In this issue of Banter M:
Donald Trump, Enemy Combatant - Russia is fighting and winning a cyber war against America, and Trump is an enemy combatant, explains Bob Cesca. Could this be any more serious?
Bill Maher is Not The Enemy - Every year, the usual suspects among the perpetually aggrieved left pick up their torches and pitchforks and march to the gates of Bill Maher’s house, says Chez Pazienza. But he isn't the enemy, so why do liberals insist on going to war with him?
Ten Days Without Trump - Ben Cohen spent ten days away from the news without hearing a word about Donald Trump. Here's what he learned about world devoid of anxiety, fear and doubt about the future.
Donald Trump, Enemy Combatant
by Bob Cesca
For the better part of a year, I've been drawing somewhat unsettling comparisons between President Trump and Richard Nixon. Today, that comparison is strengthened by a bombshell report by CNN regarding Russia and the FBI. We'll get into the details presently.
To be clear, Nixon wasn't nearly this horrendous as Trump. For all of his myriad faults, Nixon was a well-schooled lawyer; he entered office with eight years of White House experience under his belt, having served as Eisenhower's vice president; he endured three presidential campaigns, including his self-sabotaged re-election campaign, as well as an unsuccessful run for governor.
Put it this way: Trump has all of Nixon's delusions and nefariousness, and none of his experience or competence. Plus, 40 years later, the operatives surrounding Trump are less likely to repeat the same mistakes as Nixon -- or they're making the same mistakes but packaging them differently. The Trump White House is keeping its more sinister actions under tighter wraps. But the political press tends to find a way to the biggest fish. Such is the case with Trump's Watergate: the Russian/Trump cyber war against the United States.
During the Watergate scandal, on Saturday, October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered Attorney General Richardson to summarily fire the special prosecutor in charge of the Justice Department's investigation. Imagine, for a moment, if Bill Clinton had ordered the firing of Ken Starr during the most harrowing stages of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. That’s exactly what Nixon did. But worse. Instead of firing Cox, Richardson resigned in protest. Replacing Richardson as acting attorney general was his deputy, William Ruckelshaus. Nixon ordered Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. He refused and then resigned. That’s two attorneys general in a single day. Ruckelshaus was subsequently replaced by solicitor general, and future Reagan Supreme Court nominee, Robert Bork. Nixon ordered Bork to fire Cox and, finally, Bork complied, then appointed Leon Jaworski who more or less carried on where Cox left off
Echoing the Watergate era, Trump and his team seem to be doing whatever they can to further emboss the comparison. In addition to the firing of then acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who had previously informed the White House of former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., we learned yet another possibly illegal move by the White House to meddle in the actions of the Justice Department.
CNN reported on Thursday that Trump's Chief of Staff Reince Priebus allegedly tried to coerce the FBI to help the White House swat down linkage in the press between Russia and Trump's staff. When news broke via The New York Times linking top Trump campaign staffers to Russian intelligence officials, Priebus contacted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and suggested they "at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories."
Of course, this is a violation of Justice Department procedures designed to maintain separation between the politics of the White House and the deadly serious work of the Bureau.
The Trump administration's efforts to press Comey run contrary to Justice Department procedure memos issued in 2007 and 2009 that limit direct communications on pending investigations between the White House and the FBI.
It's almost as if the Trump team never heard of Watergate, the Saturday Night Massacre, or the subsequent cover-up. The whole story screams of Nixon trying to tell the attorney general what to do regarding the special prosecutor. It's also worth noting that the infamous "Deep Throat," the informant who tipped off Bob Woodward, was in fact McCabe's predecessor, the late Deputy Director of the FBI Mark Felt.
On top of this story, we also learned via Politico another bizarre twist in former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's part in the scandal. Apparently, a Ukrainian lawmaker, Serhiy Leshchenko, reached out to blackmail Manafort, threatening to expose the Trump operative's financial ties to the pro-Putin former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. Leshchenko also threatened to expose links between Trump himself and a Yanukovych lackey named Serhiy Tulub.
The message was apparently delivered to Manafort's daughter's phone via text message.
“Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise,” reads the note. It is signed “Sergii” — an alternative transliteration of Leshchenko’s given name — and it urges Manafort to respond to an email address that reporters have used to reach Leshchenko.
The text messages were acquired from a hacker and posted on a darknet site frequented by hackers. Of course.
And finally, CNN also reported that a Ukrainian official did, in fact, carry on conversations with Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, about a peace deal in Ukraine that would have heavily favored Putin.
All of this news, all three Russia-related stories, came down on the same day. All of it.
And outside? Crickets.
This is perhaps the most egregious scandal in the history of the presidency, if not the biggest scandal to face the United States since, perhaps, Andrew Jackson's defiance of the Supreme Court and his subsequent genocide against the Cherokee. (Go figure, he's Trump's political hero.) And yet even the Resistance -- the anti-Trump forces on both sides -- is slow walking the story.
