Monthly Archives: December 2016

Meet US President Vladimir Putin

The United States has eight days to figure out how to avoid making Vladimir Putin the de facto President of the United States.

Back in the days of the Cold War, it was a staple of far-right conservative paranoia that The Russians (i.e., the Soviets) were intent on taking over the United States. From the McCarthy witch hunts to the idiot-fantasy Red Dawn, the Ruskies – who hated our freedoms and coveted our precious bodily fluids – wanted nothing less than to take over the US so as to destroy Our Way Of Life.

These fears were used to destroy lives, but the targets, it turns out, were entirely misplaced. Even in the McCarthy Era, the US itself was busy showing how modern takeovers of foreign countries were done. Old-fashioned conquest and colonialism was dead. It turned out to be far more efficient to identify some willing local financial or military elite, promote him to dictator, and let him and his cronies do your dirty work and suppress the locals for you in exchange for unimaginable wealth. For 70 years and counting, in countries around the world, that’s what US-backed dictators and elected would-be dictators have eagerly signed up to do.

Enter Donald Trump, and the unsurprising irony that when Russia really did take over the US, it used the American colonial model and the eager dupes of modern Bircherism to do it.

Friday’s Washington Post report that US intelligence agencies have conclusively agreed that Putin and Russia acted this year not only to interfere in the US election, but to do so to get Donald Trump elected president, sounds worse than it is politically. The CIA’s case can’t be conclusively proven, as Trump’s allies would simply accuse it of inventing the evidence. Trump can’t be impeached for crimes committed by others in his name before he was even elected, even if his own party (which controls the Congressional impeachment process) were inclined to do so. And he can’t be charged criminally while in office. As such, he’ll likely pay no real price for these revelations and can afford to blow them off (as he’s already done). And any Trump revelations, no matter how damaging, are simply not believed by his faith-based fans.

But in the broader picture, the CIA story is far, far worse than it sounds. The same circumstantial evidence trail that concludes that Russia wanted Trump in office doesn’t stop with Inauguration Day. If, for the sake of argument, I’m Vladimir Putin and I want the US neutered globally and destroyed domestically, Trump – as a wealthy, egomaniacal yet wholly inexperienced local elite with no real loyalties – is nearly the ideal of the US’s own preferred model of puppet dictators, non-military version. So I get people to stroke his ego and I send him Paul Manafort and other top US allies I’ve worked with before, and soon he’s nodding his head like the pliant narcissist I knew he’d be.

And now that Trump has actually won, it’s hard so far to find a single Trump appointment I wouldn’t have suggested. His – my – US national security team is poised to be composed entirely of retired generals who are various combinations of Russian allies, ideological fringe players, and incompetents, few of which have any relevant experience. Taken as a whole, they’re perfectly suited to unwittingly destroying US alliances, bogging the US down in petty local wars, and letting my Russia do whatever it likes.

Domestically? If I were Putin and wanted to engineer domestic American collapse- and the European economy with it – I’d go for fringe ideologues, people who have no relevant experience, and billionaires. That covers the entire domestic Trump team. At least three of Trump’s nominees virulently oppose the entire mission of the department they’re being hired to destroy lead; the economy is in the hands of people with gold-plated jets; housing and the cities are being given to a dude who thinks the pyramids were used to store grain; and none of them have ever managed an organization anywhere the size of the department they’ve been picked to head.

All of them, starting with my lead puppet in the White House, are genetically wired to brook no dissent. And those RNC hacks that were never released? The RNC does opposition research on their own people, too, and most of the RNC’s leadership was strongly opposed to Trump. My pliant Dear Leader knows that if he doesn’t follow orders, his tax returns or mob connections or the video I have of him and that nice Russian 13-year-old, or all three, will be sent out on his Twitter account instantly.

For a brilliant ex-KGB man like Vladimir Putin, putting together this sort of dream scenario is the equivalent of a parlor game, something to amuse and distract him from the more serious problems of his position. I doubt he ever thought he’d get to actually do all this. But here we are.

Is this all an intentional Russian plot? Who knows? Maybe Donald Trump really is just that arrogant and stupid. But honestly – does it matter? The fact that the question can even plausibly be asked is bad enough. The outcome is the same regardless.

Putin has Trump’s nuts in a vice or he doesn’t. We can’t know that part until he cracks them open, and by then it’s much, much too late. Either way, the American experiment with democracy may not survive. Either way, a hell of a lot of Americans will not ourselves survive the ideologically-driven Dickensian nightmare being lined up as you read this.

In the dozens of smaller countries where the US has backed or installed authoritarian leaders over the past several decades, it’s consistently been hard for the locals to oust those leaders. The suffering often lasts for generations. There’s a reason the US and other former colonial powers (including, now, Russia among its former republics) have all embraced this model. It works.

And now, the US is in such an unfamiliar position, receiving what for generations it has dished out, that only now is even a portion of our political establishment realizing the scope of the danger. We now have eight days to prevent Vladimir Putin from essentially becoming our Commander in Chief. After that, the remedies – starting with President Pence – get much more difficult and problematic, and the domestic death toll of vulnerable and poor starts to mount. The United States is facing an existential threat, and not only doesn’t know it, but is seeing it implemented by the spiritual descendants of the same people who used to worry so much about it.

Hyperbolic? I sure hope so.

