Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need

American homestead, 2019. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Trump had to reach pretty deep into the recycling bin to extract the rusty figure of William Barr as a loyal replacement for J. Beauregard Sessions at the Justice Department. After he dusted him off, what did Trump see in this relic from the Poppy Bush era, that shiny reign of triumphant globalists which Trump publicly claims to loath? A cursory scan of Barr’s CV, which is about as deep a look as Trump is likely to have given, shows all the field marks of a well-worn grey man of Swamptown, a malted Scotch institutionalist, if not an honorary member of the Deep State itself. Surely Trump hesitated when he read, or more likely was told, of Barr’s stint at the Central Intelligence Agency, though the president must have been at least partly placated upon learning that Barr was an Asia hand, who was eager to promote Red China as a more menacing rival to US imperial ambitions than the decaying Soviet Union. Still, once Barr landed in Washington in the early 70s, he quickly adapted to the local habitat and for the next 40 years didn’t migrant beyond the Beltway. So what attracted Trump to this unlikely character?

+ In a word: Pardons. As Poppy’s attorney General, Barr was the man who tidied up the Iran/contra mess and gut-punched Independence Counsel Lawrence Walsh by crafting a sheaf of midnight pardons for the criminal masterminds of that squalid affair, including Casper Weinberger who had perjured himself before Congress. (See Sy Hersh’s “The Vice President’s Men“) The pardons were issued on Christmas Eve just a few days before Bush was ushered out the backdoor of the White House. A disgusted Lawrence Walsh later wrote in his book, Firewall: the Iran/Contra Conspiracy and Cover Up: “It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office, deliberately abusing the public trust without consequences,” This is, of course, exactly kind of legal mercenary that Trump was searching for when excavating through the strata of resumés of possible lawyers to do his bidding. Sometimes an establishment hack is just what you need.

+ All of these hearings are essentially auditions for the Master and Barr, a seasoned, if aging, player in Washington dramas, hit all of the marks that would delight his audience of one. Asked whether he would considering jailing journalists “for doing their jobs,” William Barr said he could conceive of situations “as a last resort” where a news organization is held accountable for “putting out stuff that they know will harm the country.” This answer must have gone down like a fistful of Viagra for Trump.

+ First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, author of The Soul of the First Amendment

 “It’s one thing to say that there could be circumstances in which a journalist’s need to protect her sources could lead to a potential finding of contempt of court if she refused to obey a court order requiring such disclosure. But the notion that a journalist could properly be jailed for publishing material that the government thinks could ‘hurt the country’ is something else entirely and would be deeply threatening to First Amendment norms in general and journalistic freedom in particular.”

+ Barr told the Senate Judicial Committee he may not publicly release the Mueller Report, which will be like rocket fuel to the publishing industry, insuring 50 years of conspiracy books.

+ Barr: “Overall the criminal justice system treats black and white people similarly.” (This from the man who supervised and implemented the 100 to 1 crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity.)

+ The Democrats only seem obsessed about Barr’s views on protecting Mueller, largely ignoring his draconian stance on immigration and drugs…

+ In contrast to Brett Kavanaugh, there was not one interruption of Bill Barr’s testimony yesterday and not one question on the Patriot Act or torture or warrantless wiretapping or the legality of assassination by drone.

+ Essentially, Joe Biden (whose views on criminal “justice” are in sinister synchrony with Bill Barr’s) wanted to turn the entire federal law enforcement system into one big black site…

+ Has anyone tried to diagram a sentence spoken by Charles Grassley? This is, after all, a man who wants to compel immigrants to speak English.

+ In the game of chicken being played on the shutdown, federal workers are going to be the roadkill, which will be a victory for the rightwing regardless of whether Trump gets money for a few miles of steel slats.

+ The average federal worker has already missed more than $5,000 in pay.

+ Trump and the GOP don’t care about the blame. The conservatives want to prove that many government agencies aren’t essential and that the others can be run by private contractors, as is now happening in many national parks. This is how the “administrative state” will be destroyed. The shutdown is wholesale deregulation in practice.

+ Trump, of course, has profited from making people work for free his entire career…

+ The New York Post reported early this week that Ivanka Trump was under consideration to replace Jim Kim at the World Bank (or, at the very least, is going to help pick his successor). Why not? If ever there was an institution in need of a facelift it’s the World Bank. Could she really inflict more misery than McNamara and Wolfowitz did?

+  The Great Unpersuader…

Did Trump’s recent televised address to the nation change your mind about building a wall along the border with Mexico, or not?

Yes: 2%
No: 89%

(Source: Quinnipiac.)

Numbers like this make me believe that Pelosi is doing Trump a favor by rescinding her invitation to give the State of the Union speech in the well of the House. Maybe Ivanka should start doing his pitches, if she doesn’t take that World Bank gig.

