Alan Dershowitz Funny #1

Dershowitz on presidential powers…

The Alan Dershowitz Funnies – Collect them all!

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Donald Trump vs. Ferris Fremont

Comparing Donald Trump with the fictional president of an authoritarian state conjured up by SF writer Philip K. Dick. Listen to a short audiobook clip and see what resonates with you.

Radio Free Albemuth is a novel by P.K. Dick written in 1976, published posthumously in 1985. It’s not a final draft, and so has an improvisatory air that’s sometimes enjoyable, sometimes not.

Despite its flaws, there’s a lot to like; but I’m not reviewing the book here, or dealing with the totality of its plot and vision of America in the mid-70s, nor with Dick’s unique brand of gnosticism. My narrow purpose today is to compare a Philip K. Dick character — Ferris F. Fremont — with a Republican Party character — Donald J. Trump.

To lay the groundwork, I should nevertheless give a few minimal plot details. Radio Free Albemuth takes place in an alternate history where America has become an authoritarian state under the bootheel of president Ferris F. Fremont — sometimes described as a composite of Joseph R. McCarthy and Richard M. Nixon.

This is a dark period for America, but help has come in the form of VALIS — who in P.K. Dick’s iconography might be God, or might be an AI entity from a distant star. (But that doesn’t concern us here).

Groups supporting Fremont include FAP, or “Friends of the American People,” a right-wing populist group which spies and informs on citizens. Members of this group are called FAPers.

The rest is fairly self-explanatory, and the fun lies in tallying up the ways in which Trump resembles Fremont (and the ways he doesn’t).

Dick’s alternate history is dark, dystopian, paranoid, and conspiratorial. I’m not for a moment suggesting we live in that world, or that Donald Trump = Ferris Fremont. But as with books like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, asking tough questions about how our present day world compares with those fictional worlds is a great jumping off point for discussions among English and PolySci majors, or anybody else who gives a fig. 😉

So what’s the verdict? How close is Donald Trump to Ferris Fremont? And in what ways does our present world resemble the fictional world of Radio Free Albemuth?

For people who don’t actually listen to the excerpt, I should mention that P.K. Dick has an interesting answer to a perennial question:

Why should such disparate groups as the Soviet Union and the US intelligence community back the same man? I am no political theoretician, but Nicholas one time said, “They both like figureheads who are corrupt. So they can govern from behind. The Soviets and the fuzz, they’re all for shadow governments. They always will be, because basically each of them is the man with the gun. The pistol to the head.”

No one had put a pistol to Ferris Fremont’s head. He was the pistol itself, pointed at our head. Pointed at the people who had elected him. Behind him stood all the cops in the world, the left-wing cops in Russia, the right-wing cops in the United States. Cops are cops. There are only divisions of rank, into greater and lesser. The top cop is probably never seen.

Again, I’m not endorsing this ultra-paranoid (and somewhat simplistic) view, but it does suggest that authoritarianism is authoritarianism, whether left-wing or right-wing.

From another SF writer, Robert Heinlein, I learned the important distinction between bad and worse. The political situation in the US is bad at the moment, but things are far worse elsewhere. We are not yet living in a dictatorship. Still, it remains to be seen whether American democracy can survive the onslaught of billionaires funding covert psyops to shoe in their handpicked candidates, as with Cambridge Analytica.

Note 1: In case this isn’t obvious, much of the novel is written from a pacifist perspective. P.K. Dick is not advocating violence, but does reference the violence used by Ferris Fremont to ascend to power.

Note 2: Regular readers would know that I frequently write about peace studies and the need to create a more peaceful world. To discuss Dick’s dark, dystopian vision is obviously not to endorse it.

Note 3: The excerpt is read by Tom Weiner. I’ve searched for working commercial links to the full audiobook produced by Blackstone Audio, but it appears to be out-of-stock, possibly discontinued.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Links

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
Auspicious Good Fortune (free audiobook!)
Blackstone Audio

Quote of the Day

“The Constitution? We can dismember it for you wholesale…”

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The Immigrant with Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance

Although a comedy, this classic film from the silent era provides an iconic view of those arriving at Ellis Island and beholding the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Plus, Josh White sings “One Meat Ball,” and we also discuss Wayne Wang’s film Chan Is Missing.

