A Banana Republic?

Today on Twitter, Trump posted:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson seemed to foresee the lesson of the Senate Impeachment Trial of President Trump. ‘When you strike at the King, Emerson famously said, “you must kill him.’ Mr. Trump’s foes struck at him but did not take him down. A triumphant Mr.Trump emerges from the biggest test of his presidency emboldened, ready to claim exoneration, and take his case of grievance, persecution and resentment to the campaign trail.” Peter Baker @nytimes The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”

I and a few thousand others reminded him that he is NOT a king, but some 60,000 people actually liked his post.  I wonder how much more we will tolerate …

More than a few times, I have made the claim that Trump is turning the U.S. into a ‘banana republic’, and it seems I’m not alone in this idea.  On Thursday, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote a column that I think sums the situation up quite well.


America, the Banana Republic

Feb. 13, 2020 at 5:55 p.m. EST

I covered South America for The Post from 1988 to 1992, a time when nations such as Argentina, Brazil and Peru were struggling to reestablish democratic norms after the long, dark night of military dictatorship. One of the biggest challenges was implanting something we take for granted in this country: public confidence that justice, for the most part, is blind and engages in an honest search for truth.

I never thought I’d be living in a country like that again. But thanks to President Trump and the inexcusable damage he is doing to our justice system, South America’s past has become America’s present.

There has been considerable hyperventilation, some perhaps by me, about the grave harm Trump is doing to our democratic institutions. I am not hyperventilating now. Public faith in justice is a delicate, precious thing. Once squandered, it is incredibly hard to regain.

That’s the kind of damage Trump is threatening with his outrageous and un-American attacks on the Justice Department and the federal judiciary for finding his cronies — including longtime political adviser Roger Stone, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort — guilty of crimes and deserving of punishment. I know what the impact of this behavior is, because I’ve seen how it plays out before.

I lived in Argentina, where the president for much of my time there, Carlos Menem, was a populist norm-breaker who nepotistically involved his family in running the government and was widely viewed as corrupt. In 1991, Menem’s sister-in-law and appointments secretary, Amira Yoma, was indicted on money-laundering charges that involved suitcases full of cash allegedly being smuggled in and out of the country. Yoma’s ex-husband was head of the customs service at Ezeiza International Airport outside Buenos Aires, where he allegedly facilitated the cash-smuggling.

Menem was accused of secretly meeting with the prosecuting judge in charge of the Yoma case. The president initially denied having had such a meeting but ultimately admitted it, claiming it was about some unrelated matter. The judge’s secretary alleged that the judge had gone to the presidential residence, where she showed Menem secret prosecution documents about the Yoma case.

That judge was suddenly taken off the case, which was assigned to a different judge, and Yoma was eventually cleared of all charges. It is safe to say that few Argentines were surprised.

There simply was very little confidence in the ability of the justice system to discern truth from falsehood or to punish the powerful and well-connected. There was an understanding, moreover, that prosecutors and the court system could and sometimes would be used as political tools.

Years after leaving office, Menem was convicted on unrelated charges involving weapons smuggling and embezzlement. He maintained his innocence, claiming he was being persecuted by his political enemies.

In those fragile democracies I covered years ago, seeing justice be warped by politics had a corrosive effect on the larger society. A lack of confidence that court proceedings could — or even were intended to — arrive at truth encouraged the propagation and spread of conspiracy theories. Argentina still struggles to escape the widespread belief that unseen forces control events from deep in the shadows.

This is not the sort of path I ever thought the United States could take. Our justice system obviously has flaws, starting with the way it disproportionately punishes people of color. But it has not been naive, at least in my lifetime, to believe that federal prosecutors and judges tried their very best not to let politics influence their decisions — and that they generally succeeded because they took their responsibilities seriously.

When four assistant U.S. attorneys asked to be taken off the Stone case, they were sounding an alarm. We must all pay attention.

