Which Senators will vote to confirm former torture supervisor Gina Haspel? Only those so corrupted by politics they no longer have a moral compass

The big question in my mind since learning that former torture Chief Gina Haspel has received the nomination for next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been: what should we demand of Haspel to demonstrate that she won’t allow torture to take place under her watch?

Haspel gained notoriety when the news media revealed that she was in charge of a CIA torture facility in Thailand at which at least two suspected terrorists underwent waterboarding. Haspel later participated in an attempted cover-up of the American torture gulag by helping to destroy videotapes that showed torture at a number of secret CIA locations throughout the world. This cover-up strongly suggests that Haspel and her comrades knew that the cruel techniques that they were ordering others to use to interrogate human beings were both illegal and morally wrong.

Certainly a simple statement that she will follow all U.S. laws will not suffice to convince us Haspel’s torture days are in the past, since she could turn around at a later date and say that torture is legal or use an interrogation technique that is clearly torture but declare it isn’t, backed by the weaselly lawyering of the next generation of John Yoos and David Addingtons.

But is it enough for her to state unequivocally that the CIA will not engage in torture nor encourage the intelligence forces of our allies to do so? Doesn’t she also have to define in the most explicit terms what she means by torture and detail the horrific, inhumane acts that she won’t allow to happen under her watch? Will it help if she also cites the overwhelming evidence gathered through centuries that torture does not work?—evidence that the CIA and the Bush II administration chose to ignore.

Will laying out a full policy against all types of physical and mental torture be sufficient to convince the Senate—and the American people—that the CIA won’t revitalize the torture gulag that the Bush II administration established in the first decade of the 21st century? Does she also have to admit that what she ordered others to do was illegal and wrong and that she regrets doing it? Will anything less than a complete and abject mea culpa satisfy our need to protect the United States from ever debasing itself again through the use of torture.


None of it will be enough. There is nothing that Gina Haspel could say or do that could convince any Senator to vote to confirm her as CIA chief except for those so corrupted by politics and self-interest that they no longer have any interest in the United States following its ethical compass.

That doesn’t mean that I believe that once they have served their time we should not give criminals a second chance, restore their rights and let them feely pursue careers and other interests. I believe fully and faithfully in rehabilitation and reintegration of virtually all who commit criminal acts. If you did the time, we should set aside the crime. But I don’t believe in asking the fox to guard the henhouse. We’d be foolish to make a reformed embezzler chief financial officer of a company or to have a reformed sex offender chaperone a field trip of college-aged women.

Besides, up to now Haspel has admitted to no wrong-doing and has never been punished for either the torture or the attempted cover-up. While condemning our use of torture, the United States government has done nothing to punish or even condemn those who established the torture regime and gave the orders to put dozens of people—many innocent of anything other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time—through excruciating mental and physical anguish, despite the fact that virtually all studies show torture to be ineffective in gathering information from enemy combatants. Many like David Addington, John Yoo and Gina Haspel have fallen on their feet with cushy jobs or are enjoying a posh retirement like Bush II and his vice president.

There can be no doubt that Donald Trump likes the fact that Haspel engaged in torture. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he spoke often of bringing back torture and adding prisoners to Guantanamo, which with Bagram and Abu Ghraib has come to symbolize the American torture machine. He has called for “worse than waterboarding.”

There is a cruel streak to most autocrats. The ability to inflict meaningless or excess pain on one’s enemies or even those who disobey seems to come naturally to the dictators of the world. They don’t want merely to win, they want to crush their opponent into fine particles.

Cruelty not only reassures the autocrat of his extensive power, it also serves as a warning to others who might dare to cross the ruler. That was surely the intent when Trump pressured Jeff Sessions to fire Andrew McCabe, Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the day before he was eligible for retirement. Firing McCabe for political reasons, as Trump admits happened, was the government’s misguided prerogative. But to do it just before McCabe could cash in on all his years of loyal and competent service to his country was cruel, to say the least. Living in the high-cost D.C. area with two children, how likely is it that McCabe depended heavily on his government pension for his and his wife’s retirement. Unless the plan to work for a Democratic Congressional representative works out or he has enormous success in a post-governmental career, McCabe and his family may find themselves in an economic freefall. The cruelty of the act certainly serves as a warning to others in government wanting to speak up against Trump or cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

Haspel’s best possible excuse for ordering and overseeing the torture committed by her subordinates—that she was only following orders—is what makes her particularly attractive to the autocratic Trumpty-Dumpty. The autocrat likes people who blindly follow orders, even if they are incompetent or unsuited to their jobs. For the autocrat, an order-follower who is also extremely talented and accomplished is a rare jewel indeed. And one who will do anything, who will stoop to any level, who will throw away all scruples—what an extraordinary find that is indeed. Gina Haspel is tailor-made for the Trump administration.

Which is why confirming her as CIA Director would be bad for the country. I’m urging all readers to write their Senators and tell them explicitly that if they vote to confirm Gina Haspel they will lose your vote and support.

A contrast in ethics: SF ICE spokesperson quits rather than lie v. the whitewashing in the House GOP final report on Russian meddling in 2016 election

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) just resigned rather than tell a bold-faced lie that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other ICE officials have been floating. Sessions and other ICE-ers have been complaining that about 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest because Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned the community that ICE raids were coming. ICE’s San Francisco spokesperson James Schwab knew the real number was much, much lower and recommended that ICE use the correct figure. ICE wouldn’t change its overblown estimate, so Schwab quit.

Good for him! Like the scientists and career diplomats who are abandoning the current administration, Schwab makes us remember that professional ethics and the truth take precedence over the pursuit of money and influence. His act shouldn’t seem heroic, but in our second Gilded Age, it does.

That Schwab’s act of integrity should be reported in the San Francisco Chronicle the same day that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee abruptly ended their investigation into Russian interference in the last presidential election is the most bitter of ironies. Schwab placed the truth above politics. The Republicans have applied the thinnest of whitewashes to what all indications amounts to an enormous stain of collusion and cover-up. Over the frequent protestations of Democrats and some Republicans, the House investigation has been shoddy—not gathering enough evidence and not interviewing enough people. Moreover, the investigation took ridiculous detours, as when Republicans issued the Devin Nunes-produced memo that purported to show that Robert Mueller’s independent investigation was unwarranted but in fact only revealed that the FBI had plenty of cause to start their investigation (which morphed into the Mueller probe after the firing of FBI director James Comey).

