‘A man got to have a code’

When Donnie Douchebag spewed his racist shit at Baltimore the other day, I thought of The Wire.

Then I thought of Obama giving a shout-out to Omar during both his presidential campaigns. 

 The first was in January 2008, in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, when the Illinois senator’s campaign was starting to catch fireThe newspaper’s story, focused on the issue of race, concluded with Obama’s appreciation of the HBO show and this:

Obama told the Sun his favorite character is Omar, a stickup artist who steals from drug dealers and then gives the loot to poor people in the neighborhood.

“That’s not an endorsement. He’s not my favorite person, but he’s a fascinating character.”

As president, in March 2012, very early in that election year, Obama was interviewed in the White House by Bill Simmons of ESPN.

“Settle an office debate,” Simmons asked the president. “Best Wire character of all time?”

“It’s got to be Omar, right? I mean, that guy is unbelievable, right?”

I didn’t see the Vegas item in 2008, but I remember watching the Simmons interview four years later and thinking: The Republicans are going to all Willie Horton on Obama with this.

I envisioned TV ads with Obama’s voice – “I mean, that guy is unbelievable, right?” – over shots of Omar blasting away with his shotgun or smooching with one of his boyfriends.

But the smears never came from the McCain or Romney campaigns.

Maybe they weren’t aware of the interviews. Or watch The Wire. Or know Omar Little from Chicken Little.

Or maybe John McCain and Mitt Romney weren’t about to tar a black candidate with a racist brush.

But we know what would have happened if the imperial wizard of birtherism caught wind of Obama’s statements – even now. 

It’s a safe bet Trump has never watched The Wire, or any other show in which he’s not featured or talked about. Before running for president, he probably fondled himself to replays of The Apprentice and his cameo appearances in Home Alone 2 and Zoolander.

Now, he’s addicted to cable-TV news only because he’s the 24/7 subject of every show.

Dominating coverage since Saturday was his shitstorm of tweets aimed at black Congressman Elijah Cummings and his predominately-minority district, which includes much of Baltimore.

Among those firing back at the president was David Simon, creator of The Wire, who set the series in the city where he lives and started his career as a police-beat reporter for the Baltimore Sun.

“If this empty-suit, race-hating fraud had to actually visit West Baltimore for five minutes and meet any of the American citizens who endure there, he’d wet himself,” Simon said on  Twitter, later adding: This is a city of good Americans who deserve more than a grifting, hollow and self-absorbed failure of a man as their president.”

Omar knew how to respond to bullies – the drug dealers and other gangsters who terrorized his city. That’s why when he walked down the street, unafraid, toting his shotgun and smoking his Kools, the corner kids shouted, “Omar comin’.”

But he was a badass who only killed bad guys who crossed him. 

“When you know me to put my gun on anybody who wasn’t in the game?” he told the hulking homicide detective Bunk Moreland.

“A man got to have a code.”

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

What are they hiding?

The problem with Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony was not his piss-poor performance skills. It was that he did not tell the American people everything he knows about the incorrigible gangster and dangerous lunatic in the White House.

What did he have to lose? He’s about to turn 75, a private citizen, reportedly has millions of dollars socked away, and has – had? – a reputation as straight-shooting paragon of American patriotism. 

Yet, in compiling a 448-page report and delivering seven hours of testimony in the House, the decorated ex-Marine did not consider it his duty to tell us whether the president of the United States is a Russian agent and/or running a criminal enterprise out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The least Mueller could have done is open with what most Americans with half a brain already know or suspect:

This president, this administration, is the most corrupt in the history of the United States and the greatest threat to national security since Jefferson Davis, the Rosenbergs, Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, Ted Kaczynski, killer bees, Osama bin Laden, Julian Assange or Tucker Carlson, take your pick.

Instead, we saw a timid witness kowtow to an edict handed down by his former boss, the president’s consigliere, Bill Barr: Do not go beyond the content of the special counsel’s report.

There are some juicy bits in the document, which describes Trump and his crew as thick as thieves with Russians bent on destroying American democracy for fun and profit. But, since there is no time-stamped HD video of the Dirty Don, Putin and their henchmen hatching a plot to rig the 2016 election, Mueller gave the Don and his capos a pass on conspiracy.

Then there was the part in the report about the president doing everything but hire a hitman to whack Mueller. For this, the Don got a stay-out-of-jail-free card as long as he’s in the White House.

Under questioning by Democrats – the Republicans had scant interest  in the report – Mueller’s replies sounded more like they were coming from a well-coached defendant than a prosecutor. 

“That is correct” … “No” … “True” … “I don’t believe so”  … “I can’t answer that question” … “This is out of my purview” …

Since he was still following orders, the lifelong Republican appeared to be nothing more than a loyal lieutenant.  

