Thinking Beyond The Russia Investigation

Yesterday’s entry was an overview of the Russia investigation and where I thought it was going.  I had a hard time sleeping last night.  I saw that Trump was as well.  I was half-expecting Sessions and Rosenstein to be fired via twitter before the day started but the news never arrived.

Before last night, it was difficult to know how things would proceed without knowing if the democrats would take the house.  When it happened, I felt a great sense of calm.  Trump finally had to contend with a real opposition party and the democrats were keen on protecting the Mueller investigation.  Checks and balances.

So with that piece now in place, I started trying to figure out what came next.  Well, Trump is fully aware of the investigative powers of the house and I suspect he’s not too happy about this.  As expected, one of the first things the democrats said with respect to winning the house is that they were going to subpoena Trump’s tax returns.  As soon as those returns make it to the house, there’s a good chance they’ll be leaked to the public and the inner working’s of Trump’s businesses will be available for all to see.  I don’t know exactly what we’ll see, but I don’t think it’ll be good for Trump.  At the very least, I expect to see ties to Russia.

Trump knows all this is coming, along with another wave of investigations that Republicans have been preparing for since August.  So now he needs to make some moves.  As expected, Jeff Sessions was fired today.  Rosenstein is now on the way to the White House and I’m not confident in him keeping his job either.  I’d like to think that whoever is selected to fill these roles will be able to prioritize country over party but I’ve since lost my confidence in Republicans being able to uphold that value.  Right now, it’s looking like Jeff Sessions’s former chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker will be taking over the role.  Concerning as he’s called the investigation a ‘witch hunt’ and was the previous head of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a research firm which dedicated most of their resources to investigating Hillary Clinton.

So what happens after all of this?  Not quite sure.  It’s going to get messy for a bit, especially since the democrats don’t actually take the house until January.  That’s a lot of time to influence public opinion and undermine an investigation.  But I think it’ll be all for naught.  The democratic house has already said that they’ll bring Mueller in for televised hearings if he’s fired.  Also, if I’m not mistaken, the house can reopen the Russia probe and hire Mueller to lead it.  This is why winning the house was so important.

In trying to see through to the other side last night, I saw a step further than I had before.  It was a bit of an ‘oh shit’ moment.  Reports are starting to surface that Trump Jr. is expecting to be indicted.  Same with Roger Stone.  Even Trump himself is likely named as an unindicted co-conspirator in Coen’s campaign finance violation relating to Stormy Daniels.  And while each of these individuals have postured like they wouldn’t flip, I don’t see it.  Those who are self-serving always flip.  Doing hard time for the sake of protecting someone else is a tremendous sacrifice and these just aren’t those people.  If Manafort and Coen flipped, Stone will flip.  If Stone will flip, the only ones left are Trump and his family.

Most people who have been watching intently look at this story as having begun with Trump’s campaign, and assume it ends when Trump is ultimately found guilty of crimes.  That was largely my perspective until last night.  I was aware of what came next, but hadn’t put too much thought into it.  In all likelihood, Mueller will get to Trump.  And Trump will be found guilty.  And then Trump will flip.

That was my big epiphany last night.  Trump is not the extent of this investigation.  If Trump is found to be guilty of conspiring with the Russian government to undermine America’s democracy, they’re going to run an absolute train on him.  He’ll be reduced to a shadow of who he is now, and in that process, will divulge key information on everyone who assisted him the process.  Think Frank Lucas from American Gangster.  I suspect that will be devastating for the Republican party and would not be surprised to see some democrats get exposed as well.  Perhaps even more consequential though, Trump will give up Putin.

I still don’t see a direct link between Putin and Trump, and doubt there ever was.  I think that Putin had a strong preference for Trump over Hillary and saw a means of assisting Trump win the election.  All Putin had to do was deploy his hackers, snag some passwords, access communication records, and release them through a 3rd party who had a reputation for legitimate leaked documents.  And had Putin played it just like that, Trump would have no one to flip on.  My instincts say otherwise though.  My instincts say that Putin wanted dominance and influence over Trump.  To get that, he made Trump look into the camera and ask for his help.  Trump knows this, and I suspect Trump will eventually share this with the FBI.

So what happens to the geopolitical climate when the world’s largest nuclear super power accuses the world’s second largest nuclear super power of attempting to undermine their democracy?  If calmer heads prevail, I suspect action will largely be taken in the form of severe sanctions against Russia.  As Russia has been caught repeatedly trying to influence other referendums like Brexit, I suspect that the US will not be the only one looking at these options.  I also expect for the leaders of some major nations to call for the resignation of Putin, putting further strain on Putin’s control of Russia.

While facing the possibility of losing power in Russia, Putin will have some important decisions to make.  Severe sanctions are likely to cripple his oligarchs, a key element of how he retains his power.  When the Russia people begin to feel the impact of these sanctions, and global leaders are demanding that he step down.. I think the Russian people will lose confidence.  In anticipation of this, Putin will manifest some kind of last stand and I’m yet sure what that will be.

If calmer heads don’t prevail, The US will determine Russia’s attempts to undermine our democracy an act of war.  With a new 700 billion dollar annual budget allocated to the military and some trigger happy cabinet members.. the US may declare war on Russia.  Part of me thinks this is highly unlikely because of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and the understanding that nuclear war should be avoided at all costs.  I think both Russia and the US understand the significance of this.  But maybe not.  Maybe it starts with troops in Ukraine for the sake of retaking Crimea.  Maybe it escalates on the clandestine front.  Maybe it inches forward bit by bit as each side looks to deal blows to the other without triggering a nuclear holocaust.  And maybe we find ourselves back in another cold war.

Or maybe to help navigate impending sanctions, Russia starts to draw some very real lines in the sand.  Maybe Russia collects some allies in North Korea, Serbia, Syria, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia.  You know.. countries that aren’t the biggest fans of the US.  And maybe.. just maybe.. we’ve found ourselves with the backdrop for WWIII.