Their recommendation that Stone serve seven to nine years in prison for his crimes was tough, but federal prosecutors tend to be tough. Stone was duly convicted in a court of law, and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will decide his punishment. But when higher-ups in Attorney General William P. Barr’s Justice Department overrule the prosecutors who handled the case on Stone’s recommended sentence; when Trump tries to delegitimize those prosecutors as “Angry Democrats” because they worked for former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III; and when Trump goes so far as to try to intimidate Jackson, a highly respected veteran federal judge — when such things happen, I have to wonder whether I’m back in Carlos Menem’s Argentina.

An OUTRAGE!

Roger Stone … he’s a nasty piece of work.  He’s part of the reason we are in the mess we’re in today, with a president who thinks he’s king, with the wealthy calling the shots while the rest of us are lied to and our rights diminished on a daily basis.  But let’s go back a little further …For many years in the 1980s and ‘90s, Stone was a lobbyist for Donald Trump on behalf of his casino businesses.  Stone has been involved in so many scandals that I’ve lost count.  Stone is also associated with Proud Boys, a far-right, fascist, white supremacist group.  He has been affiliated with Alex Jones’ Infowars, Breitbart, and the conspiracy theory that claimed President Obama was born outside the U.S.  Stone has linked his fortunes with so many nasties that it would take me the whole day to tell you about them all.  But his most recent crimes landed him, finally, in very hot water.stone-angryRoger Stone was largely responsible, along with Russian operators and Julian Assange, for hacking into Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 election.  On January 25, 2019 Stone was arrested on seven criminal charges in relation to Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election:  one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering.

On February 18, 2019, Stone posted on Instagram a photo of the federal judge overseeing his case, Amy Berman Jackson, with what resembled rifle scope crosshairs next to her head.Amy-Berman-JacksonAfter a week-long trial in November 2019, the jury convicted Stone on all counts.  His sentencing hearing was originally scheduled for February 6th, but his attorneys requested a delay until sometime after March 9th.  Stone’s attorneys have argued for no jail time, but only probation.  Yesterday, prosecutors recommended a sentence of between 7 and 9 years.  Immediately Donald Trump tweeted inanely …

“This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

And now I come to the part of this story that should horrify you.

Stone-orange-suitThe Department of Justice plans to reduce its sentencing recommendation.  No word yet on whether they will recommend only probation, or perhaps a sentence of only a few months.  But think about this one, folks.  The man is a criminal, has been a criminal all his adult life, has been proven to have broken countless laws including lying to Congress and threatening a witness, and he is a large part of the reason that Donald Trump is sitting in the Oval Office today, though not through legitimate means.  And yet, because Donald Trump threw a hissy fit, the Department of Justice, under Trump’s lackey William Barr, is going to actually override justice to please the “president”.  In other words … we have no Department of Justice and Trump is now calling the shots.

Think about it … it can work in both ways.  Say I’m arrested outside the White House for protesting something that Trump has done … if Trump told William Barr he wanted me put away for life, no amount of arguing by my attorneys would change the verdict.  Is this what we’ve allowed to happen in this nation? Paul Manafort is serving a 7 ½ year sentence for his crimes … why should Stone get any less, for his crimes were every bit as serious as Manafort’s?

broken-justiceJustice.  It’s a funny word, for it’s open to interpretation.  There are grey areas, for sure.  But, when the ‘man’ sitting in the Oval Office can literally override the courts, can decide what he wants and the Department of “Justice” will accede to his whims and wishes, then … there is no justice.  If the court gives Roger Stone no more than a slap on the wrist for his very serious crimes, then this nation is in deep trouble … the last bastion of hope for salvation from a cruel dictator will have crumbled.

Forty-Seven Lousy Months …

Forty-seven months.  Forty-seven lousy months is all Paul Manafort, who could have gotten as much as 24 years, was sentenced to on Thursday afternoon!  This is an abomination!  It is a miscarriage of justice!  It is a freak show!  A slap on the wrist for the man who worked for the Russians and with them, who dodged his taxes so that he could buy ostrich skin jackets, and who sold our country out, not to mention working to help elect another criminal to the highest office in the land.