The Republican’s latest conclusion—that Russia interfered in 2016 but not to favor any candidate—reminds me of the three monkeys who see, hear and speak no evil. Or perhaps the dignitaries politely applauding from their special loft as the Emperor sashays by in his birthday suit. Whereas Schwab wants us to look at the facts, House Republicans—and just about all of the current Republican power structure—want us to look away from a horrifying truth.

Republicans are too invested in the Donald Trump phenomenon to walk away from the Donald. Instead they try to protect him by issuing a report that they hope will short circuit the Mueller probe, which seems to be getting ever closer to proving that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the results of the 2016 presidential election in his favor. But by trying to cover-up the truth, the GOP subvert our democracy.

So what else is new?

The right wing, which has pretty much taken over the Republican Party, has done a lot to undermine our democracy over the past decade or so:

  • Established dozens of foundations, research centers and publications that routinely publish shoddy research and self-serving analysis of our economic challenges while pushing the right’s myth-based economic and social agenda.
  • Developed a huge alternative media universe that has spewed the right’s propaganda, pushed its agenda and sought to besmirch every prominent Democratic or progressive candidate.
  • Groomed a generation of Republican candidates and elected officials to be their willing and well-paid toadies.
  • Gerrymandered Congressional districts to give Republicans an edge.
  • Passed a number of laws that make it harder to register to vote and harder to vote.
  • Blocked the nomination of a centrist Supreme Court justice in hopes that a Republican president would nominate a more conservative judge.
  • Held their collective nose as the current administration—perhaps the most corrupt since the establishment of civil service rules in the late 19th century—breaks all rules of ethics in mixing government with private business, exploiting the White House for self-enrichment, using government funds for private inurement and rewarding contributors and cronies.

In the context of these subversions of democracy, perhaps the Republicans consider collusion to interfere with an election as fair play—even if does involve a global adversary trying to weaken us. As with Nixon’s treasonous backroom deal with the South Vietnamese government to postpone the Paris Peace talks until after the 1968 election and Reagan’s surreptitious deal with Iran to postpone release of the hostages in return for secret weapons sales, the Republicans have long tolerated treason in the service of winning elections.

The Republicans have both demographics and ideology against them. On economic and social issues, most Americans are centrists or progressive. Odds are they will look even more leftward politically in the future, as our population continues to become more ethnically diverse and younger voters with more progressive views replace older voters. The only way to maintain control for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy is to fix the system anyway they can.

Russia’s desire to build pipeline through N. Korea had more to do with Kim’s decision to stop nuclear development & meet Trump than Trump’s saber-rattling

Sometimes bad people do good things. And only those who hold the absurd notion that the small, impoverished country of North Korea is an evil devil incarnate don’t see that Donald Trump meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a good thing.

The main complaint, as exemplified by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, is that the United States gave away too much. That’s ridiculous. North Korea is going to temporarily stop nuclear weapons development and the sanctions remain. The “too much” is the de facto legitimization of the North Korean government that a visit from a U.S. leader entails; as Peter Baker put it in the New York Times, “they did not want to reward Pyongyang with the prestige of such a meeting unless there was substantial assurance of a breakthrough.” That’s ridiculous. The Old Testament proverb that “pride goeth before a fall” applies to those who think that a presidential visit has tangible value at a negotiating table as much as it did to the planners of the Vietnam and Second Iraq wars.

Another concern is that it’s Trump who is going, so we can all hold our breaths like parents of a poorly socialized four-year-old in expectation of bad behavior: saying the wrong thing, snubbing the hosts with cultural faux pas, getting pissed off, and making idle threats. But that sounds like the way he treats our allies, not autocrats like Putin, Xi and bin Salman. Who knows? Trump may come away with some good ideas for his military parade. The bigger threat of course is that he gives away the store, as he has proven to be a terrible negotiator in government.

The last objection is that if the negotiations fail, it will bring us closer to war, as that will demonstrate to Trump that his view that war with North Korea is the only answer is correct. That’s what Victor Cha, former national foreign policy advisor to Bush II, is saying. But should we then wait for Trump to conclude that negotiations don’t work without even trying them? Yes, it would be nice if Trump and Kim followed diplomatic niceties and first had their people work out the details of what would be discussed before agreeing to a sit-down, but doing so would not have guaranteed a successful outcome, especially with two people as erratic and publicity-seeking as Trump and Kim. The sudden surprise and the big splash is more their style.

Besides, negotiating is always better than saber-rattling or bomb-dropping, no matter who is doing the negotiating. Period.

Let’s not, however, confuse this development with Nixon going to China, as many Trump admirers want to do. Just hold in your mind for one minute three words and you’ll see the difference. The words are: China. North Korea. A country with more than a billion people versus a country of 25 million. What is the difference in trade potential with China in the 1970’s versus with North Korea today? The potential impact of a war with either? The significance in terms of the international balance of power?

The question at this point should not be whether a Trump trip to North Korea is a good thing, but if Trump has achieved a diplomatic success by his tough talk? Is the Trump bluster—pushing our weight around with threats of military intervention and trade wars—a more effective tool than diplomacy and alliance building?

To answer that question let’s first analyze what happened. Trump made violent threats and Kim responded by launching rocket tests. Meanwhile, sanctions kept up their slow torture of the North Korean economy. Trump shut up for a few months and Kim came to the table after much traditional courting by the South Koreans. Those facts don’t make a good case for Trump’s brand of speaking loudly and wielding a big stick.

