Well, isn’t this special? FBI agent that the rightwing hates was the one who went after Hillary!!

Peter Strzok, the FBI agent who’s drawn the ire of conservatives over a series of texts messages critical of Donald Trump, played a key role in drafting the letter by former FBI Director James Comey that re-opened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, CNN reports.

Strzok “co-wrote” the first draft of Comey’s letter, which effectively announced the FBI had re-opened a probe in October to Clinton’s emails—a pivotal moment in the 2016 presidential election. In text messages, Strzok appeared to deal with the fallout from that letter.

The report dispels a central Republican talking point that paints Strzok as a hyper-partisan pro-Clinton FBI stooge. Trump backers in the GOP have pointed to the messages from Strzok as proof that career intelligence officials were privately working to ensure Clinton was elected.

Donald Trump: Useful idiot

The problem with Donald Trump is not that he is imbecilic and inept—it is that he has surrendered total power to the oligarchic and military elites. They get what they want. They do what they want. Although the president is a one-man wrecking crew aimed at democratic norms and institutions, although he has turned the United States into a laughingstock around the globe, our national crisis is embodied not in Trump but the corporate state’s now unfettered pillage.

Trump, who has no inclination or ability to govern, has handed the machinery of government over to the bankers, corporate executives, right-wing think tanks, intelligence chiefs and generals. They are eradicating the few regulations and laws that inhibited a naked kleptocracy. They are dynamiting the institutions, including the State Department, that served interests other than corporate profit and are stacking the courts with right-wing, corporate-controlled ideologues. Trump provides the daily entertainment; the elites handle the business of looting, exploiting and destroying.

Once democratic institutions are hollowed out, a process begun before the election of Trump, despotism is inevitable. The press is shackled. Corruption and theft take place on a massive scale. The rights and needs of citizens are irrelevant. Dissent is criminalized. Militarized police monitor, seize and detain Americans without probable cause. The rituals of democracy become farce. This is the road we are traveling. It is a road that leads to internal collapse and tyranny, and we are very far down it.

The elites’ moral and intellectual vacuum produced Trump. They too are con artists. They are slicker than he at selling the lies and more adept at disguising their greed through absurd ideologies such as neoliberalism and globalization, but they belong to the same criminal class and share many of the pathologies that characterize Trump. The grotesque visage of Trump is the true face of politicians such as George W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Clintons and Obama, unlike Bush and Trump, are self-aware and therefore cynical, but all lack a moral compass. As Michael Wolff writes in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” the president has “no scruples.” He lives “outside the rules” and is “contemptuous of them.” And this makes him identical to those he has replaced, not different. “A close Trump friend who was also a good Bill Clinton friend found them eerily similar—except that Clinton had a respectable front and Trump did not,” Wolff writes.

Trump, backed by the most retrograde elements of corporate capitalism, including Robert and Rebekah Mercer, Sheldon Adelson and Carl Icahn, is the fool who prances at the front of our death march. As natural resources become scarce and the wealth of the empire evaporates, a shackled population will be forced to work harder for less. State revenues will be squandered in grandiose projects and futile wars in an attempt to return the empire to a mythical golden age. The decision to slash corporate tax rates for the rich while increasing an already bloated military budget by $54 billion is typical of decayed civilizations. Empires expand beyond their capacity to sustain themselves and then go bankrupt. The Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires all imploded in a similar fashion. The lessons of history are clear. But the illiterate charlatans who seize power in the dying days of empire know nothing of history. They are driven by a primal and inchoate lust for wealth, one that is never satisfied no matter how many billions they possess.

The elites in dying cultures turn everything into a commodity. Human beings are commodities. The natural world is a commodity. Government and democratic institutions are commodities. All are mined and wrecked for profit. Nothing has an intrinsic value. Nothing is sacred. The relentless and suicidal drive to accumulate greater and greater wealth by destroying the systems that sustain life is idolatry. It ignores the biblical injunction that idols always begin by demanding human sacrifice and end by demanding self-sacrifice. The elites are not only building our funeral pyre, they are building their own.

