Today is the Day the United Kingdom was supposed to leave the European Union

Today is the day the United Kingdom was supposed to leave the European Union. “Brexit” (British Exit) has now been postponed (until either April 12 or May 22nd, depending on certain contingencies).

(For my American readers who may not know, the United Kingdom includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.)

Brexit itself is a very complicated subject, and far to complicated for a blog post like this one. Wikipedia has excellent materials on the history and substance of Brexit, and for the curious, I urge you to consult that website. I just want to make a few points here:

  • The Brexit vote in June of 2016 foreshadowed the election of Donald Trump later that November, both being race-driven “populist” uprisings in which the pro-voters were rebelling against the “elites,” whoever “they” are.
  • In both the Brexit and Trump votes, there was a deluge of fake news generated on the right of the political spectrum. The lies fed to the British public were primarily that an exit from the European Union would be easy and would allow the British to regain control of their “borders.” And they’d be able to stick it to the “elites” in Brussels.
  • In voting for leaving the European Union, the voters (primarily) of England completely forgot about Ireland and Scotland.
  • Scotland is the simpler case. The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union. Previously, in 2014, the voters of Scotland had also narrowly defeated an independence referendum relative to the question of separating from the United Kingdom themselves. Now there is talk of having another referendum, and with the Brexit imbroglio, the outcome could be different.
  • Ireland is a much harder case. The “troubles” resulting from the partition of Ireland lasted roughly from 1969 to 1996, when they were mostly ended by the Good Friday agreement. Part of that agreement included a “soft border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland, where people can move freely across the border, just as people in mainland Europe now can. Brexit threatens to put an end to that by reimposing a hard border (because of customs requirements) and thereby potentially reigniting the Troubles.

That’s all stuff that the pro-Brexit voters totally forgot about. They were much to eager to stick it to the elites and keeping more dark-skinned people from entering Britain.

In the United States we have Donald Trump, but the good news is that we can get rid of Donald Trump. First in 2020 (and God forbid he should win reelection) at the latest in 2024.

Trump’s election has done a lot of damage to this country, and it’s going to take a lot of time to clean that damage up. But there’s a time-limit on this clusterfuck.

Not so with the United Kingdom and Brexit. Once they leave they’re gone. There’s no real going back. Prognosticators have different ideas about how much this will damage the British economy — especially if there is a “hard” (as opposed to negotiated) exit — but it sure isn’t going to be good.

The bottom line is that the pro-Brexit politicians lied to the people of Britain, and they stoked the fires of racism. And now they’ve got what they got.

I’m not sure that the extension of time to finish negotiating Brexit is going to buy them much, since her parliament keeps voting down the agreement that Theresa May negotiated with the European Union. The pro-Brexiteers apparently thought that the EU would fold and give them the deal they wanted.

Surprise.

Ain’t going to happen.

Good luck Britain. Good luck United Kingdom. Your version of Donald Trump may live on a lot longer than our version. May this not turn out as badly as everything would indicate.

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Instead of doing a victory lap, maybe the Republicans should thank Mueller and start working on how to get the Russians to stop screwing with our elections

With the Republicans doing their victory lap around “no collusion” in the wake of the Mueller’s report most essential finding, it’s interesting to observe how completely feckless they’ve become. There are so many places where Democrats and Republicans are different, and where the difference is easily observable.

But before we get there, let’s acknowledge the essential finding of the Mueller report: no collusion.

Color me surprised. With all the contacts the Trump people had with the Russians during the campaign, I would have thought the Mueller people would have found something. But they didn’t. We were told that Mueller is the most thorough straight-up guy, and we bought into that pitch. So now we have to live with the result.

(I was really surprised, I must say, that Mueller couldn’t come to a conclusion about obstruction of justice. Wasn’t that his job, to come to a conclusion about that?)

