SOMETHING WE CAN DO TODAY: Demand that our representatives come out in favor of the “Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act” to protect the Mueller investigation

Donald Trump just reversed himself yet once again on the subject of Russian election interference. After reluctantly agreeing with U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had, in fact, sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, Donald Trump changed course again this evening, calling the whole thing “a big hoax” perpetrated by President Obama. While I’d like nothing better than to rant about this most recent outrage, I think I’ve probably dedicated enough time to the subject of Russian influence since last week’s joint Trump-Putin press conference, during which our President sided with the Kremlin over his own intelligence agencies. So, I’m not going to speculate any further on what kind of leverage Putin may have over Trump, or, for that matter, go off on a salacious tangent about recently outed Russian spy Maria Butina and her well-documented campaign to infiltrate conservative organizations, like the NRA, using sex and cash. I’ve decided instead to spend my time this evening writing about one small thing we can all do to help keep the investigation moving forward.

Right now, today, we can all demand that our representatives in D.C. support legislation to protect the Mueller investigation. The legislation already exists. It just need to have it brought to a vote. And we can help do that.

First, here’s the history.

On April 26 of this year, Senate Bill 2644 (S.2644), the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with a 14–7 vote. The bill, which, if signed into law, would “give any special counsel 10 days after being fired to challenge the termination in front of a three-judge panel in federal court,” passed through the committee with the support of every Democrat, as well as four Republicans; Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, and Senators Thom Tillis, Jeff Flake, and Lindsey Graham, who authored the bill. Sadly, though, as it passed through committee over the objection of Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, it was doomed to failure. McConnell, saying, “we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” refused to bring it to a vote. [“I don’t think (Donald Trump) should fire Mueller, and I don’t think he is going to,” McConnell told Fox News at the time. “So this is a piece of legislation that’s not necessary, in my judgment.”] And the legislation, since then, has languished in limbo.

Yes, I realize that, even if it were to pass the Senate, it would likely be an uphill battle to get it through the House. [The House version of the bill, sponsored by Jerrold Nadler, is H.R. 5476.] And, even if it were to pass both the House and the Senate, it would still have to be signed into law by the President, which would be incredibly unlikely, given that he’s likely a Russian asset. With that said, though, I still think it’s a fight worth having, if only to know definitively which members of Congress, when push comes to shove, are willing to stand up for the rule of law.

So, if you’re looking for something to do, other than just vent about the most recent outrage, here are a few things that you can do today.

1. You can look up the phone numbers of your Senators, give them a call, and request that they both come out publicly in favor of S.2644, and demand that Senate Majority Leader McConnell bring it to a vote immediately.

2. You can look up the phone number of your Representative, call their office, and demand that they come out in favor of H.R. 5476.

As I noted earlier, up until now, Republican leadership has been stalling, saying that such legislation isn’t necessary, but, maybe, with the tide beginning to turn against Trump after his side-by-side appearance next to Vladimir Putin, during which he took the side of the Russians over his own intelligence community, things may have shifted enough to make it possible. And, let’s not forget, as McConnell will need every Republican vote to get Brett Kavanaugh through to the Supreme Court, there might be an opportunity for Republican Senators to force him to first bring the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act to a vote. At least, I figure, it’s worth a shot… So, if you live in Arizona, call up Jeff Flake’s office and say, “Before you vote for Kavanaugh, demand that McCain put S.2644 on the floor for a vote.” And tell everyone you know in Arizona to do the same.

[For what it’s worth, I’d also like to write posts like this about some other initiatives, like the attempt to subpoena Trump’s tax records. Hopefully I can stay focused long enough to make that happen.]

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The legacy of CBGB further unwinds into nothingness with Target’s East Village appropriation

I try my best not to be too terribly sentimental about things. I understand that, no matter how much we might try to stop it from happening, everything changes. I know, eventually, everything wonderful and meaningful is destroyed and replaced.

As I’ve discussed here before, though, there are certain things I find it difficult to let go of. And one of those things is CBGB, the filthy, little East Village bar where a disproportionate number of my favorite bands got their start. I’m not sure why I’m so invested in the legacy of a bar that I never even stepped foot inside of until a decade after it stopped being relevant, but I can’t help it. And, I should add, I know it wasn’t by any means a paradise, even during its heyday. But, for some reason, I’ve invested a lot of myself in the mythology of this place, where outcasts and artists came together to launch an assault against the prevailing corporate culture of the day. [The building, I think, should have been preserved at Greenfield Village, right alongside Thomas Edison’s laboratory, and the Wright brothers bicycle shop. Instead it now houses an upscale clothing store.]