I am going to propose some other reasons that Kim decided to halt North Korea’s nuclear arms development while still under sanction and to meet with the United States. Some combination of all these reasons probably compelled Kim to act. Spoiler alert—I think it’s the last one mentioned:

  • The Olympics made Kim recognize the advantages of being part of the society of world nations and the global economy, and not an isolated outlier constrained by economic sanctions.
  • The sanctions worked and Kim realizes that he has to bend to the will of the rest of the world.
  • Kim has run out of money for further development of a North Korean nuclear capability for a while.
  • Russia put pressure on North Korea to get serious about negotiations with South Korea. Russia is interested in building a natural gas pipeline through North Korea to supply South Korea with natural gas. That would explain both South Korea’s overtures and North Korea’s willingness to listen and talk. Sounds like the type of deal that’s getting done a lot lately, like the new Trans-Pacific Partnership—done without the United States.

So I don’t think Trump’s actions instigated Kim, but recent events do represent a turnaround in what he’s been saying for a long time: that negotiations have failed and we have to take further action. Maybe now that he’s ready to talk to Kim—even if it’s for no other reason than to see another parade and hear the cheers of another crowd of people in a foreign land—Trump might recognize that using sanctions and negotiations to stop countries from developing nuclear capabilities is a good thing and change his mind about the Iran nuclear deal. Of course, first he would have to get over his racist notion that if a black man did it, it couldn’t be good.

Trump’s fits of anger & other purely emotional responses are harming millions of people. Let’s hope it doesn’t also lead to dropping the big one.

People generally act for one of four reasons: 1. The facts lead them to the action; 2) Self-interest; 3) Their belief system; 4) Something emotional, such as anger, pride, jealousy, shame, hatred or fear.

From the very start of his unsuccessful career as a business person and through his successful career playing one on TV to the current day, Donald Trump has never been guided by facts. But in this regard, he is not alone. The Republican Party from its very beginnings as a voice for the abolition of slavery have been guided by self-interest, essentially creating crony capitalism during the Civil War and the Gilded Age that followed it. In recent years, the Republicans have allowed their belief system and self-interest to trump any use of facts in such areas as environmental, economic and health policies.

Trump isn’t even the first elected official to make decisions on purely primordial emotions. Although based on their belief that people of color are inferior to people of European descent, the decision by Republicans in Congress to block everything that President Obama wanted to accomplish was essentially emotional, the operating passion being hatred of the black man. Another example: it was Kennedy’s testosterone-fueled need to prove his manhood—at heart, an insecurity—that led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

How Trump differs from all those who have come before him on the national political stage is the degree to which he lets emotions guide him. Yes, self-interest and a flawed value system come into play, but the means by which Trump protects his self-interest or advances his value system usually reduces to a full-throttled expression of an emotion: hate, rage, fear, insecurity, the will to dominate. That Trump is guided by his emotions represents a far greater danger than his fascistic beliefs, his unrelenting unethical conduct in pursuit of self-interest or his propensity not just to ignore the facts, but actively to create lies in their place.

These past few days have seen Trump make two enormous mistakes that will hurt hundreds of millions of people, both on purely emotional grounds. The more reported blunder was to announce steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. While giving a small boost to these two mature industries, the tariffs will hurt a number of other industries and primarily will apply to our closest allies such as Canada. Moody’s Analytics has already figured out that 119,000 American jobs will be lost because of the tariffs. (Add that to the 30,000 jobs lost by undoing the Clean Power Plan and Trump is about one-fifth of the way towards reducing jobs to match the decrease in the workforce that will result from sending the Dreamers to the country of their parents’ origin.) The only Americans who won’t be paying higher prices for something or another because of these new tariffs will be those who never use anything containing steel or aluminum. In other words, everyone will suffer. And that’s before the trade war that likely will ensue as our pissed-off allies react.

Most mainstream media have reported that Trump made the tariff decision on the spur of the moment, in a wild fit of caged-animal rage in reaction to the news that his son-in-law was in deep doo-doo and that the Mueller investigation was rapidly getting closer to proving that Trump and his advisors cooperated with the Russians to help Trumpty-Dumpty in the last presidential election and then attempted to conceal their treasonous collusion. Little details like the fact the Trump Administration encouraged Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar after Qatar refused to loan his son-in-law hundreds of millions of dollars have tightened the noose around Trump’s own neck.

His reaction has been a blinding anger that confidential sources say made him do the equivalent of coming home and kicking the dog after a brutal day in the office. In this case, Trump’s dog are other countries, but in his rage he never bothered to have someone run the numbers and recognize that the dogs he kicked are his best friend and that he’s also hurting his own country. Or perhaps he knows and doesn’t care. Trump, and virtually the entire roster of elected Republicans, manifest a mean-spirited disregard of groups that they dislike or are not likely to vote for them. Establishing these new tariffs was a brassy expression of power that enabled Trump to reassert his manhood—at least to himself.

Less prominent is another recent instance of Trump lashing out in anger and hurting the country. The New York Times has reported that Trump is pushing Republicans in Congress to oppose funding for a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey because it’s an important project to New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. Trump is engaging in a childishly emotional game of tit-for-tat, getting back at Schumer for blocking Trump’s nominees. Unfortunately in thwarting Schumer, Trump also hurts tens of millions of people in the financial and economic heart of the country. It affects the transportation network over the entire eastern seaboard from Boston to Washington, D.C., since every Amtrak train passing from New York to New Jersey uses the current tunnel, which is in a deteriorating condition that led to extensive scheduling changes last summer to accommodate repairs. The Obama Administration rated building the new tunnel as the single most important infrastructure improvement facing the country.

But Trump doesn’t care about what happens to the 25-million New York metropolitan area, the eastern seaboard or the rest of the country. He only cares about himself and placating whatever emotion is controlling his unconscious and conscious mind at any given moment. Gaining revenge and assuaging his anger with the symbolic blood of his adversary are all that matter to him.

What will happen when Mueller gets even closer? Or issues an indictment against Kushner, his sons or himself? The big fear is that Trump’s rage will cause him to order the dropping of a nuclear device on North Korea. What will the generals do? Will they obey the order or take the engaged madman into custody? And what will the GOP do? Republicans have made a devil’s bargain with Trump, overlooking his ethical lapses, emotional outbursts, erratic behavior and likely crimes to pursue its faith-based vision of an unfettered market. But will they follow him into nuclear war?

