to be crossed, an epic event like the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller III that will allow them to say that now we have had a coup and now we are ready to do something about it.

We already had the coup.

It happened on November 8, 2016, when an unqualified candidate won a minority victory in a corrupted election thanks in part to foreign intervention. Any time is the right time to pour into the streets and demand that it all grinds to a halt and the country change direction. The evidence that the candidate and his goons were aided by and enthusiastically collaborating with a foreign power was pretty clear before that election, and at this point, they are so entangled there isn’t really a reason to regard the born-again alt-right Republican Party and the Putin Regime as separate entities.

Take the recent revelations about the president’s personal errand boy, Michael Cohen. He ran a shell company from which money was used to pay Stormy Daniels to remain silent in what was quite likely an illegal campaign contribution. Money came in, along with major corporations, from a Russian oligarch close to Putin, Viktor Vekselberg, or rather from a corporation called Columbus Nova, run by a cousin of his apparently appointed to mask Vekselberg’s own role. The New Yorker reports, “It is a company technically owned by others but which looks after money owned and controlled in large part—if not entirely—by Vekselberg and his family.” Or as Frank Rich put it at New York Magazine, it’s “an example of collusion so flagrant that it made Trump and Rudy Giuliani suddenly go mute: a Putin crony’s cash turns out to be an essential component of the racketeering scheme used to silence Stormy Daniels and thus clear Trump’s path to the White House in the final stretch of the 2016 election.”

The Washington Post reports that Columbus Nova “is listed as the organization behind a string of websites targeted toward white nationalists and other members of the alt-right.” That is, this Russian oligarch’s company was illegally attempting to influence the election, and they were giving money to the bagboy of the election’s winner. Pro Publica reportsthat another personal lawyer of the president’s, Marc Kasowitz, also worked on behalf of Columbus Nova. There are a thousand other details like that of financial dealings—real estate sales, investments, odd transfers of wealth, social connections, meetings—that tie the Trump mob to the Russian mob—because most of the oligarchs are, in that autocratic regime, in one way or another mobsters, because Putin himself runs that vast country as though he was a mob boss intent on exerting control through fear, and profit through extortion.

The Trump family aspires to mafia status, a thuggocracy, but they are manipulable and bumbling where Putin and company are disciplined and Machiavellian. They hire fools and egomaniacs and compromised figures—Scaramucci, Giuliani, Bannon, Flynn, Nunberg, the wifebeating Rob Porter—and then fire them, with a soap opera’s worth of drama; the competent ones quit, as have many lawyers hired to help Trump navigate his scandals. The Trumps don’t hide things well or keep their mouths shut or manage the plunder they grab successfully, and they keep committing crimes in public. Remember when Trump revealed highly classified data to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister when they visited him in the Oval Office, not long after he fired FBI director James Comey (but before he admitted it was to obstruct Comey’s investigation of his ties to Russia?). There’s a picture of that visit in which the Russians are laughing at him and he looks befuddled. Remember when Donald Jr. met with the Russian agent in Trump Tower in June of 2016 to get purloined data on Clinton and tried to cover it up by saying it was about adoptions? Remember when the Trump team was forced out of the Panama hotel that Trump still profited from, and how his lawyers appealed directly to the president of Panama? How he profits from that business and others despite the emoluments clause of the Constitution? Or the various lawsuits for violating that clause, including one pending from the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia? Or the women suing Trump for defamation? Perhaps not, as so many scandals have piled up on those ones.

From the aforementioned slush fund we just learned about, Cohen made a second payoff to a woman who had sex with and was supposedly impregnated by another wealthy Republican, though there’s suspicion that the $1.6 million payment wasn’t really on behalf of Elliott Broidy, but of Trump himself. Shutting up women is a big part of what these people do, though maybe the existence of those affairs shuts Trump up too. Jonathan Chait writes of last week’s Cohen revelations: “For all the speculation about the existence of the pee tape, the latest revelations prove what is tantamount to the same thing. Russia could leverage the president and his fixer—who, recall, hand-delivered a pro-Russian ‘peace plan’ with Ukraine to Trump’s national-security adviser in January 2017—by threatening to expose secrets they were desperate to keep hidden. Whether those secrets were limited to legally questionable payments, or included knowledge of sexual affairs, is a question of degree but not of kind.”

