“Trade wars are good, and easy to win”

Donald Trump, who, not too long ago, said “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” this past Friday announced his intention of starting a legitimate trade war with China, saying that he had given word to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to as much as 25%. Well, today, China’s Finance Ministry announced that, in response, they would be raising tariffs on a wide range of imported American goods from 10% to somewhere between 20 to 25%. This increase, according to the New York Times, “will affect the roughly $60 billion in American imports… including beer, wine, swimsuits, shirts and liquefied natural gas…

Trump, who once referred to himself as a “Tariff Man,” has repeatedly assured the American people that, if we followed him down this path, we’d be rewarded financially. Tariffs, he said, would “MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN.” And the down side, he said, would be minimal, as the costs of these tariffs would not be passed along to American consumers. Sadly, though, at least according to economists, he’s wrong on both counts. And the American financial markets are starting to drop as a result.

Today, U.S. financial markets had their biggest decline of 2019, with the S&P 500 dropping by 2.4%, and the Nasdaq composite index falling by 3.4%. [Who could have predicted that putting the world’s largest economy in the hands of one of America’s most thoroughly incompetent businessmen might lead to less than optimal results?]

If I were Trump, I think I’d be a little less inclined to meddle with the economy, seeing as how it’s probably the only thing standing between him and impeachment… but, what the fuck do I know.

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If there’s a better Mother’s Day film than Mildred Pierce, I’d like to know what it is

Linette’s out of town, and my own mother is on an island off the coast of Georgia, so it’s just me and the kids celebrating Mother’s Day this year, sans mother… which is why I’m able to just lay around tonight and watch Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce.

[If you’d rather talk about politics, though, we could always discuss Elizabeth Warren’s trip to Kermit, West Virginia, where she talked about the opioid epidemic, and apparently won over some Trump supporters.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life | 4 Comments

Maynard-Lao Archive: Item 0003 [Violent Femmes at Carnegie Hall t-shirt]

As I explained in an earlier post, I’m in the process of making my way through the house and separating the wheat from the chaff, determining which items will remain here in our 180 year old home, and which will be jettisoned into the ever-churning gyre of filth and garbage that surrounds us. Well, what follows is my justification for continuing to keep a t-shirt that I’ve been dragging though life with me for these past 33 years — a t-shirt purchased from a juvenile delinquent at New York City’s Carnegie Hall during my senior year of high school, on the evening of Friday, March 7, 1986. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the third item to be officially placed in the Maynard-Lao family archive, my Violent Femmes t-shirt.

TITLE: Violent Femmes at Carnegie Hall t-shirt
DESCRIPTION: This, the second t-shirt to be added into the archive, is special to me as I believe it’s the only evidence that exists to prove that I was among the rotten, “thoroughly spoiled” miscreants to have defiled the illustrious Carnegie Hall that storied evening in 1986, when Violent Femmes visited New York City from Milwaukee.

Thoroughly spoiled” is what the New York Times called us, but I’ll get back to that in a minute. [They also called us, “young, well-groomed (and) restive.” All of which, according to my recollection, were true.] First, though, I wanted to talk a bit about the Violent Femmes, the three-piece from Milwaukee that instigated the near-riot that night. They were, at least among my small circle of friends, an incredibly powerful influence. Living in a somewhat rural part of New Jersey at the time, I don’t think I heard anything by them until a year or more after their first record came out in 1983, but, when I finally did, it hit me like a neutron bomb. I was probably about 16 or 17, and I guess the conditions were just right. I was an awkward, hormone-addled kid looking for any opportunity I could to rebel, and songs like Add It Up just pushed all the right teen angst buttons. The soil, I guess you could say, was ready for something like Violent Femmes, with their angry songs of unrequited love and the internal turmoil that comes with the feeling that you’re never going to fit in and find your place in the world. In another culture, at another time, I may have become a suicide bomber. Thankfully, though, being a white American male in the mid-80s, I got to be a fan of the Violent Femmes.

I don’t remember where or when I got my hands on my first Femmes record. If I had to guess, I’d say I probably bought a tape from Brian Sferra at Country Pie Records in downtown Newton, New Jersey, which was about a ten minute walk from my high school. It seems like something that I’d remember, given how many times I’d end up listened to that first record, but I don’t. I do, however, remember finding out from Brian that there was a Slash Records compilation, called The Early Sessions, and asking him to order a copy for me, hoping that their label-mates might be cut from the same cloth.

As an aside, I know that the internet is great, and it’s awesome to have everything right at you fingertips, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that life was better when you actually had to discover shit for yourself. And it makes me sad that kids today will never know the joy of ordering a tape from a little, local record store, going every couple of days for a week to see if it had come in, and then finally being able to pop it into a car stereo to hear the likes of X, The Germs, and the Gun Club for the first time. It was just incredible.

