And Then There Were None

A slow-motion pogrom has been playing out in the White House over the last few months, as Trump’s inner circle is being systematically drained of his closest confidantes. Since July, Trump has seen Sean Spicer, Michael Short, Reince Preibus, Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Tom Price, Dina Powell, Omarossa Newman, Rob Porter, Josh Raffel and, now, Hope Hicks head out the back door, with many of them detouring for an exit interview at the special prosecutor’s office.

The latest unraveling began when White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, a kind of gatekeeper to the Oval Office, was exposed as a serial wife-batterer. Trump liked Porter’s male model looks, but reportedly chafed at his romantic relationship with Hicks. (Hicks had previously been linked to Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who who assaulted reporter Michelle Fields and was accused of slapping Joy Villa in the face.) Despite desperate pleas to save his position from his paramour and chief of staff John Kelly, the photos of his ex-wife’s bruised face finally did him in.

Then it was Hicks’ turn to be stuffed into the meat-grinder. To the befuddlement of many in her family, the swimsuit model-turned-PR flak has proved stubbornly loyal to Trump, sticking with him through his raggedly improvised campaign and riotous first year in office. She has steamed his suits, with Trump in them, endured his rants, done damage control for his idiot son and edited his Tweets. Though the evidence is scant, it’s been argued that Hicks exerted a calming influence over Trump’s stormy moods, as if a glimpse of Hope fluttering across the carpet of the Oval Office was all Trump needed to gratify his low-grade libido. Only Hope Hicks, it was said, could nurse Trump through the incoming flak from the morning papers and cable news shows. Who knows? Perhaps Hicks saved us from Trump launching a “fire and fury” attack on North Korea after he got all worked up over something Mika Brzezinski said on “Morning Joe.”

Still even Hicks couldn’t escape Trump’s wrath. After enduring eight hours of testimony before the ludicrous House Intelligence Committee, where she copped to telling a few “white lies” on behalf of her boss, which is, of course, the top line in the job description for White House Communications Director, Trump hauled Hicks into the Oval Office and berated her for her testimony. Given the treatment of women inside Chez Trump, Hicks can be thankful she only received a tongue-lashing. She leaked her intent to resign a few hours later.

What was Hicks’ sin? She didn’t keep her mouth shut and let slip an obvious truth. Like most autocrats, Trump is obsessed with loyalty. Actually, loyalty is too grand of a word. Trump demands personal fealty and blind obedience. Trump had instructed Hicks to assert executive privilege to every question, including those asked about conversations before Trump’s inauguration. Sticking to that baseless plan would have only gotten Hicks cited with contempt. Of course, no one in his administration shoots their mouth off quite so self-destructively as the president himself, as when he publicly called for having cops seize people’s guns without due process.

The Trump inner circle is now whittled down to three holdouts: Dan Scavino, Ivanka and Jared. But Jared, the Dauphin of the White House, has just had his wings clipped by John Kelly. Kushner’s security clearance had been in limbo for months, ever since the FBI learned that at least four nations—Mexico, China, United Arab Emirates and Israel, naturally—had been plotting to exploit Kushner’s naiveté and financial entanglements to manipulate him into adopting positions more pliant to their interests. (Hard to imagine how much more contorted that position would be in the case of Israel.)

So, Kushner is now confined only to reading documents stamped SECRET, which, as Fred Kaplan points out, aren’t really “secrets” at all. This is the surest sign yet that peace in the Middle East, which Jared was meant to be brokering, isn’t just around the corner.

It seems unlikely that Kushner will stick around much longer, since he will be barred from attending most top-level staff meetings and instead will be compelled to spend his morning taking detailed notes about the crazed crosstalk on “Fox & Friends.”

Even so, Jared has made his mark. After entering the White House with his family real estate company facing financial ruin, the tycoon-in-training rapidly got down to business. Over the course of his first year in the White House, Kushner held a series of private meetings with two big time investment bankers, Josh Harris, of Apollo Global Management, and Michael Corbat, the CEO of Citigroup. Neither company had shown any interest in salvaging Kushner Companies before Trump took office. But now they had a receptive ear in the inner sanctum of the White House, which soon retreated from its pledge to end the carried interest loophole in the tax code, a timely flip-flop which will save Wall Street banks billions of dollars a year.

Soon after the meetings with Kushner, both firms miraculously offered huge loans to the imperiled Kushner Companies. Apollo lent Kushner Companies $184 million, more than three times the investment house’s average property loan. Citibank ponied up $325 million, for a grand total of half a billion dollars. Jared, who until now had never succeeded in much of anything, can return home to acclaim for having saved the family business.