It’s understandable if you find connecting the dots hard when there are so many dots they blur into a blob. So never mind the webs of connection; let’s talk about natural history. It is not actually true that frogs will remain in warming water until they boil to death, but there are some other natural-history metaphors that help us understand the administration, if not ourselves. I’m thinking of parasitic wasps, a large array of species whose lifecycle much resembles that of the aliens in the old Alien movie series. Some of them lay their eggs inside other animals, notably caterpillars, and the larvae devour the host from the inside.

Five days after the 2017 Trump inauguration, National Geographic reported on a newly discovered species: “Scientists have discovered a new parasitic wasp species with a life cycle so diabolical, they named it after Set, the Egyptian god of evil and chaos. Native to the southeastern United States, this species lays its egg inside the tiny, wooden chambers that another parasitic wasp species, the gall wasp (Bassettia pallida), carves out in sand live oak trees. Once the egg hatches, the crypt-keeper larva burrows into the other wasp and takes over its mind, forcing it to start tunneling through the tree’s bark to freedom—a feat the crypt-keeper struggles to perform on its own. Even more insidious, the larva then forces its victim to drill a hole too small for its own escape. Once the larger wasp is wedged in the opening it’s created, the crypt-keeper consumes its host from the inside out, finally erupting from B. pallida’s forehead out into the world.”

Right now, Devin Nunes is trying to drill a hole out of the Justice Department and push classified information through it, into the open. The Washington Post reported last week, “A subpoena that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) issued to the Justice Department last week made a broad request for all documents about an individual who people close to the matter say is a sensitive, longtime intelligence source for the CIA and FBI. The Justice Department has refused to provide the documents. Intelligence officials say the material could jeopardize the source.” There seems to be widespread expectation that Nunes is fully capable of setting someone up to be assassinated, since his clear agenda since Trump arrived has been to block, disrupt, discredit, or sabotage the investigation of ties between Russia and the president and his pack of thugs. It’s been more than a year since, in a midnight drama, Nunes rushed information to the White House that he got as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Sabotage of national institutions, laws, standards, and the greater good has been accepted as part of the new normal, which is staggeringly far from normal. An elected official is trying to prevent his country’s agencies and its citizens from finding out if and how the president and his goons are tangled up with a foreign regime and how that prevented us from having free and fair elections and may again. As fired FBI director Comey noted in his first briefing of the president, there is no concern with protecting the nation and its information systems. The president himself has done many extraordinary things to try to interfere with the investigation, and last year White House counsel Don McGahn reportedly only prevented him from firing Mueller by threatening to resign if he did.

The president himself has consistently revealed his lack of comprehension of the separation of the three branches of government, or his lack of enthusiasm for it, and has aspired to an authoritarianism like that of the dictatorial men he admires from the Philippines to Egypt to China. Earlier this month, Trump tweeted, “A Rigged System – They don’t want to turn over Documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal ‘justice?’ At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!” He’s also gone after a free press. Another tweet this month: “91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?” It’s an argument that what he likes is real and what he doesn’t like is fake and that he should be able to control the media so that only the former is forthcoming. It’s an argument against facts and the people who document them and the right of the rest of us to see that documentation. Ultimately, it’s an argument against any reality he does not control, because he aspires to dictate reality itself, which is what autocrats do. 