At this point, its far too soon to tell how this will play out.  I’m always optimistic that calmer heads will prevail, but I also recognize that calm is not a natural state of mind when one is cornered.  This entry wasn’t about promoting the possibility of another world war or cold war, but rather recognizing that this story doesn’t end when Trump pleads guilty.  Instead, it seems to be part 1 of what is a multi-part series.

Remember Remember the 6th of November

(apologies in advance for grammar and spelling. Normally I proof my material before I post but I wanted to have this posted before the results started rolling in.  And I’ve been beckoned to help a friend get to the hospital.. so off I go.)

In my excess of free time over the last couple years, I had to find things to occupy my mind with.  Perhaps what has consumed the most hours is observing, analyzing, and trying my best to understand what’s happening in the world around me.  What seems to have fascinated me most was Trump.  Not him as an individual, but rather his impact on the world.

In 2015, I started writing a screenplay that was intended to be an action movie with a political backdrop which spoke to so much of what’s happening today.  In the script, I had predicted 8 years of Hillary Clinton, followed by a character who had the working title of Nixon 2.0.  The deeply corrupt candidate was to take advantage of all the resentment building up from those who felt like they were losing power to equality.  I saw it as an natural inevitability.. the pendulum effect.  I had to put the project on hold after Trump was elected.

Personally, I thought it was highly likely that Hillary would win that election.  It wasn’t about polls or her credentials, but more so about Trump’s complete lack of character.  I found it difficult to understand how anyone could think that someone who was so instinctually dishonest and self-serving would be capable of fulfilling the role of leader of the free world.  I underestimated the anger, resentment, and latent isms of middle America.  I also underestimated the audacity of Trump to fuel that fear, anger, and hatred as a means of mobilizing a rather meaningful voter base.   I also underestimated the tribalism that led Republicans to vote for someone who they never would’ve supported had he appeared on a democratic ticket.  I also overestimated the character and integrity of the Republican party, thinking that they would maintain their values in the face of a Trump presidency.  And perhaps most importantly, I underestimated how effective the Russians’ disinformation campaign would be.

Leading up to the election, my boss at the time was a Trump supporter.  It surprised me at first as I knew him as a person of character, and someone who deeply valued things like honesty and integrity in others.  It seemed very strange that he would be supportive of someone like Trump, so I had to ask.  The answers seemed to shift depending on the day.  I heard things like, “His kids are very well put together, he’s clearly a good parent.”  Or, “He’s an outsider with a business mind who’s going to drain the swamp.”  Or, “look at how successful he was in business, he’ll bring that same success to the country.”  I offered a different perspective at the time, but also went and did my homework.

In reading up on Trump’s family life, I saw multiple kids across multiple trophy wives, with Trump continually trading in for a new model.  I watched interviews where Trump said that taking care of the kids wasn’t his job.  I read about the sworn testimony from his first wife that he had raped her in a fit of rage and Trump’s lawyer rebutting that you can’t rape your spouse.  I also watched how their kids behaved when they weren’t ‘on’ and saw the ill-effects of excessive nepotism.  His family life was not a reason to find confidence in Trump.

The idea that Trump was an outsider with a business mind was legit.  Washington has no shortage of issues and some new blood is perhaps chief among them.  I’ve long-since wanted to see a top business mind hold that seat, but I never had confidence that Trump was a top business mind or would serve that role well.  Same with draining the swamp.  It desperately needed to be done, but I never had any confidence that Trump would be the one to do it.  If anything, for me, Trump represented the self-serving, short-sighted, self-preservation nature of the swamp itself.

With respect to his business success, I never paid much attention.  I knew he had hotels, The Apprentice, and some other licensing deals but never really saw him as a successful business mind.  It was like the difference between Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary on Shark Tank.  So I decided to do some research on Trump’s history of businesses and discovered: Trump Beverages, Trump: The Game, Trump Airlines, Trump Casinos, Trump Magazine, Trump Mortgage, Trump Steaks, Trump Travel Site, Trump Comms, Trump Tower Tamp, Trump University, and Trump Vodka.  They all had two things in common.  First was that Trump’s primary strategy was licensing his name as a luxury brand.  Second is was that each of these businesses failed.  Serial entrepreneurship does not come without failures, but this was different.  I also looked into the details of how much money he had inherited and found figures ranging from 200-400 million.  Had that money been invested in an SP500 ETF, he would be wealthier today than he is now.  I don’t think you get to call yourself a great business mind under these conditions.

So I brought these rebuttals to my boss and he managed to dance around them a bit but ultimately conceded that Trump probably wasn’t a very good person, but that he had good policies.  I asked how he knew that when Trump was so inherently dishonest?  It seemed like Trump’s primary approach to policy was telling people what they want to hear, when they want to hear it, regardless of whether you have any intentions of following through on it.  He seemed to think that Trump was being honest when discussing the policies he wanted to see move forward, and being a politician when said otherwise.  It wasn’t hard to see the flaw in that logic… his perspective was indicative of something else that I needed to understand better.

I think the dynamic was, and still is tribalism.  He’s never admitted this to me but I suspect his primary source of news is Fox News.  He’s also got a friend in the office who’s thinks he’s smarter than he is, passing along pro-trump perspectives.  He tried the same thing with me after I had done my homework and it was clear that he was repeating talking points more than he was speaking to something he genuinely understood.  Both of them live in small towns and have spent their lives in communities with limited diversity.  Both are staunch conservatives.  Both are also quite wealthy.  The intersection of wealthy conservatives who learn about their world through places like Fox News… that would be the tribe of Trump.  When dealing in tribalism, it’s no longer about right or wrong, honest or dishonest, real or not real.  It’s not about understanding what’s happening and making the most effective decisions.   It’s about loyalty for the sake of power.

