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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On this week's gluten-laden weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World checks in with the pundits regarding Iran; Jen Sorensen examines the Big Dumb War Cycle; (Th)ink looks in on a chat between Trump and Baby Yoda; Red Meat features another round between Karen and Milkman Dan; and Apoca Clips watches as Li'l Trumpy talks "I" words.

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One of Donald Trump’s few substantive defenses against the allegations that brought about his impeachment last week is that he didn’t try to extort an investigation into Joe Biden and a crackpot DNC server conspiracy theory for his own political benefit—but rather, he sought “a favor” for the good of the country.

The evidence for this, the president and his defenders say, is in the not-quite-a-transcript that the White House released of the July 25 call between Trump and then-newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky thanks the U.S. for pressuring Russia through sanctions, then expresses interest in buying more missiles.

And Trump, of course, replies: “I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. … There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people, and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.”

Zelensky mentions that one of his assistants had spoken to Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. Trump says, “I will ask him to call you along with the attorney general.”

In Trump’s telling, the fact that he referenced Attorney General William Barr shows that he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

Put aside that this runs contrary to every known fact about Donald Trump. Instead, focus on how casually Trump lumps in the attorney general of the United States with his lawyer, who’d spent the better part of a year in Ukraine trying to manufacture a sham investigation into the Bidens—and who, incidentally, is reportedly under federal investigation.

In Trump’s mind, they’re the same They’re his guys. That should be a red flag.

The attorney general is not the president’s lawyer. The attorney general is—in theory—the lawyer for the American people, whose fidelity is to the country and the Constitution.

Trump doesn’t see it that way, however. So a year ago, Trump forced out his first AG, Jeff Sessions—the first U.S. senator to endorse his presidential campaign —because he deemed Sessions insufficiently loyal during Russiagate. For his second AG nominee, Trump wasn’t taking any chances.

Bill Barr believes in the unitary executive theory—put simply, the president is essentially above the law and has total control of the government’s law-enforcement system. Barr was also willing to play lackey.

So, for instance, when the Mueller report came in, Barr dashed off a letter to Congress saying—deceptively, it turned out—that Trump had been cleared of wrongdoing, obscuring Mueller’s findings that the president had repeatedly obstructed justice and that he was only not charged with a crime because he Department of Justice policy forbade it.

And when, with Trump staring down impeachment, the DOJ’s inspector general released a long-awaited report demolishing Trump’s batshit claims about a Deep State vendetta against his presidential campaign, Barr sent out an unprecedented statement contradicting his department’s IG. If nothing else, he’s a company man.

More troubling was his speech to the Federalist Society in November, in which he leaned into his role as a partisan actor, accusing anyone to the left of Attila the Hun of “undermining (the) rule of law” and Congress of—as a “pursuit of choice”—“drown(ing) the Executive Branch with ‘oversight’ demands for testimony and documents.”

These are not co-equal branches, Barr believes. If the president finds congressional oversight annoying, he should ignore it.

Also, progressives—what with their “civil rights” and other such nonsense—are snowflakes, while conservatives are grounded in reason and as such at a political disadvantage.

“In any age,” Barr opined, “the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. … Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise.  … Conservatives tend to have more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means.”

Obviously, Bill Barr has never heard the name Mitch McConnell or watched C-SPAN in the last decade or so.

But gaslighting—or, more charitably, being obtuse—isn’t what bothers me most about Barr; that’s par for the course in the modern GOP. It’s this: Earlier this month, Barr told a roomful of cops that “the American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. … (If) communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”

In other words, show your cops love—i.e., don’t protest if they beat up or shoot a person of color—or, well, you just never know, do you?

This is an attorney general, of course, who has criticized local district attorneys in Philadelphia and St. Louis for calling for police accountability, and has demanded zero tolerance for “resisting police.”

To recap: Trump should be able to do whatever he wants. Trump should have unchecked control over the law-enforcement apparatus. Law enforcement should be able to do whatever it wants. Resisters? Zero tolerance. Protesters? It’d be a shame if something happened to them.

All hail the police state.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

On this week's gift-return-ravaged weekly Independent comics page: (Th)ink looks at a primary difference between the current president and Hitler; This Modern World listens to Trump's Christmas address; Jen Sorensen ponders ways to enlighten people these days; Red Meat heads for a wintertime survival campout; and Apoca Clips watches as Li'l Trumpy checks in with the Saudis.

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On this week's yule log-warmed weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World examines the latest case taken up by Donald J. Trump, detective-in-chief; Jen Sorensen looks at a proposed Ohio law that demands doctors perform a procedure that ... doesn't exist?; The K Chronicles shakes his head at racism in Italian soccer; Red Meat takes in a festive Christmas movie; and Apoca Clips watches as Li'l Trumpy engages in some puppetry.

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On this week's record-breaking weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles takes a tongue-in-cheek look at Christmas in SoCal; This Modern World looks at GOP "reality"; Jen Sorensen waits for technology to solve climate change; Apoca Clips brings us the latest adventures of Captain Rudy; and Red Meat looks back fondly on school gymnastics.

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On this week's multicolored-light-strewn weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World again puts on MAGA-vision; Jen Sorensen ponders all the retro trends; (Th)ink looks inside the mind of Mr. Zuckerberg; Red Meat needs to revise a history paper; and Apoca Clips posits that Rudy's goose may be cooked.

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Happy Thanksgiving! On this week's gravy-slathered weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips learns the real truth behind that ridiculous Tesla truck announcement; Red Meat makes plans for a solo Thanksgiving; This Modern World looks at the perspective of wealthy Democrats; Jen Sorensen wonders what happens if a president commits crimes, but almost half the country doesn't believe it; and The K Chronicles has a Hollywood moment.

