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How the Kleptocrats Bought Washington

How the Kleptocrats Bought Washington

January 16, 2019, marked a watershed in the history of our republic. Senate Republicans defeated a motion to prevent Trump from lifting sanctions on Paul Manafort’s boss, the Russian mafia figure, Oleg Deripaska.

Obscured by the toxic cloud of racism, looting and general trashiness spewed out by Trump and his enablers, we are failing to notice much of this regime’s most lasting damage. What happened in the Senate this year has never happened before. An open enemy of the United States, an enemy our military has trained to fight and our international agreements are shaped to contain, has simply bought their way around our entire national defense infrastructure, purchasing in Congress what they could never win on a battlefield. They did it in broad daylight, in front of TV cameras, using our own longstanding weaknesses to defeat our democracy and profit from its decline. And it barely made the newspaper.

Our other global rivals have noticed, and they are catching up to the Russians. A new political system is emerging out of the cracks in liberal democracy, a system we don’t yet understand and haven’t prepared to fight. Like the Poles or the French in World War II, this monster is close to enveloping us before we’ve even turned our guns in their direction.

Imagine if Pablo Escobar or El Chapo had simply bought enough of our elected officials to operate with impunity. Picture Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini buying off a President and enough Congressmen to sweep that whole embassy misunderstanding under the rug. That’s what happened in the US Senate this January, when Russian mobster, Oleg Deripaska, escaped the vise of US sanctions.

A country that has always struggled with institutional bribery is now for sale on a global market, a market in which our adorable local crooks and cronies are hopelessly overmatched by our sworn enemies, armed with the financial and intelligence infrastructure of a nation-state. We may have defeated the Communists only to be absorbed by their successors, the Kleptocrats.

How did Deripaska do it? For that matter, how have the Saudis bought their way to immunity from murder? How did Gulf Sheikhs buy the right to review and edit the US President’s energy policy? How did a Taiwanese company pry billions of dollars of land, infrastructure and tax concessions out of the State of Wisconsin on the promise of a patently fake project? What is the Chinese government getting from the State of West Virginia for their phony investments in the state?

Thing is, we don’t have the details. Our laws barely grant you the right to see a subset of your leaders’ campaign contributions. When the KGB merged with the Russian mob in the 90’s to restore some semblance of order to that disintegrating state, they built a terrible tool of oppression, armed with remarkable political insight and global reach. Lessons learned and refined by the Russians over the past three decades in the art of money laundering, extortion and democratic subversion are being put to use in the US.

Our insights into campaign finance may be limited, but we are absolutely blind to the ways shell companies, phony transactions and insider deals contribute to our leaders’ wealth. That blind spot has become the gap in our Maginot Line.

Deeply-cherished delusions about the nature of the American experiment compromise our ability to fight this assault. We carry a persistent, but ill-informed cynicism about the influence of money on our system, without understanding how it works. And because we don’t understand it, we naively imagine that money only influences our political opponents. We operate in a system steeped in institutionalized bribery, from city hall to the White House, and we somehow imagine our favorite figures are immune.

We still have a narrow chance to preserve a system in which ordinary people can enjoy some degree of protection under the law. To do so, we need to face hard facts, stop imagining that courts and police will help us, and be ready to confront those who pretend to be our political allies.

It’s impossible to understand how the Russians and others are exploiting our system without a better understanding of how bribery works in the US. As upset as we’ve been in recent years about the Koch Brothers and the NRA, we’ve never really confronted this system honestly. And we haven’t needed to. Your financial backers were always balanced, at least to a degree, by mine. All of them shared certain interests in common, including a basic need for national protection from external enemies.

As we scratch our heads in wonder at the apparent apathy of Democratic Congressmen pursuing Trump, we need to back up and explore their motives. We can get a clearer sense of the worldview blocking our response to this threat if we examine the careers of our allies, rather than rehashing the obvious greed of Republicans. Perhaps the best picture of the vulnerabilities that gave us Donald Trump and thwart our response to the Kleptocratic threat comes from looking at Nancy Pelosi’s finances.

How Nancy Pelosi Got Rich

Nancy Pelosi is not just wealthy, but fantastically wealthy. She’s never had a private sector job, but as recently as 2015 her disclosed net worth was well over $100m. Where did that money come from? When asked, the family makes mumbled statements about her husband Paul’s success in real estate, which is just another way of saying that Pelosi’s money comes from the same source as Donald Trump’s. In other words, we don’t know, and like the rest of your representatives she’s under no obligation to explain how she acquired it.

