In Memoriam: Sean Spicer

Every journey comes to an end. Some endings come as a sharp, sudden shock. Others are more gradual. You can see what’s coming and have time to brace yourself for the terminus. This ending feels like a little bit of both.

Come August, Sean Spicer will recede into the bushes for the last time and won’t be furitively whispering to reporters ever again. He is not deceased – physically – however, taking into account the morass that is the Trump administration, it is safe to assume he underwent some sort of spiritual death.

One hundred and eighty-three days ago, Spicer battering-rammed his way into our hearts. Here was a man sensitive to the unsettled national mood that pervaded Inaugeration Day. His ingenious remedy was an astringent attack on those who would question the president’s own truth.

He was a Press Secretary with pluck and verve. A man who, through a tilt of his head, a furrow of his brow, or an exasperated sigh, plainly communicated the toll of cognitive dissonance upon his person. When he finally broke, he broke hard, refusing to endorse Donald Trump’s selection of the execrable Anthony Scaramucci as his replacement.

It was almost a moral victory. That’s the best anyone in the Trump administration can hope for. Sean Spicer may be leaving, but he will never be forgotten.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Eighty-Three)

Magnitsky was the target of investigations, arrested by authorities and kept in jail without charges. He was beaten and later died under mysterious circumstances in jail just days before his possible release.

Independent investigators found “inhuman detention conditions, the isolation from his family, the lack of regular access to his lawyers and the intentional refusal to provide adequate medical assistance resulted in the deliberate infliction of severe pain and suffering, and ultimately his death.”

The Magnitsky Act was signed by President Barack Obama in December 2012 as a retaliation against the human rights abuses suffered by Magnitsky. The law at first blocked 18 Russian government officials and businessmen from entering the United States, froze any assets held by U.S. banks and banned their future use of U.S. banking systems. The act was expanded in 2016, and now sanctions apply to 44 suspected human rights abusers worldwide.

Its official title is a mouthful — the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. In most news stories and accounts, the shorthand is simply — the Magnitsky Act.

Bill Browder, an American hedge fund manager who hired Magnitsky for the corruption investigation that eventually led to his death, was a central figure in the bill’s passage.

When pressed on the details of his meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. appeared to downplay its significance by linking it to concerns over an issue that appears uncontroversial on its surface: adoption. But the barring of U.S. adoptions of Russian children is a flash point of tense diplomatic relations and tied directly to the Magnitsky Act.

Two weeks after Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill that blocked adoption of Russian children by parents in the United States. Russia then also imposed sanctions on Browder and found Magnitsky posthumously guilty of crimes.

Supporters of the bill at the time cited mistreatment of Russian children by adoptive U.S. parents as the reason for its passage. But it was widely viewed as a retaliatory act, and the issues have been linked since.

Trump Jr. said that despite assurances that Veselnitskaya would come bearing incriminating information about Hillary Clinton in their 2016 meeting, the topic quickly shifted to the Magnitsky Act and U.S. adoptions from Russia.

Browder described Veselnitskaya in an NPR interview as a longtime foil to him in her efforts to repeal the Magnitsky Act. She represents a member of the Katsyv family, whose company is under investigation by the Justice Department in connection with the laundering of real estate money in New York. Denis Katsyv has lobbied to overturn Magnitsky and to end Russia’s American adoption ban.

–Alex Horton, The Magnitsky Act, Explained


Who Investigates The Investigators?

Or, that’s a nice team you’ve got there, Bob – it would be a shame if something happened to them;

Or, keep away from my shady dealings, I’m the goddamn president;

Or, another day, another startling thing;

Or, hopefully Trump’s dirty tricks team has a cool name like the Ratfuckers.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Eighty-Two)

“People Were Startled”

Contra to more savvy political operators, Donald Trump holds his secret meetings in public. Perhaps at 71, he’s come to the conclusion that skulking around is bad for the hips.

By most accounts, the newly revealed second meeting with Putin was startling to nearby observers. Given the American president and his associates’ alarming proclivity to elide their contacts with the Russian president and his own cadre, it seems like yet another in a series of optical missteps.

For someone who is trying to get away from the cloud of suspicion, he does a piss-poor job of making escape attempts. As if on cue, today he said he wouldn’t have hired Jeff Sessions if he’d known Sessions was going to recuse himself on L’affaire Russia instead of faithfully running interference on attempts to investigate that tangled web.

Don can’t seem to quit Vlad. Vlad in turn seems to revel in the influence he openly wields over a man in a position it is often claimed is the most powerful in the world. Trump carries Putin’s water on issues like undermining NATO, the removal of sanctions against Russia, and ending a covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels.

The nation’s CEO is a threat to the fabric of society on his own. And while a great many threads in that fabric are in dire need of repair or replacement, his inclination is to blame immigrants for the shoddy workmanship, throw it in the dumpster and buy a new one with his name branded on it. He hopes his extraordinarily rich Russian friend approves.

Under normal circumstances, some of the political actions undertaken wouldn’t be so concerning. Take his order re: Syria. Whether the CIA should be involved in the matter is an ongoing and legitimate question. American foreign policy can often be monsterous, yet is seems Trump lacks any moral or philosophical grounding in his decision-making process. From the outside, it seems like it has everything to do with giving Vladimir Putin what he wants.

That, for me, is the pith of what startles. A fascist who rose to power through an admixture of cult of personality, elevating racist/nationalist sentiments and foreign collision is eminently swayable to the suggestions of another, far cannier authoritarian. Whether the cause is intellectual enfeeblement or blackmail doesn’t matter. What matters is that nothing substantive has been done to stop it by the party in power, and the danger is rising.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Eighty-One)

The Apex Of Political Criticism

The time has come to talk about Paul Ryan’s penis. Not because we want to, but because Steve Bannon does.

Bannon reportedly called House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) “a limp-dick motherfucker who was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation,” referring to the think tank whose fiscal conservative policies the representative espouses.

Obviously Ryan is a lab experiment gone wrong, but what does his tumescence have to do with anything? Why can’t Paul Ryan be a degenerate creep who sees Ayn Rand’s face when he closes his eyes and still be able to maintain erections?

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Eighty)

Trumpcare Slumped And Exhaled A Death Rattle…

And there was much rejoicing throughout the land. The terrifying kabuki the GOP was compelled to perform to justify countless Obamacare repeal votes came to a close, and the dancers, red-faced and exhausted, shambled away.

The bill was a revolting glob of toxic waste that corroded everything around it. It threatened to destabilize the health care market at large, which is why major insurers recently issued a forceful rejection of most of what it stood for. The president had a limited comprehension of the bill’s content, but he had enough wherewithal to decree it was “mean”. It would have ravaged Medicaid and allowed preexisting conditions to prevent access to vital medical care.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 is dead as a three-day-old corpse, and few will mourn its loss.

Coming soon: Zombie Trumpcare.

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred and Seventy-Nine)