The guy who could have all the answers, all the clues, mostly clammed up. 

Is it because his investigation was as lame as his testimony? 

Is that why he didn’t make a case on Trump’s sketchy finances, the only thing the president cares about?

Late in the proceedings last Wednesday, Illinois Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi asked Mueller: “Your office did not obtain the president’s tax returns which could otherwise show foreign financial services, correct?”

“I’m not going to speak to that,” Mueller replied.

“In July 2017, the president said his personal finances were off limits or outside the purview of your investigation. And he drew a red line around his personal finances. Were the president’s personal finances outside the purview of your investigation?” Krishnamoorthi pressed.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Mueller responded.

“Were you instructed by anyone not to investigate the president’s personal finances?” 

“No,” Mueller said. 

The order appointing Mueller special counsel in May 2017 stated that he was charged with probing “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump – and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

Seems the first thing he should have done was meet Hal Holbrook in an underground garage. Follow the money!

Mueller had 20 prosecutors and 40 FBI agents working for him for nearly two years. Too bad, it seems, they did not wade through all the gold-plated toilets of Trumpland. 

There is nothing in the report about the Dirty Don’s dirty deals, connections to shady characters and bagmen from Russia or anywhere else.

Did Mueller deliberately restrict his investigation in the same way he restricted his testimony? 

Did he hand off evidence of money laundering or other financial crimes to U.S. attorneys in other districts, like he did Michael Cohen to prosecutors in Manhattan? 

And what happened to the counterintelligence investigation into whether Agent Orange is a Russian asset?

Has Barr buried it all? Will we ever find out what they’re hiding? Will it be too late? 

I watched every excruciating minute of the hearings before the two House committees. The Republicans were the most entertaining for fans of wacko conspiracy theories and lowbrow comedy, tossing red herrings like vendors at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle.

The Democrats did their best, considering they haven’t had much practice. Except for Cohen, they have yet to hold a public hearing with a Trump insider. Congressional subpoenas are treated like junk mail.

Has everyone who ever worked for this guy signed a non-disclosure agreement? Sworn an oath of omerta?

So, it fell to Mueller to address a real national emergency. But, like all the others, he failed to step up. 

Why? Because he already did his job, he said. 

Or, maybe he’s just another Washington suit with a sterling pedigree who turns out to be a self-centered schmuck.

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

The Resistance is only a hashtag

I’m walking in the Rattray Marsh near my home in suburban Toronto, as I do every day, trying not to think about the news from south of the border. All bad. All the time. All-consuming. Summer bird songs fail to pause the last song I heard in the car, still playing in my head. 

There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware.

Buffalo Springfield. Steven Stills, Neil Young and a couple of other guys. For What It’s Worth (1966). Stills’ lyrics always give me flashbacks of antiwar protests in the streets of Washington, Chicago, New York.

There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds.
Getting so much resistance from behind.

I follow a wide path, trees close on both sides, head on a swivel like a soldier on patrol, looking for deer and other critters that often make an appearance and add a satisfying moment to the evening.

Run into the guy l think of as the Marsh Maven. He’s a retired firefighter/paramedic who once told me he drove through the night on 9/11 to my hometown and spent weeks in the ruins at Ground Zero.

Now he takes pictures of birds, animals, sunsets. 

“Seen anything?” the Maven greets me.

“Nah,” I say, “just taking a walk – an old man alone with his thoughts.”

What a field-day for the heat.
A thousand people in the street.
Singing songs and carrying signs.
Mostly say, hooray for our side.

Heading back to the car. Thinking about the border. Not the one I have to cross to visit my country. The one with refugees crammed into cages or pens or camps or whatever the hell you want to call them.

Thinking about my fellow Americans, apparently helpless to stop the madness, and the times I’ve engaged with some of them online, where they pour out their anger, anguish, frustration. #TheResistance.

Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come – and take you away.

* * *

Keith Olbermann, 60, is the ESPN broadcaster turned MSNBC political commentator turned … I don’t know what he’s doing now. 

But, in September 2016, two months before the presidential election, he began posting a series of videos he called The Resistance.

There would be 187 episodes of Olbermann railing against Trump. The last, on November 27, 2017, began:

“I’m confident now, even more so than I have been throughout the last year, that this nightmare presidency of Donald John Trump will end prematurely and end soon.

“And I am thus also confident that this is the correct moment to end this series of commentaries.”

* * *

Walter Shaub, 48, was appointed by President Obama in January 2013 to a five-year term as director of the Office of Government Ethics. He quit six months into the Trump administration because the racketeers and grifters who run the government consider ethics a character flaw. 

After he left office, I saw Shaub on CNN a few times. He seemed like a nice, smart man who believed politicians and government officials should do the right thing.