So now here come the Republicans with their victory lap. Instead of saying thank you to Mueller, they want:

  • The media to apologize (and to be fair, the media coverage of the collusion question has been a little bit hyperbolic at times).
  • To investigate the FBI and Justice Departments, and anyone else who was involved in the investigations.
  • To claim that the Mueller investigation was a giant waste of money.

So, in response, it needs to be pointed out:

  • More money was wasted on the half dozen futile investigations into Hillary Clinton, which produced no indictments and no convictions.
  • The Mueller investigation has already produced 41 indictments, a number of guilty pleas, and who knows how may convictions.
  • We won’t know about obstruction of justice until we see the full Mueller report.
  • There are still a half dozen other investigations going on, some in various United States Attorney’s Offices, some by various state Attorney Generals, and some by the House of Representatives.

It’s way too soon for a victory lap my Republican friends.

Some commentators have pointed out that the Mueller report is like at national Rorschach Test: we all see what we want to see.

There is probably a lot of truth to that, which is why I’m working hard to accept the Mueller report’s finding on “no collusion.” It is what it is. Mueller had enough time and resources to find collusion if it was there, so maybe President Liar-in-Chief isn’t actually a provable traitor.

Small consolation.

The Republicans should be embarrassed by the behavior of this President. By the way that he behaves every day. But clearly that isn’t going to happen. I keep saying that the “win at all costs” party will regret hitching their wagon to this particular asshole in the near future, but it has not yet come to pass.

We’ll see.

Just as we’ll see what else is in the Mueller report, which I plan to read in as much detail as I can if it is ever made public.

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The Mueller report is out, and it seems like it’s mostly a victory for President Liar-in-Chief

Well, the Mueller report is out, and it seems like it’s mostly a victory for President Liar-in-Chief. So far we only have Attorney General’s Bill Barr’s four page summary of what is probably a report hundreds of pages long, but here is what we know so far:

  • Mueller found no evidence of collusion between Trump personally or his campaign and the Russian government.
  • Mueller neither found enough evidence to support prosecution for obstruction of justice, but also did not exonerate Trump.

Come again?

Isn’t that his job, to decide whether there was obstruction of justice?

It’s certainly disappointing that Mueller didn’t find more. Trump supporters will be out in the street screaming “no collusion!”

Ughh.

Of course, this isn’t the end of it. There are still lots of other investigations:

  • Investigations by various House committees, most of which have just gotten started.
  • Investigations by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
  • Investigations by the US Attorney for the District of Columbia.
  • Investigations by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
  • Investigations by New York City, New York State, & Other State Attorneys General.

So, it’s not over until the fat lady sings, as the saying goes.

Like everyone else, I’m going to want to see the whole Mueller report, even if it is heavily redacted. This isn’t going to end the debate, that’s for sure.

But it was mostly good news for Trump and his supporters, about that there can be little debate.

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Two of the least likely place on Earth for mass murder

Two of the least likely place on Earth for mass murder would have to be Norway and New Zealand. And yet in 2011 we had the mass murder of the children of Labor Party members in Norway, and now a few days ago we had the mass murder of Muslims at two mosque’s in Christchurch New Zealand.

“God” help us all.

Both were conducted by deranged young men who fervently believe in the doctrine of white supremacy. The guy in New Zealand was actually an Australian, inspired by the guy from Norway.

“God” help us all.

The Australian guy managed to live stream his attack on Facebook for 17 minutes before the platform finally took his live-stream down. Facebook received a lot of criticism for needing 17 minutes to stop the live stream, and maybe that’s fair and maybe it isn’t fair. I don’t have enough knowledge of the technology involved to make a judgment on that.

“God” help us all.

The guy in Norway can only be held for 27 years because that’s the longest sentence that can be imposed in Norway. Really, if there’s any justice, somebody will assassinate this asshole as soon as he’s released from prison. Maybe that would send a message to the white supremacists.

“God” help us all.