Where are the scary logos and graphics-packages on cable? America under cyber attack! The White House hijacked! Complete with pulse-pounding theme music. Indeed, every national newscast, every cable news pundit show, and every political headline should be screaming about the fact that the current president conspired with Russian intelligence to hijack the 2016 presidential election. But even that description understates the magnitude of what we're talking about. And what is that, exactly?
American sovereignty has been invaded and seized by Russia.
Simply put: Russia has been engaged in a cyber war against the United States, our elections, our news media, and our fellow voters. This is a full on cyber war. This is what it looks like, and this is what it looks like when the Russians win, because, so far, they've won. Putin's intended candidate won the election in part because Russian intelligence, working with hacker farms and Wikileaks, broke into servers and accounts owned by Democrats -- not unlike the bugging of the DNC in 1972 -- and gradually funneled the hacked emails to the news media, which became an unwitting co-conspirator after the fact.
Note how the previous paragraph doesn't mention Trump or the GOP. Why? Because the hacking and hijacking alone warrant a degree of national outrage that ought to rival the previous attack on American soil circa September 11, 2001. Now, fold into the mix the ongoing revelations that the U.S. intelligence community is buzzing about Trump and Trump's staffers colluding with Russia to make it all happen. This would be similar to, say, Nancy Pelosi colluding with Iraqi insurgents to make the Bush administration look self-destructive and incompetent just prior to the 2006 midterms.
Still... crickets chirping.
The news media and the Resistance alike need to start calling this what it is: a cyber war by Russia against the U.S. with the President of the United States, Donald Trump, along with his top staffers, acting enemy combatants. Maybe then Americans will start to take this with more of the seriousness it deserves. It also bears the added bonus of being accurate.
Then maybe, just maybe, there will be accountability. Maybe, someday, we'll once again believe in the integrity of our elections.
Bill Maher is Not The Enemy
by Chez Pazienza
So, we’re going to do this again, eh? Great. Every year or so, the usual suspects among the perpetually aggrieved left make the collective decision to pick up their torches and pitchforks and march up the Hollywood Hills to the gates of Bill Maher’s house. (I assume it’s in the Hollywood Hills; that sounds right.) I’m speaking figuratively, of course, since what they really do is react to something “offensive” Maher has said or done on his show or during one of his live appearances by venting their spleens via way of a bunch of silly internet think pieces. This crap is like clockwork, so reliable has Maher been as an outlet for liberal superintendent class angst and moralizing for so long. Recently, though, it’s seemed particularly like a left-wing cultural imperative given that identity politics has come to dominate left-wing culture and Maher is, well, a middle-aged white guy -- one who happens to abhor what the censorious demands of today’s identity politics crusaders have done to liberal thought.
In the wake of Bill Maher’s decision to give former alt-right star and vacant little snot Milo Yiannopoulos a forum on his HBO show, Real Time, last week, the waves of sanctimonious scolding have been washing over a segment of the internet at steady intervals. First, there was the question of whether Maher was right or wrong in letting Yiannopoulos ply his bigoted wares and otherwise fame-whore himself on national television. Maher’s belief in the old Louis Brandeis maxim that sunshine is best disinfectant didn’t satisfy many, the same many, you’d have to imagine, that thought setting things on fire at Berkeley was a really productive way to shut Yiannopoulos up (as opposed to merely feeding his ridiculous mythology). That of course earned him his first round of rebukes, followed quickly by the fallout from the interview, where Maher was at least perhaps rightly taken to task for being a hell of a lot less direct with Yiannopoulos than he should’ve been. (An argument can easily be made that, yes, if he wasn’t going to be willing to put pressure on him in the name of being civil, then having him on the show was merely giving him what he wanted and nothing more.)
Maher’s handling of Yiannopoulos really brought the knives out, in entirely predictable ways. Jezebel melodramatically dubbed him a “monster.” The A.V. Club, in a piece written by someone who so obviously seethes from a deep reservoir of compressed hostility toward Maher, called him “irrelevant,” saying that he's "a man without a country" because liberals don't like him -- an almost admirable bit of self-reinforcing circular reasoning -- and he'll never earn the respect of the right for his willingness to engage with it. Then there's Pajiba, a site I personally happen to like even when I disagree with it, which is taking great, scathing issue with Maher's claim in the wake of Milo's downfall that he was at least partially responsible for it. The author calls this "pompous and inaccurate," even though it's entirely possible that Maher's willingness to provide Milo with one of his biggest stages yet inadvertently gave him all the farther to fall when the boom dropped on him 48 hours later. Yeah, Maher shouldn't be tooting his own horn about it like that was his plan all along, but the sheer toxicity of the venom directed toward him, as with the A.V. Club piece, reads more like a "lifetime achievement award" of punishment than a response to any one supposed offense.