Once Trump was elected, both of us were interested to see how it would go.  He thought it would go quite well, I thought it would go quite poorly.  That said, I was always willing to give him a chance and judge his presidency by how he performed in office, and not something that he had done prior.  My personal prediction which I shared with him, was that Trump would ultimately be good for the country, and the world.  Not because he would be so good at being president, but because he would be so bad.  My hunch was that his deeply corrupted character would lead to deeply corrupted actions and that these actions would expose the worst elements of our government, politics, culture, and etc.  And that from those ashes, we could rebuild something better.  Something that was genuinely focused on the greater good and left us all well-positioned for the future.

I remember sitting at home watching the votes role in back in 2016 and seeing Trump steal that win.  I was surprised, but not that surprised.  Perhaps what surprised me most was how much I didn’t understand about the American political system.  For example, Hillary had accumulated more than 2.8 million votes more than Trump, but Trump was able to win the electoral college by a score of 306 to 232.  The swing states which gave him that electoral college lead were won by less than 80,000 votes.  The idea that someone could win a ‘landslide victory’ in the electoral college while receiving 3 million votes less than their opponent, because they won key battle grounds by the slimmest of margins… didn’t strike me as an intelligent application of democracy.

I smelled something fishy.  I wasn’t sure what it was exactly… could be politics as usual.. or could be something else.  I read about potential hacking of voting machines and shadiness in who owned the voting machines. I learned about Trump’s disinformation campaign the Russian disinformation campaign.  I learned about Comey’s role in reopening the investigation at the last minute.  And as the variables stacked on, I realized that this was far from a normal election.  There was certainly a cultural movement behind those who voted from Trump, but everything I saw suggested that there was more to it than that.  But mentioning this to anyone who was a Trump supporter didn’t generate any meaningful conversation.  They were filled with a great sense of pride for backing the winning horse and anything that I might have to say sounded like sour grapes to them.  So I put my head down and got back to work on trying to understand what really happened.

From my perspective, Trump set the tone of his presidency with Sean Spicer’s report of crowd sizes at Trump’s inauguration.  I can’t imagine any modern day president caring enough about the crowd size at his inauguration to instruct Spicer to do what he did.  He didn’t just lie or try to slip one by the press, he doubled down on that lie while trying to shout down those who were inclined to point out the truth.  I knew then that this was going to be a bumpy ride.

While watching and waiting to see how this presidency was going to play out, I was most keen on the investigation into election interference to see if my spider-sense was accurate.    Much like an iceberg, I could only see what had made it to the surface and knew that what had really happened was mostly beneath the surface.  But as time went by, a considerable amount of information was released to the public.  It didn’t paint a clear picture either way, but it certainly suggested that something extracurricular had happened and it probably had something to do with Russia.

 

The sequence of events I’ll list next are not speculation.  Everything here is on the record:

On January 6th, 2017, the intelligence community concluded with high confidence that Russian had engaged in an influence campaign directed at the election.  Later it was confirmed that this campaign was designed to hurt Hillary and help Trump.

On January 10th, Sessions was under oath at his confirmation and said that he did not have contact with Russian officials during the campaign.  It was later determined that he did.  At a follow up hearing, I watched him say “I do not recall” more times than should ever be acceptable for any Attorney General.

Also on January 10th, the Steele dossier is released.  While the author of the dossier seemed credible, it was difficult to verify much of what was written.  In going through it.. much of it seemed plausible.  Even the pee-tape seemed plausible after seeing Trump’s apparent obsession with that one element of the dossier.  The picture that the dossier seemed to paint was that Trump had been compromised through a variety of means.  Given the bigger picture, this looked like a plausible scenario.

In late January, Flynn lied to the FBI about conversations with Russian officials relating to the sanctions the Obama administration had placed on Russia.  On February 13th, Flynn resigns from his role as National Security Advisor.  On the 14th, Trump asks Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

On March 1st, it’s reported that Sessions had contacts with Russian officials (Kislyak) during the campaign, effectively demonstrating that he lied under oath during his confirmation hearing.  The next day, Sessions recuses himself from any investigations relating to the 2016 presidential election.

On March 20th, Comey announces that he’s looking into any connections between the Trump campaign and Russia which may have influenced the election.

On May 9th, Trump fires James Comey, the person leading the investigation into Russia’s attempt to influence the election.  On May 11th, in an interview with Lester Holt, Trump says that the Russia investigation was part of the decision to fire Comey.

On May 17th, The Justice Department appoints Robert Swan Mueller III to lead the investigation into the possible coordination or ties between Russian efforts to influence the election and the Trump campaign.  Mueller wasn’t just a war hero, or the prosecutor who took down the Gotti family or Exxon Mobil, or a former director of the FBI with near unanimous bi-partisan support… he was a consummate professional and a class act in every respect.  If anybody was going to get to the bottom of this, it was likely to be him.

On July 8th, it’s reported that on June 9th, 2016, Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort met with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer.  This prompts Trump Jr. to release a statement saying that it was a short, introductory meeting with an unknown person for the sake of discussing an adoption program.  The next day, it’s reported that Trump Jr. requested the meeting after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

On July 27th,

On October 5th, George Popadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about his efforts to put Trump in touch with Moscow.

On October 30th, Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates surrender to the FBI for charges relating to false statements, financial crimes, and lobbying on behalf of foreign entities without proper disclosure.

On November 30th, Flynn pleads guilty to lying to the FBI and agrees to cooperate with the investigation through a plea agreement.

On February 16th, 2018, Mueller’s special counsel charge 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities and 3 Russian entities with conspiring to defraud the United States and interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

On February 22nd, an indictment is filed against Manafort and Gates which contains 32 charges relating to tax and bank fraud.  On the 23rd, Gates pleads guilty and agrees to cooperate with the investigation.  On the 24th, another indictment is filed against Manafort alleging pro-Ukrainian lobbying efforts.