Both of these idiots left behind incoherent “manifestos”. The one from the Norwegian guy was 1518 pages long and “borrowed” liberally from the work of other idiots. The one from the Australian was mercifully only 70 pages long, but equally incoherent, and “borrowed” liberally from the Norwegian guy.

“God” help us all.

The Australian guy cited President Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity.” “President” Deny Everything Liar-in-Chief, of course, declared that this had nothing to do with him or his hate-filled rhetoric demonizing Muslims and immigrants.

“God” help us all.

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The Democrats are back to cannibalizing themselves.

Well, it didn’t take long, but the Democrats are back to cannibalizing themselves. The focal point this time is the various statements of Somalia-born Michigan Representative Ilhan Omar.

Omar has been openly critical of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), which hardly makes her unique. Just like people have criticized the lobbying power of the oil and gas lobby or the NRA, criticizing AIPAC hardly makes a person anti-semitic.

But Omar has used language which has certainly been indelicate. People have accused her of using “antisemitic tropes.”

What got Omar intro trouble was tweeting that it was “all bout the Benjamins, baby” and then responding “AIPAC” when asked what it meant.

Now, if you’re like me, the first thing you might be asking yourself is, “what’s a trope?” Well, according to Wikipedia, a trope is “the use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech.”

Okay, so what’s an “antisemitic trope?” Again, returning to Wikipedia, it’s “unfounded rumors or false allegations which are defamatory towards Judaism as a religion, or defamatory towards Jews as an ethnic or religious group.” As examples of Anti-semitic tropes Wikipedia cites

  • accusations of guilt for the death of Jesus;
  • accusations of host desecration, accusations of ritual murder and blood libel;
  • accusations of plotting to control the world;
  • accusations of usury and profiteering, accusations of dual loyalty
  • accusations of cowardice and lack of patriotism;
  • accusations of controlling the media, and;
  • accusations of controlling the world financial system.

Wow.

Those are some pretty serious accusations.

Clearly, criticizing the outsized influence of AIPAC is not in that category.

And yet, just the other day there was an opinion piece by Michael A. Cohen (not to be confused with the other Michael Cohen) complaining about Omar’s “stunning lack of introspection.”

Cohen (whose commentary I normally really appreciated) complained that Omar “activated a long-standing anti-Jewish stereotype: that Diaspora Jews use money to exercise influence and political power.”

No, I don’t think that’s what she did. She complained about the sway of a particular lobbying group, one that has the world “Israel” in its official title.

Lest we forget, Omar herself has been the target of anti-Muslim smears, such as a poster that associated Omar with the 9/11 hijackings.

The Democrats broadened their resolution that they had planned to vote on to include references to “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry.”

Fine. Let’s keep it there.

What should happen now is that Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership team take Rep. Omar aside and remind her that (as one of two Muslims in the House) she needs to be very careful not only of what she expresses, but also of how she expresses it.

And then maybe the Democrats can stop cannibalizing themselves.

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Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison, and that doesn’t quite seem right

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was sentenced to 47 months in prison the other day. And that doesn’t seem right. In sentencing him, Judge Judge T. S. Ellis commented on the “otherwise blameless life” that Manafort has lived.

Hmm.

Franklin Foer of The Atlantic magazine took a quick look at this “blameless” life, observing that Manafort is a guy who has “always acted with impunity.” Foer noted that:

  • Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.
  • Manafort helped Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.
  • Manafort worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi.
  • Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deals.
  • Manafort spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine.
  • Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.
  • Manafort produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.
  • Manafort stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan.
  • Manafort got himself nearly $20 million in debt to a Russian oligarch.
  • Manafort tried to use his perch atop the Trump campaign to help salvage his sorry financial situation.
  • Manafort installed one of his protégés as the head of the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America. His friend allegedly funneled $125,000 from the super PAC to pay off one of Manafort’s nagging debts.
  • Manafort was found guilty of tax evasion on an industrial scale. He kept his cash in Cyprus and wired it home to buy more than $1 million in bespoke clothing.
  • Manafort disguised his income as loans so that he could bamboozle banks into lending him money.
  • Manafort attempted to phone a potential witness in his trial so that they could align their stories.
  • Manafort systematically lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, after he promised them his full cooperation.