Angry?  Moi???  Hell yes I’m angry!  If I run a stop sign or write a bad check, I will likely get more jail time than this greedy, rich turncoat got!  Why?  Who knows.  The judge likes Trump or felt sorry for Manafort?

Manafort-wheelchairManafort entered the courtroom in prison greens (did they stop using orange?) in a wheelchair!  Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that man that a smack upside the head wouldn’t take care of!  He claims that the last nine months in jail have taken a toll on his health.  Well, Paulie, y’know what???  The last two years with the jackass you helped get elected has taken a toll on the health of every thinking, sane person in the United States of America!  Sympathy?  You’ll get none from me, Jack!

But perhaps the wheelchair (which was naught but a stage prop) played on Judge T.S. Ellis’ sympathy, or perhaps it was his whining that did it … wah, wah, wah …

“The last two years have been the most difficult my family and I have experienced.  To say I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement.”

Hardly an apology or a statement of remorse, is it?  The judge noticed that too, saying …

“I was surprised that I did not hear you express regret for engaging in wrongful conduct. I hope you will reflect on that and your regret will be that you didn’t comply with the law.”

Even so, Judge Ellis apparently took some form of pity on Paulie, for while the sentencing guidelines for his crimes in this case called for 20-24 years, Ellis sentenced him to a lousy 47 months, with time served, meaning that he will spend only 38 months, just over three years, in prison.  And Ellis had the unmitigated gall to claim that he believed Manafort had “lived an otherwise blameless life”Say WHAT???  The man has been a greedy crook all his life, playing both ends against the middle and making money hand over fist!  He killed animals so he, instead of they, could wear their skin, for Pete’s SAKE!

Manafort had cut a deal with Robert Mueller to cooperate in Mueller’s Russia investigation in exchange for a lighter sentence, but he blew that by lying to the FBI, the OSC (Office of the Special Counsel) and the grand jury concerning matters that were material to the investigation, including his contacts with his Russian associates during the campaign and later.  And the reason he has been sitting in jail for the past nine months is because his $10 million bail was revoked last June after it was discovered that he had tried to influence the testimony of two government witnesses.

Next Wednesday, Manafort faces a different federal judge for sentencing in his other case involving acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukraine, money laundering and witness tampering.  Let us hope that judge, Amy Berman Jackson, will better understand the seriousness of Manafort’s crimes and sentence him accordingly.  Jackson is the same judge who finally tired of Roger Stone’s games and subjected him to a gag order and a threat of jail if he screws it up again.  She is also the judge who revoked Manafort’s bail last year, so I don’t think she’ll smile as kindly upon Manafort as Judge Ellis did.

Whether Manafort’s two sentences will run concurrently or consecutively is up to Judge Jackson.  I hope she sees fit to make him serve the maximum time – hopefully the rest of his life – in prison garb.  Paul Manafort ripped our government out of millions, defrauded banks and tried to sell our country’s interests to foreign powers, and yet today he received a lesser sentence than a black person in some parts of the country would get for smoking marijuana.  Equal justice for all?  I think not!

End of rant … for now.

Just A Snarky Snippet Sunday … BAH!