Pelosi’s fortune didn’t come from an inheritance on either side of the family. She and her husband both come from modest origins. Pelosi’s father was a local politico in Baltimore who failed to assemble much wealth, though not from lack of trying. His political career was derailed in 1954 by a fraud scheme. He stuck around for a while but couldn’t get back in the game.

Her husband Paul earned a political science degree at Georgetown. The two of them started out in San Francisco with little-to-nothing, where Nancy went to work for the Democratic Party, mostly as a volunteer. There’s never been any clear explanation of what Paul does beyond generalized talk of “real estate” or “investing.”

Pelosi inherited the safest Democratic seat in the country from her mentor in the 80’s after moving to the district to qualify. It’s only after she landed in Congress that the family started to accumulate real wealth. To understand how, first let’s look at the holes in the reporting scheme.

Here’s Pelosi’s financial disclosure form from 2016. This seems pretty helpful. All major transactions are recorded along with assets and liabilities, so what’s the problem?

Look closely at those disclosures, particularly the real estate transactions. Were these arms-length deals in a competitive marketplace? The names of these entities on both sides of the transaction – what are they? Who’s behind them? Did any of these transactions represent a real exchange of value? Maybe. But there’s a simpler explanation that makes a lot more sense.

Money may flow in secret, but it always casts a shadow. For some insight into Pelosi’s apparent financial prowess, it might be helpful to take a brief diversion into the career of a much clumsier politician operating in a place where politicians have no fear of the law. Let’s take a look at how Texas Governor and current Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, went from being a starving young politician from a poor family to owning millions in wealth, all on a Texas government salary (which is pennies).

Just like Paul & Nancy Pelosi, Rick Perry, a steady C-student in the Ag program at Texas A&M, got rich thanks to his remarkable skill in real estate. A 2011 piece in The Atlantic outlines just a couple of these brilliant financial moves:

Perry bought another 10 acres of undeveloped land in 1993. That property drew interest from Michael Dell, a computer magnate who needed Perry’s tract to connect his new home to municipal sewer lines. Dell took the property off Perry’s hands for $465,000, more than triple what Perry had paid for it two years earlier. Perry reported a $342,994 profit on the sale in his 1995 tax return.

And again:

Perry purchased the land from state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, in 2001 for $314,770. Six years later, Perry sold it for $1.1 million, pulling a profit of $823,776. Perry has attributed the gain to a favorable market for Hill Country land. “We bought a piece of property, the property appreciated and we sold it,” Perry said last year.

In short, people smarter than Perry taught him how to accept a bribe laundered through real estate. He did it in a particularly blatant, unsophisticated manner because he’s an idiot and because there are no enforceable bribery laws in Texas. This quote from Perry is just priceless (excuse the pun) and must be repeated:

“We bought a piece of property, the property appreciated and we sold it.”

I mean, who could find fault with this except some dirty Communist?

Back to the Pelosis, how did Paul go from having nothing, to accumulating a multi-million dollar fortune in “real estate” while his wife worked her way through the San Francisco Democratic Party machine toward a carefully teed-up Congressional seat? If he did it without the help of influential friends in the industry who needed favors from the party, then not only does he happen to be a one-in-a-million business genius, but he achieved his success while pissing off all the people expecting him to play the game by the insider rules. He turned down sweetheart deal after sweetheart deal without his intransigence causing any political difficulties for Nancy, and still managed to make more money than any honest realtor in history.

Or, maybe the simpler explanation makes more sense. For a little more clarity, let’s examine how this actually works on the ground.

How Political Corruption Works Now

Forget for a moment about campaign contributions. Those are public records, and your elected officials cannot easily hide them or pocket them for themselves. The real money in politics comes from facially legitimate business deals, often laundered through family members. This is the avenue the Russians have pursued in buying American politicians, especially a certain fat orange racist one. And we have no enforceable laws or disclosure to fight it. That system works like this:

You’re a promising young political figure struggling to get by and raise a family in an expensive city while pursuing your dream of making the world a better place. Allies offer to help you in minor ways.

There’s a new retail development coming in the Embarcadero. Your friends are confident it’s gonna be worth a ton. You don’t have any money to invest. No problem. They can finance a $200,000 investment for you at a low rate. Maybe you won’t even owe payments for a year or so.

You agree. Then magically, someone comes along a year later looking to buy your stake in the property for $800,000. They want to meet you, and express support for your politics, but it’s a simple arms-length transaction, right? What does that deal look like on a financial disclosure form? It just looks the same as all the others.