Equally as horrifying a thought as dropping the big one is the possibility that Trump tries to install an autocratic regime. In recent days, he has stressed his lack of respect for the American tradition of law at least twice. He hinted he wanted to end due process to take guns away from people with mental illness. More significantly, he speculated at a Republican donor function that maybe the United States would try to have a president for life, as China appears to be doing with Xi Jinping. How will his advisors, the military and other Republicans react when he wants to declare Marshall Law, let’s say, after the Democrats sweep into Congressional power in November or Mueller issues an indictment? Will they put the Donald under lock and key or will they continue to follow him? After all, the two fundamental principles of the U.S. military are chain of command and civilian control, while an autocratic regime would keep the Republicans in power.

A very scary thought indeed.

Few care that Trump dodged the draft, but saying he’d run towards gunfire without a weapon is bombastic hypocrisy masquerading as moral high ground

I’m reluctant to throw stones at Donald Trump for his gratuitous but certainly mendacious comment that with or without a gun, he would have stormed into Majory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) to protect the high school students being mowed down by Nicholas Cruz’s AR-15 assault weapon. My hesitation to condemn Trump comes because I would never do such a thing, as I am at heart a coward, afraid of guns and of death. I would certainly intervene in a knife fight or if thugs were threatening someone with words or fists in the subway or another public place. My confidence that I would help the victim in a gunless situation derives from having done so in the past.

Once a gun appeared or a shot rang out, however, I would run for cover. I admit my cowardice and therefore appreciate those willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect society, as long as they treat everyone they encounter with respect and without illegal brutality. The failure of a security guard to perform his job at MSD is disappointing, as he was a professional (not a civilian) paid to intervene and protect. But it’s no more disappointing than the countless instances of racial profiling or unnecessary violence to subdue a suspect.

Trump’s reference to imagined bravery is particularly odious, even for the master of the inappropriate, for a few reasons. First of all, as virtually all mainstream media stories about his bold declaration point out, is Trump’s inherent hypocrisy. He did, after all, use a medical deferment for bone spurs to avoid serving in the military during the Viet Nam war. Now let’s be clear, I’m not condemning his use of a minor and temporary injury to avoid military service. To avoid military service, I documented a case of migraine headaches and as a back-up compiled a dossier supporting that I was a conscientious objector to all war in case I did end up classified as physically fit to serve. Turns out all that work was unnecessary, as my congenital flat feet disqualified me from military service except, as the desk sergeant told me, “after a nuclear war and then, only in a desk job.” So I have no problem with Trump’s having documented a physical ailment to avoid the draft. I’m even okay with the fact that his father’s riches gave him easy access to physicians to document the agony of bone spurs. After all, there was a war going on, one that was obviously a senseless exercise in imperialism.

It’s not that Trump was a draft dodger then. It’s that he’s now making self-serving and self-gratifying statements about his imagined bravery, an obvious hypocrisy.

More disgraceful than the hypocrisy is the fact that Trump has tried to set a moral bar for action. He has used the bully pulpit that all occupants of the oval office have to advocate that civilians should engage in suicide missions. He tried to promote sacrificing one’s life pointlessly as the first and logical choice that most people would make in the given situation—outside a building, armed or unarmed, it doesn’t matter—and you know an active shooter is getting off round after round of rapid fire. He tried to make the audience of state governors complicit in setting this standard by saying, “but I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon and I think most of the people in this room would’ve done that too.”

Of course, that’s a false assumption: Most people would seek cover and then use their cell phone, first to call 911 and then to try to contact anyone they knew to be inside the building.

Trump’s empty boast that he would bravely jump into the fray like Bruce Willis or Jackie Chan going against a horde of bad guys is as harmful to American society as his boldfaced lie that he knew someone whose child contracted autism after having a vaccination or his assertion that good people existed among the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and for the same reason. It’s an untruth that also sets a suspect standard of behavior. I can imagine benighted Trump supporters invoking his statement when deciding not to vaccinate their infants. Certainly many thought Trump’s Charlottesville comments normalized the behavior of the neo-Nazis while equating it with the actions and ethics of their victims.

To create a moral imperative to walk towards gunfire fits nicely into the solution to gun violence proposed by Trump and the National Rifle Association: arm teachers. Both propose to fight gun violence with actions that promote more gun violence and which enlarge the battlefield. Both cheapen the value of human life through an implicit glorification of guns. Most importantly, both make no sense whatsoever. Good guys without guns are just more cannon fodder for the bad guys. Good guys shooting a gun tend to be inaccurate and could likely hurt innocent bystanders in the crossfire—even the police hit their target less than 50% of the time, as many reporters have already pointed out. Furthermore, when the authorities get there, they won’t be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Finally, gun deaths and injuries are always and everywhere a function of the number of guns in society. By giving teachers guns, we will without a doubt increase the number of gun deaths and injuries. The inanity of running towards gunfire prepares the public for the even more inane notion of army teachers.

In the case of Trump’s empty boast, the moral bar is a senseless suicide mission. Contrast with the training and indoctrination that soldiers get. In a traditional war, the casualties among front-line soldiers are terrifying. Generals know that upwards of 70% of those at the front of a traditional battle will die or be injured. That’s why army indoctrination stresses the chain of command. Following orders is the highest value. Frankly, I don’t know how any general can sleep at night without the benefit of alcohol or some other artificial assuagement. It makes sense that Grant was an alcoholic—it was how he dealt with the death sentence he knew he was imposing on many of his soldiers.

But Grant, and every other general, had a purpose, a goal and a plan that involved the coordination of many combatants. There can be no goal in running towards fire in a spontaneous situation, with or without a weapon, unless you are a trained professional who has reconnoitered the facility and terrain. That Trump, the quintessential “summer soldier,” wants us to believe otherwise is unconscionable. That he does so to satisfy his weak ego’s need to always be a hero honored and loved is pathetic. That his statement serves as an object lesson to the American citizenry is a moral outrage.

Russian social media manipulators have nothing on the National Rifle Association as far as infiltrating Facebook & Twitter goes

We see playing out before us two great dramas involving vast plots to manipulate the minds of millions of Americans. The first is obviously front and center: the Mueller indictments against 13 Russian nationals and 3 companies, which puts to rest any argument against the idea that the Russians intervened in the last national election to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. We know now that there can be no doubt the Russians interfered and intend to do so again.