On April 9th, the office of Michael Coen is raided.  Coen was a personal attorney to Donald Trump and by all accounts, filled the role of ‘fixer’.  This case is referred to the AG for the southern district of New York.

On July 13th, 2018, the special counsel indicts 12 Russian intelligence officers for their hacks against the DNC and Clinton Campaign, and leaking of emails and documents.

On July 16th, Trump meets with Putin and they hold a joint press conference in which Trump seems to accept Putin’s denial of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  The next day, Trump says that he misspoke.

On July 27th, Trump denies a CNN report that he knew in advance of the Russian meeting between the Kremlin-linked lawyer and Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner.  Michael Coen, now cooperating with the Mueller probe is reported to be willing to testify otherwise.

On August 1st, Trump write a tweet calling on his Attorney General to end the Mueller probe.

On August 5th, Trump writes a tweet that the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 was to get information on an opponent.

On August 21st, Paul Manafort is convicted on 8 charges relating to tax and bank fraud.

On September 14th, it was reported that Manafort is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

And since then, it’s seems like Mueller has adhered the the long-standing protocol for not making any major decisions or issuing any indictments leading up to a November election.  By all accounts, that ends tonight.  What happens next will have a profound impact on Americans and the direction of their country.

There’s been wide spread speculation of how Trump will proceed after the mid-term elections.  Some think that Jeff Sessions will be removed from the Attorney General role, allowing for someone with Trump’s best interests in mind to take the position.  Theoretically, this person may be able to end the Mueller investigation, or at least keep the report from reaching the public.  It’s also been speculated that Rod Rosenstein, the man currently overseeing the Mueller probe will be removed.  It’s assumed that he reason why Trump wouldn’t have made these moves prior to the election is because it would be perceived as politically unpopular.

When I look at this sequence of events, and the hundreds if not thousands of other details I’ve observed relating to bigger picture, I can calmly say that something here isn’t right.  There’s a significant amount of information that I’m not privy to which would prevent me from making any conclusions at this point, but that doesn’t prevent me from making an assessment based on what I know.

From what I’ve seen, Trump will likely be found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States relating to Russia’s influencing the 2016 presidential Campaign.  He’s also likely to be found guilty of obstruction of justice for a myriad of efforts relating to undermining the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 campaign.  I would also say it’s highly likely that he’s found guilty of peripheral crimes like campaign finance violations, tax fraud, bank fraud, and the like.

Here are some of the softer details which I’ve considered:

On June 9th, 2016, Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer who had promised compromising information on Hillary Clinton.  On July 27th, Trump gave a news conference where he looked directly into the camera and said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”  He brushed it off as a joke or political rhetoric but I think there’s more to it than that.  I used to play a lot of poker and I learned to read people’s body language.  For most of that conference, his body language was standard Trump.  But during that request, things were very different.  Both hands are firmly gripping the podium instead of his classic hand gestures.  He’s addressing the camera instead of the audience of reporters in front of him.  During the request, he maintains eye contact with the camera for all but one moment.  And in that moment where he looks away, he’s projecting the body language of someone who is deeply conflicted about what he’s saying.  I think he knew it was a genuine request which he was going to try and pass off as political bluster.  I also think that there’s a very good chance that this request is a result of the now infamous Trump Tower meeting just a couple weeks prior.

I’m speculating at this point but if I were Putin and interested in supporting Trump over Hillary, I’d be inclined to provide Trump with as much ammunition as possible.  I would also want to do that in a manner which was effectively untraceable.  That means that I, nor any of my close associates would ever have direct contact with Trump.  Preferably, it would those not directly linked to me speaking with his inner circle.  And it would be imperative to avoid any physical or traceable hand-off.  But despite all this distance, I would still want some personal accountability.  Even if it was only a gesture, something from Trump which explicitly said, ‘I want your help’.  If nothing else, this would leave Trump deeply compromised and easily influenced.  What makes this exercise far less speculative is a detail contained in the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives working to undermine the 2016 election.  Immediately after Trump made that request, Russia began to target Hillary’s emails.

If true, Putin wouldn’t need the alleged pee-tape as he would literally have evidence that Russia deliberately interfered in the election at Trump’s request.  And this would explain a lot.  While Trump has derided just about every political person he’s encountered.. except one.  Trump has shown nothing but respect to Putin and if nothing else, it’s out of character.  It was also very interesting to see their body language while at the Helsinki conference this summer.  For me, I saw someone who looked compromised.  I also found it amusing that when Putin was asked if he had any compromising information against Trump, he issued a classic non-denial denial.

The deeper you dive into the connection between Trump and Russia, the more likely this all seems.  After Trump’s Atlanta Casino’s went bankrupt and nobody else would lend to him, Trump looked like he had finally run out of luck.  But as admitted by his sons, they were miraculously able to get all the funding they needed out of Russia.  As Moscow banks have been repeatedly found guilty of large scale money laundering, I suspect there’s a connection here.  And I suspect this to be a primary reason for why Trump would not issue his tax returns.

The last soft detail that I’d like to lean on here is an old Shakespeare quote, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  This quotes illuminates a rather consistent tell from a guilty conscience.  If Trump was innocent of ‘collusion’, he would be much less likely to tweet “NO COLLUSION!” on a daily basis.  He would also be much likely to embrace the narcissists prayer of there was no collusion.  And if there was, it wasn’t that bad.  And if it was, it’s not that big of a deal.  And if it is, it’s not my fault.  And if it was, I didn’t mean it.  And if I did, you deserved it.

But this all still lies beneath the surface of what’s publicly known.  I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to something as much as I’ve looked forward to seeing Mueller’s report.  For me, Trump represents a great imbalance in the world.  The circumstances that allowed for someone as corrupted as Trump to find himself in the highest seat of power within our known universe shouldn’t exist.  And if they persist, the world will burn.