With all the talk of Donald Trump and immigration, as well as the visit of French president Emmanuel Macron, I thought readers would enjoy seeing The Immigrant, that wonderful Charlie Chaplin short from 1917. A fine restored print with tasteful classical music and beautiful typography!

There’s a lot to admire here, including Chaplin’s incredible dexterity and comic genius (watch him do a full pitcher’s windup throwing dice!), as well as the expressive countenance of Edna Purviance. But amidst the laughs, the moment when the Statue of Liberty comes into view is still solemn and moving over a hundred years later. What a wonderful gift from the French people!

You might think a film made so long ago would be hopelessly archaic. But I like to pretend the film was made only yesterday by an ambitious film student trying to ape the silent era. Then I notice what a good job he or she did. The dining hall scene is fresh and hilarious, and there’s something about the way that people are herded at Ellis Island, with number tags pinned to their lapels, that comments on the assembly line quality of the newly minted twentieth century.

I’m thinking of another choice film about the immigrant experience: Wayne Wang’s Chan Is Missing (1982). His first critically acclaimed film, it’s a mystery wrapped in a cinéma vérité portrait of San Francisco’s Chinatown and its diverse people and politics. The lead character is a taxi driver named Jo, played by the eminently likable Wood Moy (1918-2017).

Wood Moy plays Jo in Wayne Wang’s “Chan Is Missing”

Moy was very active in the Asian American Theatre Company, and also had a small part in Class Action. In Chan he doubles as narrator and jokes about the F.O.B’s — fresh off the boat — who in the modern era come off jumbo jets.

Jo is trying to solve the mystery of his friend Chan Hung, who disappeared amidst conflict between pro-Taiwan and pro-PRC factions over a flag-waving incident. Now, whether it’s Jane Marple, Sam Spade, Columbo, or George Smiley doing the digging, the detective genre has always been a perfect means to explore a multitude of characters, each of whom has an angle they’re working. The detective must sift through not just their stories, but their different cultural takes on reality.

The missing Chan Hung turns out to be a many-faceted character who’s described differently by each person Jo interviews; but in the course of the film we see the Chinese immigrant experience in all its richness and complexity, with rollicking humor, and a poignant look at the contrast between elderly Chinese and the “ultra-tasty dish” described in the song “Grant Avenue” (from Flower Drum Song). SPOILER CLIP:

If you live in the NYC area, you can see a film screening of Chan Is Missing at the New York Public Library at Chatham Square on May 5th. Further details here.

Coming back to The Immigrant, one can hardly watch Charlie Chaplin’s performance as a financially strapped diner without recalling Josh White’s performance of “One Meat Ball”:

In our present era, which seems dominated by the rich, powerful, bold and brassy, I take to heart the waiter’s hollered dictum that “You gets no bread with one meat ball!” Probably not a cry heard much at Mar-a-Lago, though there’s a Stormy Daniels joke lurking somewhere in the vicinity. It all seems quite remote from the Statue of Liberty (though Melania Trump is rumoured to own a designer babushka).

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Of Further Interest

The Great Storm
Salvation – a short film exploring NYC snowscapes
Chyi Yu: Voice of Innocence Part 2

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No More Stormenatti!

Please, my fellow liberals, stop treating Stormy Daniels like a civil rights hero, and stop booking Michael Avenatti on every show in the MSNBC lineup…

I get it. Daniels and Avenatti are going up against Donald Trump, so it’s tempting to welcome them as fellow travelers, or at least “enemies of mine enemy.” But if Republicans have become roundly unprincipled, liberals should stand up squarely for something better than the crass opportunism represented by Stormenatti.

I’m a liberal, but not a knee-jerk liberal. I tend to embrace causes of social compassion and human rights. I also try and see through all forms of propaganda and b.s. I just can’t take any more #Stormenatti on MSNBC, particularly on Lawrence O’Donnell, where Avenatti is given nothing but softballs to hit. It’s like a Bizarro World version of Fox News, but with liberal propaganda. It’s transparently bad journalism, and drives away principled people who might otherwise be allies.

Politics can be a mixed bag; it sometimes brings us insight, but other times asks us to put on blinders. Yea to the former but nay to the latter.

If you’re not just playing politics, but take a principled stand against Donald Trump due to his unbridled hucksterism, then you should also take a stand against Daniels and Avenatti — for the same reason. Not that I want their legal bid to fail; I just don’t want to see them dominate the news or be held up as role models.