The second, unpublicized campaign of distortion is being run right now by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to prevent the mass murder at a Parkland, Florida high school from resulting in stricter gun control laws. Now I’m not accusing the NRA of taking over the Internet identities of unsuspecting people or using bots to boost its posts, like the Russians did. What I am saying is that the NRA engages in an extensive and probably very expensive social media campaign to keep myths and false arguments about gun control in front of social media users.

During the presidential campaign I saw almost none of the garbage that Russia surreptitiously dumped onto Twitter and Facebook, except as reported by the mainstream news media. By contrast, since the Parkland shooting, my Facebook feed has been bombarded by false memes regarding gun control, presented in photographs, cartoons, videos and headlines, typically originating from websites I have never heard of before. Here is a sample of the ridiculous cant being posted:

  • We should arm school teachers.
  • Mentally ill people commit mass murders, not guns.
  • We should have veterans with automatic weapons patrolling the halls of our schools.
  • We should blame video games.
  • A teenage girl crying in delight at having gotten a gun for a present.
  • Determined killers will always find another way.
  • God allowed the shooting because prayer is banned in public schools.
  • We should teach our kids martial arts so they can “Jackie Chan” school shooters.
  • The FBI is solely to blame for the shooting (Trump and the GOP’s excuse for not talking about gun control).
  • We’re not outlawing cars even though thousands have died in car accidents since the beginning of the year.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen plenty of memes proposing gun control since the latest horror. I particularly like the one that suggests that the senators and congressional representatives voting against prohibiting automatic weapons should be charged as accomplices of shooter Nicholas Cruz. I also like the mentions of how much individual politicians have received from the NRA and the headlines that point out that guns are not allowed in the chambers of Congress.

But remember, the approximately 3,500 people in my Facebook network are almost all followers of my very leftwing blog, family and friends (who are decidedly leftwing) and members of the international poetry community (which skewers left). My Facebook network is decidedly more pro-gun control than it was pro-Hillary. Remember too that a large majority of Americans—and gun owners—are in favor of banning automatic weapons, extending waiting periods and other “centrist” gun control legislation. The Russians didn’t really ever penetrate my network with real garbage, but the NRA has made its presence felt to the point that for a while I saw about as many posts against gun control as for gun control. Since I kept asking Facebook not to show me further updates from the originating sources for NRA propaganda, the anti-gun control Facebook posts have finally died down a bit.

Turning now to Twitter: I have no way of evaluating the political beliefs of my approximately 38,000 Twitter followers, except for noting that the campaigns I have conducted to expand my Twitter network have always focused on Hillary and Bernie supporters or the followers of people who retweeted or tweeted my progressive and often pro-gun control tweets. Comments from Twitter followers almost always praise my tweets or the OpEdge articles to which they usually links. Over 9+ years, there are only two subjects that get substantial negative feedback from people opposed to my tweets: when I propose raising the minimum wage and when I advocate more gun control legislation. And it happened again after Parkland.

I don’t have the operation to track the origin of every anti-gun control tweet (or Facebook update), so I am only assuming that behind most of it are NRA-funded groups and individuals, or the NRA itself. Again, I am not accusing the NRA of doing anything underhanded or illegal, but of spending a lot of money legally to monitor social media and respond in one way or another to as many pro-gun control tweets as they can.

Remember that the extensive NRA activity on social media reinforces the nonsense that its elected factotums piously spew, stating that just after a tragedy is not being the time to discuss gun legislation, blaming mental illness or the FBI, or advocating we arm school teachers. It also reinforces the NRA party line blathered by Fox News and the rest of the rightwing news media. On the one hand, we could conclude that the program is a failure, since surveys track a growing interest in strengthening gun control laws among the American public. On the other hand, the NRA’s vast marketing campaign helps to create the alternative reality in which the politicians they finance can thrive. The false statements of the politicians and their reverberation in social media and the right wing news media help to set the agenda for the mainstream media and continually keep pro-gun control advocates on their heels, in a reactive mode, even after the increasingly more frequent tragedies that everyone knows could be prevented by greater gun control and reducing the number of weapons circulating in American society.

The American Grand Guignol of mass murder at a school plays out once again while rightwing politicians make their excuses for not tightening gun laws

To blame mental illness as the reason that Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old boy, used his legally purchased automatic weapon to kill 17 people at a Florida high school is to commit the logical fallacy to which conservatives often fall victim: to focus on the individual and not the group in analyzing a social issue.

For example, Tyler Cowen, the mediocre rightwing economist lionized by the mass media, has proposed that inequality of wealth is not a problem since individual families rise and fall in a few generations, meaning that wealth is not entrenched in the hands of the few, ignoring the fact that inequality has its impact on groups of people and that as inequality has increased in America the ability of people to improve their economic standing has faltered. Another example can be found in the increasingly harsh requirements conservatives in charge are setting for receiving food stamps or Medicaid, all meant to catch the very rare scofflaw individual while imposing severe burdens on large groups of honest and very needy people. A single bad actor, Willie Horton, was used to accuse the criminal justice system of leniency. A handful of family farmers—literally fewer than 100 a year—are invoked to justify limiting or ending estate taxes.

In the case of the epidemic of mass murders the United States has experienced in a 30+-year era in which violent crime in general has declined dramatically, authorities spend thousands of staff hours trying to peer into the minds of the individual perpetrators to determine why they decided to mow down the innocent. We parse the differences between terrorists and the mentally ill, and between Muslims/immigrants who are seen as terrorists and Christians/native-born who are seen as merely deranged, all the while forgetting the simple fact that anyone who sprays automatic fire into a crowd or a classroom is by definition mentally disturbed. Over the next few days, we’ll see a lot of media types ruminate out loud about what motivated Cruz, especially on conservative programming that will not want to entertain any discussion of gun control.

If instead, we focused on groups, we’d remember that all studies of gun violence across different populations point to one and only one conclusion: The more guns in a population, the more people will be injured and die each year of gun violence.

