Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered

Photo by Shardayyy | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Shardayyy | CC BY 2.0


Nothing was delivered
And I tell this truth to you
Not out of spite or anger
But simply because it’s true
Now, I hope you won’t object to this
Giving back all of what you owe
The fewer words you have to waste on this
The sooner you can go

— Bob Dylan, “Nothing Was Delivered

The congressional inquisition has become a ritual of American politics, a ritual whose rites of interrogation and humiliation were largely scripted by Donald Trump’s life coach Roy Cohn. In the 1950s, Cohn acted as Joseph McCarthy’s hatchet man during the congressional hearings into the “Red Peril” of the 1950s. Cohn (a closeted gay at the time) even went so far as to claim that Soviet spies were blackmailing American homosexuals to act as a Communist agents. This witch hunt became known, rather quaintly, as the Lavender Scare. Hypocrisy has always closely stalked the politics of persecution.

From Watergate to Iran/Contra, every decade or so the country seems eager for a national bloodletting of its politicians, as if a public lancing of a few black pustules might heal the body politic. If this is the case, then why has the strange investigation into Russia’s alleged hacking of the 2016 elections fallen so flat?

There’s no better example than the over-hyped hearing last Monday held by the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence featuring FBI director James Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency. The proceedings went on for an almost unbearable five hours, enlivened only by some real time Tweeting from the POTUS account. Otherwise, the big day was a dull affair that delivered almost nothing new, featuring monotonous speeches from barely literate members of congress stumbling their way through prepared scripts and opaque non-answers from the two witnesses. As a rule, the Republicans tried to put the press on trial and the Democrats tried to smear as a traitor anyone who had any dealings with Russians of any kind–excepting, naturally, all of the Democratic lobbyists and politicians (notably Chuck Schumer and Bill Clinton) who have enriched themselves at Russia’s expense.

The Democrats’ desperate gambit to delegitimize Trump for his camp’s dealings with Russia still hasn’t grabbed the attention of the American public at large, despite the non-stop promotion on CNN and MS-DNC. And it won’t after this desolate hearing either. Why? Because most Americans have other things on their minds: their work, their health, their debt, and whether the water pouring out of their tap is so toxic that it might burn through the lining of their kid’s throat. Moreover, the old fear of Russia, long considered a more blood-curdling bogeyman than ISIS, has lost much of its potency. People are sick of 16 years of constant war. They don’t see why it is wrong to want improved relations with Russia. And they aren’t all that sad that Hillary lost the election. Her poll numbers are now more deflated than Trump’s.

People need a storyline and there still isn’t a coherent one for Russiagate. In the absence of a gripping narrative, there have to be some compelling characters to latch on to and mostly what we’ve been presented with are bland bit players no one has heard of, like JD Gordon and Carter Page, or unappetizing self-promoters like Roger Stone, who on his most nefarious day was only a third-rate Gordon Liddy. The most intriguing figure in the whole affair is probably Sergey Kislyak and few Americans can pronounce the name of the Russian ambassador and alleged spymaster, never mind spell it. Even Spell-Check freezes trying to auto-correct “Kislyak.”

There was some hope that the hearings might take a more salacious turn when Rep. Adam Schiff began to read from the so-called Dirty Dossier compiled by former MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele. This fanciful assemblage of rumors, innuendo and make-believe about the shady adventures of Trump and his possé at least races along like a mediocre Frederic Forsyth novel. Alas, Schiff stopped his recitation before he got to the really dirty parts.

The incompetence of the Republicans on the committee, led by Devin Nunes and the odious Trey Gowdy, had the deleterious effect of inflating the performance of  Schiff, whose Russophobia is equalled only by John McCain and the Walter Winchell of MS-DNC Rachel Maddow. The Republicans’ obsession with leaks made them look like a gang of unlicensed plumbers searching for a Deep Throat to plug.

Nunes is one of the more pathetic figures on the Hill. The rather dull-witted son of a California land baron in the Central Valley, he is clearly far out of his depth running the Intelligence Committee, even if his sole mission is to blunt the investigation from the inside. There are many ways to abort an investigation without drawing attention to yourself. Nunes knows none of them. As the former head of the National Security task force for Trump’s transition team, Nunes was compromised from the very start of the investigation. But instead of at least pretending to be an honest broker, Nunes has acted like Trump’s Labradoodle, running back and forth to the White House for treats and pats on the head. Witness his theatrical performance on Wednesday, when Nunes, who is allegedly very concerned about leaks, viewed leaked documents relating to ongoing counter-intelligence investigations, then rushed to the White House to leak the content of those documents to Trump, who may be the target of the investigation, and then described them to the press. (Unless the whole psycho-drama was a charade.) I’m tempted to nominate him for this year’s Daniel Ellsberg award.