Metaphorically speaking, Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels both inhabit the same grindhouse exploitation film — and the person they’re exploiting is you the viewer. They’re both in show business, both insatiable publicity hounds, and perhaps neither has much to offer beyond the brassy, artificially inflated personas they flash for the cameras.

I’m not suggesting a ban on coverage of #Stormenatti, but please don’t make it/them nightly attractions, and please practice basic journalism, like asking tough, skeptical questions about their means and motives.

What is the great civil rights cause championed by Stormy Daniels and her lawyer? That she ought to get paid more than $130,000 for having sex with Donald Trump and keeping quiet about it?

What are the underlying circumstances? Why were she and other porn stars hanging around the golf resort where Trump was staying? Because they were on the lookout for millionaires, hoping that an initial hookup might be bartered into a hefty wad of cash — which Daniels eventually got. Later, she made a self-interested business decision that if she could overturn the contract that netted her $130,000 for one night’s work, she could make millions as a celebrity in her own right. Gandhi, MLK, and Susan B. Anthony move over!

I’m not a lawyer, and don’t pretend to understand the legal distinction between “blackmail” and “hush money.” But if there is a legal distinction (and it may be a fine one), I see very little moral and ethical distinction. So, notwithstanding that I’m a liberal, it makes me want to throw up when I see the shrewd and rapacious Michael Avenatti blathering away on Lawrence O’Donnell as if his client were a cross between Joan of Arc and Harriet Tubman.

One can cover newsmakers from a liberal point of view while still retaining an iota of skepticism. The New York Times covers #Stormenatti, but with a tad of snarkiness that helps restore perspective. This they do by interspersing factual narrative with titles of films in which Daniels actually starred. My favourite (make-believe) ones are Bring Me Some Head for Alfredo Garcia and Three Days of the Condom (links are Roger Ebert reviews).

I’m always trying to refine my understanding, and to avoid saying what’s already been said better. So when researching this post, coming across “Stormy Daniels is a feminist heroine,” I assumed it must be meant sarcastically. I was gobsmacked to find it was a credulous (if rhetorical) claim by none other than Krystal Ball, who often appears on MSNBC.

My mind works in a discursive manner, so I can only say that I’m reminded of a scene from a DVD extra called “Dr. Forever! – The Celestial Toyroom.” It’s about the toys that Doctor Who fans had when they were kids. Some toys came in boxes of Weetabix wholegrain cereal — which was a terrific marketing coup, and had the side benefit of keeping millions of young Britons extremely regular. Sadly, Krystal Ball was not among them.

By all means, let’s treat all people everywhere decently, and let’s not be overly judgmental. The conservative right tends to apply hateful stereotypes to women who make certain less-than-ideal career choices, but the fallacy in Ms. Ball’s thinking is that she applies a syrupy inverted stereotype to the same women. In truth, Ms. Daniels is neither an untouchable sinner, nor a feminist heroine taking back power from the patriarchy one spank at a time. Like her lawyer, Daniels is just another huckster, not easily distinguishable from millions of other hucksters who dot American life, from telemarketers to folk selling quack baldness remedies on late night TV. May they one day find better wisdom.

As human beings, we are all of us more than we appear to be. In characterizing where some people presently are, I don’t mean to restrict, confine, or belittle them. We all have the potential to bring out deeper aspects of our selves — aspects which are in some sense truer. But that acquisitive instinct or spirit of hucksterism tends to be a stumbling block, making it hard for us to be our best selves.

If we recognize this greediness to be a stumbling block in human nature, then we would ideally choose as role models those who epitomize unselfishness and charity.

There’s a sense in which real estate magnates and porn stars go together. They are both found at golf resorts plying their respective trades or proclivities. But the world is so much bigger than that! America is a great and good nation, and the national attention should be focused on better things.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Peaceful Morning Meditation Music April 13th

Celebrate the dawn with the music of thirteen different artists…

I hope you enjoy this peaceful morning meditation music:

The styles and instruments may differ, but these thirteen artists are all performing variations on the same song: “Usha Bala Elo” by Sri Chinmoy. Judging by the number of recordings, it’s one of the most popular songs among his students.

Lyrics:

Usha bala elo
Dhire aji dhire
Hridaya gabhire

Translation:

Slowly, very slowly,
The virgin dawn appears
In the very depths of my aspiration-heart.