Now you have a capital stake you can use for further investments, and because you’re such a god-damned genius, every single deal you make somehow delivers amazing returns, while helping you accumulate smiling wealthy friends all over the district.

Once you acquire enough money this way you don’t even have to bother with disclosures anymore. You can dump your millions into a blind trust and only report the disbursements.

Are these cozy transactions bribes? Depends on what you mean by “bribe.” Did the people who helped the Pelosi’s become wealthy ask for any specific favor or a specific vote? Quite possibly, no. However, if you could spend .5% of your total net worth to get the personal cell phone number of the House Speaker, and have her consistently answer your call, would you do it? Under a strict legal definition this isn’t bribery, but this is how money buys power that you can’t readily match.

Figures like Pelosi and Perry are members of the same club. It is virtually impossible to rise to any position of influence in our political system without carving out a place in this club. Like any other club, it is filled with internal rivalries and conflicts, but its members share some sense of fraternal protection. They also share a vulnerability to deep, meaningful financial disclosure.

Money spent to make Nancy Pelosi and Rick Perry wealthy doesn’t (usually) buy specific political outcomes. It buys a seat at the table. You might think of it as a vote. As a savvy politician, you’re supposed to know which wealthy people you can and cannot piss off. It’s the skill that makes the difference between success and irrelevance in our system.

When Pelosi lectures junior figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on what is and isn’t possible in our system, what she’s interpreting as “pragmatism” is in fact merely the ethic of that club. When she takes an apathetic approach to pursuing Trump’s financial disclosures, she’s merely “being a realist.” There is a powerful, cynical, “this is how the sausage is made” understanding that lets people wink at this system. Pelosi has internalized the rules of what’s possible because that’s what the club will, on balance, tolerate.

Why have Democrats in Congress moved so lethargically against Donald Trump’s financial conflicts? They simply don’t consider the matter important. If Trump had run and won as a Democrat, they wouldn’t be challenging him at all.

So does this mean that Pelosi is a dirty politician? It is entirely unhelpful to think of systemic problems in terms of bad people and good people. It’s a false paradigm. Anyone who resists this system will face terrible headwinds that would probably doom their career, unless the public was forcefully and enthusiastically behind their efforts. And up to now, the public hasn’t really cared about money in politics beyond a few trite slogans. Nancy Pelosi is responding rationally to the incentives of this game. People who are winning in this game, and she wins regardless of whether Democrats achieve any of their legislative priorities, are not going to change this game.

It’s more helpful to recognize that our own compromises make Pelosi’s bought and sold “pragmatism” inevitable. As long as the voting public is willing to tolerate this system, her seat will always be occupied by someone who plays by the rules. The problem isn’t Pelosi, the problem is the incentives, tolerated by voters, that made Pelosi the leader she is.

As disturbing as this system might seem, it wasn’t such a big deal until recently. Many Democratic leaders remain disinterested in a sincere exploration of Trump’s finances because they view such investigations as childish and prurient, like sex scandals. Those who pine to expose political finance are, in their minds, just pearl-clutching prudes, too unsophisticated and naïve to understand how politics works. Frankly, until recently they might have had a point.

Until a mature challenge to liberal democracy emerged from the reeking decay of the old Soviet Union, our endemic political corruption was a like manageable infection. It’s not manageable anymore.

How Deripaska Neutralized the US Military and Intelligence Services

Obama’s 2014 sanctions on Russian oligarchs stirred a powerful response. A broad Kremlin subversion campaign ensued, ranging from massive money laundering of campaign donations through groups like the NRA, to calculated computer hacking and a sophisticated psyops effort on social media. Oleg Deripaska’s friend Paul Manafort, somehow became the head of Donald Trump’s campaign, helping the Kremlin water down the Republican Party’s anti-Putin platform plank at the Convention. Russian efforts to install Donald Trump as President are a poorly kept secret, well-documented in the Mueller Report and hundreds of newspaper articles.

What’s missing from the Mueller Report is the only piece of the puzzle that really matters, the money. Mueller never investigated the financial side of the Kremlin campaign and for some reason, no one in Congress felt any need to ask him why.

Money casts a shadow, and the shadow of Russian financial meddling in US politics hangs heavy over Kentucky. The pattern of sweetheart deals, shell companies, and opaque financial reporting that accompanies most of your representatives’ political careers explains how Deripaska pulled off the crowning achievement of Russia’s long campaign to wreck our democracy. At the center of the shadow is a project to build a mythical aluminum factory in Mitch McConnell’s home state.

