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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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.

Published in Politics

On this week's weekly Independent comics page, which could be fired by Donald Trump at any moment: The K Chronicles checks in with Republican Sen. Jerry Mandering; This Modern World examines a confederacy of sociopaths; Jen Sorenson hails the freedom to be screwed; Red Meat needs to use the bathroom; and Apoca Clips looks in on the shenanigans of Lil' Trumpy.

Published in Comics

On this full-of-flowers (post-April showers) weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson sees the messenger being smeared; The K Chronicle revels in the Fyre Festival debacle; This Modern World uses the border wall as a metaphor, sort of; Apoca Clips looks at laptops on airplanes; and Red Meat enjoys a meteor shower.

Published in Comics

On this week's World War III-fearing weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World looks at how government works today; Jen Sorenson debates a sarcasm alert; The K Chronicles revels in the plus side of being married; Red Meat needs help with a move; and ApocaClips takes to the seas.

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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.

Published in Community Voices

On this week's high-as-a-kite weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles exolls the virtues of home schooling; This Modern World breaks down another public-outrage scandal; Jen Sorenson wishes times were changing a bit more; Red Meat dresses up as The Hulk; and Apoca Clips checks in at a press conference.

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NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters)—Tens of thousands of people marched through midtown Manhattan and dozens of U.S. cities on Saturday to demand that President Donald Trump release his tax returns and to dispute his claim that the public does not care about the issue.

Organizers of “Tax March” in more than 150 cities across the country and beyond wanted to call attention to Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax history, as his White House predecessors have done for more than 40 years.

The marches coincide with the traditional April 15 deadline for U.S. federal tax returns, though the filing date was pushed backed two days this year.

At least two rallies were planned locally: one this morning at the Palm Springs IRS headquarters, and one at 5 p.m. this evening at Frances Stevens Park in downtown Palm Springs.

There were no reports of violence or arrests, in contrast to a clash between Trump supporters and opponents that erupted at a rally in Berkeley, where nine people were arrested.

Two of the biggest tax marches took place in New York and Los Angeles, with each drawing about 5,000 people, according to estimates by Reuters reporters. No official estimates were immediately available.

In Manhattan, a good-natured crowd rallied at Bryant Park before marching up Sixth Avenue to Central Park. Among the marchers was an oversized inflatable rooster, sporting an angry expression and a sweeping metallic orange hairdo meant to resemble Trump’s signature style.

“Thanks to Trump, I think that releasing your taxes when you run for president now has to be a law,” said New Yorker Marni Halasa, 51, who arrived in a tutu and leggings made of fake dollar bills and holding a sign that read “Show Me the Money!”

In Washington, more than 1,500 protesters gathered on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol, where members of Congress addressed the crowd before it marched to the Lincoln Memorial.

“We are taking the gloves off to say, ‘Knock off the secrecy, Mr. President,’” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which would play a leading role in tax reform measures being considered in Congress.

He described Trump’s refusal to release his taxes as being “like a teenager trying to hide a lousy report card.”

Among the marchers was Melinda Colwell, 34, a stay-at-home-mother from Ledyard, Conn. She said she was concerned that conflicts of interest in Trump’s tax returns might foreshadow selfish interests in his tax-reform policies.

“I think it’s important to know how that could influence his decisions and how he could benefit from the decisions being made,” she said.

As a candidate and as president, Trump has refused to release his tax returns, citing an ongoing audit by the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS has said that Trump can release his tax returns even while under audit.

The White House could not be reached immediately for comment on the marches.

Events were also planned in cities in Europe, Japan and New Zealand.

The marches were launched by a single tweet, organizers said. A day after the massive Jan. 21 women’s march in Washington and other cities, comedy writer Frank Lesser tapped out on Twitter, “Trump claims no one cares about his taxes. The next mass protest should be on Tax Day to prove him wrong.” It has been retweeted more than 21,000 times.

In Los Angeles, television director Mike Stutz turned up at the march dressed in costume as a Russian general and said he was called General Bullshitski. He carried a sign that read: “What Tax Returns? Putin Paid Cash. Trust Your Oligarchs,” referring to allegations of contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin.

Joe Dinkin, spokesman for the Working Families Party, one of the groups organizing the marches, said investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged connections to Russia underscore the need to disclose his returns.

“Without seeing his taxes, we’ll never really know who he’s working for,” said Dinkin, who expects the marches to draw at least 100,000 protesters.

There have been some glimpses into Trump’s tax history. Last month, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow reported on two pages of Trump’s 2005 return that were obtained by investigative reporter David Cay Johnston and released by DCReport.org. They showed Trump paid $38 million in taxes on more than $150 million in income.

In October, The New York Times reported that Trump had declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 federal tax return, citing three pages of documents from the return.