Source: SriChinmoySongs.com

This beautiful song with its simple melody is very enjoyable to sing. Usha means “dawn,” and can also refer to the Goddess Usha, who is celebrated in the ancient Rig Veda, where she is identified with the dawn and described as a bringer of light.

In poetry and song, we need not choose a single meaning. We can enjoy the superimposition of the outer and inner meanings. In the outer world, we can imagine the first rays of the dawn softly illuminating the sky, and in the inner world we can feel a new dawn, new light, new consciousness appearing in the depths of our heart.

April 13th is a special day for those who admire Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). On April 13th, 1964 he arrived in the West and began a remarkable decades-long career as a teacher, composer, musician, poet, artist, athlete, and humanitarian.

He composed thousands of songs, but “Usha Bala Elo” is certainly one of his most beloved.

Of the versions performed here, two merit special attention because they are medleys. Master sitarist Adesh Widmer begins with “Usha Bala Elo,” but also works in other tunes by Sri Chinmoy. And arranger Paree Atkins creates a rich tapestry for large ensemble, beginning with another of Sri Chinmoy’s dawn songs: “Andhakarer Bakka Chiri”:

Lyrics:

Andhakarer bakka chiri
Khulche ushar toran oi
Jaya dhwani kare sabe
Khoka khuki achhish koi
Arun ranga charan phele
Usha rani ese
Khelar chale anlo tene
Ajana ei deshe

Translation:

Behold, tearing the heart of darkness,
the door of dawn opens.
O children, where are you?
Sing, sing the divine glory.
The queen of dawn descends
with her morning rays.
She has dragged me down
into this world unknown.

Source: SriChinmoyLibrary.com

Paree incorporates both the original Bengali and the English translation into her choral fantasia, adding a welcome dynamic element to the mix!

Artists and Links

These are the artists performing “Usha Bala Elo”:

1. Silence-Hearts
2. Phulendu
3. Hiya Bhasha
4. Akasha
5. Utsava and Friends
6. Purnakama
7. Song-Waves
8. Adesh
9. Adarsha
10. Paree’s Group
11. Ananda
12. Sri Chinmoy
13. Satja

Many, many thanks to Sri Chinmoy, to the artists performing his music, and to Radio Sri Chinmoy, where much of this music is freely available. (It is truly a treasure trove.)

This year, April 13th happens to fall on a Friday. But after a peaceful morning meditation, we need not surrender to bad luck or Fright Night. The light of the dawn can carry us through to the evening, and at day’s end we can enjoy sweet, peaceful dreams.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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“Drain the Swamp” or “Pad the Reptile Fund”?

Did President Trump’s lawyer Michael D. Cohen use some form of slush fund to pay off Stormy Daniels? Tying together themes from Stormygate, Watergate, and Smiley’s People.

From emerging investigations, we know that “Drain the Swamp” was a political slogan devised by the Trump campaign which tested well and could be used to manipulate voter sentiment, even though it had nothing to do with Donald Trump’s policies, agenda, or history as a real estate developer, beauty contest impresario, and legendary gropemeister.

The recent slew of corruption scandals involving members of the Trump administration (including Scott Pruitt), suggests a polar opposite slogan: “Pad the Reptile Fund!”

What exactly is a reptile fund? The term has been attributed to Otto von Bismarck in the late nineteenth century, but seems to have fallen into disuse. It was majorly revived by British spy novelist John le Carré in his series of cold war thrillers adapted for film and TV. These include:

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Smiley’s People

In that context, a reptile fund is a fund maintained for the explicit purpose of paying off lowlifes like scalphunters, blackmailers, or women hired to take part in “honey traps” like those referenced in the Channel Four undercover exposé of Cambridge Analytica. This was the political consulting firm used by the Trump campaign for their digital operations in 2016 — a firm in which Trump ally Steve Bannon played a major role between 2013 and 2016.

In the undercover video captured by Channel Four, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix (now suspended) is seen telling a man posing as a prospective client that one way they can damage a political opponent is to bring over some Ukrainian girls to Sri Lanka and have them go to the candidate’s house. The fruit of that operation can then be put up on the Internet without anyone knowing where the video came from.

I would venture to guess that while Trump and associates have never had much to do with draining swamps, padding the reptile fund is quite their style! This issue heated up on April 5 when, aboard Air Force One, President Trump was asked a series of probing questions about the Stormy Daniels matter by AP reporter Catherine Lucey. At first, Trump seemed willing to answer; but when Lucey asked if Trump had ever set up a fund of money that his attorney could draw from, Trump suddenly became tongue-tied.