You don’t have to advocate the complete banning of all private ownership of firearms (as I would do) to recognize that there are ways to cut down on the number of guns in our society, and thereby decrease gun violence:

  • Raise the standard for gun ownership to exclude groups of people who would be more prone to gun violence such as the mentally ill, those on the no-fly list and teenagers.
  • Do a better job of screening people before they buy guns.
  • Increase the training and licensing requirements, not just to make it harder to qualify for gun ownership, but also to ensure that those that own guns know how and when to use them.
  • Limit the types of guns people can own, prohibiting those guns capable of inflicting mass destruction such as automatic weapons and guns that have been altered through kits to shoot more quickly. The basic question in determining what guns to allow relates to purpose: you don’t need an automatic weapon to protect your property or to hunt deer.

We could also limit the number of guns that each individual owns, a great idea in theory, but impractical in a country that values individual freedom: We have strict standards for car manufacturing, ownership and operation, yet no one has ever advocated a limit on the number of cars one can own.

There are plenty of proposed laws floating around that would reduce the absolute number of guns in society, and do so very efficiently, by focusing on those more likely to inflict violence and those types of weapons which they are more likely to use in committing their senseless acts. Bills that would ban certain types of weapons or kits to turn a conventional weapon into a killing machine. Bills that would improve our currently weak database of those who should and should not own firearms. Bills that would extend waiting periods before purchase and apply the waiting period concept to guns purchased at gun shows. Bills that would increase licensing and training requirements. Bills that would prevent certain groups such as individuals on the no-fly list from buying guns.

Opposition to the no-fly list ban exemplifies the conservative propensity for exalting the individual at the expense of the group. The group of individuals on the no-fly list are deemed as security risks because of their political views or suspected ties to terrorist groups. Some of the people do not belong on the list, but landed there because they have the same name as a suspected terrorist or through the mistake of an overzealous investigator. It is these few whom the Republicans claim they are protecting whenever they vote down the no-fly ban on gun purchasing. That the same elected officials are willing to trample the rights of these individuals and thousands others with phone, Internet and library use monitoring is inconsequential. When it comes to guns, the mentality is: Better that thousands of people too dangerous to be allowed to fly get their hands on automatic weapons than one righteous, upstanding American lose the right to bear arms. Again, the focus is on the individual and not the group.

Mass shootings at schools have become America’s traveling Grand Guignol. The Grand Guignol was a theatre in Paris that specialized in presenting live horror plays during the first half of the 20th century. But instead of taking the Metro to the historic Pigalle neighborhood, all we have to do to see the American Grand Guignol is turn on the news every few days and be assured of a vision of horror. We’ve already seen it 18 times at schools in the first 7 weeks of this year: The bloody and mangled images of dead children; the fearful and stunned faces of the survivors and families; the doleful community vigils; the terrible glimpses of the monster, sometimes dead and sometimes alive, but always conjuring the horrible realization that he looks like an ordinary human being, just like us; the tireless yet dreary narrative of the investigation replete with the latest techy advances in forensics; the poignant calls for action; the desperate attempts by the right to individualize the crime and isolate it from any trends except for imagined ones; the pious and patronizing denials that the gun he used had anything to do with the crime he committed. And then the return to things as they are.

But no need to worry, horror genre fans. If you missed the Parkland, Florida production of the American Grand Guignol, you’ll see it again in a few days. Coming to a town near you. It may seem like a rerun, but it will be a brand new incidence of the slaughter of the innocents. Again and again, all so gun manufacturers can continue to flourish.

There are 7 reasons not to hold a military parade on July 4th. Reason # 5—the world will laugh at us

We’re starting to see some push back against the almost universal condemnation of the idea of holding a military parade on July 4th. Since the current administration first floated the idea, it has mostly been derided by Democrats, Republicans, mainstream media, even the military itself. Even readers of Military Times are vehemently opposed to holding a military parade, with 89% of surveyed readers saying it’s a bad idea.

But the last day or so has seen quiet advocacy for holding a parade in Atlantic and USA Today. The basic argument in favor of having tens of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks and missiles march before Donald Trump and other high-ranking U.S. officials, saluting while they passed, fighter jets flying in pattern overhead, is that the military parade is an old tradition that should be revived. Supposedly it will bring the military and civilian populations closer together and help civilians understand the important role the military plays in protecting our society from internal and external threats. That might—might—work for those civilians who watch the parade in person or on television, a group likely to be outnumbered by those who protest against the parade, either in Washington or at one of the dozens of satellite demonstrations that will assuredly take place across the country.

Most people recognize that the demonstrators in the anti-military parades will for the most part not be protesting either the military or any of the three (or more) wars we will be fighting as of this July 4th. No, the protesters will be raising their voices against militarism and Donald Trump, who Americans rightly sense has proposed organizing the parade for his own self-aggrandizement.

Apart from where you stand on the Donald, there are six very good reasons for the United States not to hold a large military parade at this time:

  1. There’s no good reason to parade

Most of the military parades we have held over our history have been to commemorate victory in war. The last time was in 1991, when we commemorated winning the first Gulf War—you know, the one in which we stopped short of overthrowing Saddam Hussein because we didn’t know who would run the country without him. We have no victory to declare in any of the wars we are currently fighting.

  1. It does not honor our soldiers

To the soldier, marching or driving a tank in a parade is another day’s work. Whereas veterans who march in Veterans’ Day parades do so by choice, it’s going to be a job to the doughgirls and doughboys in the Trump spectacle. The ones really being honored are those in the main reviewing stand, the ones all the soldiers salute when they march by.

  1. Only autocratic countries hold military parades when there is no victory to celebrate

All the examples of military parades when there has been no victory in war that we see in the mass media involve autocratic countries—Red China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, Chile and Argentina under dictatorships. The exception is France, the democracy that gives the most power to its executive.

  1. Holding a military parade projects weakness to the rest of the world

Years ago, the military parade communicated strength, but no more. Now it tells the world that a country is insecure about its ability to defend itself. Remember that France is the one western country to hold annual public parades of the active military and it hasn’t won a war in more than 200 years, unless you count those two wars of the last century that the United States and the Soviet Union won for France.