I drew an interesting analogy the other day.  Trump is to Mueller as Connor McGregor is to Khabib Nurmagomedov.  Both Connor and Trump rose to unprecedented levels of power through non-traditional means, and at the expense of the institutions which got them there.  Both strut around supremely confident in themselves while ignoring glaring errors in their approach to their craft.  Both fully subscribed to their own hype.  Last month, I didn’t just think Khabib would win, I wanted him to win for the sake of restoring balance.  The UFC has become more about prize fighting than about martial arts and I saw that as a detriment to the sport.  When Khabib did what he did (before the Eagle kick), I felt much better about the world.  Not only do I hope the same thing for Mueller’s investigation, I am as confident in Mueller as I was in Khabib.

And that leads us to tonight.. Remember Remember the 6th of November.  Tonight is perhaps one of the most consequential mid-term elections in our Country’s history.  Should the democrats take the House of Representatives, they’ll have the ability to subpoena Trump’s tax returns and begin a slew of investigations into his activities which weren’t possible under a Republican house.  If the democrats take the senate, the entire legislative branch of the government will be looking to hold Trump accountable for his actions.  Up until now, I would have a hard time describing the republicans as anything other than complicit in Trump’s behavior.  Under those conditions, I have a hard time seeing how Trump may last the term.

If the democrats are unable to take the house and or senate, Trump remains in control of three branches of government.  Under those conditions, I’m not sure what Trump will do… but I doubt it’ll be good for democracy or the common person.

If I were to estimate how this plays out…

Democrats win the house and republicans retain a 51/49 split in the senate.  Trump will fire Sessions and Rosenstein and replace them with those who are genuinely loyal to Trump.  Mueller releases multiple indictments in the following days or weeks, including Roger Stone, and Trump Jr.  Having hit the inner circle, Trump pulls every lever he has, looking to block the report, ultimately painting himself into a corner.  Once the report makes its way to the house, it will inevitably be leaked to the public.  The public will then have to decide whether or accept or reject the reality they see.  Most will accept it, some will still reject it as a deep state conspiracy.  The house will move to impeach, but with a Republican controlled congress, I’m still not confident in impeachment.  I think this makes its way to the supreme court.  Despite the supreme court being slightly more partisan than intended, I think they’ll appreciate what’s at stake and act in the interests of justice.  I think Trump spends most of 2019 and 2020 defending a laundry list of charges ranging from conspiracy, to money laundering, to tax evasion, to violating the emoluments clause.  During that time, consumer confidence will reverse course and we’ll enter a recession worse than 2008.  It’ll trigger a global recession that will hit countries like the US and China hardest.  Every institution from global finance to democracy will be questioned.  As it should.

And from those ashes, we will rise.

 

 

Our Most Sensible Division

I do a lot of thinking in the car.  It’s almost like a shower for me.. very meditative.  Yesterday, I literally pulled over to make a note of this thought.

The western world is clearly divided right now.  Democrats vs. Republicans.  Liberals vs. Conservatives.  Blue vs. Red.  Left vs. Right.  Sometimes it seems downright silly… like division for the sake of division.  I can confidently say that I don’t identify with either side.  One champions a compassionate approach but fails to act intelligently.  One champions an intelligent approach but fails to act compassionately.  Neither seems very interested in accountability or honest conversation.  And neither seems to realize that for one side to win, both must win.

With tribalism continuing to be one of my biggest personal frustrations, I’m motivated to understand it.  When I think about why people choose to be divided, the reasons usually aren’t that hard to find.  More often than not, it seems to be driven by fear.  And that fear tends to be driven by scarcity in some way.  Perhaps a scarcity of resources, opportunity, or safety.  In a position of abundance and security, we are much more likely to extend a helping hand to a stranger.  In a position of scarcity and fear, we only take care of those close to us.  As scarcity and fear increase, that circle gets smaller.

This would suggest that in times of peace and abundance, things like Left vs. Right don’t exist.  Yet the liberal and conservative mindset have existed since well before modern politics.  While the politicians certainly have a hand in playing up that narrative, today, perhaps there’s something else worth exploring here.

Humanity seems to be defined by some mode of evolutionary progress.  If you look at what separates our species from other intelligent animals, it’s the rate at which we’ve progressed.  Genetically, we’re almost identical to chimpanzees but in a more practical sense, we couldn’t be more different.  Comparing humans to all other known life, we seem to have stumbled onto the secret sauce of forward progress.  Yet we have such a hard time agreeing on which direction is forward and what should be considered progress.  Maybe, whatever this secret sauce is, it exists primarily is the collective subconscious.

If I were to guess at what that secret sauce might be, I would say it’s how we’ve evolved to instinctually understand the status quo.  Quite simply, there are those who would prefer to maintain it and those who would prefer to challenge it.  Generally speaking, you’re more interested in maintaining the status quo when you’re happy with your situation and challenging the status quo when you’re unhappy with your situation.  Sounds rather sensible doesn’t it?

I had a Eureka moment yesterday: You can’t challenge a status quo which doesn’t exist.  I’m big on challenging the status quo and I’m no stranger to the frustrations of those who look to maintain it in the face of progress.  Yet I was never dismissive of their value to the bigger picture and I think I now understand why.  The status quo seems to provide the foundation on which forward progress is most likely.  If everyone looked to challenge the status quo, what would they challenge?  Sounds like chaos.  Ironically, maintaining the status quo seems like an exercise in order.  Perhaps forward progress is a fine balance between chaos and order.

When I step back and think about how this perspective applies to modern society, a lot starts to make sense.  The right tends to be defined by their conservative approach – aka maintaining the status quo.  The left tends to be defined by their liberal approach – aka challenging the status quo.  Many of history’s great cultural and political clashes can be distilled down to those who wanted change and those who wanted to keep things the same.  And yet both were and probably are necessary.