Braidy Industries promised years ago to revitalize the Ohio Valley with a new aluminum mill in Kentucky. Needless to say, that economically unfeasible project couldn’t get off the ground in that unpromising location without millions of dollars in public support. Thanks to the accommodating nature of Kentucky’s Republican Governor, Matt Bevin, Braidy was able to secure millions in public funding for their boondoggle. And they did without having to disclose the identities of the investors who would benefit from the taxpayers generosity.

Of course, the roughly $25m from the state wasn’t enough. Why stop when you’re on a roll? Braidy continued to look for hundreds of millions in additional investments. Who wants to invest millions of dollars in a project that makes no economic sense, with a purely political purpose, which will likely never even become a functioning business? Answer: People who have motives other than financial profit. The kind of people attracted to a project like Braidy Industries are people who are more interested in political favors than economic returns.

In a gesture of remarkable magnanimity, sanctioned Russian mobster Oleg Deripaska found his way to McConnell’s state. After Trump’s Treasury officials agreed to exclude Deripaska from sanctions, he announced a $200m investment in Braidy Corporation’s Kentucky project.

Where will the money go? That’s not disclosed. Who is on the receiving end of money from the project? That’s not disclosed. What connection do McConnell or Bevin have to this project? We don’t know, and our current laws grant us no way to find out.

With sanctions lifted and Congress neutralized, the next-to-last act in this particular drama opened in June. Turns out, Braidy still doesn’t have the money it needs to build this project. They are still on the hunt for more investors. This is a prelude to the final act which will probably play out within in a year or two, unless the project continues to be useful to foreign money-launderers. It will go silent. The investors will disappear. Reporters will move on and we’ll hear nothing about it anymore. It will just fade away.

A decade on there will be a spot in the ground where some bulldozers may have briefly disturbed the soil. There will be no plant and no jobs. Money invested by the state will be lost and forgotten. Whatever money changed hands from Deripaska and others will have been safely laundered into clean US dollars and even more vital political currency. In other words, the project will have succeed in its authentic goal.

Like the Foxconn shams in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and the phony Chinese investments in an imaginary West Virginia gas trading hub, these “projects” will have served their intended purpose without producing value for ordinary workers or voters. What picture does this paint of our political future?

Life Among the Kleptocrats

In an established democratic Kleptocracy like Ukraine or Mexico, your government announces a big investment in a new hospital. Headlines trumpet the investment for weeks, then attention fades. Years later, you’re still showing up to the same deteriorating hospital, still short on beds and medicine, with doctors asking for bribes to keep food on their table, and no one knows why.

You can live in a country that guarantees universal health care and taxes your wages to provide it, and the money never shows up to pay doctors or hospitals. Whatever you might do to track the spending ends with threats and dead ends. Anyone who pushed too hard for answers meets with an unfortunate accident.

Dark money exerts a gravitational force in a Kleptocracy, pulling all democratic political energy off-plumb in unpredictable, seemingly unexplainable ways. In time, citizens give up on the democratic process because it simply fails to function. Elections still happen, but no one cares. Voters pick ever-more extreme or bizarre candidates – comedians, pop stars, or outright mobsters in a desperate effort to “shake things up,” but no one seems capable of identifying the hole in the bucket, the malfunction that breaks every government effort. Democracy simply fades away while the wealthy secede into a libertarian and increasingly cut-throat netherworld of post-nationalism.

Alongside I-94, just across the Wisconsin state line in Mount Pleasant, bulldozers are moving dirt around on a site where Taiwanese company, Foxconn, has promised to build a factory. In July 2017, Foxconn announced the project in a coordinated political effort with Republican Governor Scott Walker and President Trump. They had secured a deal with the state worth roughly $3bn in incentives and subsidies for a project that would create 13,000 jobs.

The golden shovels had barely gotten dirty before the promises were broken. For months, the company did little or nothing at the site while state crews scrambled to upgrade electricity, water and road access to the site. They backpedaled on the number of jobs the factory would create. Foxconn changed their manufacturing plans. At one point the CEO claimed that the project “cannot simply be described as a factory” before Trump forced him to backtrack. In January of this year Foxconn’s cursory work on the site halted entirely.

Moody’s has already downgraded Mount Pleasant’s debt over the bonds they issued for the project. The state has already spend $300m on the project. Mount Pleasant’s debts for the factory are approaching $1bn.