But what about Trump? The big question in Washington is: who will read to the President now? With Hicks and Kushner exiled and Ivanka under FBI scrutiny for shady financial dealings, who can be trusted to summarize and sanitize the Presidential Daily Briefing (aka, the Deep State Digest)? The inscrutable Melania, the most intriguing resident of the White House, doesn’t seem all that eager to lend her husband even the coldest comfort. Will the Mooch, who has fingered Kelly for instigating a Stalinesque purge of Trump loyalists, be summoned back?

Unless someone steps into the breach, Trump (like most of the rest of us) will be soon operating without any safety net, any buffer for his rages, tantrums and most destructive impulses. That’s when things will get really amusing.

Roaming Charges

Still from “Mister Magoo.”

+ Among the most important things we learned this week is that Trump prowls the halls of the White House fuming about Jefferson B. Sessions, who the president calls Mr. Magoo. When he reaches the boiling point, Trump seizes his Android and Tweets out his disgust for the Attorney General, with most of America, except the liberals on MSDNC, cheering him on.

The S&M relationship between Trump and Beauregard is the most gripping reality show in DC. Currently, Trump is pissed because instead of assigning a special prosecutor to investigate the Obama Justice Department’s abuses of FISA courts, Sessions turned the matter over to the Department’s Inspector General, an indolent subterfuge Trump denounced as “DISGRACEFUL.” Instead of resigning, Sessions, who seems to enjoy being humiliated, wheezed a reply about doing the “honorable” thing. I wonder what Beauregard’s safe word is…”GETTYSBURG?”

+ The Sputnik Left and the Russiagate witch-hunters at MSDNC  both seem to agree on one thing: Vladimir Putin is a Grand Chessmaster at the game of foreign policy, craftily maneuvering other global powers into vulnerable positions on the great board. But after watching his surreal and bombastic speech delivered in front of his own animated “Big Board”, bragging about “invincible weapons” and “nuclear-armed cruise missiles” capable of penetrating the US missile defense system (Memo to Vlad: Star Wars has never worked and never will), Putin comes off as one of the more ludicrous characters in “Dr. Strangelove,” wanking over his doomsday machine. But as, Putin correctly noted, the US opened the door to this insane nuclear escalation by abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. “No one listened to us then,” Putin thundered. “Well, they will listen to us now”. The American nuclear hawks were certainly listening appreciatively, their smiles widening at each belligerent word. Has the world ever been in more a ruptured state? All around us we are led by mad, mad men (and the equally Mad Merkel).

+ In the spirit of the Korematsu decision, the Supreme Court just decided that immigrants, even those with legal status, do not have a constitutional right to a bond hearing and thus can be held in jail indefinitely

+ A mother and daughter from the Congo seeking asylum in the US were arrested by ICE. The 7-year-old girl was pulled screaming from her mother’s arms. They are now being held in immigration jails 2,200 miles apart. Welcome to America…

+ Former UN Ambassador John Bolton continues to push for a massive attack on North Korea. Bolton is another mad man, fully credentialed for Team Trump. Apparently the only thing keeping him from a post in the White House is his refusal to trim his mustache. Don’t waver, John…

+ NYT editorial page editor James Bennet, whose recent hires include a climate denier and a Nazi sympathizer, weighs in on the virtues of capitalism: “I think we are pro-capitalism. The NYT is in favor of capitalism because it has been the greatest engine of, it’s been the greatest anti-poverty program and engine of progress that we’ve seen.”

+ The Democrats: a party that lives in constant fear of its own members

+ Alaska Rep. Don Young once tried to prove the safety of leg-hold traps by springing one on his own hand during a congressional hearing. He put on a good face, but later admitted it “hurt like hell.” Now he is pushing the discredited myth that Europe’s Jews could have saved themselves from the death camps if only they’d been armed. And if the guns didn’t save them perhaps they could have used a cloak of invisibility, a time machine, a spaceship or a magic ring that rules them all…

+ Need another reason to hate Barbra Streisand? She paid $50,000 to have two of her dogs cloned, instead of adopting a puppy from the local animal shelter.

+ Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth there have been no signs of newborn Right Whales, a highly endangered species, in the North Atlantic so far this year.

+ Hannah Arendt’s papers, notes, and lectures have been digitalized and placed online by the Library of Congress.

+ Fend for yourselves…even though much of Puerto Rico remains powerless, contractors are packing up and heading back to the mainland, checks in pockets.

