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Watch Me Sound Off About Donald Trump on A&E

Last April I sat down with a TV crew to film an interview about the current resident of the White House, who was the subject of
Trump: The Saga of America’s Most Powerful Real Estate Baron, a biography by my father that was published back in 1985. Logically enough, the TV crew would have preferred to speak with my old man, but he’s only communicating via ouija board these days. So they settled for me, since I helped research the book and stay current as a political journalist.

Our interactions with Trump himself in the course of preparing that biography were limited–but interesting. They consisted of a combination of vague hand-waving about maybe cooperating, interspersed with threats from Trump himself, in his John Baron alter-ego, and from legendary hatchet man Roy Cohn. Really, there’s a certain historical cachet in having your family threatened by Cohn. Anyway, there was no doubt back then that Trump and company were nasty pieces of work. This was widely known among journalists of the day, and among the business and government types with whom Trump rubbed shoulders, and who differed from him less in substance than in style. He was more flamboyantly and openly an example of what anybody thriving in New York’s real estate and political environment was to some significant degree.

In fact, in the course of the interview I emphasized how Trump’s political style is very common for New York. It continues to this day in the festering corruption of the administrations of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Blatant corruption is so commonplace that state residents don’t even seem that bothered by conduct that would be seen as outrageous almost anyplace else. Trump differs from other New York pols primarily in being seemingly less self-aware about image than the likes of Cuomo and De Blasio, who know to present themselves as idealists while selling favors; The Donald, by contrast, rubs his cynicism in people’s faces.

We’ll see how much of what I had to say made the final cut.

The results of that interview, along with interviews with many other people, have been rolled into Biography: The Trump Dynasty, airing for three nights, beginning tonight, February 25, 2019, on A&E.

Dear Trumpkins and Clintonistas, Your Candidates Are Evil

Choose the form of your destructor!

Corrupt-ilicious or tyrant-tastic?

As I write these words, the FBI is reportedly investigating, after an aborted earlier attempt, Hillary Clinton’s use of the Clinton Foundation to, essentially, peddle access and government positions to generous donors. The revelations are actually just the culmination of a long-festering pattern of behavior that has seen suspicious favors done for individuals and companies including UBS, Uranium One, and the Saudi government.

Her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, is busy trying to shrug off reports that his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, pocketed millions of illegal dollars in payments from a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. Trump, famously, has a man-crush on the thuggish Russian strongman and has even gone so far as to deny Russian military designs on Ukraine after Putin seized Crimea. Or maybe the money is unrelated–after all, he praised North Korea’s ruthless dictator, Kim Jong Un and the Chinese government’s brutal suppression of protests at Tiananmen Square without obvious compensation. This is independent of Trump’s attack just yesterday on freedom of the press.

Oh, and both Trump and Clinton have very serious problems with free speech in general.

Let’s face it: These are two of the shittiest creatures to ever to crawl out from under a rock and scurry into American politics, which is saying something, considering that it’s not an industry that brings out the best in people. But even compared to the control freaks, Klansmen, and grifters who have long made their livings by seeking government office, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton bring an unprecedented degree of overt grasping corruption and explicit contempt for the rest of the human race to their quests for the vast powers of the U.S. presidency. It’s no stretch to say that they embody evil in a way that we rarely have so openly rubbed in our faces.

Choose the form of the destructor, indeed.

To their credit, a good many Americans have glanced at what the Republican and Democratic parties left on the carpet and immediately gagged at what they’d stepped in. Clinton and Trump have consistently scored record high unfavorable ratings with voters. But they went on to win the nominations of their respective political parties anyway, testifying to the sad shape of these two senile and creaky organizations. Since then, “a full 13 percent of Americans would rather have a meteor hit Earth than vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton,” according to pollsters.

And yet…I’m still hearing people say that we have to choose between the psychopath and the sociopath. We must choose the form of the destructor, because it’s irresponsible to vote third party/refuse to vote. They insist that Gary Johnson and Jill Stein can’t win the election (because you shouldn’t vote for them, I guess) and not voting makes you responsible for the the destructor who ultimately triumphs. We must embrace evil, or else the other evil will win.

I think Julian Assange of Wikileaks had it right when he said, “You’re asking me, do I prefer cholera or gonorrhea?” Neither for me, please.