In April, Foxconn CEO Terry Guo announced his plans to run for President in Taiwan. He claims that Mazu, the Sea Goddess, came to him in a dream and asked him to run.

There isn’t going to be a Foxconn factory in Wisconsin and we’ll never know where the money went. We don’t know what Foxconn, its investors, or the Taiwanese government actually received in exchange for the provincial politicians they bought with this effort. We don’t know how much money Foxconn moved through shell companies owned by legislators, or the value of “contracts” they directed to those legislators or their families or friends. No laws require the kind of disclosure that would expose the workings of this project.

What we know is that massive global organizations, sometimes with the backing of hostile nation-states, are pouring enough money into our political system to make the Koch Brothers look stingy. Fine details of these transactions may be secret, but enough of this iceberg is visible above the waterline to show us that not even our military and national security officials have the power to stop this invasion.

Like the sad citizens of some dingy East European hellhole, we’re left watching as our democracy fails and our wealthy secede into their own sheltered world. Politicians we elected specifically to reform this system tell us to be patient. They chastise our naïve failure to understand that reform takes time. Meanwhile, politicians elected with the explicit support of foreign Kleptocrats stir up so much nauseating hatred and abuse that we think we have no choice but to stick with our ineffective, mealy-mouthed compromisers. Between the hammer of Russian active measures and the anvil of hand-wringing, cowardly Democrats, our future threatens to be crushed.

Donald Trump’s finances are our most vital national security issue. Every Trump hotel, every piece of property that family secretly owns through shell companies or fraudulent trusts, functions like a military base occupied by our enemies. Trump’s businesses are a beachhead, and our vulnerability to bribery across our political system is territory ripe for the expansion of this invasion. As a President who has committed numerous crimes, Trump is susceptible to a degree of financial disclosure not required of a private citizen. Unravelling this finances could provide us with a blueprint, a map of the weaknesses we must address through legislation, legal action, and activism.

There is no political issue more vital to our future than attacking the financial hydra behind the Trump family. There’s no action, legal, peaceful or otherwise that isn’t warranted in attacking those businesses. Nothing would undermine Trump’s business empire, and the corrupt influence spreading through it into our national bloodstream, like forced disclosure. Nothing would do more to restrain the hydra than massive financial losses resulting from investigations and asset seizures.

If Donald Trump leaves office with his businesses still intact and secret, we will have lost the greatest opportunity of our generation to fight back against the tide of Kleptocracy and rebuild our representative government. We may only have months left before this opportunity recedes. Whatever it takes, Trump must not be allowed to preserve the secrecy of his businesses.


  1. Oh, how I hate stupid people.
    With people like this believing such nonsense, all hope is lost.
    Jesus saves……

    Man see’s a crocodile in a creek, yells to get the kids out. (Yeah, it was a crocodile in Ohio, likely another whack job’s pet):

    Another adult “saw something in the water, a shadowy object moving, and he yelled down to the person on that side of the bridge and shouted ‘get the kids out of the water,’ ” Turnbull said.

    Rich Denius was in the water with one of his sons and helped get the children to safety.
    “Give Jesus all the glory for protecting these kids,” Denius said.

    1. There is an old saying, “God helps them that helps themselves.” In this case they helped themselves, so yes God helped them. No miracle was needed. I mean no disrespect, but we are to be proactive and to be good stewards of creation. I speak as a non-denominational protestant Christian, but similar ethos are found in all religions. Basically all three Abrahamic religions worship the same God, but have differing interpretations. The other religions such as Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism and even the Native American religions all have many similarities. Summarizing, IMO, all branches of humanity evolved similarly and developed religious structures to deal with the common problems.

      1. ” Summarizing, IMO, all branches of humanity evolved similarly and developed religious structures to deal with the common problems.”

        Precisely…religion is a social construct developed to give meaning to natural events. Some cultures, like virtually all aboriginal cultures, ones we today consider “backward” understood that they had to live in symbiosis with nature. Ask most crop farmers, and they will tell you the same thing.

        Somewhere along the line, likely when industrialization kicked into gear and the majority of people did not deal with nature on a daily basis, humanity’s innate greed overwhelmed the common sense of not “shitting where you eat”. And that has resulted in the apocalypse of Global Warming. Global Warming is not coming. It is here, now.

        I read today about salmon dying in Alaska because the water to so hot, they can’t properly oxygenate their bodies, and are dying when spawning. Just a triviality…..