 More recently, when I turned to Twitter during a prolonged bout of writer’s block, I gravitated to Shaub’s thoughtful and passionate participation online.

 In June, as the news was again filled with images of desperate and maltreated refugees huddled in detention, Shaub tweeted: 

Is it time for a massive protest against these camps? If so, maybe the groups capable of organizing one need to know enough of us would show …  

YES = you would *definitely* show up 

NO = you probably wouldn’t show up

He reported more than 67,000 responses, 93 percent saying YES.

I must have missed the news of tens of thousands protesting. 

Still, Shaub and his #Resistance supporters keep bitching and moaning – sustenance for social media enthusiasts – about the absence of demonstrations.

I tried to be helpful:

 Need people who know how to organize a mass protest. Singular. Hundreds of thousands in one place with the cameras rolling.

Someone with the handle Secret Agent Number Six, with 94,200 followers, asked:

What happened to all of the hippie protesters? We need them now. If they were still around they would be all over the place protesting every day.

I replied:

Hoffman and Rubin dead. Rest of us fucking old. Need a new generation to get off its ass/screens. Had hope the Parkland kids would keep it up but …

* * *

After my walk in the marsh, I cracked open my old paperback copy of The Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer-winning account of the 1967 march on the Pentagon.

The antiwar movement was changing its tactics under the banner: From dissent to resistance. No more solemn processions for peace. Time for defiance, confrontation and combat. 

Active civil disobedience was therefore essential to give glamour and publicity to the demonstration – a page-one story for Washington must instead become a page-one story for the world. Then, the ante would be up, and the results unpredictable – the peace movement would seem far from subsiding into the tapestry.

The Armies of the Night

Joining the assault on the Pentagon were Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, the young freak-power provocateurs of the movement.

“We will fuck on the grass and beat ourselves against the doors,” Hoffman promised. “We shall raise the flag of nothingness over the Pentagon and a mighty cheer of liberation will echo through the land.”

Some 50,000 marched to the front door of the Defense Department. Nearly 700 were arrested clashing with cops and soldiers while trying to storm the building.

No flag of victory was raised above the Pentagon – though there was surely some pre-skirmish fucking in the grass – but the scene was splashed on front pages and TV screens everywhere, and the movement would be big news every time it took to the streets after that late October weekend. 

* * *

“Trump is not going to leave … The only way that we’re going to stop this is eventually we’re all going to have to put our bodies on the line.”

– Filmmaker Michael Moore, June 2018

* * *

At the time of the march on the Pentagon, I was just shy of my 21st birthday and working as a copyboy at the New York Times. I felt a kinship with the mainly young protesters, though I never participated. 

Maybe it was because I didn’t have as much at stake, having ducked the draft with a medical deferment. Or maybe because I was focused on jump-starting a career as a journalist, where I would always be an observer, on the sidelines.

By the summer of 1968, I was a reporter with a newspaper in northern CaliforniaI watched on television as the demonstrators outside the Democratic convention stole the show, with the help of rampaging Chicago cops.

A year and a half later, I was a reporter for UPI in New York when national guardsmen in Ohio opened fire on antiwar demonstrators at Kent State University, killing four, including a kid who went to my high school. 

The protests only heated up. Over the next couple of years, I covered many of the marches, usually on a Saturday on Fifth Avenue, always thousands in the streets. 

* * *

A few weeks ago there was a cry for help on Twitter from someone named Sarah in California:

Resistance Family: Is anyone else losing hope? … Concentration camps. People dying. Babies dying … 

I replied:

Maybe if people took the streets – followed the recent example of Hong Kong if not the American antiwar movement – people might get the message that there is a true national emergency. #Resistance should be action.

To which someone named Alice replied:

There are rallies and marches scheduled almost every weekend. Where the hell are all the people who keep saying we need to take to the street? There were impeachment rallies all over the country last Saturday. Did you go to one?

To which I replied:  Didn’t see this on the national news.

To which Alice replied: No, news doesn’t cover that stuff. They prefer we not know … NYC’s impeachment event was pretty big; it was livestreamed.

* * *

The day after Trump was inaugurated there was the Women’s March. It would be more than a year, after the Parkland high school shooting, that tens of thousands again converged on Washington in protest.

Since then …

A protest movement which does not grow loses power every day, since protest movements depend upon the interest they arouse in the mass media.

– The Armies of the Night

When the president announced he was going to Orlando for one of his Nuremberg-style rallies to kick off his 2020 campaign last month, I spotted a notice for an anti-Trump demonstration nearby.

Turned out the venue was gay bar a half-mile away. A small crowd gathered outside with handmade signs and a big orange balloon. 

On the TV news that night, I did not see any coverage – except for a conga-line of Nazis who call themselves Proud Boys taunting the protesters, while en route to the Trump rally.