The notion of a slush fund is popular among some people trying to make sense of the scanty facts available in the Daniels matter. Maybe Trump’s attorney Cohen — who is known as a 24/7 “fixer” for Trump — had standing orders to pay off any women who might make trouble just before the 2016 election, with the understanding that Cohen would be reimbursed later — perhaps when Trump was no longer in office, and perhaps through some byzantine series of LLCs covertly funded by billionaires, either in the U.S. or much farther East. (One hopes the Special Counsel is looking into such possibilities.)

The “standing orders” theory would explain how Cohen could be doing what Trump wanted done without Trump knowing the specifics. It’s an arrangement which would give Trump plausible deniability, while also to some extent shielding Cohen from the charge that he was acting without consulting his client. If Cohen’s client Trump had issued standing orders to pay hush money to blackmailers or potential writers of “true confession” stories, this might shield both men from some (but not all) potential charges.

Under the standing orders theory, Cohen’s agreed-upon role would be to be the fixer and take the hit for anything that might be deemed unlawful. For example, if the money paid to Stormy Daniels is eventually construed to be an illegal campaign contribution, then Cohen would be the one to take the rap (if any). But Cohen would expect that Trump would eventually see him right. After all, Cohen supposedly knows where “all the bodies are buried” in the metaphorical Trump haunted house. Trump may stiff people right and left, but Cohen probably assumes that Trump wouldn’t permanently stiff him.

The “standing orders” plus “plausible deniability” theory manages to explain something which other theories don’t: Namely, how could Donald Trump possibly not know about the Stormy Daniels payoff? Under this theory, it’s Michael Cohen’s job to handle it himself and make sure Trump has no specific knowledge of it, keep it away from him, shield him from it.

Cohen might have access to an official, unofficial, or even improvised reptile fund to pay off women like Daniels. He might even use funds from his own home equity line to make the $130,000 payment (if that claim made to CNN is true), fully expecting to be made whole by Trump in the distant future.

A New York Times article describes Cohen as Trump’s “aggressive spokesman and lieutenant who would take on the real estate mogul’s antagonists,” likening Cohen’s role to that played by Roy Cohn for Trump decades earlier.

Cohen’s role as fixer and cutout man is not a traditional lawyer-client relationship to be sure; but it is a relationship that might be worked out between two longtime business partners who are veterans of many shady deals or operations where things need fixing, and who both understand the role which each man needs to play, and the type of public denials which each man needs to issue. Imagine a brief, hypothetical conversation between Cohen and Trump which goes something like this:

Cohen: Someone came to the candy store.
Trump: Really? Did you give them candy?
Cohen: I had to. It was a Stormy night.
Trump: Thanks, I owe you one.

Slush funds and cutout men are hardly unknown in the world of Washington politics. During the Nixon administration, Nixon’s personal lawyer Herbert W. Kalmbach recruited private detective Tony Ulasewicz to be the “bagman” who delivered cash to Watergate burglars in order to buy their silence.

In our topsy-turvy world, those who have studied the law or worked in law enforcement are sometimes used to find creative ways to skirt the law. Bagman Ulasewicz was a retired NYC police detective. According to the above-linked Times article, “The [Watergate] hearings turned more sober when Mr. Ulasewicz acknowledged that his bagman role was part of a criminal enterprise.”

Claims that Trump “threw Cohen under the bus” in his Air Force One comments to Catherine Lucey are not consistent with the theory propounded here. Rather, it would be Cohen’s role in this kabuki drama to accept the blame for paying off Daniels, thus shielding Trump — willingly participating in Trump’s implied defense that Cohen had gone rogue.

MSNBC’s Katy Tur reports that Cohen told her he would “take a bullet” for Donald Trump, while The New York Times claims Cohen has been known to carry a licensed pistol in an ankle holster. Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker describes Cohen as Trump’s “consigliere” and “enforcer” — someone who “makes stuff go away.”

These characterizations suggest that what investigators armed with a boatload of evidence are finding is not just isolated acts of wrongdoing, but a pattern of organized corruption — corruption which would be undesirable in the world of real estate, casinos, and beauty pageants; but is wholly unacceptable in and around the White House.

