CVIndependent

Fri04262019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Hundreds of people were lined up in the marble hallways of a Senate office building, hoping to get one of the 88 public seats in Room 216, where James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired over the Russia investigation, was scheduled to testify at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 8.

That was at 8:30 a.m. More came. Some of the people waiting in the winding line said they’d arrived at 4 a.m. Bars were opening early, and for once, it seemed like reporters and senators were the only people in Washington, D.C., not day-drinking.

Yes, this was serious shit.

Comey said that Trump asked him for loyalty. It freaked the then-director out—because if the FBI is not independent of political factions, it becomes a secret police force abetting tyranny or totalitarian control.

At one point, Comey tried to explain why he had assured Trump that he wasn’t personally under an investigation on several occasions.

Comey also said he told the president about salacious material—the Russian sex workers pissing on the bed the Obamas slept in, I guess—in a dossier gathered by a former intelligence official and later published by BuzzFeed; he didn’t want Trump to think the FBI would use the material against him.

“I was worried very much of being in kind of a—kind of a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation,” Comey said, referring to the legendary director—you might say dictator—of the FBI for half a century.

It was remarkable to hear Comey talk this way about the man more associated with the bureau than anyone else—but he had good reason: It helps us contextualize what is happening now, because things were even more fucked-up a century ago. That should make us feel a little better.

Hoover—a powerful, paranoid and proud eccentric—crafted the modern FBI. He started working for the Department of Justice in 1917. The country had finally entered World War I in April of that year. Two years earlier, in 1915, as the war in Europe escalated, Germany feared U.S. involvement and began a propaganda campaign (or “active measures,” as we’re calling it). As Tim Weiner writes in his book Enemies: A History of the FBI, a German official “began to build a propaganda machine in the United States; the Germans secretly gained control of a major New York newspaper, the Evening Mail; their front men negotiated to buy The Washington Post and the New York Sun. Political fixers, corrupt Germans and crooked detectives served the German cause.”

The U.S. eventually entered the war, and the government—especially the bureau, which worked under the Department of Justice—began to arrest and surveil German immigrants.

“The bureau launched its first nationwide domestic surveillance programs under the Espionage Act of 1917, rounding up radicals, wiretapping conversations, and opening mail,” Weiner writes, noting that more than 1,000 people were convicted under the act.

In 1920, a few years later, Hoover orchestrated the “biggest mass arrest in U.S. history,” according to Weiner’s research in unclassified documents, when the bureau “broke into political meetings, private homes, social clubs, dance halls and saloons across America,” arresting more than 6,000 people, for many of whom there were no warrants.

Back in the modern day, 200 people, including a reporter, were charged with felony rioting after protests on inauguration day; the reporter was arraigned the day after Comey’s testimony. Reality Winner, the federal contractor who leaked secrets about Russian attempts to hack voting machines in 2016, was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act a couple of days earlier.

It’s still hard to imagine the scope of those 1920 raids. It shouldn’t be.

Hoover later distanced himself from the raids and denied involvement. But rather than backing off as outrage grew over the violations of civil liberties, Hoover started to collect secret files on his political enemies. That’s what Comey was referring to when he referred to a Hoover-type situation.

David Grann’s stunning new book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, shows how valuable a centralized investigative force can be in its detailing of the early FBI’s role in solving at least some of the murders of the indigenous Osage people in Oklahoma in the early 20th century, committed as a means to steal their money. The entire white power structure—from businesspeople to police to doctors—were in on the conspiracy to kill the Osage. But the FBI was outside of that local structure and was able to solve and prosecute some of the crimes as a result.

But much of the bureau’s history is shameful, reactionary and racist, as in COINTELPRO, or Counterintelligence Program, which targeted civil rights and peace activists in the 1960s. In a 2015 talk, Comey said he kept Hoover’s application for a warrant to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr., which cited “Communist influence in the racial situation,” on his desk. He said he required agents to study the Bureau’s MLK files and other instances of injustice, “to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them.”

The idea of remembering our mistakes and learning from them is about as far as you can get from the whitewashed view of history implicit in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Trump doesn’t seem like a person who is capable of admitting, much less learning from, a mistake, so the Senate needs to be particularly vigilant in their confirmation of Christopher Wray, Chris Christie’s Bridgegate lawyer, whose appointment as Comey’s replacement was announced over Twitter the day before Comey testified.