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.

It’s late. I’m sitting in my home office, 450 miles from Trump Tower, which did not exist when I covered my last march on Fifth Avenue.

There is no comparison between the atrocity of the Vietnam War and the atrocity of Trump’s America.  

Yet, this feels worse.

Maybe because I’m old now.

 Or maybe because nobody is fighting back.

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Magic Mitch and the GOP jihadis

The Russians’ useful idiot in the White House has proved to be an equally handy tool for the party where he found a home atop its ignorant, paranoid and racist base. 

The Machiavellian forces that run the Republican Party have known from the get-go that the pussy-grabbing vulgarian has no interests beyond feeding his ego and bank account. That leaves Mitch McConnell and his Koched-up dark money benefactors free to conduct their dirty business while all eyes are constantly glued to the garrulous gangster. 

 During the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump promised evangelical Christians and their white nationalist brethren he would nominate Supreme Court justices true to their anti-abortion-and-anti-everybody-who’s-not-like-us cause. 

But, since the only judges he ever heard of were Wapner, Judy, and his sister Maryanne – who he often confuses with the dark-haired chick on Gilligan’s Island – he abdicated the chore to others. 

Enter the Federalist Society (est. 1982), the right-wing payback machine bankrolled by the Koch brothers and other billionaire influence peddlers. 

One of the founding fathers of the society is Robert Bork, the Nixon henchman who was rejected by the Senate as Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee in 1987 because of his extreme reactionary views.

“Robert Bork’s America,” Ted Kennedy told the Senate, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

Striking back at the political mainstream that shunned Bork has been the society’s mission. So, when Trump outsourced his Supreme Court picks to the Federalists, they plucked two zealots in good standing – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – from their membership.

McConnell, the majority leader who worked his magic to make Obama’s last Supreme Court pick disappear, ensured the Senate gave his  rubber stamp of confirmation to the white-on-white Gorsuch and the red-faced rageaholic  Kavanaugh. 

With two more GOP jihadis joining Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and the chief, John Roberts, the majority on the court is now all society members bent on the Borking of America.

This Federalist sleeper cell woke up with a vengeance a couple of weeks ago when it blessed partisan gerrymandering of voting districts, a favorite Republican tactic to screw the Democrats – and a majority of the electorate. 

The decision, attributed to Roberts, basically says that the Founding Fathers of 1776 don’t want today’s courts messing with election shenanigans.  

It’s a textbook example of society-indoctrinated judges spouting some serious bullshit. They call it originalism – pretending to read the minds of the long-dead founders to come up with whatever ruling favors the GOP. 

Mr. Jefferson, do you think it’s okay if we make it harder for black people to vote?

My slave Sally doesn’t seem to mind staying home on the plantation tending to our babies on Election Day.

Roberts, throughout his 10,353-word majority opinion, cited many founders, including Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814), whose redrawing of the electoral map to his advantage in Massachusetts gave one district the shape of a ferocious-looking salamander, named the Gerry-mander by an early-19th-century wag.

Trump, of course, wouldn’t know Elbridge Gerry from Jerry Garcia. But he’s happy to take credit for the White House selecting Supremes from the society’s list since it doesn’t cut into his golf outings, TV watching, or bathing in the adoration of the useful idiots at his pep rallies.

And, while the media focus on the big orange gasbag, McConnell continues to work his magic of misdirection – tipping the scales of justice, planting GOP jihadis to life terms throughout the federal judiciary. More than 120 so far.

Magic Mitch is counting on them to side with every law that comes out of his party’s bag of tricks, especially making it harder for blacks, Hispanics and other traditional Democratic constituents to vote. 

If Republicans have their way:

  • The 2020 census forms, whether they include a citizenship question or not, will be printed only in English and Norwegian.  
  • All states with Republican-controlled legislatures will emulate Wisconsin’s bite-me brand of gerrymandering – now sanctified by SCOTUS – where Democrats took 54 percent of the vote but won only 33 of 99 assembly seats in the last election. 
  • Every predominately white neighborhood will have a polling place on every corner and all the others will be in the tops of tall trees or the bottom of deep lakes.
  • Voter ID laws will require a driver’s license, conceal-carry permit, and a recent receipt from a Cracker Barrel restaurant.
  • Vote tallies will be certified by the RNC, the NRA, and the GRU.  

Recently, Magic Mitch, with his trademark shit-eating grin, scoffed at making Election Day a holiday to encourage turnout, calling it a Democratic “power grab.” That’s because Republican leaders and their dark money donors know that in a fair race to the ballot box they’d get their asses kicked. 

All they care about is holding onto their power and money, whatever it takes,  until they croak, their insipid offspring piss away all their plunder, or a vengeful planet renders the United States of America an uninhabitable wasteland.

My book,The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.