Some of the press is already on board, of course, though we are at a point where we should probably stop calling propaganda outlets news sources. The rightwing Daily Caller, a widely read online publication co-founded by Fox’s Tucker Carlson, has cut out the middle men and the apologists and gone straight to Oleg Deripaska, aka Putin’s favorite oligarch, the one who kept Paul Manafort on a short leash, letting him publish an editorial headlined “The Ever-Changing ‘Russia Narrative’ Is False Public Manipulation.” Traditionally you don’t let the accused party dictate the narrative, especially when the accused is suspected of being part of a foreign conspiracy to subvert the government of the United States. But it’s is no more unusual than Fox’s and the National Enquirer’s deep allegiance to Trump over truth. For Fox that means constantly running disinformation or just avoiding major news that casts the president in a negative light (and for Fox’s Sean Hannity, that means, according to a stunning new piece in New York magazine, a bedtime call with the president every night—“Generally, the feeling is that Sean is the leader of the outside kitchen cabinet,” says one source in the piece, which also reminds us Fox is almost Trump’s sole source of news). For the Enquirer, it means catch-and-kill payoffs to women who might damage his reputation (a catch-and-kill is when you pay for exclusive rights to a story and then don’t publish it).

The Enquirer performed a catch-and-kill operation to silence former playmate Karen McDougal, who had a relationship with Trump around the same time Daniels had her lone sexual encounter with him.

There are so many threads in this tangle involving women and how to shut them up. Deripaska—whose money apparently went to Cohen’s slush fund—took Sergei Prikhodko, Russia’s deputy prime minister, on an August 2016 cruise on his yacht with a very young paid female companion on board who goes by the name Nastya Rybka. Rybka shared a video she recorded of the two of them discussing the US election and says she has 16 hours more of recordings containing valuable information for the Mueller investigation. The Putin regime found the video—and an opposition candidate’s interpretation of it—so significant that the government attempted to shut down YouTube in Russia. Rybka is currently imprisoned in Thailand on prostitution charges. The New York Times reports that earlier this year she said,  “If America gives me protection, I will tell everything I know. I am afraid to go back to Russia. Some strange things can happen.” The US seems disinclined to take her or take a look at her evidence.

More recently the National Enquirer ran a hit piece on Michael Cohen, which makes it seem possible that Cohen is going to rat on Trump and the forces lined up with Trump are going to try to discredit him. CNN reports that it “could be a strong sign President Donald Trump is upset with his personal lawyer and turning against the man,” as though it’s normal for the president to use the tabloids to discredit longtime allies. Acts that would have been shocking if committed by previous administrations are overshadowed and crowded by equally transgressive acts that pile up into something that would like us to forget that this is not normal. Even when Trump is gone, the corruption of a significant percent of the American population, those with whom we don’t merely disagree on principles and goals, but on reality itself, will be a lingering problem. They are weaponized minds, and their hate, as hate always is, is easily directed. The Republican Party itself now stands for little other than its own grasp on power, and for the domination of this country’s white male Christian-identified minority over the majority of us.

This party over country loyalty manifests in many ways. Republican Senator John McCain has been concerned since before the election about Russian intervention, and recently revealed in his memoir what was pretty well known before: that he was given the Steele Dossier and passed it on to James Comey.  He’s been an outspoken opponent of Trump on various issues (and is apparently not inviting Trump to his funeral, which may be quite soon). So Republicans are now lined up to spit on their former presidential candidate or even, prematurely, on his grave: one of Fox’s regulars, conspiracy theorist Lt. General Thomas McInerney, while defending CIA chief nominee Gina Haspel and the utility of torture generally, said that torture “worked on John. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.’” A right-winger on Twitter posted an image of a tombstone for McCain with “songbird” on it. Then White House aide Kelly Sadler dismissed McCain’s opposition to torture with “he’s dying anyway.” No one in the White House saw fit to apologize, though there was a meeting about leaks to the press about which five White House staffers leaked to the press.

The current situation of the United States is obscene, insane, and incredible. If someone had pitched it for a thriller novel or film a few years ago, they would’ve been laughed out of whatever office their proposal made it to because fiction ought to be plausible. It isn’t plausible that a solipsistic buffoon and his retinue of petty crooks made it to the White House, but they did and there they are, wreaking more havoc than anyone would have imagined possible, from environmental laws to Iran nuclear deals. It is not plausible that the party in control of the federal government is for the most part a kleptomaniac criminal syndicate.