But right now, five weeks into life with Donald Trump as incoming President of the United States, I’m not seeing any other theory that explains Trump’s actions and decisions nearly so well. And every day is bringing fresh evidence that whether or not President Trump is a Putin pawn, the chaos and suffering that is about to be unleashed on so many of us is real. Trump and his team are real, radical, and they will soon have very few real checks on their power.

Putin’s laughing, and benefiting, whether he’s responsible or not. It’ll be just as bad regardless.

Eight days.

Memo to Eastern Washington: Go Ahead. Secede. Please.

Amidst all the odious wingnuttery-infused bills now being filed by Republicans in advance of next month’s legislative session in Olympia, one in particular, House Joint Memorial 4000, filed by Reps. Bob McCaslin Jr. (R-Spokane Valley/Jurassic), Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley/Pliocene), and David Taylor (R-Yakima/Pleistocene), caught my eye. After a few “Whereas”‘s, the “Therefore” reads like this:

NOW, THEREFORE, Your Memorialists respectfully pray that the Congress of the United States consent to the formation of a new state to be named and known as the state of Liberty whose western boundary follows the crest of the Cascade mountains and the western borders of Okanogan, Chelan, Kittitas, Yakima, and Klickitat counties, and whose eastern, northern, and southern boundaries are the existing state borders.

In other words, they want the portion of Washington State east of the Cascades to secede, becoming the new state of “Liberty.” [sic]

At last, a Tea Party idea I can enthusiastically support. Please proceed. Don’t let the door hit you, etc.

Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an annual remembrance much loved by these sorts of self-styled patriots. But amidst all the media remembrances, the most immediately relevant aspect of this year’s anniversary was all but ignored. The bombing of Pearl Harbor was a seminal event for a generation of Americans whose sensibilities were forged by surviving a global depression followed by a global war against fascism. That generation broadly understood the need for shared sacrifice, that as a society we truly all are dependent upon each other. That generation created a vibrant middle class, an extensive safety net for those less fortunate, and mechanisms like the GI Bill that promoted unprecedented opportunity and class mobility. That generation, in the ’30s, was given the opportunity to embrace fascism. They rejected it so decisively that it’s taken 80 years to become a serious prospect again.

For decades aging hagiographers have called people of the Pearl Harbor era the “Greatest Generation,” but in reality it was just a generation responding to circumstance: the messes, here and in Europe, left by preceding Gilded Age hedonists. They weren’t particularly heroic; they just applied the lessons at hand, learned at the price of enormous human suffering.

And once they died off, over the last 40 years people like the sponsors of the state of “Liberty” have been trying to undo their legacies – culminating in the election of Donald Trump and the ascension to power of a generation of fringe ideologues who make the Gilded Age’s narcissists look altrustic. Nationally, we’re now facing rule by a cabal opposed not just to all public policies that help the less fortunate, but the very notion that they should give a fuck about anyone else, ever. That’s their idea of “Liberty,” though it notably excludes repealing laws that restrict the behavior of the many classes of people they don’t like. That’s why, ideologically, they’re less like libertarians and more like a white nationalist strain of fascists.

Which brings us to this week’s proposal for Eastern Washington to secede and form the state of Liberty.

According to the state’s Office of Financial Management, 22 of the 23 counties in this prospective new state are sucking hard at the teat of big state government. The booming economy of Puget Sound – especially King County – subsidizes most of the rest of Washington state. Only six counties – King, Kittitas, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom – generate more in tax revenue than the state lavishes upon them in expenditures – led by King County, which accounts for 42 percent of state revenue and only 29 percent of expenditures. (Thurston County, which includes Olympia, might also be a net positive were it not the seat of state government.)

Of those six counties, only one – Kittitas County, which includes Ellensburg and a number of smaller communities that cater to tourism from Seattle area residents – is east of the Cascades. In general, the state’s more rural counties are the biggest welfare bums, led by Ferry County, northwest of Spokane, a deep red county which gets $3.16 in state money for every dollar it contributes.

The sponsors of Liberty might be fine with this apparent lack of money to subsidize their new state, since they claim to not want to fund government anyway – but they’ll still need plenty of money for their corporate welfare buddies and to pay for locking up Teh Gayz and policing women’s ladyparts. And honestly, why should those of us in Seattle pay for that?

More pointedly, it’s the Republican delegation in Olympia, as typified by these three bill sponsors, which continues to prevent our state from reforming its antiquated tax structure and to block adequate education funding. In the era of Trump, our state face enormous additional pressures to replace lost federal funding for education, health care, housing, and any number of other urgent social needs. If Eastern Washington’s obstructionists go away, we just might be able to do that. If they stay, there’s no chance at all.

So, by all means, politicians from Liberty: Go away. Take half the state with you – the half that’s an economic dead weight on Puget Sound, and the half that prevents the rest of us from applying the lessons in shared sacrifice evoked by Pearl Harbor. We can take care of the social problems caused by explosive economic growth, and you can be West Idaho. Godspeed.

As a gesture of our profound gratitude, we’ll even let you take charge of clearing snow out of the passes. That way, when your new state goes bankrupt and the unplowed snow piles up, we’ll be protected from all the people wanting to flee Liberty.

Of course, a lot of people in Eastern Washington, just as in the states already controlled by politicians deeply opposed to the Enlightenment, will suffer needlessly under Liberty’s new regime. But there’s an easy remedy for that: stop electing reactionary white guys like Shea, McCaslin, and Taylor.

Or, if you insist, go ahead and keep electing them. Just don’t inflict them on the rest of us. Take your state and leave us alone. The sooner the better.

We’ll be just fine. Honest.