I didn’t leave Georgia for New Jersey until ’78, and, by then, all of the good stuff at CBGB, which was about a 50 minute drive away from where my parents decided to move us, had pretty much already happened. Punk, by then, was evolving into something different. The bands like the Ramones, Television, and Talking Heads, all of whom would come to mean so much to me in my later adolescence, were already giving way to the next wave, led by the likes of the Sex Pistols. And that wasn’t really my scene, at least in the fourth grade. [I can still remember being glued in horror to my friend David Spivey’s television set suburban Atlanta, watching news coverage in January ’78 of the Sex Pistols arriving downtown to start their their U.S. tour. In retrospect, David and I should have hauled our ten year old asses down there and been part of history, but, at the time, I was absolutely terrified at the thought of them being just a few miles away.] But, as a kid growing up relatively isolated in rural New Jersey, this music, and the mythology of CBGB, would come to mean the world to me.

At any rate, the evolution of CBGB is something that I’ve lamented here several times in the past, marking with outrage each poorly executed step in the commoditization of this thing that I perceived to be so important. Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote a few years after the bar closed its doors in 2006, as CBGB’s “unwinding into nothingness” accelerated.

…Now, of course, Hilly is dead, as are many of the people who helped make CBGB infamous, and the bar itself is an upscale clothing store, where you can buy $165 t-shirts. I suppose the beauty of life is that it’s always evolving, and I guess that’s especially true in New York. Change happens. And that’s how a little country, bluegrass and blues dive came to be home to some of the most important artists of the late 20th century. While it breaks my heart a bit to see the whole thing unwind into nothingness like this, I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that nothing good last forever. And that’s probably for the best. All we can hope for is that, on occasion, we’re around when one of these fleeting opportunities to arise from that nothingness presents itself, and nudges us all onto a slightly different, more interesting course. And that, I think, is what happened 40 years ago in New York…

Well, apparently I hadn’t really come to terms with it after all… Today, as I was looking at this photos from the East Village Grieve, I found myself right back in the same place that I was about half a dozen years ago, when I’d first heard that Nordstrom was selling official, $100 CBGB t-shirts.

If it’s not clear from the photos, these are images of a new Target store that opened yesterday at 14th Street and Avenue A, in the East Village, not far from what CBGB once stood. As you can see, the faux, 70’s era streetscape they’ve incorporated in their design is built around a sterile, white version of the venue’s iconic awning, on which “CBGB” has been replaced by “TRGT.”

Beneath “TRGT,” as you can see above, it says “BANDS.” From what I just read on the Stereogum site, this was explained inside, where Target employees were handing out “free boxes of Target-branded Band-Aids and exercise bands.” And, continuing the theme, they also apparently had a giant fake Target-red guitar outside that you could take your photo with wile wearing a foam “rock on” hand over your own. [I think it would have been more appropriate if they’d had an inflatable Stiv Bators that you could have performed fellatio on, but what do I know.]

I don’t have anything to add. I just wanted to note it in the official record that this had happened.

In conclusion, I’ll just say this… Everything gets destroyed. The lucky ones are those who live long enough to see it happen to that which they loved.

As for the commoditization, I guess it’s just the nature of capitalism. If I were so inclined, I could see some beauty in the fact that what happened at CBGB in the mid-70s is still reverberating over 40 years later. I’m not seeing it, though. From my vantage point, they’re just stripping off the veneer, pressure-washing it with bleach, and repackaging it for a generation of mindless, professional consumers. And that makes me incredibly sad, as, to a large extent, what happened at CBGB was a direct response to the corporate influence over popular culture.

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

“Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.” – Republican Congressman Will Hurd

It’s been a few days now since Donald Trump had his private one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, and we’ve still heard next to nothing from the administration as to what was discussed, let alone agreed to, during that two hours and ten minutes. Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, told reporters in Moscow that “important verbal agreements” were reached at the meeting, but Trump has yet to confirm or deny the existence of any such agreements. And this, as you might imagine, has a great many people concerned, and wondering if perhaps they’d been too quick to dismiss as inconceivable the possibility that the Russians may have some sort of leverage over our President. After all, not only did Trump demand on a private, one-on-one meeting with the the ruthless dictator who ordered the hacking of our election, but he’s not even telling members of his own administration what was agreed to behind closed doors. What’s more, since his return, he’s been aggressively pushing things that are in-line with Putin’s agenda, like going on Fox News last night and questioning whether or not the United States should come to the defense of Montenegro if hostilities intensified between the small democracy and Russia. [This, by the way, would be a violation of Article 5, the mutual defense pledge that NATO is built upon.]