More about Smiley’s People

In the larger context of current events, Smiley’s People turns out to be especially relevant. In 1982 it was made into a six-part miniseries by the BBC. An early plot point involves an ex-Soviet general who defected to the West being shot dead in Hampstead Heath by Russian agents. Now, over 35 years later, we immediately think of the Sergei Skripal poisoning incident in Salisbury.

George Smiley, who was a senior official in “The Circus” (Carré’s thinly disguised version of MI6) is called out of retirement to pick up the pieces — or sweep them under the rug. The general’s assassination is viewed by most bureaucrats as a scandal to be hushed up, except by Smiley (played by the late Sir Alec Guinness), who’s determined to get to the bottom of it.

Smiley placates the bureaucrats, aping the role of cutout man and fixer assigned to him, but secretly persevering — looking up his old hunting buddies from The Circus, many of whom (like Smiley) are now somewhat disaffected. “Welcome to Siberia!” exclaims Connie Sachs, the deposed former head of research, who now runs an animal boarding establishment, and is nearly defunct through old age and alcoholism. Sachs is played by Beryl Reid, a veteran of The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954) and No Sex Please, We’re British (1973). For her role in Smiley’s People, she won a BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress.

SPOILERS In the course of his investigation, Smiley learns that General Vladimir was using his “lieutenant” Otto Leipzig to blackmail Russian agent Oleg Kirov, whom he had caught in a honey trap. The trail leads back to Karla, a cover name for a man who (as KGB head) “controls the whole of Russia.” Karla is Smiley’s old nemesis from past deep-frozen battles, his “black Grail.”

Like General Vladimir, Otto Leipzig is killed by Russian agents, but never divulges the location where the kompromat material is stashed. Smiley finds that it includes a video of Kirov cavorting with prostitutes. Smiley eventually puts together all the puzzle pieces, and is able to wage a successful counter-campaign against Karla.

It turns out the tough-as-nails Karla has a daughter named Tatiana whom he loves, but who suffers from schizophrenia. Karla has embezzled public monies to covertly install her in a private clinic in Switzerland. He’s also gone to great lengths to provide a “legend” (or cover story) for her, falsely claiming that she is Alexandra Ostrakova, the daughter of a Russian emigre now living in Paris, not the daughter of the KGB’s Übermensch.

This was the trail General Vladimir and Otto Leipzig were barking down when they were killed. Once Smiley firms up the details, he’s able to effectively checkmate Karla and force him to defect to the West, in order to safeguard his daughter’s future and his own.

As in the Stormy Daniels saga, aliases abound in Smiley’s People. George Smiley himself is also known as Max, the Vicar, Mr. Sampson, Mr. Standfast, Mr. Barraclough, and Alan Angel (but never David Dennison).

Among fans of Carré’s so-called Karla Trilogy, Smiley is a beloved anti-hero: no dashing James Bond figure, but gray, elderly, deliberate, and having the sort of persistent intelligence which can see through a brick wall in time. (And with that observation, I’m through trying to tie Smiley’s People to the Mueller probe.)

The direct televisual predecessor of Smiley’s People is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, in which Karla has succeeded in planting a Russian mole inside The Circus, very near the top. And while no one has suggested that Donald Trump is a Russian mole, people have suggested that he’s been compromised by Russian influence, Russian money, and possible kompromat material, so that by and large he’s not an honest broker on Russia-related issues, and can’t always be relied upon to stand up to Russia where Russia is clearly in the wrong or a bad actor.

Trump’s own autocratic tendencies and seeming love of dictators do little to soften this impression.


Sidebar 1: Duty of Counsel

Much is being made of the duty of Michael D. Cohen to keep his client Donald Trump apprised of developments, and get his informed consent for any legal settlements reached. As a non-attorney, my understanding is that these things must be done to the satisfaction of the client. In the real world, the State Bar is not likely to go after Michael Cohen unless his client Donald Trump complains that he’s unhappy with Cohen’s performance. But under the “standing orders” plus “plausible deniability” theory, Trump would be perfectly happy with Cohen’s performance, and would have no reason to complain to the Bar.

Under this theory, Donald Trump basically says to Michael Cohen: “I give you standing authorization to handle any bimbo eruptions, make payments, and reach settlements on my behalf without further instructions, and without troubling me about the details.” If that’s what Cohen indeed did, and was acting in keeping with Trump’s broad instructions, it’s unclear that Cohen would be in any danger of disbarment.