As bad as Nunes is, Trey Gowdy is even worse. Gowdy is a failed prosecutor who slithered into Congress from some patch of kudzu in South Carolina. He is verbose, vain and vicious. Gowdy is the kind of lawyer Charles Dickens loved to satirize, a self-righteous prig whose warped physiognomy expresses his vile moral character. Gowdy, who endlessly extols himself as a “constitutionalist,” spent much of his time advocating the arrest, prosecution and jailing of journalists. If we are going to go this route, I suggest we start by opening the cell doors for Judith Miller, Jeffrey Goldberg and the other hack journalists who used fake intelligence leaked from Cheney and Co. to start a war that left 657,000 dead.

I still believe that most of the contacts between the Russians and the Trump circle had less to do with getting Trump elected than making a financial killing. Even the Russians seemed to seem to have given up on the idea of flipping the election to Trump by the end of September and began preparing themselves for dealing with the woman who seemed quite prepared to nuke Moscow. Of course, whether having Trump at the helm makes nuclear war more or less likely is still an open question.

That a sleazy political fixer like Paul Manafort made tens of millions of dollars from a Russian oligarch close to Putin shouldn’t come as any surprise. Hundreds of other American political and business figures have sold their services to Russian tycoons and companies, including John Podesta’s own lobbying outfit and the Clinton Foundation. In fact, Russia was pried open for business by Jeffrey Sachs and his economic wrecking crew from Harvard. Their brutal shock therapy regime imposed a rapid privatization scheme on Russia that paralyzed the economy and led to the creation of a new billionaire class looking to hire people like Manafort to clean them up for western consumption.

So what did we learn? Not much. We heard some new euphemisms. Out with that old word “collusion” and in with “coordination,” which is how the FBI is now describing the possible liaisons between the Trump team and figures in the Russian government. More interestingly, we now know, on the unimpeachable authority of James Comey, that the Russians didn’t provide the Podesta emails directly to Wikileaks, assuming they had access to them at all. We also know that Comey, who requested a break after only a couple of hours of questioning, has a weaker bladder than his counterpart Adm. Rogers. Might want to have that prostate examined, Jim. On the limited evidence offered in this pathetic excuse for an inquiry, the Republicans acted as if Trump is guilty (most of them want him gone anyway) and the Democrats behaved like they have nothing but this entangled conspiracy theory to offer their voters–what voters they have left.

As for Trump himself, he could have avoided this recent spectacle if only he hadn’t succumbed to his early morning impulse to Tweet smack at Obama about wiretapping his phones in Trump Tower. I can understand his angst. If Trump’s wires weren’t being tapped, he would be one of the few Americans not to have the records of his phone calls end up in some NSA data vault. Like most professional con men, Trump is paranoid that someone is watching him from behind, looking to spot the secret tricks of his grifters game. Trump probably learned to be wary of federal wiretaps early in his business career from his buddies in the Genovese crime syndicate.

Trump is a reckless and self-immolating personality. In the end, the most formidable resistance to Trump will likely prove to be Trump himself. The man takes to Twitter as if he were strapping on a suicide vest. One day he’s going to blow himself up. The question is how many others will he take out with him?

On another positive note, the most uplifting thing about this whole tendentious affair is that public confidence in the FBI is at an all-time low and not even the return of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. seems likely to resurrect it.


Roaming Charges

+ The FBI is now investigating Breitbart and Info Wars for their possible connection to Russiagate, whatever Russiagate is. Whatever you think of either of these two sites, this is how the Constitution gets trampled in pursuit of a phantom conspiracy. Increasingly, the Russia probe begins to resemble an inquisition in search of a justification. This is not a fishing expedition, but a factory trawler sweeping across the country.

+ Someone told me this week that Trump was lucky that he hadn’t had to confront a “national tragedy” yet. I said, “What if Trump is the national tragedy that Trump has to confront every morning?”

+ Steve Curtis, the former head of the Colorado Republican Party, has railed against voter fraud for much of his career, claiming that illegal voters only benefited Democrats. This week Curtis was arrested on charges of … voter fraud. Once upon a time you couldn’t make up this kind of hypocrisy, now it’s a daily headline in your newsfeed.

+ Trump’s pick as Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, helped his good buddy, the pathological billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, escape prosecution on charges of having sex with underage girls. Now Epstein is free to fly the skies in Air Lolita once again…

+ Donald Trump’s most recent public laceration of Colin Kaepernick is vindication of the heroic stand (or squat, I guess) taken by the former San Francisco 49ers QB. Now, if he could only get a job…

+ In Russia, they call them “oligarchs,” with a pejorative sting to the word. Here we call them “philanthropists,” with the distant hope we’ll somehow be mentioned in the will. I’m talking about David Rockefeller, who died this week at the age of 102. Rockefeller was a Malthusian Monster, who spent much of his life (and hundreds of millions in grants) obsessing over cruel ways to limit the birthrates of the under-classes.