+ The Marshall Project has a fascinating interview with for acting director of ICE, John Sandweg:

“My views on immigration moved to the left, after I got to ICE…We had hawks telling us to deport them all, then calling us up to say not that guy, he’s not a criminal. Happened all the time…”

+ Then there’s this from immigration attorney Matthew Hoppock:

ICE took away my client’s prosthetic leg and arm. They kept his leg for five months. They still haven’t given back his prosthetic arm, and now they’re going to deport him tomorrow without. They’ve never explained why. His asylum appeal is still pending. This is human cruelty.

+ How can Trump be sure that those random strips of cloth allegedly found along the southern border are “Muslim prayer rugs” and not a much more insidious threat to the Republic…yoga mats?

+ Just in from NORAD: Flying carpets seen over southern border!

+ Proof the Supreme Deity has a (sadistic) sense of humor: “Pence’s former schoolmates at Hanover College recall hearing him say that ‘God planned to make him president.'”

+ While Rep. Ilhan Omar is being vilified for making a homophobic remark about Lindsey Graham that she didn’t actually make, Mother Pence just took a job teaching “art” at a private school in Virginia where homophobia is a prerequisite for admission…

+ As Trump proceeds with his “withdrawal” from Syria, the pace of US airstrikes in the country continues to climb…

US airstrikes in Syria per month, over past six months:

August: 65
September: 214
October: 481
November: 634
December: 939
January: On pace for 1,300

+ Though very few seemed to care, Kirsten Gillibrand, the woman who scolded Al Franken out of the senate, announced presidential bid and wasted little time pitching the political virtues of bipartisanship: “I would bring people together to start getting things done. If you want to get health care done, you have to bring Ds and Rs to the table on the shared values of this country. We all love our children.” Sure, Kirsten, we all love “our” children. The problem is that the people you want to make a deal with don’t love anyone else’s children and don’t care much if they go without breakfast, heat, a flu shot, or get shot at during geometry class…

+ Understanding the knotty theories of Frederic Jameson in a single photo…

+ US troops are still in Syria, killing and dying, without any legal basis. ISIS is far from defeated. Turkey is massing 80,000 troops on the border. End the sham before it gets worse.. Bring them home NOW.

+ I doubt Erdogan takes Trump’s threats against Turkey very seriously. The president can’t even “devastate” Iowa’s economy, though he’s been trying very hard to with the one-two punch of his shutdown and tariffs…

+ Trump at the Pentagon, during the rollout of his new missile defense boondoggle, describing his martial strategy: “There are some very bad players out there. And we’re a good player. But we can be far worse than anybody if need be.”

+ I fully accept we’re living in a grim new age of global intolerance. But does it have to be so damn infantile?
“Under the new government of President Jair Bolsonaro, Damares Alves declared in her inaugural speech, ‘a girl will be a princess and a boy will be a prince.'”

+ There’s nothing juicier than a tell-all by a scorned and jealous suitor: In his new memoir Let Me Finish, Chris Christie writes that Trump has a “revolving door of deeply flawed individuals — amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons — who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for, sometimes seemingly without so much as a background check via Google or Wikipedia.”

+ According to court filings, Rudy Guiliani’s drug-pushing clients, the Sacklers, wanted to sell OxyContin as an over the counter pill….

+ “Collusion, I mean, confusion will be his Epitaph….”

+ I was interrogated about “Russiagate” this week and the conversation went like this…:

1) Was there “collusion” between the Trump circle and Russians in the 2016 campaign? Yes.

2) Was there a conspiracy in the Trump circle to try to work with Russians during the campaign? Yes.

3) Were some of these Russians tied to Russian intelligence? Yes.

4) Did the Russians (or Russian assets) hack the DNC and Podesta’s emails? Yes.

5) Is the Trump Organization in hock to Russian money? Probably.

6) Has Trump lied about this? Yes.

7) Has he instructed others to lie on his behalf? Yes.

8) Did any of these activities sway the results of the 2016 presidential election? There’s no evidence that they did and there’s not much evidence that Trump actually winning the election (as opposed to smearing HRC and cashing in on post-election enterprises) was the object of the conspiracy.

9) Are the Democrats using the Russia conspiracy as an excuse for Hillary blowing the 2016 election? Yes.

10) Has the Democrats’ obsession with Russian meddling in the 2016 election empowered Trump? Yes.

+ If we are presented with only a binary choice of whether Trump was a “witting” or “unwitting” Russian agent, the answer seems obvious to me. If Trump knew he was a Russian agent, he’d have bragged about it by now.

+ The fatal flaw with the theory of Trump being a “useful idiot” of Putin is that there’s no evidence in his career of him ever being useful at anything.