One dynamic which ties in here is the dichotomy of intelligence vs. compassion.  I’ve found that the left behaves significantly more compassionately than the right while the right behaves significantly more intelligent than the left.  It has crossed my mind that those who lean more towards intelligence are more likely to find success in their lives, especially in their careers.  This would lead towards greater financial prosperity and a higher quality of life.  If you’re aware that you’re enjoying a higher quality of life than the average, would you not be motivated to maintain the status quo?  Would you not be more motivated to support those around you who have used intelligence as a path to success?  Would you not begin to assume that a path of intelligence is more rewarding than a path of compassion?  But what if you leaned more towards compassion?  What if you were sensitive to the injustices in the world and were motivated to pursue equality and social justice more than income?  And what if you were willing to accept financial disparity for the sake of helping others?  And what if you’re aware that you’re enjoying a lower quality of life than average because of that sacrifice, would you not be motivated to challenge the status quo?

The political division of our species sucks.  It often leads me to think that the best solution is no division at all and that we’re destined to arrive at some variation of a cybernetic hive mind.  Perhaps that’s still the case, but maybe not.  There seem to be some evolutionary divisions which have proven rather practical.  Males and females might be the most classic example.. having evolved a remarkably well balanced partnership over the course of evolution (albeit a little bumpy at the moment).  When it comes to the progress we’ve made over the last 10,000 years though, I might just attribute that to the balanced partnership between those who look to challenge the status quo and those who look to maintain it.

If we could learn to see one another as partners in forward progress instead of obstacles between us and power.. I can’t help but think everything would run a little more smoothly.

 

Compelled Patriotism

There have been times where I’ve felt more patriotic than others, but generally speaking, I find it a little strange.

The times where I identified as a patriot, were times where I felt good about how my country was impacting others, and felt aligned with the values my country had displayed.  That doesn’t happen so much these days.  These days, it’s difficult to understand what a patriot really is and whether anyone should want to be one.

The NFL looks to have passed a new anthem policy.  From what I understand, if you’re on the field, you have to stand for the national anthem.  The president’s remarks were something to the effect of, ‘if you don’t want to stand, maybe you shouldn’t be play.  Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.  If you’re not proud of the country, you shouldn’t be here.’  I’ve often said that Trump was going to be one of the best things to happen to this country.  Not because he leads or inspires, but because he’s forcing us to ask questions which weren’t being asked.

What if you’re not proud of the country?

Google defines a patriot as a person who vigorously supports their country and is ready to defend it against enemies or detractors.  Seems pretty straight forward.  So where’s the nuance?  I suppose it would be in how you define supporting your country, and who you determine to be the enemies or detractors.

Some people support their country by displaying the country’s branding as often as possible.  Maybe I should’ve said flag or colors instead of branding, but which is more accurate?  Some people support their country and defend it against enemies by joining the military and fighting overseas.  But how did you know who our enemies were?  Some people defend the country against detractors by protecting the commander and chief.  But what do you think the commander and chief should be protected from?  It seems as though patriotism has more to do with manipulation than it does with national pride.

I’ve struggled with the concept of pride recently,  When to have it, why to have it, and when it’s too much.  I grew up around ‘Azn Pride’.. it was kinda like white pride but Asian.  More often than not, it was about screen names and gamer tags but from time to time, it meant more than that.  It reminded people not be ashamed of where they were from or what they looked like, and gave them a sense of confidence and community among their peers.  But there were also times where Azn Pride was about showing dominance over other groups.  But what are you really proud of at that point?

Personally, I don’t think you can have patriotism without nationalism and nationalism never seems to work well out for anyone.  Nationalism really is a game of us versus them on a global scale.  Not only did we not have a say in where these lines on the map were drawn, we have no choice as to which side of the line we’re born to.  Yet these lines are enforced vigorously.  We are told that the people inside those lines are our brothers and sisters, and that the people outside those lines are potential threats.  And yet our country was built upon those who came from outside the lines.  And is under attack from those who were born here.

Perhaps patriotism is inherently flawed.  Right now, it encourages us to protect our enemies and betray our communities.  We’re told that we’re not patriotic when we don’t follow the direction of our president.  When the values of our people, country, and president are no longer aligned, who deserves our loyalty?  If patriotism is defined by a loyalty to a country, is that better understood as the people of that country, or those who are running it?  People in government demanding loyalty  sounds awfully undemocratic.  In a democratic country, where democracy literally means government for the people by the people.. the answer seems rather obvious.

So what does democratic patriotism look like?  Maybe it’s not necessarily an oxymoron.  I think it looks like a celebration of the people.  It’s a celebration of our diversity rather than a celebration of the red, white and blue.  It’s building monuments to the people who are making the world a better place today rather than arguing over old civil war statues.  It’s marching together for no more wars, and it’s marching together for no more police violence.  It’s not just about celebrating our accomplishments, but about acknowledging our darker moments in arriving here.  And you’re damn right that it’s about being able to take a knee during the national anthem to show your support for those the country has failed.

So what does patriotism look like when the lines between us and them disappear?

 

 

The Illusion Of Privacy

Every so often, I come up with an idea which I think is worth writing about.  When I do, I make a note and then come back to it when I’m ready.  This one is from December, but all the hype around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica suggested it was time.

There seems to be a fair bit of traction behind the #deletefacebook movement and I find that surprising.  But then, less so.

We seem to be in an age where we quickly look for someone to blame.  I can relate to looking at a problem and immediately looking to identify the cause, but there’s often a wide gap between the cause of a problem and someone you can blame.  In many cases, the individual being blamed, even when ‘justified’, is a symptom of a bigger problem that isn’t being acknowledged.  It’s why problems usually find ways to persist when you remove the symptom.