Look, you can talk the inevitability of the two-party system all you like, but that doesn’t mean it has to be these two parties. In healthy democracies, political parties rise and fall. In recent years, Canada’s Reform Party competed with and then supplanted the Progressive Conservative Party before changing its name to “Conservative.” Before that, Britain’s Labour Party bumped the Liberal Party out of the ranks of the two dominant parties (though the displaced entity, now known as Liberal Democrats, hung on and is part of the current government as a junior partner to the Conservative Party). Even in the U.S. the Republican Party croaked the Whig Party in the 1850s and took its place. Political parties are private organizations. They live only so long as people see a need for them, and can be replaced when they do awful things like nominating evil people as their candidates for president.

Did I mention that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both horrible human beings and that to pick between them is to choose different brands of malevolence?

Look, if you really just can’t get enough of corrupt-ilicious Hillary or find the Donald just tyrant-tastic, knock yourself out with your chosen destructor. Just don’t act astonished when the rest of us back away with a frozen look of horror on our faces.

Because we’re better than that. And we’re still trying to scrape your candidate off our shoes.

IRS Prone to Target Non-Profits Unfairly, Says Government Agency

The headline above should be news to exactly nobody, Well…Except for the president of the United States. He went on John Stewart on Tuesday to insist that no way, no how, did the Internal Revenue Service deliberately target conservative organizations. The Washington Times summarizes it thusly:

Mr. Obama said Congress “passed a crummy law” that provided vague guidance to the people who worked at the IRS. And he said that employees implemented the law “poorly and stupidly.”

The president went on to say that the “real scandal around the IRS is that they have been so poorly funded that they cannot go after these folks who are deliberately avoiding tax payments.”

Note that John Stewart, towards the end of the chat, called for mandatory national service for Americans. So this episode is a must-watch of epic fail.

But Obama’s comments come after the IRS’s own inspector general admitted that the tax agency targeted Tea Party groups “based on names and policy positions instead of indications of political campaign intervention.”

And, as if to emphasize the point, the day after Obama smarmed away concerns about the use of the IRS as a political weapon, the Government Accountability Office issued its own report, warning “The control deficiencies GAO found increase the risk that EO could select organizations for examination in an unfair manner—for example, based on an organization’s religious, educational, political, or other views.”

But it’s all on Congress and a “crummy law,” of course.

Fast and Furious scandal looks increasingly like a plot from a bad novel

“ATF officials didn’t intend to publicly disclose their own role in letting Mexican cartels obtain the weapons, but emails show they discussed using the sales, including sales encouraged by ATF, to justify a new gun regulation called ‘Demand Letter 3’. That would require some U.S. gun shops to report the sale of multiple rifles or ‘long guns.’ Demand Letter 3 was so named because it would be the third ATF program demanding gun dealers report tracing information.”

That’s what CBS is reporting today, in the latest news on the Fast and Furious scandal, in which ATF agents leaned on gun dealers to sell weapons to obvious criminals to … see what would happen? That’s what it seemed like at first, anyway. Of course, what happened is that some of the guns — whoopsies! — were used in murders.

Now, it seems, there was another purpose behind Fast and Furious. According to emails exchanged by ATF officials themselves, the ATF applied pressure to gun dealers to continue sales with which the gun dealers were uncomfortable so that they could point to the purchase of guns by Mexican drug dealers as evidence that further legal restrictions were required on the sale of firearms.

Y’know, if I wrote a novel with this as a storyline, I’d be accused of paranoia and unrealistic plotting.

You can keep your not-so-new nationalism

I’ve always found Teddy Roosevelt to be among the more repugnant of the already repulsive batch of grifters and autocrats we’ve been unfortunate enough to call “Mr. President.” He managed to combine militarism, authoritarianism and economic collectivism with a cult of the state that he called “new nationalism.” As presidential scholar Richard M. Abrams puts it in his discussion of the 26th president, “He spoke righteously for freedom but placed individual liberty in the context of a greater obligation to the nation. He acknowledged that most individuals probably preferred business as usual, to be left to cultivate their own gardens and to pursue modest livelihoods and comforts, but he viewed such an outlook with scorn.”

In economic terms, TR was obsessed with “national efficiency” — a principle he expounded in his (in)famous new nationalism speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. He called for powerful federal and state governments, with all-encompassing powers that allow for no “neutral ground” where people might hide from the government. Said he, “I do not ask for the over centralization; but I do ask that we work in a spirit of broad and far-reaching nationalism where we work for what concerns our people as a whole.”

People who disagreed with his views, he implied (or explicitly stated) were unpatriotic.

If he’d made his speech 20 years later, Teddy Roosevelt’s views could have comfortably clothed themselves in brown shirts (as could those of his cousin who was actually in office at that time).

So, when Barack Obama tramps back to Osawatomie to deliberately echo TR’s speech and views, color me nauseated. “[I]n America, we are greater together – when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share. … [A]s a nation, we have always come together, through our government, to help create the conditions where both workers and businesses can succeed.”