But, yeah, it was completely nuts that night at Carnegie Hall, and the New York Times was absolutely right to call out the behavior of the audience, which was comprise almost exclusively of kids around my age. I remember thinking that people were going to die. My memory is somewhat foggy, as it happened almost exactly a third-of-a-century ago, but I seem to recall people trying to climb down from the balcony… like actually hanging off the railings, and dangling 30-some feet in the air. I don’t remember seeing people actually drop, but I remember this constant dread that someone was going to actually do it and break their neck. [I kind of have a vague memory of people trying to climb down draperies like rats.] The members of the band kept urging people to calm down, to stop rushing the stage, and to stop throwing things, but, the more they pled, the worse it got. According to the New York Times coverage noted above, Brian Ritchie, the Femmes’ bassist, said at one point, “We don’t care where we’re playing, we don’t want the audience onstage,” threatening to walk off and end the show. If I’m not mistaken, he said this after a number of people climbed onto the stage to grab him and pat his bald head before leaping back into the undulating crowd. [The show, as I recall, was stopped several times by the band, who, you could tell, didn’t like being put in the position of being authority figures. In retrospect, it’s kind of funny. Here they were, dressed in robes and the like, trying to give off the impression that they didn’t give a fuck, and they were put into a position where they had to admonish us, like they were “the man”. Ironic, right?]

The people at Carnegie Hall clearly had no idea what in the fuck they were dealing with. It was complete pandemonium from the beginning. When my friends and I found our seats, we were immediately offered shirts by the guys sitting in front of us, who, as I recall, said that they’d knocked over a merch table and absconded with several dozen. And I still feel bad about it, but I bought one from them. [It’s the shirt that this post is ostensibly about.] I’d like to say that I was inebriated, as I’m not usually in the practice of purchasing stolen goods, but I wasn’t. I hadn’t had a single beer, but the mob mentality, I guess, had kind of taken ahold of me. I didn’t boo, or throw things on stage when Leo Kottke — who opened for the Femmes — was playing, and I didn’t run up on stage to take a swing at a member of the band, but I suspect, in addition to buying stolen merchandise, I did my share of kicking seats and doing other things that Eagle Scouts from small towns in New Jersey probably shouldn’t do.

Lest I give you the wrong idea, this wasn’t that dangerous of a show. I’ve been to much worse ones, where I really thought that I might be crushed to death against barricades, as literally thousands of people pushed against me, and where skinheads were clearly looking for fights. This show, though, was one of the most anarchistic in spirit. The older folks who ran Carnegie Hall just had no idea whatsoever what they were dealing with. And I just got this really clear sense of these two cultures clashing, which you didn’t really get at other punk shows, even if they were louder, more violent, or whatever. This just seemed more historic somehow. It felt like something important. And, while I don’t really appreciate the Femmes the way that I once did, I’ll always have fond memories of this show, which I believe may have been just the second non-stadium show I’d gone to without adult supervision. [The fist such show was Steppenwolf in Elizabeth, New Jersey.]

Oh, I should also mention that the tickets to this Femmes show were incredibly hard to come by. I think the show probably sold out in minutes, but I got four tickets by calling the box-office repeatedly. I remember being stressed about who I’d invite, but ultimately I ended up offering tickets to my friends Rob, Dan, and Anthony, who, I believe, turned 18 on the day of the show.

I could go on, but that should be enough for most anyone in the audience, I suspect.

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A plausible explanation as to why Falwell endorsed Donald Trump… and it involves sexy photos, blackmail and Michael Cohen

Just before the Iowa caucus, on January 26, 2016, evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. made a surprise presidential endorsement. “I am proud to offer my endorsement of Donald J. Trump for President of the United States,” Falwell was quoted as saying in a statement put out by the Trump campaign. “He is a successful executive and entrepreneur, a wonderful father and a man who I believe can lead our country to greatness again.”

This, given Donald Trump’s long history of lying, utter lack of compassion, well-documented adultery, disdain toward the poor, disrespectful behavior toward women, etc, was confusing to many. “How could an evangelical leader like Falwell endorse a man like Trump?”, many wondered… And, how, after audio became public of the candidate bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” without their consent, could Falwell possibly continue to endorse Trump?

Well, thanks to a tape recording made by comedian Tom Arnold, we may have the answer to those questions. According to news reports this evening, Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, can be heard telling Arnold, on the secretly recorded tape, that he was able to secure Falwell’s endorsement shortly after he’d assisted the evangelical leader to secure “a bunch of photographs, personal photographs” he wanted kept private. “I actually have one of the photos,” Cohen can be heard telling Arnold. “It’s terrible.”

So, while we still don’t know all of the facts, it would appear as though Falwell was being blackmailed, he went to Cohen for assistance, which was given. And, right before the Iowa caucus, Cohen called in the favor. Did Cohen extort the endorsement? Did he threaten to go public with that photo that he apparently held onto? And might this in some way tie back to the story from this past winter about Falwell inexplicably transferring $1.8 million to a “pool boy” that he’d befriended in Miami?

I’d like to go on and speculate as to what all of this means, but It Happened One Night is scheduled to start in a few minutes, and I’ve yet to make my giant snack tray… Before I go, though, I would just like to say that it really is fascinating to consider all of the various things that had to happen in order to put Donald Trump, the least qualified presidential candidate in our nation’s history, into the White House. The “perfect storm” of blackmailed evangelicals, ruthless Russian oligarchs, thoroughly corrupt Republicans, unregulated social media platforms, and greedy network executives that it took to make this happen is really just incredible.