In a world where people are quickly looking to label the bad guy, I find a lot of people blaming businesses or technology.  Something something corporations are ruining the world.  Something something technology is destroying humanity.  I find this perspective rather challenging.  As far as I know, technology and business becomes rather hollow when you remove people from the equation.  In that sense, both are extensions of our own humanity.  Both are tools we’ve developed over time to help us accomplish more with less.  Understanding that these tools are a reflection of our own humanity, we accept that we can be capable of both good and evil.  From fireworks to gunpowder, from missiles to rockets.

What I’m getting at is that if we want to move past the blame game and start looking to solve the problems we’re facing, we need to look at the people.  It’s people who are behind the development of this technology.  It’s people who are behind the companies like Cambridge Analytica.  And it’s people who are allowing themselves to be taken advantage of by both.  So it’s about time we look at the people involved.

For the most part, I place very little responsibility on the tech developers at Facebook, or anywhere else for that matter.  Almost every piece of technology that’s made, is made to solve a problem.  If it doesn’t solve a problem, it becomes obselete.  Throughout history, people have shown a desire to be more connected with one another.  Technological advancements in transportation brought us from horseback riding to hyperloops.  In communication, we went from telegraphs to texting.  Along the way, we realize that we didn’t have to physically be in the same place to have a social interaction with someone.  To some extent, we realized that we didn’t even need the other person to be there at all.  Asian Avenue, Apartment 107, Black Planet, Myspace… all pre-cursors to Facebook and show a continuum of what we were trying to accomplish.  The internet gave us this great platform where we could connect digitally instead of physically, and it was a dynamic that we clearly wanted to explore.  Had it not been Facebook, it would’ve been someone else.  And to think that this evolution stops at Facebook would be be unwise.  Social Media wasn’t a lab experiment from Silicon Valley, it was a social evolution, started by, driven by, and consumed by people.  Facebook just happens to be the playground we chose to play in today.

The blade is a tool, indifferent to whether it cuts the flesh of your enemies or a dinner for your friends.  It’s the person who chooses how to use the tool.  Could Facebook have made it more difficult for Cambridge Analytica to do what they did?  Probably.  What happened to #DontBlameTheVictim?  Maybe it only applies to people..  Regardless, understanding what happened at Cambridge Analytica is definitely the fun part.

Cambridge Analytica was a firm who realized that Facebook could be used as a platform for modern political propaganda and did so with a high level of efficacy.  That’s it.  I’m trying to see why it’s more complicated and complex than this, and I don’t think it is.  Propaganda isn’t a new or foreign concept.  For as long as there’s been politics, there have been people trying to manipulate the message for the sake of political gain.  And America has probably used those tools more frequently and effectively than any other government in the last 100 years.  How much has been used against its own citizens and how much has been used in countries abroad is anyone’s guess.  But just as propaganda found its way into print media, broadcast media, and digital media, it would surely make its way into social media.

Cambridge Analytica looks like they may have been up to some other shady political tactics.  If they happened, it just strengthens the case that politics desperately needs to be removed from governance.  But politics is how the powerful stay in power so perhaps that’s too big of a topic to tackle here.  What is worth focusing on though is what Cambridge Analytica was able to do and why they were able to do it.  After having watched all the hidden camera footage from Channel 4, one thing stood out to me more than anything else – their goal of targeting people’s fears.

The only thing that Facebook really provided Cambridge Analytica with were details on the things that you liked and didn’t like.  The sinister part was when they took the details of each voter profile and used them to created targeted groups based on what they were most afraid of.  If you were from a southern community which had lost jobs to immigrants, it was ‘build that wall’.  If you were afraid of a change in gun legislation, it was ‘Hillary will take your guns’.  If you were concerned with political corruption, it was ‘drain the swamp’.  Whatever you were afraid of, they would play to your fears.  While most people know that making decisions from a place of fear isn’t great, not everybody knows why.   Turns out it’s literally the wrong part of the brain for making these decisions.  The part of the brain which governs emotions like fear, is different from the part of the brain which governs rational thought.  People are navigating this propaganda in an emotional state of mind instead of a rational state of mind.  Instead of being able to think critically and rationally about the content that’s in front of them, they’re thinking emotionally and looking for an enemy.

And this is where I let Cambridge Analytica off the hook.  They should be held accountable for what they did, but then, we should also be held accountable for what we let them do.

The first few times I saw a juicy headline on Facebook, I definitely clicked through.  Juicy headlines and misdirection have been around since well before the Facebook news feed so it’s not like I was being duped, I was just sufficiently curious.  But each time was a let down.  The headline was always better than the content.  So I learned to stop clicking on what was eventually termed ‘click-bait’.  Seemed straight forward.

Over time, digital publications like BuzzFeed and Vice started popping up on my timeline.  They were far more legitimate than the click-bait articles I was used to, but something else was going on.  These publications also realized they had tapped into fear.  The fear of being a racist, the fear of being a sexist, the fear of being transphobic, and perhaps most importantly, the fear of being on the wrong side of a movement which seemed to be based on the virtuous pursuit of equality.  Their approach was more nuanced than Cambridge Analytica.  Instead of pushing raw propaganda to their audience, these digital publications started editing interviews or not properly sourcing articles, looking to craft a narrative which their audience was hungry for.  They were more interested in providing a narrative which made you feel good about what you already thought.  When you think you have the moral high ground, confirmation bias can be a dangerous thing.

But not everyone fell for it.

Not everyone took Jordan Peterson’s Vice interview at face value.  Not everyone liked or shared memes saying ‘The South Will Rise Again’.  Not everyone saw a comment section where everyone was agreeing with them and jumped right in.  Not everyone avoided a perspective that challenged their own.  And for those who did debate, not everyone approached it as a battle of them versus us.  Some of us couldn’t help but look at it as us versus the problem.