Once again, the appeal to tribal identity, the call to submerge individual interests in the name of the greater good of the group — as identified by the speaker. And if you don’t agree with the speaker’s very specific idea of what’s good and right? Well, Teddy Roosevelt called you a “reactionary”; Obama, in our psychologized age, insists you and your co-dissidents have “collective amnesia.”

But we live in an age that’s not just psychologized, but fact-checked, and even the Washington Post called bullshit on much of Barry’s supporting evidence for his exhumed not-so-new nationalism.

On Obama’s insistence that “expensive” tax cuts for the “wealthy” are responsible for the current economic mess:

Obama certainly inherited an economic mess, and we have argued he does not deserve blame for the massive loss of jobs early in his administration. But it seems odd to keep blaming poor job growth on the Bush tax cut, especially because Obama himself pushed through a nearly $1-trillion stimulus and took other actions that have affected the economy, for better or worse.

Finally, Obama blames the Bush tax cuts for “massive deficits.” It is certainly true that the Bush tax cuts helped blow a hole in the budget. But they did not do it all by themselves. We looked at length at this issue earlier this year, assisted by new Congressional Budget Office data.

The data showed that the biggest contributor to the disappearance of projected surpluses was increased spending, which accounted for 36.5 percent of the decline in the nation’s fiscal position, followed by incorrect CBO estimates, which accounted for 28 percent. The Bush tax cuts (along with some Obama tax cuts) were responsible for just 24 percent.

And on the president’s insistence that the uber-wealthy are even more successful at tax avoidance than even the Occupiers have charged in their wildest fever-dream accusations:

“Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent — 1 percent. That is the height of unfairness.”

This is a striking statistic. But the only evidence that the White House could offer for it was a TV clip of a conversation on Bloomberg TV, in which correspondent Gigi Stone made this assertion during a discussion about the tax strategies that the very wealthy use to avoid paying taxes.  The TV clip was promoted by the left-leaning website Think Progress.

Stone quoted from a Bloomberg News article last month that reported on such tax strategies, which mostly involve complicated ways to defer paying capital gains taxes. But the article never made the one-percent claim. It also noted that the IRS had gotten more hostile to such transactions in recent years.

An administration official conceded the White House had no actual data to back up the president’s assertion, but argued that other reports showed that some of the wealthy pay little in taxes.

The Post even quoted Judge Learned Hand pointing out that “Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury.”

So, calls for authoritarianism founded on appeals to tribal identity, based on manufactured data. Thanks anyway, but I’ll pass.

Attempted murder isn’t good enough for him

Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, the man accused of shooting at the White House, will be charged with attempting to assassinate the president or a member of his staff, says CNN.

This comes as a bit of a surprise to me, since I had assumed that blasting away at people of whatever station was pretty well-covered by attempted-murder laws, but there it is: 18 USC Sec. 1751, PRESIDENTIAL AND PRESIDENTIAL STAFF ASSASSINATION, KIDNAPPING, AND ASSAULT. It’s a statute that seems to pretty much take all the pre-existing legal definitions and penalties for unprovokedly killing, snatching or stomping people, and restate them for the special cases of the president, veep and the busy bees swarming around them. The penalties seem to be the same for the run-of-the-mill versions of murder, kidnapping and assault — even referring directly to the generic murder penalties in the case of assassination. That’s not much of a surprise, since the U.S. Constitution doesn’t really allow much latitude for penalties beyond “death or by imprisonment for life.”

In Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s case, the operative penalty would appear to be “imprisonment for any term of years or for life.”

So, the question then is … Why? I mean, murder is already illegal. So is attempted murder. The penalty is already set at the allowable maximum. So why create a new law to address circumstances covered under an old law, and impose penalties that are already in place?

The answer is clear, and depressing. The law exists merely to separate the leaders from the proles. Kill one of the herd, and you’re a mere murderer. Kill el jefe, and you get charged under a special law as an assassin, because the generic law isn’t good enough to cover acts against the leadership. A different law must be created to cover what is officially viewed as a different class of crime, not because of the act, but because of the elevated status of the victim.

I’m absolutely certain that the penalties would have been jacked up if they weren’t already set at the maximum, as they have been at the state level for police officers (where a victim’s status as a law-enforcement officer is generally considered an aggravating circumstance during sentencing), and even police dogs.

Theoretically, I imagine that Ortega-Hernandez could be charged under both the attempted murder and assassination laws, and punished independently for the same act. Especially if the attempted-murder law of the separate jurisdiction of D.C. are brought into play.