Needless to say, the life that Manafort has led has hardly been “blameless.” Rather, it’s been scheming and advantageous.

And this is to say nothing about the racial aspects. A lot of commentators compared Manfort’s sentencing with the case of Crystal Gayle, a Texas woman who was sentenced to 5 years in prison after having been found guilty of voter fraud because she was a felon still on probation, and that is an obvious and uncomfortable comparison. But you don’t have to get that dramatic. You can just go to any black or Hispanic low-level drug offender if you want to see disparity in sentencing.

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The “controversy” around Leaving Neverland

Over the weekend HBO released the new documentary “Leaving Neverland.” Directed and produced by British filmmaker Dan Reed, the film focuses on two men, Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck, who allege they were sexually abused by the singer Michael Jackson as children.

  • Robson is an Australian dancer and choreographer who as a five year old he was befriended by Jackson on a tour of Australia.
  • Safechuck was a child actor from Simi Valley, California, who landed a role in a Pepsi commercial alongside the pop star in 1987 while he was eight.

Jackson was accused of sexual abuse back in 1993 to 1994 and again between 2002 to 2005. In 2005 he was charged and acquitted in a criminal trial. Both of these guys testified in Jackson’s favor while they were still boys in the criminal trial. So let us just remember:

  • Jackson had the same advantage as OJ Simpson, which is unlimited legal resources through which he could defend himself.
  • Both of these young men admitted that they thought that Jackson was a “God.”
  • Jackson groomed these boys expertly, and he also groomed the entire family of both of these boys.

Oprah Winfrey taped an interview with these two men (now 36 and 41) on her Oprah network. They come across as completely credible and reasonable, and their stories are very similar. I urge you to view it, if you doubt that this happened.

Anybody who knows anything about the clinical aspects of sexual abuse knows that the story these two men are telling is completely believable. There is no controversy. The Jackson family has (of course!) threatened to sue HBO for $100 million. Good luck, Jackson family.

  • Unlike criminal trials, in libel actions the burden of proof is on the complainant (in other words, the Jackson family).
  • In libel actions, truth is an absolute defense to the complaint.
  • In criminal trials, not only is the burden of proof on the state (standing in behalf of the victims) but the burden is proof beyond a reasonable doubt (or 90%).
  • Not having been criminally convicted is no proof of innocence. It just means that the state didn’t have enough proof to meet the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

I hope that the family does sue HBO in libel. They’re going to get their hats handed to them if they do.

Jackson is the best possible example of a celebrity who was tortured in his own way. Everyone knows that his father, Joe Jackson, was abusive, and it seems extraordinarily likely that Jackson himself was sexually abused as a child (because almost no one becomes an abuser without being abused themselves).

Some of the consequences of that were obvious:

  • Jackson’s mutilation of his own face through voluntary surgery (making him look like a weird Diana Ross).
  • Jackson’s whitening of his skin (which was not the result of a skin condition).
  • Jackson’s whisper quiet high voice, which sounded like the voice of a 13 year-old.
  • Jackson’s surrounding himself almost exclusively with children in order to socialize.

Jackson was about a year younger than I am. I look like I’m 61 (albeit, in pretty good shape for 61). Jackson looked, at the time of his death (at age 50) like he was maybe age 24. It was not natural. Something had tortured this guy all his life, and while we can sympathize with that, it doesn’t make what he did any less monstrous.

Personally, I’m not going to stop playing Jackson’s music from time to time. (Plenty of people I know are arguing for that.) I can separate his artistry from his humanity (or perhaps his monstrosity) but the defenders of Jackson (like the defenders of Donald Trump) need to take off the blinders and see this guy for who he really was.

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