+ What if by “acting in the best interests of Russia” (on Syria, Afghanistan, NATO and the EU), Trump also happened to be, even accidentally, “acting in the best interests of the USA?”

+ Now, go impeach and indict them for this: “Trump Administration Separated THOUSANDS More Migrant Children at Border Than Previously Known.”

+ Kellyanne’s impish husband George Conway asserts flatly that “nothing Trump says can be taken at face value.” Or “ass value,” George…

+ More presidential conflicts of interests than lies?

+ Because Raj Shah was so convincing in his previous sales job for the Trump White House, he has been hired by a K Street lobby shop called Ballard Media Group, where he will work side-by-side with Jamie Rubin, former State Department spokesman for Madeleine Albright…

+ Meet the latest hero of the Resistance©, Michael Cohen who funded rigged polls for Trump and set up a Twitter account called “Women for Michael Cohen“….

+ First proposed Article of Impeachment against Richard Nixon:

On June 17, 1972, and prior thereto, agents of the Committee for the Re-election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence. Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.

+ “Anastasia screams in vain…

+ Union membership continues to declining, dropping last year from 10.7 percent of the workforce in 2017 to 10.5 percent 2018, with most of the loss coming government employees.

+ The top One Percent own more than half of all stocks owned by American households.

+ Meanwhile, “Red” China added 186,000 new millionaires last year alone.

+ A Jamaican bank is using reggae videos to explain monetary policy. It’s pretty simple, though, isn’t it? Follow the bouncing ball: “Babylon system is a vampire….”

+ Mitch McConnell sighting: the AWOL leader of the Senate has let it slip that he wants Mike Pompeo to run for the open senate seat in Kansas. Anything to get Pompeo Maximus out of Foggy Bottom, where rarely a day goes by without him threatening Iran, Venezuela or Cuba.

+ A New York Times piece on the dwindling humanities curriculums in rural colleges and universities asks “What do you call a university without a history program?” A business school?

+ In 2012, 88% of elementary school teachers said they considered teaching history a low priority. Why? No state testing for history.

+ As this chart from the Economic Policy Institute shows, the minimum wage would be much higher if it had just kept pace with rising worker productivity rates…

+ It’s been two weeks. Have the Democrats in the House really “hit the ground running” or just–SPLAT!– hit the ground?

+ Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a US Marine who was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been targeted for deportation by the Trump administration. Apparently, it’s not really about where you are from but where you look like you’re from…

+ I wonder if Mike Pence is worried that Steve King might replace him on the ticket in 2020?

+ There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a King v. Cheney brawl. It’s one of those fights where you can cheer each punch that lands and not worry about who gets hurt.

Steve King on Liz Cheney: “She’s called for my resignation! She’s been here two years! What would give her the moral authority or the intellectual judgment to do something like that?”

+ Douglas Burns, who has been covering King for years for the Des Moines City View, says the congressman’s  defense of white supremacy to the New York Times wouldn’t even make his top 10 list of outrageous comments.

+ Things you can’t call the Nazi representative from Iowa on NBC…

+ Steve King (Nazi-IA) was the campaign chairman for Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential bid and Beto, the Che of El Paso, still couldn’t beat him…

+ If ever there was a living case study disproving “White Supremacy”, surely it’s King’s pal Louis Gohmert

+ “Take a day and walk around,
watch the Nazis run your town;
then go home and check yourself–
you think we’re singin’ about someone else?”

– Frank Zappa, “Plastic People”

+ Speaking of Nazis, rightwing gasbag Ben Shapiro told the March for Life that pro-lifers would never have aborted “Baby Hitler. Baby Hitler was a baby.”

+ The big question is: would they have breastfed Baby Hitler with a wet-nurse or fed him Nestle’s formula?

+ Pence, who seems to be speaking in tongues again, unloaded on North Korea, alleging against all kinds of evidence that the Hermit Kingdom had taken “no concrete steps” toward denuclearization….

+ Why Wall Street will be the last to turn against Trump: 80 percent of the benefits of his tax cut went to corporations and only 20 percent to individuals and workers.

+ Looks like we have some buyers for AOC’s proposal for a marginal tax rate of 70% on those making more than $10 million a year! Any takers for 90%?

+ Finally, a little good news for Puerto Rico? The FOMPRB (the federal control board on Puerto Rico) made a preliminary ruling this week that $6 billion of Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt was illegal. This was surprising decision from a board composed of Wall Street fat cats, though perhaps invalidating a portion of the debt is a way of legitimizing the rest?

+ Two Wake County, North Carolina deputies were fired after they reported the homophobic slurs of one of their colleagues, who said during a diversity training seminar that if he were called to an address where a man was wearing a dress, he wouldn’t enter the house…

+ Rand Paul, the man who once compared socialized medicine to “slavery,” is scheduled to have hernia surgery at a private clinic in Canada, despite the fact the he has repeatedly claimed that private doctors are eradicated by nations with single-payer health systems.