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On this week's cornbread-stuffing-filled weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World wonders what the deal is with all this impeachment stuff; Jen Sorensen looks at Facebook going all the way to 1984; The K Chronicles isn't very impressed by Hollywood; Red Meat suffers the consequences of some unwise diet choices; and Apoca Clips "learns" something at a convention.

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On this week's pumpkin-pie-infused weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat deals with a bad cough; Apoca Clips checks in with Donny Junior on his book tour; Jen Sorensen ponders "woke culture"; The K Chronicles offers a soundtrack for the upcoming race war; and This Modern World looks at the aftermath of a Donald Trump bank robbery.

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In a mostly party-line vote last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution establishing the ground rules for the ongoing impeachment inquiry—allowing the release of deposition transcripts, providing opportunities for the president’s lawyers to present evidence, and setting up televised public hearings just in time for Thanksgiving.

This, of course, didn’t stop House Minority Whip Steve Scalise from complaining about “Soviet-style impeachment proceedings.” Other Republicans argued that Democrats were “abusing the process” or that, because no Republicans voted for the inquiry, it’s merely a partisan sideshow.

Even so, now that the impeachment inquiry is officially official, we should be getting a sense of how the White House and its allies plan to defend Donald Trump against mounting evidence that he withheld military aid as leverage to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political rivals. What we’re actually seeing, however, is not one defense, but scattershot multiple defenses—some contradictory, some conspiratorial, and some that seem culled from a Reddit thread, all led by a president who refuses to admit the possibility that he did anything inappropriate, let alone illegal. As best I can tell, there are four at play:

1. No quid pro quo.

2. Sure, a quid pro quo, but it wasn’t illegal.

3. An attempted quid pro quo, but that doesn’t count.

4. Hell yeah, a quid pro quo, but it was a good thing, because The Truth Is Out There, man. 

The first defense belongs to Donald Trump, and increasingly to Donald Trump alone. In his mind, and on his Twitter feed, the July phone call with Ukraine’s president—in which, according to the White House’s edited account of the conversation, he conditioned aid on an investigation into a conspiracy theory that the Ukrainians framed Russia for the 2016 DNC hack and urged an investigation into the Bidens—was “perfect.” There was nothing inappropriate about it. No quid pro quo.

Since Trump did no wrong, everyone who says he did must be part of a conspiracy. The whistleblower, Trump tweeted, “must be brought forward to testify.” The top Ukrainian expert on the National Security Council—who testified that he was told Trump would only meet with Ukraine’s president if Ukraine opened the investigations Trump demanded—is a now “Never Trumper,” Trump has asserted, as if that has any bearing on the substance of his testimony.

The no-quid-pro-quo line has become a bridge too far for even some loyalists. After all, even the best news the White House got last week—that a Trump appointee to the NSC said he didn’t think there was anything illegal about the call with the Ukrainian president—also came with the confirmation that Trump froze military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate his enemies.

That brings us to defense No. 2: The quid pro quo happened, but it wasn’t criminal (or impeachable). The Washington Post reported that, during a private Senate GOP lunch last week, some senators pitched this line of attack—“the U.S. government often attaches conditions to foreign aid and that nothing was amiss in Trump’s doing so in the case of aid to Ukraine.” As Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, told the Post, “To me, this entire issue is gonna come down to: Why did the president ask for an investigation? To me, it all turns on intent, motive.”

This defense would work better if Trump didn’t stomp on it. On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the story was “false.” Perhaps a quid pro quo wasn’t impeachable, he said, but it didn’t matter, because there wasn’t one.

Then there’s defense No. 3, that Trump’s conspiracy failed, so no harm, no foul. Per The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page: “Democrats want to impeach Mr. Trump for asking a foreign government to investigate his political rival for corruption, though the probe never happened, and for withholding aid to Ukraine that in the end wasn’t withheld.”

It’s true that Trump released the money just before the scandal broke, but the fact that he got caught before his extortion scheme bore fruit hardly speaks to a presidential temperament. Besides, his efforts to stoke an investigation in Ukraine continue. Just last week, NBC News reported, Rudy Giuliani was in Ukraine meeting with a former diplomat who alleges that Ukraine’s government conspired with the DNC to hurt Trump in 2016. At the same time, a group of Russia-friendly Ukrainian parliamentarians are seeking an investigation into whether their country set up Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, now a resident of a federal prison.

Giuliani tweeted last week that “frenzied” Democrats are “covering up, because it’s bigger than you think.”

And herein lies the last line of defense, that there is a grand conspiracy yet to be unraveled, connecting the Deep State and the Obama administration and Joe Biden and the DNC and Ukraine and Russia and George Soros and probably Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files.

Trump’s die-hards are pinning their hopes on John Durham, the prosecutor Attorney General William Barr tapped to investigate the investigators who first looked into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, an effort—like Giuliani in Ukraine—to discredit the Intelligence Community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. Over the weekend, The Independent reported that, based on Barr’s requests to British intelligence services, officials there believe “they are basically asking, in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services.”

As incoherent as they seem, these defenses are all aimed at a singular audience. Over the weekend, NBC and Fox News released polls showing that 49 percent of voters believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office. But both polls also showed that about 90 percent of Republicans oppose impeachment. As long as that’s the case, the White House’s bet is that there’s no way the Republican-led Senate will convict Trump … so long as there’s a thin reed to grasp.

Anything will do, really.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

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