The elites, lacking a vision beyond satiating their own greed, revel in the intoxicating power to destroy. They confuse destruction with creation. They are agents of what Sigmund Freud calls the death instinct. They find in acts of national self-immolation a godlike power. They denigrate empathy, intellectual curiosity, artistic expression and the common good, virtues that sustain life. They celebrate a hyper-individualism embodied in celebrity, wealth, hedonism, manipulation and the ability to dominate others. They know nothing of the past. They do not think about the future. Those around them are temporarily useful to their aims and must be flattered and rewarded but in the end are ruthlessly cast aside. There is no human connection. This emotional numbness lies at the core of Trump’s personality.

“[Stephen] Bannon described Trump as a simple machine,” Wolff writes. “The On switch was full of flattery, the Off switch full of calumny. The flattery was dripping, slavish, cast in ultimate superlatives, and entirely disconnected from reality: so-and-so was the best, the most incredible, the ne plus ultra, the eternal. The calumny was angry, bitter, resentful, ever a casting out and closing of the iron door.”

The elites in a dying culture confuse what the economist Karl Polanyi calls “real” and “fictitious” commodities. A commodity is a product manufactured for sale. The ecosystem, labor and money, therefore, are not commodities. Once these fictitious commodities are treated as real ones for exploitation and manipulation, Polanyi writes, human society devours itself. Workers become dehumanized cogs. Currency and trade are manipulated by speculators, wreaking havoc with the economy and leading to financial collapse. The natural world is turned into a toxic wasteland. The elites, as the society breaks down, retreat into protected enclaves where they have access to security and services denied to the wider population. They last longer than those outside their gates, but the tsunami of destruction they orchestrate does not spare them.

As long as Trump serves the interests of the elites he will remain president. If, for some reason, he is unable to serve these interests he will disappear. Wolff notes in the book that after his election there was “a surprising and sudden business and Wall Street affinity for Trump.” He went on: “An antiregulatory White House and the promise of tax reform outweighed the prospect of disruptive tweeting and other forms of Trump chaos; besides, the market had not stopped climbing since November 9, the day after the election.”

The Russia investigation—launched when Robert Mueller became special counsel in May and which appears to be focused on money laundering, fraud and shady business practices, things that have always characterized Trump’s financial empire—is unlikely to unseat the president. He will not be impeached for mental incompetence, over the emoluments clause or for obstruction of justice, although he is guilty on all these counts. He is useful to those who hold real power in the corporate state, however much they would like to domesticate him.

Trump’s bizarre ramblings and behavior also serve a useful purpose. They are a colorful diversion from the razing of democratic institutions. As cable news networks feed us stories of his trysts with a porn actress and outlandish tweets, the real work of the elites is being carried out largely away from public view. The courts are stacked with Federalist Society judges, the fossil fuel industry is plundering public lands and the coastlines and ripping up regulations that protected us from its poisons, and the Pentagon, given carte blanche, is engaged in an orgy of militarism with a trillion-dollar-a-year budget and about 800 military bases in scores of countries around the world.

Trump, as Wolff describes him in the book, is clueless about what he has unleashed. He is uninterested in and bored by the complexities of governance and policy. The faster Trump finds a member of the oligarchy or the military to take a job off his hands the happier he becomes. This suits his desires. It suits the desires of those who manage the corporate state. For the president there is only one real concern, the tumultuous Trump White House reality show and how it plays out on television. He is a creature solely concerned with image, or more exactly his image. Nothing else matters.
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“For each of his enemies—and, actually, for each of his friends—the issue for him came down, in many ways, to their personal press plan,” Wolff writes of the president. “Trump assumed everybody wanted his or her fifteen minutes and that everybody had a press strategy for when they got them. If you couldn’t get press directly for yourself, you became a leaker. There was no happenstance news, in Trump’s view. All news was manipulated and designed, planned and planted. All news was to some extent fake—he understood that very well, because he himself had faked it so many times in his career. This was why he had so naturally cottoned to the ‘fake news’ label. ‘I’ve made stuff up forever, and they always print it,’ he bragged.”