It’s an incompetent criminal syndicate full of leaks and stumbles, easily played by the professionals across the sea. For example, Russian trolls used social media and a petition to try to prevent Trump from making Mitt Romney secretary of state. The allegations British spy Christopher Steele turned over included, as Jane Mayer put it in the New Yorker, this: “The Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over US foreign policy—and an incoming President.”

There are so many pieces to this picture, and so many of them point to Russia. The criminal Oliver North, the illegal arms dealer convicted of three felonies related to his cover-up of the Iran-Contra deal, is now the head of the NRA. Bloomberg News reportedlast month, “The NRA’s relationship with Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician and deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who has been linked both to Vladimir Putin and to Russian organized crime, is too troubling to ignore.” The organization seems to have received money from Russia, including this sanctioned oligarch, and it certainly gave a lot of money to Trump. There are weeks where every day a scandal erupts that would have been the defining crisis of previous administrations, and they pile on top of each other, obscuring the ones beneath. Amy Siskind, in her book The List, has tried to compile all the not-normal creeping-authoritarianism of the Trump era, but her project is itself almost too vast to comprehend.

In the case of the parasitic wasp species known as Glyptapanteles, the larvae eat through the caterpillar’s skin and build a cocoon. “At this point, something remarkable and slightly eerie happens, New Scientist explains. “The caterpillar, still alive, behaves as though controlled by the cocooned larvae.” The hijacked caterpillar serves its parasites, not itself, and it dies just as they emerge. Something is going to burst forth from the shell of what they once were. Or perhaps it has. Perhaps they’re it. Or perhaps you can picture the Russians inside the Trump team inside the Republican Party inside the American right wing as a set of Russian dolls. It’s certainly true that Russia’s waging a one-sided cyberwar against this country—through hacking of emails and election rolls, through professional trolls and online propaganda and surveillance. The response? The Trump Administration, according to Politico and other sources, is considering eliminating the administration’s top cybersecurity job.

The United States government has been a force for both good and evil, and in suggesting we defend its institutions I’m not defending all its players, actions, and history. I’m defending our ability to hold it accountable, because the current administration is endeavoring to make itself increasingly unaccountable to us and appears to be all too answerable to a hostile foreign regime. It’s not clear if Russia had any direct effect on, say, exiting the Iran nuclear pact, but Russia is a beneficiary (along with Saudi Arabia, another regime the Trump family is tangled up with). As former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted on May 10, “Days after Trump leaves Iran nuclear deal, oil prices are rising and ruble is strengthening.”

Over and over we’ve seen Trump contort his administration to serve Russia, whether he’s trying to hold back sanctions or to undermine the Paris climate treaty. The question isn’t whether we’re in a zombie horror movie starring an insane clown puppet with some very long and yankable strings, but what we’re going to do about it. Because what all those little pieces add up to, what the tangle sorts out as if you pay attention is: this is life after the coup.

After the coup, everything seems crazy, the news is overwhelming, and some try to cope by withdrawing or pretending that things are normal. Others are overwhelmed and distraught. I’m afflicted by a kind of hypervigilance of the news, a daily obsession to watch what’s going on that is partly a quest for sense in what seems so senseless. At least I’ve been able to find the patterns and understand who the key players are, but to see the logic behind the chaos brings you face to face with how deep the trouble is.

We still have an enormous capacity to resist the administration, not least by mass civil disobedience and other forms of noncooperation. Sweeping the November elections wouldn’t hurt either, if that results in candidates we hold accountable afterward. Or both. I don’t know if there’s a point at which it will be too late, though every week more regulations, administrators, and norms crash and burn—but we are long past the point at which it is too soon.

They Were Trained for This Moment

How the student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High demonstrate the power of a comprehensive education.