We have reason to believe, based on things that have been said over the past several days, especially by the Russians, that the Trump and Putin discussed a number of items of importance to the Kremlin, like the rolling back of sanctions, nuclear proliferation to Syria and Ukraine, the status of Montenegro, and Putin’s desire to interrogate the former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul. And, understandably, members of Congress are worried… so much so, in fact, that an attempt was made not he part of Democrats this morning to subpoena the translator who accompanied Donald Trump to the closed-door meeting. [As you can imagine, it’s not exactly sitting well with some that our President was contemplating the possibility of turning over American citizens to a ruthless dictator for questioning.]

Here’s Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff on the motion to subpoena the interpreter… a motion which the Republicans in Congress promptly killed.

If you’d like to know more, I’d suggest checking out the New Yorker piece titled, “No Way to Run a Superpower”: The Trump-Putin Summit and the Death of American Foreign Policy, which does a pretty good job of getting to the heart of just how strange and dangerous all of this is. Here’s an excerpt.

In the days since the Monday meeting in Helsinki, there’s been an understandable frenzy over President Trump’s post-summit press conference, given that he sided with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, over his own intelligence agencies on the subject of Russia’s 2016 election interference, ranted about his Electoral College victory, blamed the United States for bad relations with Russia, and called the special prosecutor investigating his alleged collusion a “disgrace to our country” as a smirking Putin looked on. But the real scandal of Helsinki may be only just emerging.

On Thursday, Putin gave a public address to Russian diplomats in which he claimed that specific “useful agreements” were reached with Trump in their one-on-one meeting at the summit, a private meeting that Trump himself insisted on. Putin’s announcement came a day after his Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said that Trump had made “important verbal agreements” with Putin on arms control and other matters. The Russians, Antonov said, were ready to get moving on implementing them. The White House, meanwhile, has said nothing about what the two men may have agreed to in private, although Trump tweeted Thursday morning that he and Putin had discussed everything from nuclear proliferation to Syria, Ukraine, and trade, and that he looked forward to a second meeting with the Russian President soon, to follow up. On Thursday afternoon, the White House confirmed that Trump plans to invite Putin to Washington in the fall for another summit.

Days after the Helsinki summit, Trump’s advisers have offered no information—literally zero—about any such agreements. His own government apparently remains unaware of any deals that Trump made with Putin, or any plans for a second meeting, and public briefings from the State Department and Pentagon have offered no elaboration except to make clear that they are embarrassingly uninformed days after the summit.

Unlike Putin, Trump did not brief his own diplomats on the Helsinki meeting…

The question is, what do we do about it… How do we respond when our President, who in all likelihood has been compromised by a foreign government, is compelled to go off and do things that play right into the hands of our adversaries? The good news is, some in Congress appear to be treating the problem seriously. And, here’s an example. The following comes from a New York Times op-ed by Texas Congressman Will Hurd, a former C.I.A. officer.

Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.

The president’s failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans. By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.

As a member of Congress, a coequal branch of government designed by our founders to provide checks and balances on the executive branch, I believe that lawmakers must fulfill our oversight duty as well as keep the American people informed of the current danger…

For what it’s worth, I should add that Hurd, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, has consistently voted with Devin Nunes in the past, as the latter has attempted to stymie and discredit the Mueller investigation. Furthermore, Hurd voted against the proposal by Adam Schiff earlier today to subpoena the translator. So, while he’s saying the right things in the New York Times, he still seems unwilling to do anything about it.

I should also add that all of this discussion is happening in the wake of last night’s bombshell that Donald Trump was shown definitive evidence two weeks before his inauguration that Putin himself had ordered the hacking of our election… meaning, of course, that every time he’s suggested since then that another country could have been responsible, or that he’d decided to give Putin the benefit of the doubt, he knew full well that the attack not only originated in Russia, but did so at the behest of Putin. So, every time he cast doubt on the intelligence community assessment that Russia was involved, he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Putin had given the order… begging the question, “Why?”