+ So Ivanka is getting both an office in the West Wing and security clearance. Increasingly Trump administration beginning to resemble either the Romanovs or the Gambino family–assuming there’s much of a difference.

+ Harry Shearer on Paul Ryan: “Have we been misspelling ‘policy wank’ all these years?”

+ Not only is Radiohead playing Tel Aviv, defying the international cultural boycott of Israel, they’re doubling-down by taking an Israeli band with them on their tour of the USA. I stopped listening to them after guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s inchoate soundtrack for Inherent Vice, now you should follow suit for a more profound reason.

+ Credit where credit is due: It looks like Trump was right about those bomb threats to Jewish centers being kind of “an inside job.”

+ Trump: “We will kill their families, too.” Promise made, Promise kept.

+ Hillary’s KXL Pipeline, already 2/3s completed, moves one step closer to the big hook up. I wonder if she sent Rexxon a thank you note?

+ Fracking the Bakken Formation in North Dakota began under George W. Bush and soared under Obama. The result: 6,648 major oil spills from just six states who rode the Fracking boom. That works out to something like 55 spills per 1000 fracking sites per year. No way you’d get insurance if you wrecked your car 55 times for each 1000 trips. But we’re talking oil, so…

Frack me baby one more time
Don’t you worry about the sheets
Honey the maids won’t mind

+ The rampant police atrocities, such as the murder of Eric Garner, don’t just “happen”. They’re standard practice. Want proof? Check out the bloody service record of the cop who killed Garner.

+ Lest we forget: Afghanistan under Obama, where civilian casualties nearly doubled during is tenure in the White House…


+ The GOP says “austerity,” the Democrats say “neoliberalism.” Same grim results. Same high-paid architects.

+ Only a kind of political Stockholm Syndrome keeps 80% of the members of the Democratic Party in the Democratic Party.

+ In Kentucky this week, Trump repeated the canard that he forced the owners of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines to use US-made steel (they weren’t and won’t)….By the way, we need to compile a yuuge new list of synonyms for “lying” in order to survive the next four years, journalistically speaking.

+ Much of the burden from Trump’s budget cuts will fall on the very rural voters in the West and Midwest who helped to election him. No sweat off his brow, though. Trump knows they’ll vote for him anyway because he’s the man that put that wonderful pipeline through their cornfield, which they couldn’t harvest anyway because he’d locked up all their fieldworkers…

+ This week the Trump administration began shaming cities by posting a list of police departments that have refused to cooperate with ICE raids on undocumented immigrants. I thought Trump had unwavering support for the cops? I guess that’s only when they shoot someone in the back.

+ Trump is that irritating guy at the end of the bar who knows almost nothing yet insists he’s right about everything.

+ Trump sat down with a couple of reporters from TIME magazine this week to discuss his awesome achievements, the press and his fanciful Tweets. Before talking about his favorite topic, himself, Trump took a barbed shot at TIME:

And then TIME magazine, which treats me horribly, but obviously I sell, I assume this is going to be a cover too, have I set the record? I guess, right? Covers, nobody’s had more covers.

Trump has been on the cover of TIME 12 times. His idol Nixon holds the record. His horrid visage haunted 55 covers of TIME. But who’s counting? The anthology of Trump’s tweets are the best collection of fabulist short stories since Donald Barthelme’s Come Back, Dr. Caligari….

+ The Iraq war began (GWB edition) 14 years ago this week. Before Bush fell in love with Michelle Obama, there was that very unseemly public affair with Tony Blair, which resulted in 657,000-plus deaths. It’s the tragedy of their marriage that Blair never looked at Cheri with the excited gaze he saved for Bush…

+ Lockheed’s CEO admits that Trump’s push to jack-up defense spending for NATO is all about increasing contracts with … Lockheed and the other pigs at the trough in the weapons industry. To the tune of $100 billion ….

+ When Norman Mailer & Jimmy Breslin ran for mayor of NYC in 1969 they ran on a secessionist platform that would have turned the five boroughs of New York City into the 51st State, giving local neighborhood control over police, housing and education. Rent control would have been instituted across the city. Another key plank to their platform was the banning of all private cars from the island of Manhattan and shutting down all mechanized traffic one Sunday a month, which they called Sweet Sundays.

The campaign had three slogans: “Power to the Neighborhood,” “The Other Guys are the Joke,” and “I’d Sleep Better with Mailer as Mayor” (certainly written by Norman himself.)