  1. It will subject us to more ridicule by the world

The rest of the world has been laughing at us since the current administration took over, and they will snigger all the louder if the most powerful country in the world starts to imitate small-time dictators. Because the basic action of a military parade is a regiment saluting a leader, the world will see the parade as a glorification of our current president, who is generally considered an ill-mannered and ignorant buffoon by the rest of the world. A parade of soldiers in front of Trump will fulfill Marx’s paradigm that history unfolds twice, first as tragedy (the fascists) and then as comedy (Trumpty-Dumpty). That protests will undoubtedly draw more attendees than the parade itself may serve to raise the esteem in which the rest of the world holds America, but only at the expense of making our government and its current leader look all the more ridiculous.

  1. It represents an unnecessary militarization of society

A military parade expresses that the military is important to our society, which is in fact what supporters of it are saying. I live in New York City, which has dozens of parades a year—Gay Pride, German Day, Puerto Rican Day, Israeli Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving. Each parade pays homage to a different value—our ethnic heritages, our diversity, the sacrifice soldiers have made in the past, the importance of community. A military parade puts the focus on fighting—our enormous current army, military technology, sophisticated equipment. It expressed militarism as a core value. I, and many other Americans including lots of soldiers and generals, believe that the military is a necessity, not a core value that defines America. A July 4th parade featuring high schools, 4H clubs, youth groups, ethnic societies, veterans associations and LGBTQ groups shows our Americanism. A march of soldiers and implements of warfare does not.

  1. It costs a lot of money

People are throwing around the figure of $20 million, which is the cost of the 1991 parade in 2018 dollars. But isn’t Trump going to want something bigger, flashier, with more soldiers and more military toys than ever before? We must also figure in the hidden cost of preparing the soldiers for their roles in the parade and the logistics of getting everyone and everything to Washington. My own guess is that a parade that will please the Donald will have to cost at least $100 million, or roughly the salary of 1,200 school teachers.

And make no mistake about it. The only reason to throw this monstrosity of a parade is to please the Donald, to make him feel all powerful because he commands what he is sure to call the greatest fighting machine in the history of mankind. Not something of which we should really be proud, as I’m sure a lot of generals past and present would agree. Whatever you may think of the military of our current or past wars, very few Americans other than Donald Trump has ever valued militarism as a positive trait. Our myth is to be the reluctant warrior, the quiet sheriff who does his job only when he has to do it. Gary Cooper picking up the guns he hates because he knows there is no longer any other choice. A military parade, unless it comes to celebrate the end of a victorious war, does not fit that image.

When GOP released lame Nunes memo, they forgot chess theory, which teaches a threat is more powerful than doing it. Especially when it’s is a nothing burger.

A common theme among pundits is that Republicans know how to play politics, whereas the Democrats are bumblers. The affair of the dueling classified memos is definitely not playing out that way. In fact, the GOP has let itself get caught in a zugzwang, which in chess is a situation in which every move a player makes weakens his/her position. The player is better off not moving, but is of course forced to move. You can’t pass in chess, as you could in Scrabble or poker. “Zug” means “move” in German, “zwang” means “forced”: thus “zugzwang—a forced move. Being caught in a zugzwang is usually fatal.

What is happening is not just a zugzwang, but a double zugzwang. And the Republicans—perhaps at the bratty insistence of Trumpty Dumpty—could have avoided the entire mess.

In terms of chess theory here’s what happened. For about two weeks, Republicans have threatened to release a memo that would supposedly show that the Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign and administration is a witch hunt. But as the great chess theorist and player Aron Nimzovich pointed out about a century ago, a threat to do something is more powerful than actually doing it. In the case of the weak-ass Nunes memo, that was certainly the case. Nimzovich, by the way, was the author of the most famous zugzwang in chess history, a deft maneuver in the middle of a 1923 game against Friedrich Sämisch that left his hapless victim with many moves—all of them very quickly leading to his demise.

Then it was the Democrat’s move, and what they did could be expected: They developed their own confidential memo.

Now came an enormous blunder by the Republicans. They released the Nunes memo. Their memo was all smoke-and-mirrors and they knew it. As long as it remained unreleased it tantalized with what it could say and it also flustered both the Democrats and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), precisely because it was nonsense. But once released, everyone outside the Trumposphere—or should I say Foxosphere since creating an alternative reality is not new to the current administration—quickly saw it was questionable.

The threat was much more powerful than the execution could ever have been since the memo was so flimsy of fact and so riddled with logical flaws. It reminds me of a story about Nimzovich, who would only play if his opponent was not allowed to smoke. In the middle of a game, the opponent pulled out a big fat cigar and put it down on the table, then started fingering it. Nimzovich called the judge over to complain. Both judge and opponent reminded Nimzovich that no one had lit up, to which the great theorist replied, “Yes, but you must know that the threat is stronger than the execution.” That certainly was the case with the Nunes memo.

In short, the Republicans put themselves into a double zugzwang. The first zugzwang involved the Republican Congressional representatives in the House Intelligence Committee: Okay the release of the Dem’s memo and be shown to be cheap propagandists OR disapprove and be condemned as being unfair and anti-democratic. They wisely chose the first route, which put the current administration into the second zugzwang: object to the release or not. Object and you seem undemocratic. Let it be released and be made stupid everywhere but inside the minds of the true believers.

What Trump decides to do is anyone’s guess. On the one hand, he doesn’t mind—and would actually enjoy—being autocratic and suppressing the Dem’s memo. But on the other hand, the information will surely leak out anyhow, plus Trump can always use the new document as another prop, condemning the Dems for their fabrication and suggesting that the rot in the FBI runs far deeper than we ever imagined. Trumpistas and FOX News will lap up this latest accusation of conspiracy, even as the mainstream media both condemns it and gives it credence by covering it. He will in short disgrace himself either way, but he won’t even know it. Unfortunately, nor will the 25-37% of the population still chugging the Trumpian KoolAid, perhaps because it comes in so many flavors of white.