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via Slate

By DAHLIA LITHWICK

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to class Wednesday morning two weeks and moral centuries after a tragic mass shooting ended the lives of 17 classmates and teachers. Sen. Marco Rubio marked their return by scolding them for being “infected” with “arrogance” and “boasting.” The Florida legislature marked their return by enacting a $67 million program to arm school staff, including teachers, over the objections of students and parents. Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill opted to welcome them back by ignoring their wishes on gun control, which might lead a cynic to believe that nothing has changed in America after yet another horrifying cycle of child murder and legislative apathy.

But that is incorrect. Consumers and businesses are stepping in where the government has cowered. Boycotts may not influence lawmakers, but they certainly seem to be changing the game in the business world. And the students of Parkland, Florida, unbothered by the games played by legislators and lobbyists, are still planning a massive march on Washington. These teens have—by most objective measures—used social media to change the conversation around guns and gun control in America.

Now it’s time for them to change the conversation around education in America, and not just as it relates to guns in the classroom. The effectiveness of these poised, articulate, well-informed, and seemingly preternaturally mature student leaders of Stoneman Douglas has been vaguely attributed to very specific personalities and talents. Indeed, their words and actions have been so staggeringly powerful, they ended up fueling laughable claims about crisis actors, coaching, and fat checks from George Soros. But there is a more fundamental lesson to be learned in the events of this tragedy: These kids aren’t freaks of nature. Their eloquence and poise also represent the absolute vindication of the extracurricular education they receive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

The students of Stoneman Douglas have been the beneficiaries of the kind of 1950s-style public education that has all but vanished in America.

Despite the gradual erosion of the arts and physical education in America’s public schools, the students of Stoneman Douglas have been the beneficiaries of the kind of 1950s-style public education that has all but vanished in America and that is being dismantled with great deliberation as funding for things like the arts, civics, and enrichment are zeroed out. In no small part because the school is more affluent than its counterparts across the country (fewer than 23 percent of its students received free or reduced-price lunches in 2015–16, compared to about 64 percent across Broward County Public Schools) these kids have managed to score the kind of extracurricular education we’ve been eviscerating for decades in the United States. These kids aren’t prodigiously gifted. They’ve just had the gift of the kind of education we no longer value.

Part of the reason the Stoneman Douglas students have become stars in recent weeks is in no small part due to the fact that they are in a school system that boasts, for example, of a “system-wide debate program that teaches extemporaneous speaking from an early age.” Every middle and high school in the district has a forensics and public-speaking program. Coincidentally, some of the students at Stoneman Douglas had been preparing for debates on the issue of gun control this year, which explains in part why they could speak to the issues from day one.

The student leaders of the #NeverAgain revolt were also, in large part, theater kids who had benefited from the school’s exceptional drama program. Coincidentally, some of these students had been preparing to perform Spring Awakening, a rock musical from 2006. As the New Yorker describes it in an essay about the rise of the drama kids, that musical tackles the question of “what happens when neglectful adults fail to make the world safe or comprehensible for teen-agers, and the onus that neglect puts on kids to beat their own path forward.” Weird.

The student leaders at Stoneman Douglas High School have also included, again, not by happenstance, young journalists, who’d worked at the school paper, the Eagle Eye, with the supervision of talented staff. One of the extraordinary components of the story was the revelation that David Hogg, student news director for the school’s broadcast journalism program, WMSD-TV, was interviewing his own classmates as they hid in a closet during the shooting, and that these young people had the wherewithal to record and write about the events as they unfolded. As Christy Ma, the paper’s staff editor, later explained, “We tried to have as many pictures as possible to display the raw emotion that was in the classroom. We were working really hard so that we could show the world what was going on and why we need change.”

Mary Beth Tinker actually visited the school in 2013 to talk to the students about her role in Tinker v. Des Moines, the seminal Supreme Court case around student speech and protest. As she described it to me, the school’s commitment to student speech and journalism had been long in evidence, even before these particular students were activated by this month’s horrific events. Any school committed to bringing in a student activist from the Vietnam era to talk about protest and freedom is a school more likely than not to be educating activists and passionate students.