+ The History of Sexuality (Vol. 1): the music video…

+ I bet the governor and legislators of West Virginia aren’t too eager to see the state’s teachers, among the most over-worked and underpaid in the nation, packing concealed heat…

+ There are 3.5 million K-12 grade teachers in the US. Trump wants at least 20 percent of them to carry concealed weapons–or 700,000 teachers. The average price for a Glock pistol is $560. So Trump’s Arm the Teachers plan would translate into a $392 million windfall for the gun industry. This cost doesn’t include the price-tag for NRA-sponsored weapons training. Yes, the same kind of training Nikolas Cruz received.

+ Blood Money: In 2015, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre took home $5.1 million: $1,090,515 in base base, plus a $150,000 bonus & a special retirement plan payment of nearly $4 million

+  It’s invigorating to watch how the Macho Gun types come unglued by a few determined and articulate high school kids. Check out the latest stream of hysteria from frequent NYT columnist Erick “the Snowflake” Erickson.

+ Ages in 1776:

Marquis de Lafayette, 18
James Monroe, 18
Henry Lee III, 20
Aaron Burr, 20
Nathan Hale, 21
Alexander Hamilton, 21

Just a bunch of kids, eh?

+ Hopeless, Part Two…Joe Biden leads in Democratic polls for 2020 race.

+ According to Gallup’s daily tracking poll, Trump’s job approval rating dropped below 40% in TEXAS…but he’d still whup HRC, Joe Biden or, god help us, Terry McAuliffe.

+ The North Pole is becoming the North Pool, where temperatures spike above freezing in mid-winter.

+ In less than 200 hours, the Bering Sea lost a third of its sea ice along the Alaska Coast…

+ Nice knowing you…nearly two-thirds of the current population of King Penguins are in peril from warming oceans.

+ Coolest news of the week…a “one-in-a-million” yellow cardinal was spotted in Alabama.

+ From a New York Times Magazine profile of Gen. John Kelly:

“Kelly was a fierce defender of the status quo at Guantánamo Bay, which fell under his command, publicly criticizing efforts to close the facility and chafing at media accounts that humanized those being held there. When some detainees began a hunger strike during Obama’s second term, Kelly feared that the issue was being framed too sympathetically. His charges were instructed to call the act “long-term nonreligious fasting” instead.”

+ Here’s Leo Tolstoy’s fantastic list of the 50 books that most influenced his life and writing.

+ Apparently, the Green Jet Set’s shit doesn’t stink and neither do their hydrocarbons….

+ The day hell froze over and pigs flew

+ Bring on the Rapture! While touring the Old City of Jerusalem, Jean Tipton, wife of Colorado Rep. Scott Tipton, urged messianic Jews to seize Haram-al-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam. “Why not tomorrow,” she shouted “Say it’s ours!”

+ New meaning to brothers in arms…NRA honors FCC chair Ajit Pai with a rifle as a reward for his role in killing “net neutrality.”

+ How many direct lines does the Supreme Deity have? Must he put Scott Pruitt on hold about drilling off the Oregon Coast, when Mike Pence rings up needing help with a speech on annihilating Iran? What happens when Oprah calls requesting a sign on whether she should run for president…

+ And then there’s John Kelly, who said that God punished him when he was made Trump’s Chief of Staff.

+ I’m adamantly opposed to the death penalty. But I’m not inclined to file an emergency appeal in this case…

+ She may not rise to the level of Einstein, but Melania is clearly the smartest person left standing in the White House…

+ It’s Oscar weekend? Ok, here are my picks for best films of the year…

Best Film: Get Out dir. Jordan Peele

Best Foreign Language Film: The Other Side of Hope dir. Aki Käurismaki

Best Documentary: Ex Libris: the New York Public Library dir. Frederick Wiseman

So Afraid of the Russians

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

I’m recreating a vinyl collection from scratch. First 10 acquisitions:

1. Exodus by Bob Marley and the Wailers

2. A Love Supreme by John Coltrane

3. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis

4. London Calling by The Clash

5. Lady in Satin by Billie Holiday

6. Maggot Brain by Funkadelic

7. Wild is the Wind by Nina Simone

8. Live at the Regal by BB King

9. Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan

10.Sunday at the Village Vanguard by Bill Evans

What next?

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe

The Message is Freedom

John Sinclair: “Our program is cultural revolution through a total assault on culture, which makes use of every tool, every energy and every media we can get our collective hands on: our culture, our art, our music, our books, our posters, our clothing, the way our hair grows long, the way we smoke dope and fuck and eat and sleep–it’s all one message–the message is freedom.”

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