You have to love our fearless leaders, They’re so important that they need to be protected by a special category of laws kept untainted by our own grubby statutes.

Steven Chu hates waste (at least when it comes to light bulbs)

Complete douchebag

Secretary Chu doesn't want you wasting your own money. Aren't you lucky?

Control freaks are rarely entirely open about their control freakery, but on Friday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu engaged in an unusual bit of complete honesty during a conference call with reporters. The subject was the ban on incandescent light bulbs, and current efforts in the House of Representatives to repeal that law. Said Secretary Chu in supporting the ban, “We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.”

Well, maybe calling the ban on traditional incandescent light bulbs a “ban” is unfair. After all, despite actually boasting about taking away people’ choices, Chu claims on the DOE’s EnergyBlog that:

The standards do NOT ban incandescent bulbs. You’ll still be able to buy energy-saving halogen incandescent bulbs that look exactly the same as the ones you’re used to, and more than pay for themselves over the life of the 100 watt replacement bulb.

You see, even though the government has outlawed light bulbs that don’t meet standards that traditional incandescent light bulbs can’t meet, you can still purchase a much-more expensive product that looks the same, so shut up already.

Ummm … no. If you outlaw something, that really is a ban — as telegraphed to begin with by Chu’s “taking away a choice” admission.

As for the justification for taking away a choice … Isn’t it obvious to everybody that, when we accuse others of “wast[ing] their own money,” we’re really just saying we don’t approve of the way they spend their dough and they ought to change their priorities to be more like us? Your mom accuses you of wasting money on comic books, your husband objects to you wasting money on shoes, your in-laws insist your fun vacations are a waste (you should visit them more often) … It’s never a statement of an objective standard; it’s just a shorthand way to nag somebody to shift his spending preferences to brink them in line with those of the speaker.

I know people who really like the new CFLs — one even gives them away to her presumably less-enlightened friends. She’s sort of a Johnny Appleseed of the damned things. And good for her — if she wants to buy them with her own money, that’s her choice. But we don’t all have the same preferences. That some of us want to spend our money on different kinds of light bulbs than Steven Chu likes, doesn’t mean that we’re wasting a penny. We have the right to make our own choices and spend what Chu concedes is our own money.

Or maybe Steven Chu would like us to paw through the details of his expenditures to find a few examples of “waste” we might want to discourage.

Chuck Schumer, surprisingly, finds something else he wants to ban

Many, many years ago, when I was a young man and the Internet (which wasn’t even called that yet) was little more than a very awkward way for engineering grad students to exchange porn, one of my roommates returned to school after spending his post-freshman summer as an intern in the office of a young New York congressman. My roomie was excited because this second-termer openly described himself around the office — though not publicly, in the age of Reagan — as a “socialist.” That my roommate considered this a positive was no surprise — we attended a small, private college in New England, a region seemingly established as a haven for institutions where smart people can spend a lot of money to be taught how swell it is to boss other people around.

Anyway, the congressman in question was Chuck Schumer.

Can you tell that I'm pleasuring myself with a swatch of chainmail?

Chuck Schumer asks, "Can you tell that I'm pleasuring myself with a swatch of chainmail?"

In the years since, I don’t know if Schumer has retained his one-time affection for whatever brand of socialism he once favored. What I do know, however, is that he has established himself as the preeminent control freak in the Senate, having since moved to the upper house of Congress. From self-defense issues to undeclared wars and torture to, most recently, private virtual currencies and online drug markets, Schumer almost always picks the side that expands state power at the expense of the individual. Even when supposedly championing the little guy, it’s always on the way to handing more authority to some government agency.

That Schumer sometimes seems to pick his targets based on what would most benefit his friends in the financial industry demonstrates that he may have gone the way of most good socialists, and jettisoned the populist trappings in favor of the benefits to be had from wielding power.

Senator Charles Schumer’s recent fulminating over the alternative online currency, Bitcoin, and its use in the Silk Road online drug market, fits right into his unsavory role as a ferocious campaigner against grassroots-level stuff that he doesn’t really understand, beyond the fact that it clearly poses a challenge to government power. If history is any guide, he’ll propose some legislation that only peripherally impacts his intended target, somehow benefits a campaign donor — and probably gets shot down in this Congress, anyway.

Of course, Charles Schumer does represent the current generation in a fine New York tradition of politicians who govern as autocratic ideologues, while also finding a way to line their pockets. Yes, the Empire State has seemlessly conjoined fanatical authoritarianism with self-aggrandizing corruption to an extent that’s hard to imagine elsewhere, but would be exceeded in its sheer repulsiveness only by a business that made its money torturing kittens.