Oh, and Donald Trump says he’s inviting Putin to the come the White House this fall for a second summit. This, by the way, was news to Trump’s own Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who was informed of the invitation while on stage in Aspen, discussing national security.

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I know we deserve it, being one of the three states that handed Trump the presidency, but I hate it when the Brits come over to Michigan and rub our noses in our own stupidity

Here’s a tip… If you watch the above like these are the last four Trump supporters in the state, and that they’ve been banished to an island in the middle of Lake Michigan, it makes it a lot more bearable.

By the way, if the name Scott Hagerstrom sounds familiar, it might be because I interviewed him on The Saturday Six Pack just before the 2016 election. They don’t introduce him as such in this Channel 4 piece, but Hagerstrom was the Michigan director of the Trump Pence 2016 campaign.

Posted in Michigan, Politics | Tagged | 29 Comments

“Remember how I said what I said, and how everyone got so mad? Well, I actually meant the opposite.”

It’s being reported that we have White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to thank for today’s uncomfortable press event, during which Donald Trump tried to walk back the fact that he’d taken the side of Vladimir Putin over the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to Vanity Fair, it was Kelly, who, after hearing the President say “I don’t see any reason why it would be,” in response to a question about whether or not he believed the intelligence community conclusion the Russians had meddled in our 2016 election, got on the phone and began lobbying congressional Republicans, trying to get them to go on the record publicly against Trump.

I guess, while he might be a bit of an asshole, and even a racist, there’s a line that Kelly, a retired United States Marine Corps general who started climbing through the ranks during the Cold War, just won’t cross when it comes to watching an American president side with a former KGB agent over his own people. “Kelly was irate,” according to multiple sources, as he “called around to Republicans on Capitol Hill and gave them the go-ahead to speak out against Trump.”

And, who the fuck knows… maybe this is why Kelly has hung on so long in the White House. Maybe he knew, one day, he might be called on to step in and do something big. And maybe this was it. I suspect maybe that’s giving him a little too much credit, but I can’t help but think that he did what he did, knowing full well that there would be a hefty price to pay. And, if that’s the case, I appreciate his having decided to go out like this. Although it’s hard to tell if anything is really going to change, even though a few Republicans have been encouraged to speak up, and Donald Trump has been made to publicly take back at least part of what he said.

Here, if you haven’t heard it yet, is how Trump attempted to walk back what he’d said in Helsinki.

That’s right. The President of the United States was forced to read from a prepared statement, telling the world that he’d inadvertently said “I don’t see any reason why (the Russians) would be (involved)”, when he meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why (the Russians) wouldn’t be (involved)”. It’s a lie, of course, as it clearly wasn’t what he was trying to convey, given the context, but I suppose they had to try something, no matter how preposterous.

“In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,'” Donald Trump told members of the press today. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double-negative.”

I don’t imagine it worked on a lot of people, but I suspect there were probably some who were able to convince themselves, having heard this, that everything was once again alright… and that we hadn’t elected a Putin puppet, but an imbecile easily confused by adverbs and negatives… Ah, to be so blissfully stupid.

Also telling, the White House once again allowed photographers to get close enough to take shots of the prepared statement that Donald Trump was reading from, revealing not only that he’d added “no collusion,” but also crossed out a line saying that we should bring “anyone involved in (the) meddling to justice.” [One is left wondering why in the world the President of the United States might decide to leave something like that out. It’s strange, right?]

Similarly, Peter Alexander of NBC News claims to have “asked (Trump) three times if he would publicly condemn Putin for election interference” at this event earlier today. All three times, Alexander said, Trump responded by either saying “Thank you,” or ignoring him altogether.

Oh, and it looks like Donald Trump might have some more explaining to do. According to Russian Major General Igor Konashenkov, our President entered into some kind of military agreement with the Russians during the mysterious two hours and ten minutes that he and Putin were locked in a room together. “The Russian Defense Ministry is ready for the practical implementation of agreements in the area of global security reached in Helsinki between Presidents Putin and Trump,” Konashenkov said earlier today. [While members of the press have been asking the White House for details, thus far, everyone seems to be silent.]

Oh, and it’s probably worth pointing out that it wasn’t just that Trump said one pro-Putin, anti-American thing during that press conference in Helsinki. There was a lot more… Here’s a list from NBC News.

So, yeah, I guess you could say that things are kind of fucked up here in America at the moment. But I suppose we should have expected a little drama when we elected a Russian asset to be our President. Hopefully, if nothing else, this serves as a lesson to others.

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