(Additional reporting by Dana Feldman in Los Angeles and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Alistair Bell)

Published in National/International

On this week's grossly overbooked weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat tries to build a better mousetrap; Apoca Clips ponders Syria; Jen Sorenson looks at a double-standard regarding the treatment of children; The K Chronicles tells a story about how just one teacher can make a difference; and This Modern World examines life during wartime.

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Not far from the White House, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Yayoi Kusama’s blockbuster retrospective show Infinity Mirrors has been attracting insanely large crowds of people who stand in line, eager for the 20-second stretches of disorientation inside Kusama’s infinity rooms.

The rooms use facing mirrors, hanging lights and polka dots to create vistas of infinite regress. As art, it is perhaps underwhelming—an empty spectacle with no real depth. But as I stood in “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” I snapped a picture and realized it was far more compelling on my screen than in life—perfect art for the age of the selfie.

On my phone, I saw myself in a Blade Runner-like world of “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” as the lights created towering psychedelic spires surrounded by replicants of myself. It was impossible to tell which one was real—because none of them were. They were all reflections on the screen.

I felt a similar sense of vertigo a few days earlier at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing regarding Russian active measures—or propaganda—intended to use the refracting mirrors of the Internet to disrupt our election.

“What’s hard to distinguish sometimes is: Did the Russians put it out first, or did Trump say it and the Russians amplify it?” said Clint Watts, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, to reporters after his testimony on Trump’s embrace of propaganda conspiracies. “He actually repeats propaganda put out by RT or Russian sources and, vice versa, they parrot him.”

Reflections reflecting reflections again and again so that nothing is true.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Russia’s propaganda strategy was designed and perfected by Vladislav Surkov, who brought postmodern theory to the Kremlin, creating and managing Russian political reality like performance art. When he was sanctioned by the United States for his role in the invasion of eastern Ukraine, which he largely orchestrated, he said he didn’t mind. “The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”

In Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, he writes that “Surkov’s genius has been … to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose.”

Pomerantsev says that Surkov turned Russian politics into a reality show.

Then, as if in a new kind of arms race, we elected a real reality-show star as president.


I wrote that just before I heard that Trump had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airbase after pictures of gassed children in that country changed the president’s mind about intervention. He explained the strike to the nation in a statement recorded at his country club.

Our country is making one of the most serious decisions possible, and yet, locked in our mirror rooms of constant conspiracy, we have no way to know what is actually happening. We don’t know whether Trump is trying to show that he is independent of the Kremlin, or whether this is another one of Putin’s ploys as he manipulates Trump. Trump himself has told us not to trust the intelligence community, and no one has any reason to trust Trump.

In “Without Sky,” a pseudonymous short story generally attributed to Surkov and set after the “fifth world war,” he describes the “the first non-linear war,” a war “of all against all.”

“A few provinces would join one side,” he writes. “A few others a different one. One town or generation or gender would join yet another. Then they could switch sides, sometimes mid-battle. Their aims were quite different. Most understood the war to be part of a process. Not necessarily its most important part.”

This sounds precisely like the situation we are getting into—Assad, ISIS, Russia, American-backed rebels, Iran, and now Trump’s Tomahawks. All sides shifting. Regardless of the aims of this attack, the spectacle and confusion are good for Trump and Putin. And bad for the Syrian people who will continue to die. Those who escape will be denied entry into the U.S. as refugees.

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” NBC’s noted fabulist Brian Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

Surkov couldn’t have scripted it better. It is so disorienting, but it all feels somehow familiar.

I was 18 the night we went into the Gulf War in 1991. Those missile launches were prompted in part by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, which collaborated with one of the chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to present fabricated testimony to the caucus about atrocities committed by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait. But we were all mesmerized by the night-vision green missiles flying through doors.

In 2003, we went back to Iraq on the basis of another massive PR campaign.

Perhaps the best way now to know if something is propaganda is when they say it is not. Marco Rubio—who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the way—went on CNN to praise Trump and call the attack “an important decisive step ... not a message.”

But a step toward what? Do we want to take out Assad? At this moment, nobody knows. But people are lining up behind Trump. He will realize war, the ultimate image enhancer, is good for him.

“Trump became president of the United States (last night),” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said the next morning.

It’s like we’re all trapped in one of Kusama’s infinity rooms, waiting for the missile to burst through the door. But we don’t know where the door is. We have lost all orientation.

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.

Published in National/International

On this week's growing weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World checks in with Sean Spicer; Jen Sorenson examines Neil Gorsuch's record; The K Chronicles gets an odd Facebook friend suggestion; Red Meat welcomes some religious proselytizers; and Apoca Clips debuts with the president visiting the new barber shop.

Published in Comics