None of this is surprising, of course. Maher has indeed always been a divisive figure, certainly someone who challenges modern liberal sensibilities and who doesn't submit to its shibboleths. He's reportedly a raging asshole in person and, admittedly, calling him pompous -- as Pajiba did -- isn't completely misplaced, since he wears his smug elitism on his sleeve. But it's his views on Islam, more than anything else, that have made him an ongoing target of the left's derision. True, now more than ever it may feel like the right thing to do to take the opposite of whatever position the Trump administration and its horrifying ilk are -- or consistently take positions that don't even appear to benefit them -- but that's intellectually dishonest. Maher's right when he says that Islam, like the other two monotheistic faiths, is illiberal specifically because it subjugates women, gay people, and minorities. He's also right when he says that, because Islam hasn't been forced to bend to the forces of modernity in many regions -- and because its radicalized adherents are so radical that their goal is to kill en masse -- it represents at this period in our existence an especially pernicious danger.
This doesn't mean Muslims should be discriminated against, since the argument here is over ideas and not individual people, and it definitely doesn't mean Donald Trump should be able to block Muslims or those from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. That's quite simply un-American.
But here's the thing: Whether you agree with everything he says or believes, Bill Maher is undoubtedly on the correct side here overall. He may have some views that differ from what the purist left sees as necessities, but the purist left have already proven that they'll never be satisfied and they're more than willing to burn it all down rather than compromise. They're a path to inevitable loss again and again and again. (Remember, for a good, long time they would publicly beat up on Jon Stewart, of all people, as well.) Maher regularly takes on that segment of the left -- the intransigent, humorless scolds who seek to quash or hide from language and ideas they disagree with -- which is why they don't particularly like him and will seek out any reason to argue that he's somehow a "bad liberal." But he's not. He holds to some pretty high standards of what liberalism has always meant and, what's more, he's been an invaluable weapon in the war against Donald Trump, having gotten underneath Trump's thin skin to the point where he was threatened with a lawsuit by our current president. This isn't to say that liberals or anybody else should give a free pass to anyone who pisses off their adversaries, but now more than ever we need people like Maher, those with a big forum and an even bigger determination to use it to take on this nightmare White House.
To break it down in simple terms, because nobody knows how to assemble a circular firing squad like liberals: Bill Maher isn't the enemy. He's a guy who uses his powerful forum to espouse views that generally further liberal causes. It's one thing to criticize him for individual viewpoints you maybe have an issue with but another thing entirely to rant about how he's some kind of monster because he doesn't conform to whatever the hell you adamantly believe someone must to be a part of your very particular fold. The enemy should be incredibly obvious at this point and it's imperative that we use every responsible weapon in our arsenal, even the insufferably smug ones, in the war against that enemy. I personally disagree with Maher on a number of issues and have throughout his lengthy career as a political comic, but I accept that in the end he's on the side of the angels. What this means is that I hear him out even when I find him wildly off-base but have continued to allow for our differences because there's far more I agree with him on than disagree -- and I acknowledge that he's an authoritative comic voice against a horrifying common foe.
Even the recently recirculated clip of Maher seeming to make excuses for Mary Kay Letourneau's relationship with now husband Vili Fualaau -- which began when Fualaau was only 12 years old and Letourneau was his teacher -- while repulsive if Maher wasn't simply being tongue-in-cheek, deserves both a direct question and an opportunity for an answer. "Do you still think that? How? Why? If not, what changed your mind?" Maher has earned more consideration than Milo for the simple reason that despite what some on the left may think, Maher hasn't actually been a geyser of vile rhetoric the way Milo Yiannopoulos has. (And before anyone dares argue this, no, it has absolutely nothing to do with the distinction that Maher's comments involve a heterosexual relationship and Milo's a gay relationship; child molestation is child molestation, and at the age of 12 and 13 -- Maher's pet case and Milo's, respectively -- child molestation is absolutely what we're talking about.) But again, there's a difference between holding an ally's feet to the fire and ignoring everything that ally has done to make him or herself an ally and just tossing that person aside.
Make no mistake, though: The vendetta some on the left have against Maher accomplishes nothing. It's self-defeating, in fact, as so much of what the left does is. It balkanizes a resistance that at this moment in the history of our fragile republic needs unity to survive. I disagree with the many on the left to the point of apoplexy -- to the point of literally and figuratively being in a different political party than them altogether -- but if they'd be willing to in the name of standing against Trump I would proudly stand with them. I'd stand by Maher. Hell, I'm willing to form a coalition with those on the other side of the aisle with whom I have a whole hell of a lot of fundamental ideological disagreements, provided they're good, reasonable people and understand that Trump is a horror-show -- an existential threat to our democracy. This just isn't the time to be beating up on any decent human being who might be willing to count him or herself a friend and fellow resistor to this madness.