We had plans to go to out to dinner, then a trip to the Fresh Market, and then perhaps the bookstore today.  Instead, I am sitting here watching it snow.  Bah, humbug.  Thus, I am feeling an urge to write a few little snarky snippets …


From ostrich to orange …

This jacket belongs to Paul Manafort. ostrich-jacketIt is made of ostrich skin … an ostrich died so that Mr. Manafort could have this jacket.

ostrich

Ostrich

This jacket cost Mr. Manafort $15,000. Yes, folks, fifteen thousand U.S. dollars to kill an ostrich or two and stitch them together for a jacket for a narcissistic crook.  Manafort spent more than $400,000 … nearly a half-million dollars … on his personal wardrobe in one single year!  I spend, on average, $60 per year on mine!  Other items included a $9,500 vest made from ostrich and a $18,500 jacket made from python skin.  Seems he liked to go about wearing the skin of animals that were killed for no other reason than for his pleasure, though I cannot see what pleasure anyone gets from wearing the skin of an animal, for knowing that they are responsible for an innocent critter being murdered.  At any rate … here is what Mr. Manafort’s wardrobe looks like now …prison-garb

And no animals had to be killed for this one.


Dumb, dumber and dumbest …

Roger Stone is not too bright, but then, anybody who has a life-size tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back cannot be said to be among the best and brightest. stone-angryStone is in a heap of trouble, but either he is truly too stupid to realize that he may well spend the rest of his life in prison wearing an outfit to match Manafort’s, or he honestly believes that Trump will pardon him and he can get on with his merry little life of crime.  You may remember that he was under a partial gag order by Judge Amy Berman Jackson to keep him from discussing his case in public venues, but then he posted this picture …berman… on Instagram and earned himself a full gag order with the judge stating in no uncertain terms that Stone “is prohibited from making statements to the media or in public settings about the Special Counsel’s investigation or this case or any of the participants in the investigation or the case.”

Apparently, though, Stone either does not understand what this means, or thinks himself to be above the law, it came to the attention of Judge Jackson that Stone has written a book that is ready for “imminent general release”, and that he had failed to inform the Judge of this minor little detail.  Judge Jackson has now issued a new order requiring Stone’s lawyers to identify “the specific date of the ‘imminent general release’ of the book,” and to explain “why this matter — which was known to the defendant — was not brought to the Court’s attention” during previous filings of during the hearing regarding the Instagram post.”

Stone-orange-suit

Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.


Bad taste?  Or reality?

Donald Trump didn’t invent bad taste, but he is about the biggest offender of the 20th and 21st centuries.  His bad taste and really lousy judgment have opened the door, and people are streaming through that door at an unprecedented rate, as you can see every day on any of the media sites.  So, is it any wonder that artist Jim Denomie painted this …

Denomie-Standing-Rock

Standing Rock 2016

Denomie says his painting “Standing Rock 2016” is an imagined landscape inspired by protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“I have a history of painting about history. And I saw this as history in the making. I’ve learned over my experience making paintings especially about important events that I receive information from the spirit world. It comes to me from somewhere, I don’t know exactly where — but I often come away from these paintings with a better understanding of the story or the events.”

In the painting, the Missouri River glows Technicolor orange and pink. The attack dogs have been given two heads — an allusion to Cerberus, the dog in Greek mythology that guards the gates of Hades. President Trump is seen groping Lady Justice, while former President Barack Obama is portrayed as a sitting duck. Men in suits clink martini glasses and smoke cigars. Brightly colored frogs emerge from the river, and what appear to be spirit creatures float in the sky above. It’s as though both the natural and spiritual worlds are joining the protestors in the fight to protect the land.

Minnesota State Representative, Josh Heintzeman, took umbrage with the painting, saying …

“On public display today, funded by your Legacy Art’s board, at a cost of $10,000. There’s a number of very controversial depictions but President Trump’s is especially offencive [sic]. If “artists” create this kind of thing on their own time fine, but not on my dime.”

First, Mr. Heintzeman, it isn’t “on your dime”, second Trump brought this very image upon himself with his own words and actions.  Nobody, not even the most slavish of Trump’s supporters, can possibly deny that.  Go get a life, Heintzeman … personally I think this painting is quite representative of the world we live in today, thanks in part to you and your ilk.


And with that, I need to step back for a few minutes before I throw something, for my computer has re-booted itself twice while I was writing this short piece!  I think somebody has cast a spell on it!  Have a great rest-of-Sunday!