Posted in Politics, Religious Extremism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Nearly 500 former federal prosecutors agree… what Trump did, as detailed in the Mueller report, constitutes felony obstruction of justice

This afternoon, a letter titled Statement by Federal Prosecutors went up on Medium. The document, which has now been signed by over 450 former federal prosecutors, states that the Mueller report contains sufficient evidence to charge Donald Trump with felony obstruction of justice. [He cannot be charged while in office according to Department of Justice guidelines, but, as I understand it, the Justice Department would be able to bring charges against him upon leaving office.] “Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person…” the letter states, “result in multiple felony charges.” This, of course, runs very much contrary to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, which essentially said that the President did not commit obstruction.

Here’s how the letter begins.

The letter then goes on to lay out the evidence as presented in the Mueller report… Here, according to these 450+ well-respected former prosecutors from both political parties, is a true and accurate summary of that evidence.

· The President’s efforts to fire Mueller and to falsify evidence about that effort;

· The President’s efforts to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation to exclude his conduct; and

· The President’s efforts to prevent witnesses from cooperating with investigators probing him and his campaign.

Attempts to fire Mueller and then create false evidence

Despite being advised by then-White House Counsel Don McGahn that he could face legal jeopardy for doing so, Trump directed McGahn on multiple occasions to fire Mueller or to gin up false conflicts of interest as a pretext for getting rid of the Special Counsel. When these acts began to come into public view, Trump made “repeated efforts to have McGahn deny the story” — going so far as to tell McGahn to write a letter “for our files” falsely denying that Trump had directed Mueller’s termination.

Firing Mueller would have seriously impeded the investigation of the President and his associates — obstruction in its most literal sense. Directing the creation of false government records in order to prevent or discredit truthful testimony is similarly unlawful. The Special Counsel’s report states: “Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent scrutiny of the President’s conduct toward the investigation.”

Attempts to limit the Mueller investigation

The report describes multiple efforts by the president to curtail the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation.

First, the President repeatedly pressured then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his legally-mandated decision to recuse himself from the investigation. The President’s stated reason was that he wanted an attorney general who would “protect” him, including from the Special Counsel investigation. He also directed then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to fire Sessions and Priebus refused.

Second, after McGahn told the President that he could not contact Sessions himself to discuss the investigation, Trump went outside the White House, instructing his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to carry a demand to Sessions to direct Mueller to confine his investigation to future elections. Lewandowski tried and failed to contact Sessions in private. After a second meeting with Trump, Lewandowski passed Trump’s message to senior White House official Rick Dearborn, who Lewandowski thought would be a better messenger because of his prior relationship with Sessions. Dearborn did not pass along Trump’s message.

As the report explains, “[s]ubstantial evidence indicates that the President’s effort to have Sessions limit the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation to future election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct” — in other words, the President employed a private citizen to try to get the Attorney General to limit the scope of an ongoing investigation into the President and his associates.

All of this conduct — trying to control and impede the investigation against the President by leveraging his authority over others — is similar to conduct we have seen charged against other public officials and people in powerful positions.

Witness tampering and intimidation

The Special Counsel’s report establishes that the President tried to influence the decisions of both Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort with regard to cooperating with investigators. Some of this tampering and intimidation, including the dangling of pardons, was done in plain sight via tweets and public statements; other such behavior was done via private messages through private attorneys, such as Trump counsel Rudy Giuliani’s message to Cohen’s lawyer that Cohen should “sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places.”

Of course, these aren’t the only acts of potential obstruction detailed by the Special Counsel. It would be well within the purview of normal prosecutorial judgment also to charge other acts detailed in the report.

We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment. Of course, there are potential defenses or arguments that could be raised in response to an indictment of the nature we describe here. In our system, every accused person is presumed innocent and it is always the government’s burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. But, to look at these facts and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice — the standard set out in Principles of Federal Prosecution — runs counter to logic and our experience.

As former federal prosecutors, we recognize that prosecuting obstruction of justice cases is critical because unchecked obstruction — which allows intentional interference with criminal investigations to go unpunished — puts our whole system of justice at risk. We believe strongly that, but for the OLC memo, the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller Report…

And you caught that last part, right? If not for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo authored by Barr, and presented as an accurate summary of the Mueller report, it is the opinion of these former federal prosecutors, “the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution”. In other words, if Barr hadn’t interceded on the President’s behalf, and the Attorney General had just release the Mueller report, instead of his own reimagining of it, we’d now likely be talking about prosecution.

Speaking of Barr, he missed another deadline today, failing to comply with a Congressional subpoena to deliver Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report. And, as a result, it looks as though the House will be voting on Wednesday to hold him in contempt of Congress. In a statement released today, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler said, “The Attorney General’s failure to comply with our subpoena, after extensive accommodation efforts, leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings in order to enforce the subpoena and access the full, unredacted report.” If I’m not mistaken, Nadler also raised the possibility of impeaching Barr for the first time.

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