The good news is that for a change, the American people are benefiting from a cheap political stunt. The controversy over the Nunes memo has brought to light the many hoops through which our security apparatus must jump to get a secret warrant against an American citizen or foreign spies in the Foreign Intelligence Service (FISA) court. The applications run 60-70 pages and must receive sign-offs at many levels in several government departments. The FBI or National Security Agency must reapply on a regular basis to keep the wire taps and surveillance going. Frankly, I’m against indiscriminant surveillance, which like stop-and-frisk can lead to abuses that typically have a racial bias. It relieved me and lot of other liberals to learn that getting a FISA warrant is no walk on the beach, but a convoluted process with a high standard of proof.

The second good news—only potential at this point—is that Congressional Republicans may have finally evolved a backbone, as the intelligence committee voted unanimously to release the memo and throw the hot zugzwang potato to the Donald and a number of Congressional leaders, including Trey Gowdy—Hillary Clinton’s own Inspector Javert—said that the Nunes memo has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, which must be allowed to continue.

Could the Congressional GOP have finally drawn a line in the sand? Are they ready to take independent action, sometimes in concert with the Democrats, to run the government in the face of executive dysfunction? One sign of such a hopeful development would be if Congress passed the clean DAC bill proposed by Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons. Dare Trump to veto it. Another sign of GOP independence from the cesspool that is Donald Trump would be a joint resolution demanding the current administration implement the sanctions against Russia for messing with our 2016 election.

The jury is out on a Congressional Republican vertebrae, but the Republican error of releasing an obviously bogus memo does give us cause for a small-beer celebration. Perhaps our system does work. Sometimes. A little.

Devin Nunes waves a piece of paper with lies on it blaming a government office of bad behavior. We’ve seen it before—Senator Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare

The Nunes memo is nothing more or less than a technique of McCarthyism. We’ve seen politicians wave around pieces of paper containing lies before in American history. Even when successful, the results of the gambit are usually short-lived, although, like the McCarthyism of the early 1950s, can nonetheless hurt a lot of people. In the case of the Nunes memo, it will thankfully likely recoil in short order on the person the memo is meant to protect—Donald Trump.

Like McCarthy’s famous list of communists, the delusion of the Nunes memo starts with a threat to produce a piece of paper that blows the whistle on a whole lot of bad stuff. Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy had in his hand “a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.” That’s the exact quote from the first time McCarthy used the dramatic smear against the State Department that has come to symbolize “McCarthyism.” Nunes’ proposed cancer lurks in the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in particular.

McCarthy’s supposed traitors were trying to bring America to its knees through the spread of communism, while the contemporary traitors are trying to take down a presidency.

Both pieces of paper were part of broader strategies to achieve political ends. McCarthy wanted to be re-elected and the other prosecutors of the Red Scare wanted to turn the country against socialist solutions to national challenges, such as universal healthcare, civil rights legislation or investment in mass transit. Nunes wants to end an investigation that is looking more and more as if it will find that Donald Trump and his close associates colluded with the Russian government to win the 2016 presidential election and then sought to conceal their nefarious and probably traitorous deeds.

McCarthy never read from his list and as far as we know, it had no names on it. But he did have an old FBI report from which he later misquoted, exaggerated and distorted to substantiate his initial accusations. The Nunes memo presents a few facts, his lies consisting of the preponderance of evidence he leaves out and the false conclusions he draws.

What differentiates these two mendacious pieces of paper is that McCarthy’s list reflected perfectly the tenor of the times and was thus widely believed and supported. The entire spectrum of the American ruling elite from the most conservative to the most liberal and the mass media that reflected their interests were shaking in their boots about the possibility of a socialist revolution coming to the United States. But the contemporary ruling elite is divided as to the efficacy of continuing the rule of Donald Trump, including many who approve of and benefit from the policies of the current administration but put the rule of American law above their own selfish self-interest. The mainstream media believed the McCarthy hogwash, but only the cynical and the true believers swallow the Nunes Kool-Aid.

It is unlikely that the Nunes memo will accomplish the long-term objective of ending the Mueller investigation, but it has accomplished one immediate goal: Keeping the mind of the public off the fact that the current administration is defying the law by not enforcing the sanctions against Russia for interfering with the 2016 election that Congress approved by overwhelming margins of 98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House. If there is one thing the current administration is good at it is governing by sleight of hand. The standard trick is for Trump to say or do something obnoxious that the news media focuses on, while the administration or Congress does something truly horrifying that gets less publicity. For example, Trump’s latest Twitter argument with a prominent minority floods the news, cannibalizing potential coverage of a new plan to dismantle environmental regulations. This time, Nunes is carrying the water.

Consider these numbers. A search of Google News produces 74,200 hits after imputing “Nunes memo” over the past week and a mere 8,380 hits for “Russian sanctions.” All the mainstream television news shows and National Public Radio have opened with the Nunes memo and have given far more time to it than they have to the administration’s refusal to enforce the sanctions. The rightwing media such as Fox News is shrieking stridently that the Nunes memo shows that the Mueller investigation must end while completely ignoring Trump’s failure to implement the sanctions.

American history is full of politicians accusing various branches of government of nefarious behavior that didn’t exist. The post office has long been a bête noir of Republican privatizers. The GOP constantly accused the Obama administration of overreach. Trump and other Republicans accused the national security apparatus of failing in its handling of immigrants during the election. Then there was McCarthy. So the Nunes accusations represent nothing new or even rare in American politics.

But I can’t recall another example of a president so completely ignoring the will of Congress since Andrew Johnson instigated his own impeachment by firing the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton after Congress had passed a special law to prevent him from doing so. What did Stanton do to make Johnson defy Congress? He was aggressively implementing the program called Reconstruction meant to bring civil rights to all citizens of the states that had recently tried to secede from the union. Johnson, a former slave owner, was against sending troops to the south to protect the rights and lives of the recently freed or their southern supporters.

Trump’s position is equally obnoxious and anti-American, and perhaps treasonous. He doesn’t want Russia to suffer for interfering in our elections, certainly because it helped to elect him, and seems to welcome its help in 2018. That more Republicans seem interested in ending the Mueller investigation than forcing Trump to obey a law that achieved rare bipartisan support demonstrates that the GOP has become a stinking, putrefying corpse of corruption. Rotten to the core, with the foul stench starting from the head, as it always does.