Yes, the elites wish Trump would act more presidential. It would help the brand. But all attempts by the elites to make Trump conform to the outward norms embraced by most public officials have failed. Trump will not be reformed by criticism from the establishment. Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, who denounced Trump, saw their approval ratings plummet and have decided not to run for re-election. Trump may have public approval of only 39 percent overall, but among Republicans the figure is 78 percent. And I don’t think those numbers will decrease.

The inability of the political establishment and the press to moderate or reform Trump’s egregious behavior is rooted in their loss of credibility. The press, along with political and intellectual elites, spent decades championing economic and political policies that solidified corporate power and betrayed and impoverished American workers. The hypocrisy and mendacity of the elites left them despised and distrusted by the victims of deindustrialization and austerity programs. The attempt to restore civility to public discourse and competency to political office is, therefore, fruitless. Liberal and establishment institutions, including the leadership of the two main political parties, academia and the press, squandered their moral authority. And the dogged refusal by the elites to address the engine of discontent—social inequality—ensures that they will remain ineffectual. They lay down the asphalt for the buffoonery of Trump and the coming tyranny.

Trump surrounds himself with people as stupid as he is

Kathleen Hartnett White, who is President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), has been exposed as a conspiracy theorist who believes that nothing bad will happen if human beings flood the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.

The Daily Beast reports that White — who has been renominated after the Senate declined to consider her nomination in the wake of a disastrous confirmation hearing in which she could not say whether water expands as it’s heated — has a long history of spouting scientifically illiterate theories about climate change.

In a 2015 op-ed, for example, White calls carbon dioxide “the gas of life” and is “an essential nutrient for plant growth on which human life depends.”

Of course, the issue is not whether CO2 is a necessary gas for life on Earth, but whether putting too much of it in the atmosphere will cause the Earth’s temperature to rise in ways that will make for more extreme weather.

In the same op-ed, White said that climate scientists were lying about rising temperatures and sea levels because they were part of a “grand scheme to decarbonize human societies.” She has also called climate science “the Left’s secular religion,” and is part of a “totalitarian” aim to enslave humanity.

Read the entire rundown of White’s conspiracies here.

Summary of Trump’s bullshit SOTU speech

I love getting lectured about patriotism and morality by draft dodging uninformed racist reality show star who colludes with our enemies,  sttacks our allies, obstructs Justice, undermines our institutions and pays hush money to porn stars.

Don’t you?

Trump just asked Congress to give him the power to undermine law

Donald Trump’s first State of the Union was a deeply dangerous speech.

It was deeply dangerous because he finally followed in the footsteps of European leaders like Hungarian President Viktor Orban who have long ago learned to give an attractive look to authoritarian populism.

Like them, Trump eschewed openly racist remarks in his speech, even emphasizing how much he (supposedly) cares about the fate of Latinos and black Americans. Like them, he called for economic policies, like paid family leave, that would actually benefit ordinary people. And like them, he then cast himself as the only man willing to prioritize the interests of his supporters over those of foreigners and political elites.

It was Bannonism without Bannon’s penchant for shock and awe. And it played shockingly well.

But Trump’s speech was also deeply dangerous for an even more important reason: Under the cover of his soothing rhetoric about unity and bipartisanship, Trump called on Congress to give him unprecedented and unquestionably antidemocratic powers: “Tonight,” he said, “I call on the congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

The brick-and-mortar retail economy is collapsing and soon will take the rest of us with it

I DO NOT BELIEVE the economy is as robust as the stock market says it is. For many reasons. In fact, I believe just under the surface of typical economic goal posts such as employment and stock market figures, there  is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

I believe this for several reasons — lack of wage increases that should come with a healthy economy, the fact that 85% of stocks are owned by 10% of the population — as for wage and benefit increases that are NOT happening,  these happen when the economy is really growing.  Wages and benefits are not increases, thus, the economy is not improving.