        Cornyn of Texas was quoted in response to the Schumer’s call to action about Global Warming by tweeting “It’s summer, Chuck.”. These sociopaths must be eliminated by any means necessary from positions of power. And for those that say “we can’t kill them all, or anyone for that matter”, yeah, we can. We don’t have time to screw around anymore playing some long game, hoping to push them from power in a year, or a decade.

  2. EJ

    Did anyone else see Barr’s speech to the Fraternal Order of Police? I was born in a police state, and this is something I recognise and wish I didn’t.

    Once civilian compliance with the police becomes more urgent than police accountability to those same civilians, then that stops being a merely contemptible police force and becomes an army of occupation; and there is only one acceptable way to treat an army of occupation.

    1. Barr has been a danger to American justice in multiple areas. I read excerpts of his speech. One wonders if trumps people are laying the ground work for insurrection should he lose the election. Trump loses his official protection from being charged after leaving office asking as the charges don’t expire, which the most serious would during a second term. This incentive is huge for him and his “team”, Barr, most of all as he has a personal agenda.

      Meanwhile, should we worry about manipulation of the census data to redraw election districts and determine representation? There are many ways to control a country without open warfare.

  3. On a different subject – SCOTUS. I saw the below article on MSN and thought it might be interesting to the Orphans.

    I personally favor a restructuring of SCOTUS so that each justice is limited to a single 18 year term, with the terms staggered so that two terms expire in June of each year a president is inaugurated. That way assuming a president has a normal 4 year term, each president would appoint two justices, that in the first year of his term. Until such time as a normal rotation is established, say two presidential terms, the size of SCOTUS would temporarily be increase to 11.

    We all know that all this is fanciful thinking until such time as Trump is history and the Senate is again in Democratic hands.

  4. Yes, this is all totally sickening. However, kleptocracy like this has happened before in the American democratic experiment. It was the norm for doing business during the Gilded Era. The Progressive Era managed to tame it a bit, but in the final analysis, the Great Depression combined with the New Deal was the only thing that brought it under control and allowed for general good governance and wide spread prosperity until the last couple decades. IMO, the great Achilles Heal of capitalism is the concentration of wealth, eventually leading to financial collapse. Unfortunately, the kleptocracy is global now, so the collapse may be far greater than that of the Great Depression.

  5. Hello, Orphans!

    Just swinging by the orphanage to drop off a nice meaty soup bone so you will have an alternative to gruel tonight.

    The world outside is not nearly as scary as it’s made out to be. I’ve recently read a book (recommended by Barack Obama and Bill Gates, no less) you will be sure to find intriguing. It certainly made me feel better.

    Hope some of you will check it out. Peace. 🙂

  6. A couple things:

    1. Are you on some kind of medication that has stopped working?

    “You can live in a country that guarantees universal health care and taxes your wages to provide it, and the money never shows up to pay doctors or hospitals. Whatever you might do to track the spending ends with threats and dead ends. Anyone who pushed too hard for answers meets with an unfortunate accident.”

    You mean every western civilized nation, including the last bastions of functioning democracy? Don’t read much of people having “unfortunate accidents” in Canada.

    2. This entire article seems like the first part of two, where in the 2nd you lay out logically the reasons for a revolution. Now, while defeating the people that control all law enforcement agencies, and all military groups, is a neat trick, I really don’t see any other way to break the cycle. Granted, that cycle will start all over again, as it always does. But it would give people a respite for a generation or two.

    1. We still have the right to vote in this country. We need to exercise that right responsibly – ie. stop electing candidates that want to burn it down or drown it in a washtub. It is the power of the vote that will solve these issues. No revolutionary force is going to defeat the US Army and Air Force.

      1. Voting is a given; voting responsibly and knowledgeably is not. Voting in numbers sufficent to gain control of Congress and the presidency is not. I read an interesting statistic drawn from the recent Pew analysis of the 2016 election. 90% of trump’s voters were white men. Let that sink in. Somehow, Democrats need to find a way to energize people of color and even more female voters among those who didn’t vote in the past while retaining the traditional democratic voting base. Statistically, it is possible under the Electoral College System to win the presidency with 23% of the electoral vote. Let that sink in.

        Combine known foreign intervention with deliberate voter suppression via gerrymandering, polling station gimics and legal rulings that aid and abet restricted voting access and this tool of democracy is degraded. Voter apathy and failure to vote at all is another part of America’s election history. The constant attacks on our democratic norms and institutions are discouraging to me and I can only imagine, a major turn off to many others – and they simply stay home. I felt more energy from Democrats in ’18 than I feel in the run up to ’20 which I attribute to a sense of defeat that people feel from the unrelenting chaos. I wish I could be more positive but I am more worried about the future of democracy in America than I ever have been. I will always do my part but it’s not enough, by far. Hard times.