Things may seem bad now, but the bureau’s previous political persecution of the left, immigrants and minorities should remind us that they can always get worse.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

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FBI Director James Comey was speaking to federal agents when news of his firing flashed across the television behind him.

The regime blamed new Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and cited Comey’s treatment of the Clinton email investigation—as if daring us to pretend they are telling the truth.


More than 200 people arrested en masse on Inauguration Day are now facing decades in jail. Authorities issued search warrants and slapped others, like Dylan Petrohilos, with conspiracy charges after the fact. “Prosecuting people based on participation in a public protest,” Petrohilos said, “seems like something that would happen in an authoritarian society.”


Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from anything having to do with the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign after he was caught lying to the Senate about his meetings with Sergey Kislyak, a Russian ambassador widely considered to be a spy. But Sessions still wrote a letter recommending Comey’s canning. He is also involved in hiring the new FBI director, who will be expected to lead the investigation of the Trump campaign.


Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina congressman best known for heading up the endless Benghazi hearings, has been floated as a candidate for FBI chief.

If you can’t get Rudy Giuliani or Joe Arpaio, Gowdy is perfect. Not only did he direct the 11-hour grilling of the ever-hated Hillary, but when the House Intelligence Committee questioned Comey in March, Gowdy demonstrated no interest in finding out how Russia had influenced the election. He was, however, quite interested in prosecuting journalists who publish leaked materials.


The rest of the Republicans, meanwhile, have been busy stripping healthcare from people with pre-existing conditions.

When Dan Heyman, a reporter in West Virginia, repeatedly asked Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price if domestic violence would count as a pre-existing condition, he was arrested. He faces up to six months in jail for disrupting the work of government. Price commended the police on the arrest.


Desiree Fairooz, an activist with Code Pink, was found guilty of disorderly and disruptive conduct and parading or demonstrating on Capitol grounds—for laughing when Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, said that Sessions’ record of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.”

Sessions sent a memo ordering federal prosecutors to seek the stiffest possible penalties in all of their cases, reversing an Obama-era policy that steered away from “enhanced” penalties and mandatory minimums for minor or nonviolent drug crimes.


Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired when she refused to enforce Trump’s Muslim ban. She was supposed to testify to the House Intelligence Committee about Russia back before its chair, Devin Nunes, flipped out and jumped out of an Uber at midnight to go to a mysterious White House meeting. Finally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, no fan of Trump or Russia, called her to testify before the Senate, where she said that she had warned the Trump team that then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn had been compromised by Russia—a whole 18 days before he was fired. During that time, Flynn sat in on a call with Putin.


Back in July, a week before Trump asked the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, he gave out Lindsey Graham’s phone number and told his supporters to call the senator.

Graham later recorded a video called “How to Destroy Your Cell Phone With Sen. Lindsey Graham,” where he chops, stabs, sets fire to, blends, toasts, bats and drops bricks on his phone.

But now it seems like the punch line is the fact Graham was using a Samsung flip phone—maybe digital illiteracy saved him from being hacked.


While dismissing concerns about Russia, Trump created a “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” to investigate virtually non-existent voter fraud, putting the presidential seal on his false claims that illegal voters cost him the popular vote.

Again, he dares us to believe him.


Shortly after Comey’s firing, the initial story of Rosenstein’s concern over the treatment of Clinton started to fall apart, and it soon became clear Trump himself had initiated the action. But Trump’s story about the decision continues to change. Now Comey is a “showboat,” says the preening reality star.

When you lie constantly, it is no longer a problem to be caught in a lie. “Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings’ and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???” Trump tweeted when the press asked about the contradictory stories.


The day after Comey got canned, Trump met with Sergey Kislyak, the same ambassador both Flynn and Sessions lied about meeting with.

The U.S. press was kept out of the meeting, but Russian state media covered it and sent out pictures of Trump and Kislyak shaking hands—with big, arrogant smiles, on the faces of men who could have been celebrating something.

Later, Press Secretary Sean Spicer hid from reporters in the dark, between two bushes.


Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, another cabinet member with long-term business ties to Russia, also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov—at Putin’s request.

When a reporter asked about the firing of Comey, Lavrov laughed.

“Was he fired? You’re kidding,” Lavrov said sarcastically as Tillerson stood by. Then the two men left the room without answering any further questions.

Later, a reporter asked Putin about Comey. He was wearing a hockey uniform in a tunnel that created an icon-like halo around his head on the television screen.

Putin, too, said the question was funny.

“President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence and in accordance with his law and Constitution,” Putin said. “You see, I am going to play hockey with the hockey fans. And I invite you to do the same.”

The team was made up of world-class athletes. Putin scored six goals.


Later, the administration claimed Russia tricked them into the state-media photo op. Donald Trump recently called himself a “nationalist and a globalist.” Since contradiction doesn’t seem to bother him, perhaps he is also a weak strongman.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

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As a teenager caddying at a restricted country club, I resented the bigotry, but accepted the tips. I learned to play golf myself and eventually got fairly good at it—but now I hate the game.

Let me tell you why.

The ecological and aesthetic harm caused by most of the world’s 34,000 golf courses—45 percent of them here in the United States—is widely acknowledged today. Natural habitats have been disfigured and destroyed to create highly organized, artificially watered and unarguably fake nature. Some people find golf courses calming and beautiful, but that beauty comes at a price.

Since 1982, the United States Golf Association has funded efforts to conserve water through improving irrigation technologies, planting grasses that require less irrigation, and using recycled water from sewage-treatment facilities. Despite these commendable efforts, precious water is still being squandered—including a lot of it right here in the Coachella Valley, where, despite a severe drought, golf courses continue to use about 37 million gallons of water a day. In drought-stricken Arizona, Phoenix-area courses routinely use more than 80 million gallons per day. The pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides and herbicides spread by irrigation water harm complex ecological systems on land and at sea.

So critics like me are happy that the game’s popularity is waning. According to the National Golf Foundation, a high of 30.6 million golfers in 2003 had been reduced to 24.7 million by 2014. The number of golfers between ages 18 and 34 has declined by 30 percent over the past 20 years. Kevin Fitzgerald covered this very topic in the Independent last December in a story called “Business Bogeys.”

One of the issues Fitzgerald covered: Millennials are apt to find the game far too slow—five hours or more to finish 18 holes—for their 21st century tastes.

The ultimate result is that more than 800 courses across America have closed in a decade. Some of these courses have become housing developments, others parks, while a few landowners have taken advantage of tax breaks by donating their properties to nature trusts.

One of the reasons for this change had been explained succinctly in Forbes Magazine: People simply can’t afford to play golf anymore. I find that easy to believe. In 1958, a friend named Bob and I, both of us college students, reserved a tee time and paid $8 apiece to play 18 holes at the famed Pebble Beach course on the Monterey Peninsula. (We talked about natural beauty during our round and agreed that the land, sea and sky we saw that day would have been far more beautiful without the intrusion of the golf course on which we played.) For a similar tee time today, however, Bob and I would be required to stay a minimum of two nights at the Pebble Beach Lodge or an affiliated property, and the 18 holes would cost us a minimum of $1,835 apiece—carts and caddies not included.

Mark Twain may or may not have said (the quotation’s origins remain murky): “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But even that isn’t true anymore, because very few golfers still walk. Most climb in and out of motorized carts whose costs aren’t included in Pebble Beach’s exorbitant greens fees. The only virtue the game ever had—moderate exercise—is gone forever.

It would be impossible to pass legitimate judgment on golf without mentioning our current so-called president, who owns 37 courses worldwide. He also plays the game—though apparently not very well. Of course, former President Barack Obama and many others also played some golf, too. But Donald Trump is in a league of his own, as sportswriter Rick Reilly put it: “When it comes to cheating, he’s an 11 on a scale of one to 10.”

We assuredly have a right to ask for both better games and better presidents. I understand that a backpacker or cross-country skier might be too much to hope for, but we’re in desperate need of an authentic populist. When we get one, maybe she will bowl or shoot pool.

Michael Baughman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News, where a version of this piece first appeared. He is a writer in Oregon. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily the opinions of the Independent.

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