To be sure, the story of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students is a story about the benefits of being a relatively wealthy school district at a moment in which public education is being vivisected without remorse or mercy. But unless you’re drinking the strongest form of Kool-Aid, there is simply no way to construct a conspiracy theory around the fact that students who were being painstakingly taught about drama, media, free speech, political activism, and forensics became the epicenter of the school-violence crisis and handled it creditably. The more likely explanation is that extracurricular education—one that focuses on skills beyond standardized testing and rankings—creates passionate citizens who are spring-loaded for citizenship.

Perhaps instead of putting more money into putting more guns into our classrooms, we should think about putting more money into the programs that foster political engagement and skills. In Sen. Rubio’s parlance, Marjory Stoneman Douglas was fostering arrogance. To the rest of the world, it was building adults. 

America the Banana Republic

Thanks to Trump the tinhorn dictator and those who elected him, this country is no longer a beacon of freedom, but a laughingstock.

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via Bill Moyers

BY NEAL GABLER | NOVEMBER 29, 2017

When people call Donald Trump an authoritarian, it almost gives him more credit than he deserves.

You don’t think favorably of authoritarians; they are despicable. But you do think of them as monstrously large, grievously terrifying, as somehow taking the measure of the polity they control and drawing on its stature to puff themselves up, even as they destroy their nation’s moral core. Despots like Mussolini and Hitler epitomized evil on the grandest possible scale. To call them clowns would trivialize the unconscionable horrors they inflicted.

Trump is certainly an authoritarian, but he is more of a tinhorn dictator, a tiny, negligible man who, rather than inflating himself with the nation’s grandeur, has managed to deflate the nation with his own insipidness. Thanks to him, America is now a banana republic. It is no longer a country of soaring ideas and idealism, a beacon to the world, an example of freedom at home and a protector of freedom abroad, an anchor of sanity in a world often bouncing on the waves of madness.

Whatever her failings, America was once majestic. Now she is hopelessly diminished — a wealthier version of the corrupt nations in the developing world that we used to ridicule. And we owe it all to Donald Trump for making America small again.

The meme of America withering into a banana republic is not a new one. Some observers made the claim after the 2000 presidential election, when Republicans successfully wrested the presidency from Al Gore, just the way cabals do in those banana republics. And it was toted out again in 2008 during the great financial meltdown when the economy was revealed to be not some great dynamo but a façade hiding a giant swindle, banana republic style. Citing the inability of the congressional Republicans to do anything but dither in the face of crisis, Paul Krugman called us a “banana republic with nukes.”

In Vanity Fair, the late Christopher Hitchens was more expansive. He enumerated the many ways in which America, the last great hope of mankind, had become a banana republic — primarily the way the government was willing to bail out the oligarchs while letting the general public suffer.

Hitchens wrote:

The chief principle of banana-ism is that of kleptocracy, whereby those in positions of influence use their time in office to maximize their own gains, always ensuring that any shortfall is made up by those unfortunates whose daily life involves earning money rather than making it.

Hitchens added that there is absolutely no accountability for the thieves. This all should sound very familiar this week, as Republicans retool the entire tax system to rob from the poor and middle classes and give to corporations and the wealthy. If that isn’t a banana republic, I don’t know what is. 

But Krugman and Hitchens were writing before we had a bona fide banana republic dictator to rule our kleptocracy. And while America long has had the economic and social characteristics of a banana republic, it took Trump, who has the instincts and temperament of a gangster, to finish the transformation. There is no disguising it now. We are what we are.

Tick down the list. If kleptocracy is the hallmark of a banana republic, Trump is the kleptocrat-in-chief. He not only appears to be using the presidency as his own personal ATM, now promoting a tax-cut scam by which he stands to gain tens of millions of dollars, he also has been petty enough to steer business to his hotels and hawked his “Make America Great Again” tchotchkes. Check.