      2. So I did a little canvassing in my neighborhood Saturday morning. My goal was to confirm Democrats at specific addresses to see if developing some type of relationship was possible.

        My data identified voting patterns, as in the person did or did not vote in Democratic primaries. In two instances, I found female voters (not home) whose husbands were certain their wives voted Republican, like they did. Yet, the wives had voted in Democratic primaries, which even most hard-core Democrats don’t do. It’s a sad sweetness, those nods to domestic tranquility.

        When canvassing, I don’t argue or try to persuade any Republican of anything. I’m polite and smiley.

        A book that is very useful to people who want to get out the vote is “Get Out The Vote, How to Increase Voter Turnout” by Donald Green and Alan Gerber.

        The book attempts to put efficiency ratings on every type of political activity a candidate might use. For example, studies show robo calls have a very weak effect on voter turnout. (Because we all hate them, right?) But live calls by volunteers seem to have a slightly more positive impact on turnout.

        A recent presentation by Swing Left indicated that a campaign’s ground game in the precincts can make up to 15% of the campaign’s impact on turnout. The other 85% is up to the campaign to manage.

        Canvassers this Saturday morning included a Gulf War vet; an Hispanic justice of the peace candidate; an African American city council candidate; an LGBT rep in transition;
        a county Democrat worker; and me, beige-y of skin with purple hair. I like that about Houston.

        Let’s get out the vote.

  7. The bureaucrats drained from Trump’s swamp are becoming kleptokrats as Chris describes. They have the connections, the inside savvy, and apparently the need to increase their take home pay and/or the opportunity to mingle. (Why else do these things?) CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) does awesome work. ( Bless them for never giving up.

    1. EJ

      In a better world, you and I should be enemies, and you should take offence at being compared to a lifelong Communist and POUM member.

      We do not live in that world, and we do not have the luxury of our enemies being only those with whom we disagree over minor and technical points.

      Perhaps our children will live in that world.

      1. For the year after college I lived in London, working in at a pub in our East End neighborhood at night, and at a law firm in The City in the daytime. Our flat didn’t have a TV or radio and there was only one book on the shelf, The Road to Wigan Pier. It’s not exactly a page-turner, but across that long, cold, hungry winter I read it twice.

        I was dimly aware that Orwell had been a socialist, but it was in that book that I learned the real source of his frustration with the movement. It was a voice and a perspective I’d never encountered. He seemed like someone I’d get along with.

        A couple of socialists who hung out in the pub and loved to taunt the local Yank gave me another book that stuck with me, Chickenhawk. It’s the best book I’ve ever read about Vietnam, and it’s very hard to find in the US.

        God willing, the shared, threatened interests we hold in common will be secure enough one day that we can once again take them granted. Then we can be opponents again.

  8. The mass shootings of the other week, the reaction to the mass shootings that’s been the exact same as all other reactions, Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide, and several events in the world of tech & gaming (the worst being the fact that a two-person indie game studio has been receiving harassment and death threats over taking an exclusivity deal with a digital games store on PC *other* than the major popular one) has led me to the conclusion that I just don’t have the time or the mental capacity to care anymore and that my caring has been tripping me up in many a bad way over the last few years. The outrage and subsequent fizzling-out surrounding The Panama Papers was a prelude to what we see today; lots of people getting justifiably riled up but nothing really happening.

    I’m a 27-year-old man that grapples with ADHD and anxiety and am going into my second-to-last semester before hopefully graduating and getting a job. I’ll be playing catch-up to my friends and even my younger brother and *his* friends, all of whom now already have degrees and careers. I became quite introverted introverted during high school and college, mainly sticking close to said friends that I’ve had back since kindergarten. I’ve made great strides over the last year or so toward re-orienting myself toward a more productive routine. Getting on a better sleep schedule, eating right, going to the gym, engaging in better time management, and a lot more. While my offline social skills have atrophied quite a bit, my online social skills have increased, and as a part of multiple Internet communities I’ve built up healthy friendships with a lot of people.