I like Breslin’s book on Watergate, How the Good Guys Finally Won, more than the self-glorifying All the President’s Men. It’s available for $2 on Kindle, worth reading to learn how a cynical journalist who’d seen it all covered a real political scandal.

What journalist other than Breslin could land a cereal commercial?

Here’s Breslin on Trump:

“Trump’s instincts appear to tell him that people crumble quickly at the first show of bravado, particularly members of the media, which is the plural of mediocre…As far as getting publicity whenever he wants it, Trump is the white Al Sharpton.”

+ Ignoring the experience of Canada, the UK, France and nearly every other industrialized nation on Earth, OMB director Mitch Mulvaney announced that the “only way to get to truly universal health care is to throw people in jail.” You have to give them credit. Not only do they think this repulsive shit, they actually speak their minds.

+ A woman in Texas named Rose Maria Ortega was sentenced to eight years in prison for illegally voting (for Republicans, by the way). Ortega holds a green card, but she is not a US citizen. My grandmother came to the US from Sheffield in 1918 at the age of 12, proudly voted in every election for 45 years before she finally got her US citizenship and she didn’t destroy the Republic–well, not single-handedly. I hold firmly to the idea that everyone who lives under the shadow of the US imperium deserves to vote in US elections.

+ Bernie goes all-in on Russiagate. Sanders: “How does it happen that we have a president who has nothing but nice things to say about Mr. Putin? What do the Russians have on Mr. Trump?”

+ Will MS-DNC interrupt their wall-to-wall Russia Bombed Our Elections coverage to spend a few days–even hours–on a white nationalist from Baltimore who came to New York to kill black people with his sword? Nah…

+ In Florida, prison guards boiled a mentally ill black inmate to death. Of course, they won’t be charged.

+ Go back to Mexico (even though you’re from Indianapolis) kids and take your joyful faces, scientific minds and engineering genius with you!

+ Unbelievably, W’s new career as one of the worst painters since Thomas Kincaide has succeeded in redeeming him with the liberal NPR/NEA crowd for his unrivaled record of constitutional crimes.

+ Why making the future of the Supreme Court the last excuse for voting for a “lesser evil” candidate NEVER works: only 43 percent of Americans can name even one Supreme Court justice.

+ Can you really refer to yourself as the leader of the “Free World” (whatever that means) when you supervise the largest prison population on the planet?

+ The best way to make kids curious about evolutionary biology is to force Creationism down their throats in middle school.

+ When Dr. Strangelove doesn’t get you off any more and you’re in desperate need of some late-night nuclear porn, check out this video archive of all 210 open-air atomic blasts conducted by your friendly government…

+ The jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan is the subject of a new documentary titled “I Called Him Morgan” directed by Kasper Colin. Morgan was a genius, the missing link between post-bop jazz and funk. When people ask me who killed jazz, I often respond Lee Morgan’s wife, Helen, who shot Morgan in a Manhattan nightclub in front of his band. Morgan’s music is complex and infectious. Unlike much of the jazz of the mid- and late 60s you can’t not dance to it. Just put on “The Sidewinder” and try not to move…

+ Elvis may have been a King in the white precincts of rock, but Chuck Berry was THE KING and his Kingdom was the whole damn Universe.

+ The best news of the week: Thelonious Monk’s long-lost soundtrack to Roger Vadim’s 1960 film Les Liaisons Dangereuses is finally being released. The film stars the incomparable Jeanne Moreau, a huge jazz fan who probably knew more about bebop than Nat Hentoff.

+ Apparently this is “World Poetry Week.” I don’t care too much for “poetry” but I do love poems, like this one from Langston Hughes, which seems to anticipate every great lunch poem Frank O’Hara wrote. It’s called…

Madam and the Phone Bill 

You say I O.K.ed
O.K.ed it when?
My goodness, Central
That was then!

I’m mad and disgusted
With that Negro now.
I don’t pay no REVERSED
CHARGES nohow.

You say, I will pay it—
Else you’ll take out my phone?
You better let
My phone alone.

I didn’t ask him
To telephone me.
Roscoe knows darn well
Ain’t free.

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Gulf: Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis
Dirty Snow by George Simenon

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

St. Louis to Liverpool by Chuck Berry
One Dozen Berrys by Chuck Berry
Memories are Now  by Jesca Hoop
Graveyard Whistling by Old 97s
Elwan by Tinawiren

Last of the Barbarians

James Crumley: “Americans are the best and the last of the barbarians, the conquerors, the long knives, the jolly green giants of history who move at first across the land with fire and sword, then with transistor radios and toothpaste, seeking not even greener grass, nor even movement itself, but merely senseless turds in the large bowel of history.”

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3