Apparently not satisfied to have enriched himself at the public’s expense, Trump has brought unprecedented nepotism to the presidency in a way that only tinhorn dictators do, giving his family access to the public trough while placing his unqualified cronies in positions of power. In this administration, everyone may be on the take. Check.

Just about every Trump directive, from health care to the environment to so-called tax reform to trade policy, seems expressly designed to give benefits to a small coterie of the wealthiest Americans while the rest of the country goes to hell. There is no longer even the pretense of concealment as there was in the good old days of Republicanism. Sure sounds like a banana republic to me. Check. 

Like other tinhorn dictators, Trump has no use for the essentials of democracy. He openly attacks a free press and has a house press of his own, Fox News, and soon, quite possibly, Time Inc., the acquisition of which has been partially financed by the Koch brothers. More, there are allegations that he may using the levers of government to punish his press opponents, using the Justice Department’s antitrust suit against the proposed AT&T purchase of Time Warner to try to force the divestment of CNN.

This, too, is unprecedented in an American democracy, but not in a banana republic. Meanwhile, the Voice of America has placed on administrative leave (a reporter whose bias has leaked into his stories and who on the side has been advancing Trump’s right-wing agenda and casting racial epithets at others in the media. Check.

Trump has taken aim at the electoral process itself, not only claiming that his loss of the popular vote was a fraud, but empaneling a government commission whose sole purpose is thought to be the disenfranchisement of voters who might oppose him. This is pure banana republicanism and an affront to democracy. Check. 

Banana republics are often agent states — that is, they operate at the behest of larger states. In fact the phrase “banana republic” first was coined by the writer O. Henry back in 1904, to describe the dependence of Central American countries on American businesses like United Fruit, which ran plantations in those countries and exported bananas.

Now, America itself is one of those agent states, thanks to Trump’s troubling obeisance to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Let’s not pretend otherwise just so we can save some face. There is no more face to save. American elections interfered with by Russia and a president intimidated by a Russian dictator? Check.

In banana republics, ideology is nothing, policy is nothing, ethics are nothing. Power is everything. Trump is notoriously nonideological. He has no policies or any interest in them. His sole desire is to feed his own inflated ego. In this, he stands with other banana republic potentates. Check.

Tinhorn dictators do everything they can to dismantle a system of checks and balances. Trump has done everything in his power to do the same.

Tinhorn dictators do everything they can to dismantle a system of checks and balances. Trump has done everything in his power to do the same — from dismissing FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Trump, intimidating the Justice Department and taking over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to…. well, you name it. Untrammeled power is his goal. Check.

In a banana republic, power is concentrated in the hands of one man or a small coterie. Trump has been openly contemptuous of any delegation of authority, even calling himself the “only one that matters,” which is dictator talk, not the talk of a democratically elected chief.

What’s more, he actively has worked to damage any countervailing authorities, essentially gutting the entire diplomatic corps, to cite just one example. Check.

In a banana republic, the dictator makes his own rules and lives by his own reality. Clearly, Trump thinks he is above the law, be it legal or moral. He boasts of it. He also is above fact. The latest example of the thousands of his presidency: According to The New York Times, he privately has declared that the Access Hollywood tape was not actually him! Banana republic time. Check. 

And last but not least, there is the tragi-comic state itself — a kind of laughingstock of governance. America has joined that company of buffoonish nations that keep tripping over their own feet. By one account, when Trump took his first world tour in May, other leaders were aghast at Trump’s ineptitude. One foreign expert commented on how “rapidly the American brand is depreciatingover the last 20 weeks.” Check.

Donald Trump has demeaned himself, but he has also demeaned the country that was deranged enough to elect him. These characteristics speak to a corrupt and desiccated nation, one that is staggering into oblivion.

The “alt-right” insist that until Trump, America was going the way of Rome — rotting from the inside. They are wrong. It is not decadence that is destroying America, but petulance. We are going not the way of Rome but the way of Guatemala or Zimbabwe or the Philippines — the way of banana republics. Thus does this once great nation tumble.

Check and double check.