Repulsive elsewhere, that is, but not in New York. Back home, Charles Schumer is apparently just what people want in a Senator.

And people ask me why I left.

Politicians miss no opportunity to exploit Tucson shooting

Let me express, for the record, my contempt for the predictable creatures who see in the Tucson shooting spree and assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords an opportunity to smear people who speak unkindly about the government. It would be bad enough to extrapolate from one actor some sort of false collective guilt for anybody who shares a few political or social views, but that’s an extra stretch in this case, given that the only consistent strain in Jared Lee Loughner’s ravings about mathematics and mind control was whatever was provided by the random misfirings of his neurons. His YouTube page listed favorite books including both Mein Kampf and Communist Manifesto — potentially indicating a catholic interest in totalitarianism, though I doubt that well-connected a thread runs through his thoughts.

Basically, Loughner’s crime can’t be blamed on anybody but himself, and his writings and actions lay quite a solid groundwork for a criminal insanity defense.

But never doubt the readiness of the usual suspects to piggyback favorite pre-packaged authoritarian bills on the emotional reaction to the shooting.

Rep. Robert Brady, (jackass, Pennsylvania), is pushing a pet law “making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.”

“Perceived as threatening”? That’s great. I have yet to meet a government official who doesn’t “perceive” the slightest criticism as the equivalent of a thrown glove.

Says CNN:

Brady said it is now time to put an end to the hyper-charged language.

“The rhetoric is just ramped up so negatively, so high, that we have got to shut this down,” Brady said, noting that “I’ve had my share of death threats” over his many years in politics.

Well, why not take advantage of a brutal crime to clamp down on antigovernment language and harsh words directed at agents of the state who command police forces and armies that rack up a body count the nation’s nuts will never equal? Yes, it’s an excellent moment to crack down on free speech that makes wildly powerful officials uncomfortable.

Hey, Brady, how’s this for rhetoric?: You’re an un-American thug.

And Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (one-trick pony, New York) is at it again with … oh guess, would you? Yes, it’s an anti-firearms measure. She, again, wants to ban high-capacity magazines and clips.

Hey, McCarthy, how many innocent civilians killed by police would be saved by such a ban? Oh, that’s right, the ban would apply only to civilians.

This is from a quick scan of news headlines, by the way. I’m sure that more fun laws are coming.

On a milder, but sadder note: Special condolences to the family of Christina-Taylor Green. Nobody should have died on that Tucson street, but the death of a child is always especially horrible.

Update: Christina-Taylor Green’s father says her murder shouldn’t be used as a justification for more restrictions on liberty.

TSA pervs get no love

First, let’s acknowledge that the Transportation Security Administration isn’t really the problem. Or rather, it’s not the source of the problem. The TSA goons are just good Germans, following orders issued from up above by politicians and high-level bureaucrats who get hard-ons from the very thought of wielding power over the rest of the human race, and who often wield that power as intrusively as possible just to be perceived as “doing something” to protect the sheep from the panic of the moment.

But you have to start somewhere. So I sent the following email to the TSA:

Dear TSA Goons,

Fuck you very much. Yes, I understand that you didn’t set in place the policies that have set us on the road to a police state — that was the un-American, control-freak politicians who have exploited fear to enhance their own power and erode our liberty. But you have happily taken and held jobs that involve incursions into individual rights and privacy. That’s evil. You and the government behind you are worse enemies of America than Osama Bin Laden ever has been. I look forward to the day that the bunch of you are once again unemployed and back to peeking through bathroom windows to satisfy your urges.

Happy Holidays!

I added the “happy holidays” just so there wouldn’t be any hard feelings. They mean well — or so I’m told of the kind folks who threatened John Tyner with a lawsuit and hefty fine for leaving the security folks so unfulfilled with his gropus interruptus. After all, they did back off (sort of) after a wave of international ridicule made them look like petulant thugs.

Anyway, Tyner threatened to have the TSA pervs arrested if they touched his junk, and at least one California DA — Steve Wagstaffe in San Mateo County — appears willing to make good on that threat. Rep. Ron Paul has now introduced a bill intended to insure that all the usual laws against groping, frottage and making lewd images of other people apply to TSA agents to the same extent as to the rest of us, so they couldn’t claim immunity.

Fair is fair!

I’m still waiting to see how this all shakes out. For Christmas, my family will be driving eight hours rather than going anywhere near a TSA checkpoint. Not only am I not looking forward to a scope-or-grope encounter, I’m also not all that eager to find out how my email has been received by a gang of over-powerful bureaucrats with a history of thin skins.