Of course, if the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels is later ruled an illegal campaign contribution, that could be more problematic for Cohen, but would not necessarily result in criminal charges leading to disbarment. According to one Huffington Post article, when contributions exceeding legal limits are unearthed, this sometimes results in refunds rather than indictments.

The way the Stormy Daniels matter is currently shaking out, the NDA may be invalidated, Daniels may refund the $130,000 she took to remain silent, and sell her story to the tabloids for lots more money. One pictures a heavily ghosted book on the horizon, a lifetime invite to The View — maybe even her impression in concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, next to Uggie the terrier, who also has a book deal. (“Standing on stage at the Golden Globes, I knew I was a star. Never had I imagined there was anything better than a piece of sausage, but the applause! The acclaim!”)

If Daniels returns the money to Cohen, and Cohen claims he only paid her out of personal loyalty to Trump, or to spare Trump’s family (but not for political reasons), then Cohen might get off scot-free, at least with respect to the Daniels matter. But he could potentially face other charges stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Cohen and Trump’s business dealings in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Russia. There are persistent rumors (unverified by this lowly blogger) that there’s a whole “rat’s nest” of financial wrongdoing in that neck of the woods. BREAKING NEWS: The Washington Post is now reporting that “Trump attorney Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud…”


Sidebar 2 – All The President’s Men (excerpt)

Woodward called the GAO investigator every day to learn how the audit was progressing.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars in unaccounted cash,” the GAO man said one day. “A slush fund of cash,” he said the next. “A rat’s nest behind the surface efficiency of computerized financial reporting,” the third. With each day that Woodward did not write a story, the investigator felt freer to talk to him. Fitting these remarks together with another investigator’s, Woodward was becoming convinced that the cash “slush fund” was the same “convention security money” Bernstein had heard about early in July. The fund, which totaled at least $100,000, included the money from Barker’s bank account obtained from cashing Dahlberg’s check, according to the investigator.

Bernstein made one of his regular calls to the former administration official and was told: “There was a large fund over which Gordon Liddy had supervision. . . . Yeah, it’s the same one. The present plan is for Liddy to take the fall for everyone. The story that the re-election committee will put out has nothing to do with the truth. They’ll say they were deeply concerned for the security of their convention and that they had a big fund to be sure they were secure from interference. That’s the word that will trickle out. Mitchell said to get the story out. Too many guys knew about the fund.”

The reporters waited. Several days later, on August 16, Clark MacGregor met with a select group of White House reporters and made the first public attempt to shift the responsibility to Liddy. While serving as CRP’s finance counsel, MacGregor said, Liddy had spent campaign funds on his own initiative “for the purpose of determining what to do if the crazies made an attack on the President” at the Republican convention.

Later that afternoon on the telephone, MacGregor was angered by Woodward’s attempt to get a fuller explanation. “I have no idea why the departed Gordon Liddy wanted cash,” MacGregor shouted. “It’s impossible for me to tell. . . . I never met Liddy. . . . I don’t know what’s going on.” Woodward suggested that MacGregor was implying that he was out of touch with the campaign he was supposed to be running.

“If you print that, our relationship is terminated,” MacGregor said, and added: “I’m not threatening you. I’m just telling you what will happen.” MacGregor was one of the few Nixon administration officials who had a reputation for being friendly with the press.

• • •

On August 22, the second day of the Republican convention in Miami, the Post’s front page reported the preliminary findings of the GAO’s audit. Based primarily on Woodward’s conversations with the investigators, the story said the GAO had determined that CRP had mishandled more than $500,000 in campaign funds—including at least $100,000 maintained in an apparently illegal “security fund.”

Paul E. Barrick, Hugh Sloan’s successor as treasurer, responded on behalf of CRP: “Washington Post stories of allegations to the effect that the . . . committee has incorrectly reported or failed to report contributions and expenditures in accordance with law are entirely wrong.”

The rawest nerve touched by the GAO’s preliminary findings, however, was not that at least half a million dollars had been mishandled but the revelation of a “security fund” at the committee. For more than five weeks, Van Shumway, a former wire-service reporter who had come to the committee from the White House staff, had been insisting that no such fund existed. He had told Bernstein in July, “One thing I will never do is knowingly tell you something that is untrue.” Now Shumway said he had since learned that there was such a fund. “I’m afraid some people here aren’t telling me the truth,” he added.