Next: Ten Days Without Trump - by Ben Cohen
Ten Days Without Trump
by Ben Cohen
I recently got back from my honeymoon, four long months after my wife and I got married back in England last year. We were married during the midst of the most contentious and outrageous political contests in modern history, so I didn't think it wise to go off on a vacation straight away. I knew I'd be incessantly checking my phone, monitoring polls and worrying myself silly over the potential end of Western civilization, so we agreed to hold off until the new year.
In retrospect, it probably would not have made much of a difference -- Trump won, and every day after his freak show of an inauguration has been a living nightmare. As election day neared, my confidence in Clinton's victory had grown and I was greatly looking forward to not having to talk about Donald Trump or his merry band of political thugs ever again. Now it is Trump all day, every day and with no end in sight.
My wife and I actually had planned to go away in March, but the unabating flood of horrifically bad news was having quite a serious effect on my sanity. I greatly envied anyone not in the news business who could happily make a living not knowing anything about the Trump administration, and knew deep down that I had to get away -- and quickly. We booked a trip to Costa Rica, splitting our time between a tree house retreat in the Southern zone and a very nice boutique hotel on the coast an hour's drive away. I promised my wife I would not check my emails or social media accounts for the majority of the duration of the trip.
I managed to keep to my word for the first five days of the honeymoon, before having to check my email for a travel related issue, and then only sporadically checked in thereafter. I did no writing, no email replying, no Facebook ranting and barely any checking in with the rest of the team (although managing editor Bob did have some problems getting one of the member's pieces up that I had to help out with).
To call it a mental health break would be the understatement of the century -- the vacation literally restored my mental sanity and has given me a much needed reset in order to contend with what promises to be one of the darkest moments in American history. On the honeymoon, I did 20 minutes of meditation a day (using a great little app called "Head Space"), ate organic food, went hiking in forests, swam in the ocean, read a book on Buddhism and spent a lot of quality time with my wife. Oh, and it was 85 degrees every day without a hint of rain.
It was, bar a few travel mishaps (like booking a flight to San Jose California rather than San Jose Costa Rica -- yes really), a truly fantastic vacation.
About two days into the trip, it dawned on me that I really hadn't taken a proper break from the news for over 8 months -- a completely insane amount of time, even if it is my job to monitor it. Donald Trump has occupied most of my waking life since he announced his presidential candidacy in 2015, and he exists in my mind as a festering virus, an ever present illness gnawing away at my psychological and emotional wellbeing that I have been unable to control for some time now.
There are several non-politics related pieces I am half way through writing, one of them recounting an astonishing trip I took to the Amazon jungle early last year, but have been unable to publish on 'Banter M' due to my inability to distract myself from the unfolding political events in America. I have also had some quite serious fibromyalgia flare ups, and have had a pretty hard time sleeping of late, all of which are certainly related to the non-stop drama in Washington DC, and the anxiety I have been feeling over the future of the country (not to mention the planet as a whole). This is all very, very real, and according to some new research, many people are suffering from "Post-Election Stress Disorder".
10 days away from it all, and while I am still greatly concerned, I have finally been able to get a grip on my reactions towards the never ending stream of bad news. Meditation teaches you to create more space between the thoughts that constantly pop into your head, and to find solace in those moments of peace -- a technique I was desperate to get down while away. And ss the vacation wore on and I stuck to my daily routine, I was able to do just that -- and it has had an incredibly noticeable effect. Being able to create this third party observer type effect, I have been able to see just how scrambled my mind has become over the past year. Anxieties and fears invariably come up after reading something online, and without a way of managing them, our monkey minds simply follow it into an abyss of agitation that can be incredibly toxic. Continuous meditation just allows you to get some space from the thoughts and can help you see them as just that -- thoughts.
Having got some "head space", I've reached a few conclusions about what is happening in here in the States. The truth is, we really don't know what long term effect the Alt-Right movement and the Trump administration will have on America and the rest of the world. It may well be the greatest thing that has ever happened to us as a species, the mother of all wake up calls that galvanizes disparate groups and fosters collaboration to create the biggest mass protest movement in human history. It could of course turn into the end of human civilization too, but there is absolutely no way of knowing one way or the other. Faced with this insecurity, the only real way to manage it is to control our reaction to it. And in my humble opinion, this means taking up something that has some sort of meditative aspect to it (and of course, if everyone decided to practice meditation, then people like Donald Trump would never become president in the first place!). A society that values mental health and the practice of suppressing the ego would not tolerate a narcissistic lunatic who thrives off of chaos and is motivated solely by personal greed.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that, "as a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him." Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but at least from a personal health point of view it seems like the only viable strategy we have amidst the anger and chaos. So take a break and get meditating people, it really does help.