What is happening is an alarming amount of retail workers are being laid off, or at the very least, given very limited hours, or hired just for the holidays. It is not news that full time retail jobs, which used to support a large part of our economy, are increasingly rare. These days retail stores carefully schedule to make sure few employees achieve full time status, that entail benefits and that has been going on for a good while now.

But it is becoming so much worse. For all the talk of coal workers, and other manufacturing industries it is arguable that no one industry exceeds the losses brick and  mortar retailers are suffering, and hence the loss of employment opportunities. I suspect the numbers on this are quite staggering, but they are hard to find.

This is huge, and it is particularly huge for women, who make up much of the retail sales force. And for older people who have turned to retail jobs to try to replace some of the income they lost when they were shut out of the job market due to their age. And yes, there are so many of them. In America these days, your long worked and fought for career is likely to not be replaceable if you are let go in your fifties.

Here are some of many articles few are talking about on this subject. Read just the headlines and the first few paragraphs of any of them, and you’ll get the idea.

money.cnn.com/…

www.pymnts.com/…

www.theatlantic.com/…

www.nytimes.com/…

www.ft.com/…

www.businessinsider.com/…

www.baxterbulletin.com/…

www.technologyreview.com/…

In fact, there are so many articles about this, it was hard to choose. Google “brick and mortar retail losses” and your head will spin with all the alarming articles people ARE NOT talking about.

It is important to note, that much of our retail infrastructure is STILL invested in brick and mortar stores, and malls. This is not just about employment opportunities, but also about the major companies who own a whole lot of real estate and square footage that is not paying off. When those businesses go down, it’s not just on the floor retail jobs that are lost, it’s all the administrative jobs that come with that that are also lost, from buying to marketing, to accounting, to warehouse, to janitorial to store planning and design, to so many jobs I can’t list them all here.

Now, there’s no stopping progress. I too shop on line more than I ever used to. It’s easy, it’s fast, and the selection is better. And I’m older, and no longer want to go from store to store to find what I’m looking for, when I can sit home and do it with a few keystrokes.

And, as more people shop on-line, the less brick and mortar stores can invest in providing selection and service, the less they can remain competitive with on line shopping, and the downward cycle is obvious and VERY daunting for this economy.

My point is this is a huge economic tremor, soon to become an earthquake for the economy. And yet, it’s all about the coal miners, and various singular and industries that have very little impact on the economy when it should be about the structure of retail as we know it going under huge and destructive change. It is consumers that drive this economy, and consumers are more and more deciding to shop on line.

This effects job seekers from sea to shining sea, and in every state. And, as I said, it is often about jobs women and seniors need.  Where are all these people going to go for jobs?

It’s not about turning the clock back, it’s about as the Atlantic put it in one of the articles I linked, “The Silent crisis of retail employment.”

Politicians are often nostalgia merchants, selling the irreplaceable virtues of whatever cultural or economic norm is in its twilight. In the 20th century, they mourned the wilting of the agricultural industry, just as they currently lament the death of factories. But in an economy that will become increasingly digitized, automated, and otherwise inflected with new technologies like self-driving cars and artificial intelligence, Americans can’t get too precious about any particular job or industry.

Instead, lawmakers should be focused on reducing human suffering as some job sectors shrink or disappear altogether. That might include universal health care that isn’t tied to any one specific company and moving vouchers to help workers manage the transition to a new area for work. Overall it requires an approach that is the opposite of then-candidate Trump’s message on the campaign: Not “how can we rebuild the economy of about 40 years ago and freeze it in carbonite?” but rather “what sort of federal policies are best for an economy that might be embarking on a period of industrial churn?”

Yes. This. And also, again, I DO NOT believe this economy is robust. I feel like we’re skating on the thin ice of stock market gains, and more success for the 1%. And the coming retail catastrophe is going to drive us into a recession, long before that loss of coal mining jobs.

In many ways, I see the death of brick and mortar stores as leaders in retail, to be the equivalent of the industrial revolution. It’s a BFD.