+ How fortunate for predatory companies like Facebook that we are living in the Golden Age of Stupidity.

+ Trump to Farm Bureau: “Can everyone to sit down rather than stand? This way you can give me standing ovations whenever you want, but if you’re already standing, the media will say I didn’t get any standing ovations. It’s probably better for me.”

+ Can a country win a Darwin Award?

+ Marie Kondo, the Japanese decluttering guru embraced by post-literate America, advises that no household should be burdened by more than 30 books, which is still 28 more than have been sighted in the executive residence of the White House.

+ The government isn’t the only thing shutting down. So is the planet…Ecologist Scott Lister has found that over the last 35 years 98% of ground insect species in Puerto Rico have been extirpated.

+ LA photographer Peter Bennett, who manages the Los Angeles River blog, took a series of photos comparing the Los Angeles River before and after it’s channel was paved. Bennett writes:

The idea was to get as close to the original spot the older photos were taken, and try to match up the lens and framing with the original… There was a sense of time travel as I viewed the landscape as it is today and… as it was back in the ’30s. The visual contrast was quite striking, and the changes apparent in the 75 years or so since the photos were taken was at times quite dramatic.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

+ On the climate front, Trump is doing his part to reduce Nancy Pelosi’s carbon footprint by canceling her “fact-finding” trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan…

+ The Rio Grande is shriveling. It’s not a drought. It’s the future…

+ A new report from Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment argues that Trump’s replacement for Obama’s climate is “worse than doing nothing.” Of course, “doing nothing” was the Obama Climate Plan.

+ Top 5 warmest annual global temperatures since at least 1891, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency:

1. 2016
2. 2015
3. 2017
4. 2018
5. 2014

+ What will they call “permafrost” when it’s no longer permanent?

+ Calculate the carbon footprint of your diet, assuming you’re on a diet.

+ How do you define sextupled?

Antarctic ice loss in 1979: 40 billion tons per year.
Antarctic ice loss in 2017: 252 billion tons per year.

+ Current body count in the War on Coal: More coal plants have closed in Trump’s first two years than in Obama’s entire first term.

+ The state of Idaho just put out a $200,000 bounty on the state’s wolves. It’s time to put the wolf killers on permanent furlough.

+ Barbara Ehrenreich: “If I had a gun and knew how to use it, my first target would be the fiends who’ve been destroying Joshua Trees in the eponymous park. The rest of you bastards can wait.”

+ Australia is sweltering under some of its hottest days ever recorded. The death count is rising, especially among bats. During a November blast of heat, flying fox bats started falling from the trees. In just two days, more than a third of the nation’s flying fox bat population perished. Mass dies can happen fast.

+ The more “awards” Angela Davis is denied, the more angelic she becomes…

Well, she ain’t no singer
And she ain’t no star
But she sure talk good
And she move so fast
But the gal in danger
Yeah, de gal in chains
But she keep on pushin’
Would ya take her place?

+ Dexter Gordon first recorded for the Savoy label. He received a small advance of a couple hundred dollars. The company claimed the publishing rights. He received no royalties for the songs he had written. He next recorded for Dial, where his royalty rate was 1 percent for each record sold, minus the costs, which meant that he received a pittance even though his recordings of The Chase and The Hunt with Wardell Gray where two of the most popular songs of the 1940s. Things improved slightly when he signed with Blue Note, where the royalty rate, minus costs, was 3 percent. On some of the greatest jazz records ever made, Go, Our Man in Paris and Dexter Calling, Gordon earned about 14 cents per album sold. The performance fees were even worse. On the Paris recordings, the great Bud Powell played piano. He was paid a flat $460 for some of his best late performances, recordings that have sold 10s of thousands of copies.

+ A  lyric fragment from Bob Dylan’s newly discovered “Blood on the Tracks” era blue notebook

Always done my duty
And tried to be kind
I couldn’t stop the progress
Of a nation going blind

+ The economics of the streaming industry is dictating shorter songs….

+ Bill Frisell on playing guitar: “Every day I wake up and I look at this instrument, and it still feels so much as it did the first few moments I tried to play it. It’s just this infinity out in front of you.”

Your Money Came and It Went a Lot of Places But You Didn’t Come See Me

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Teen Babes From Monsanto by Redd Kross (Merge Records)

Back to the Blues by Dinah Washington (Roulette)

Sunrise in Different Dimensions by Sun Ra (Hatology)

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century by Kehinde Andrews (Zed Books)

The Man Who Fell From the Sky by Bill Fletcher, Jr. (Hard Ball Press)

The Alt-Right: What Everyone Needs to Know by George Hawley (Oxford)

Slaves to Fear

Hunter S. Thompson: “We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.”


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