    There are now two weeks before that second-to-last semester starts. I’m going to use that time to try and overcome what I see as my biggest obstacle, one that’s been getting in my way for years now: My continued unhealthy fixation on and engagement in the hyper-emotional discourse surrounding the day-to-day news. It’s mainly become an avenue for increasing people’s blood pressure and anxiety rather than affecting change. I sure as sugar know that as we get closer to 2020, nothing’s going to change on that front. It’s going to be a fine mess where nothing gets done, and I can’t waste my time fuming over injustices that simply won’t get corrected unless drastic shifts in the power dynamics happen, shifts which at this point seem like they’re on the same level of difficulty as disproving and re-writing the fundamental laws of physics.

    I recall you once said something along the lines of “The long arc of history bends toward justice, but you can die starving on the floor waiting for it”. So I’m going to focus on my own life and healthier hobbies so I can get a job and feed myself, all the while hoping in the back of my head that people more extroverted, assertive, and able to maintain grace under pressure can swing in someday soon and bend that arc quicker. I’ll see y’all sometime in the future, maybe.

  9. America is not alone in being targeted by enemies of free societies, but it is the biggest prize of all for those whose goal is to shatter democracy. The rise of the internet and emboldenment of dark forces who are highly skilled and focused, is becoming an increasing factor in politics across the globe. Take the U.S. down, and the dominoes fall in all democratic countries. One might ask, what happens when/if the “dog catches the car”? Will we look like Russia?

    Maddow reported this past week on trump’s increased “lawyering up” to fight access to his financial records. He has hired an entire law firm to focus in this one area. Not only are government’s resources far more limited to compete in such an unbalanced legal battle, but it is clear that any government litigation will be shadowed by trump’s “personal “ lawyer, William Barr, and controlled to the extent that he is able. Which makes the odds appear better for trump than government which is fighting with one hand behind its back.

    Your post is deeply developed and frankly disheartening. We, who “watch” as closely as possible, are dependent upon comparatively inadequate, limited government resources for an indepth, broad prosecurtorial investigation this matter deserves and will require. And that’s before/or “if” government can get the case into the judicial system, how timely, and with what effectiveness, posing yet one more compromised lever in the process of achieving accountability and justice.

    Who, then, can avert this looming train wreck? Massive voter turnout sufficient to install a new political majority that will have the courage and the street smarts to engage a very sophisticated, deeply embedded international enemy that we don’t elect and don’t see, and that the Republican Party chooses to ignore and the Democratic Party ineffectively engage? This danger makes healthcare, immigration reform and gun violence seem positively quaint issues.

    If, as you assert, the single most crucial issue is exposure of trump’s finances, and given the challenges of the tepid congressional investigation, compromised by likely DOJ interference in the legal process, what remains? We are watching a moribund Democratic investigation, a Republican abdication of any moral accountability or responsibility, and a highly sophisticated foreign adversary steadily dismantle our democracy. I wish I could disagree with your assessment, but I don’t. I wish I had confidence that the pillars of our democracy will hold, but I don’t. I’m in the twilight of my life but my children and grandchildren are not. This matters to me. All I can do is vote, share your post with others, and worry. In this, as in much of life’s macro function, we ordinary souls can only hope that those in positions of power will prevail on the side of justice. I admit my lack of confidence that things will “work out”.

  10. We got to get the money out of politics and make financial transactions more open. I googled the net worth of Senator Warren and Sanders. Neither of them are what I would call rich. But have more wealth than Joe and Jane average citizen. I guess the best way to determine who might reform our system is looking at who the money people hate the most. And it is these two I think. Two past presidents come to my mind who actually reformed our system. Both very rich men. Both with the last name Roosevelt . One Republican and on Democrat. It looks like unless you have enough money you cannot play on this stage. Not all well off people are wicked. I hope one of them rise up and challenge our crooked system.

      1. In reply to Creigh, Fly, Bobo and Mary, I am personally making small monthly contributions to Harris and Warren. Harris, because she has generally progressive but practical agenda, I think has a good potential of building a significant and dedicated support base, is relatively young so will appeal to the younger generation and has the time to significantly restructure the Democratic Party. Additionally, I like that she is from CA and I feel it is high time for the Left Coast to have a lot more influence in Washington. I like Warren because she has a solid policy base, with which I agree, she has a strong moral core, and she is truly from the heartland, i.e. Oklahoma. She also seems to be steadily gaining in support. In my small political bubble, she is generally well regarded. However, my bubble is solidly progressive and consists largely of middle aged and older women who are oriented towards environmental issues. That is largely because the active birding community is over represented by that group. But the men all have similar orientations.

        I intend on making a final decision between the two around the time of the WA Presidential Primary on March 10, 2020. At that time, I will transfer all my support to the one who is ahead in the Democratic nomination race, assuming both are still viable at the time.

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