— excerpt from All The President’s Men, Chapter 3, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster, 1974

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

BREAKING: “F.B.I. Raids Office of Trump’s Longtime Lawyer Michael Cohen” (The New York Times)

Links – Smiley’s People on YouTube

Smiley’s People Part 1
Smiley’s People Part 2
Smiley’s People Part 3
Smiley’s People Part 4
Smiley’s People Part 5
Smiley’s People Part 6

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Scott Pruitt Jokes

View Scott Pruitt’s day planner and explore euphemisms used to describe his performance.

I’ve already ribbed the EPA chief in “Scott Pruitt Fires His Food-Taster” (part of Political Potpourri here). But the target is just too rich…

Amidst scandals like approving a pesticide that causes brain damage and taking perks from lobbyists, Pruitt is defended by the Dept. of Euphemism Dept. (an EPA sub-agency). According to them, one of Pruitt’s achievements has been “regulatory certainty.” Yes friends, if you’re an industrial polluter you can rest easy knowing for certain that Scott Pruitt doesn’t give two sh-ts.

Under Trump, our government works in euphemism as a potter works in clay. What other gems might they come up with? Well, “proactive” is a good word. “Scott Pruitt has been proactive in doing sod all to help the environment.”

“High standards” is also a winner. “During his tenure, Pruitt has meticulously maintained high standards when it comes to rolling back Obama-era regulations designed to curb pollution.”

Why does Pruitt need a 20-man security detail? Is he starting a men’s glee club? Actually, it’s because among environmentalists it’s commonly known that Pruitt doesn’t give a flying fig about the environment. He’d stick pins in it if he could. There shouldn’t be an environment. Bah! Humbug!

Recently there was an incident where his security detail couldn’t rouse him, so fearing the worst (that he’d disappeared up his own backside), they broke down the door to his lobbyist-supplied-at-a-discount condo. No such luck!

Let me clue you in, guys. Sitting there doing nothing, being totally unresponsive, is Scott Pruitt’s default position as EPA head. No need to trouble him during one of his long snoozes. He’s doing exactly what Donald Trump appointed him to do.

Scott Pruitt’s Day Planner

scott-pruitt-day-planner-EPA

A tribute in song to the Trump-Pruitt relationship:

Scott Pruitt’s Day Planner (text version)

MY MOTIVATION THIS WEEK:
Keep the Trumpster happy. Bring at least 10 lbs. strawberry Starbursts in tribute. No stripper this time. Melania watching.

MUST DO TODAY:
Monday: DO NOTHING
Tuesday: DO NOTHING
Wednesday: DO NOTHING
Thursday: DO NOTHING  MEET WITH LOBBYISTS
Friday: Organize baseball game with security detail. N.B.: Choose only BEST 18 men. Others may be dispatched to fetch my lunch, shine my shoes, or repair the Cone of Silence.

HOPING TO ACCOMPLISH:
As discussed in meeting of Mar 06, do nothing about environmental issues. Roll back wherever possible. Deny climate change. Lower emissions standards.

SOMETIME THIS WEEK:
– Attend Easter Egg roll. Explain to kiddies that industrial pollutants are our friends.
– Get Sarah H. to clean my condo. Tell her not to spit Milk Duds on carpet this time.

NOTE TO SELF:
Hire another chef. List as food-taster on expense report. Louie almost worked out, but used too little cream in my Quenelles de Brochet. SAD!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Easter Laugh

A clip from the Vicar of Dibley Easter Bunny episode to make you smile

I hope everyone’s having a wonderful Easter. I wanted to post something more profound for Easter, but am feeling a bit run down. Too much posting about politics, I expect. 😉

Anyway, here’s a fun clip from the Vicar of Dibley Easter special made in 1996:

It was the last episode with Letitia Cropley, played by a wonderful old British character actress named Liz Smith, who I also noticed in Britannia Hospital (alongside Leonard Rossiter a.k.a. Reggie Perrin). Both alas gone now. Liz Smith passed away on Christmas Eve of 2016 at the age of 95.

Still, the sight of Dawn French in a bunny costume has got to be worth a laugh. Happy Easter!

Michael

Past Easter Posts

Easter Thoughts on Mercy
Bach’s St. John Passion: Crucifixion

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