The problem isn’t privacy.  The problem isn’t Facebook.  The problem isn’t even Cambridge Analytica or the shady politicians they help put in positions of power.  The problem is us.

The problem is us.

When tools stop working, people stop using them.  Propaganda is the tool, and it will be used as long as we keep letting it work.  If we #deletefacebook, I can all but guarantee that this propaganda will follow us whichever social media channel we choose to spend those hours.  If we put the team at Cambridge Analytica behind bars, I can all but guarantee that another organization will take its place.  So why is our reaction still to place blame instead of facing the reality that this is about accountability.

If you think that sharing information about yourself makes you a better target for people looking to take advantage of you, welcome to the world.  But there’s hope.. and perhaps things are darkest before dawn.

I’ve learned to live my life like an open book.  I’ve abandoned the illusion of privacy.  I understand that information is more valuable when fewer people have it, but I also understand that knowledge is most valuable when everyone has it.  Digging deep on why people value privacy, it almost always comes back to a fear of what others will do with their private information.  So I choose to live without a fear of what others would do if they knew everything about me.

And – it – is – glorious!

I really couldn’t care less if Facebook showed to the public: my health records, my genealogy, my personal finances, my relationship history, purchasing behaviour… all of it.  To some extent, I wish they would.  I would gladly take that risk to try and demonstrate that transparency isn’t itself a risk.  In reality, our ability to share more information with one another has been at the core of every big leap forward our species has taken.  From a spoken language, to a written language, to the printing press, to the internet.  We just seem to have momentary lapses in judgement where we’re afraid of what will happen when only some of us can access that information.

We’ve now arrived at a point where between Facebook, Google, Apple and the NSA, there isn’t much that isn’t known about us.  The data is already being collected and unless you’re keen to go live off the grid, it won’t stop.  Who gets access to that data is largely out of our control.  There will always be bad actors with innovative ideas on how to abuse that dynamic… which means we either have to accept that we’re screwed, or find a way to rise above it.  I choose to rise above it.

My choice is that when someone takes the time to learn about me, and to use that information to take advantage of me, I’m prepared.  Not only am I prepared to be critical of the information I’m being presented with, I’m also prepared to be critical of my own actions if I allow myself to be misled.  It’s not always easy and I’m not always perfect, but when you let go of right and wrong and prioritize the truth, seeing through the noise becomes much easier.

I think that everyone’s life will be impeded by dishonesty and misdirection at some point, but I think it’s worth considering that it’s our tendency to be dishonest with ourselves which impedes our progress most.  A fear of how others might perceive us and how that might impact our lives.  But what happens when we let that fear guide us?  What happens when everyone had the ability to project to the world what they thought the world wanted of us?  Social Media gave us that ability and we’ve used it to create noise.  It’s a feedback loop of confusion where people struggle to understand the disconnect between how we present ourselves and who we really are.  And the closer we get to facing the truth, the louder we yell ‘Privacy!’

Or we could just let go.  When I imagine a world that has abandoned the premise of privacy, I see a world which has embraced the value of transparency.  I see a world that has truly realized the value of honesty.  A world where every piece of information is always available to every person.  I can’t help but think about that being the ultimate equalizer.

 

Decentralized journalism

Had an idea the other day.  I think it could be a big one.

Decentralization is something I’ve paid a great deal of attention to over the years.  We’ve seen it tackle the taxi industry, hotels, and several forms of media.  Next, I’m keen to see how it tackles things like energy and currency.  In each case, the premise seems rather simple:  Make better use of the resources we already have, and let technology shoulder the workload of keeping things organized.

Every great business is a solution to a very real problem.  In this case, the solution is to the problem of modern journalism.  Currently, journalism places a greater emphasis on being first than it does on being right.  Sensationalism has replaced accuracy.  Journalism has become more about producing ammunition than telling a story.  And it needs to change.

There’s a curious link between humans, size, power, and corruption.  The bigger we get, the more power we’re inclined to have, and the more power we’re inclined to have, the more susceptible we are to corruption.  The news industry in America became tremendously powerful over the decades, and was far more centralized than most people realized.  Even today, organizations like Sinclair and Fox are making significant moves to expand their political reach.  Anytime an industry gets big and corrupt like this, it’s time for decentralization to save the day.

My idea is a news platform which would allow journalists to earn a living while maintaining their independence and their integrity.  While also holding them accountable.  I realized that while I knew the names of all these news anchors, I couldn’t name the author of a single article I had read in the last week.  The twisted thing is that I barely watch any cable news – and I real a lot of articles.  Why didn’t I know their names?  It was because they were promoted as secondary to the organization they were reporting on behalf of.  I wonder what journalism would look like if journalists were front and center for their work?

Similar to a Google news feed or Reddit, your feed would be a collection of news articles curated around your interests.  What would make it different though, is that the person behind the article would also be well profiled.  These individuals deserve to be recognized for the work that they’re doing.  By letting good journalists be closely associated with their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing and build a reputation for it.  By letting poor journalists be closely associated for their work, they can be recognized for what they’re doing as well.

How these journalists would be profiled is a very interesting question.  An overall 5 star review system would probably be part of it, but maybe not.  Maybe the 5 star rating system is a better predictor of popularity than competence.  I know that for me personally, the biggest concerns in journalism are honesty and accuracy.  So maybe the first thing that gets added to the profile is a bullshit meter.  If you used alternative facts in a story you wrote, the people reading should know that and be able to hold you accountable.  And that becomes part of your profile..

Most of our news today is delivered to us through a TV personality, quoting another news organization, using a piece of information gathered by one of their journalists, who used an anonymous source to report what they heard.  By the time you hear it, you’re not sure what to make of it.  Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.  Who knows by the time it makes it to you.  But what if the journalist who broke this news, had an immaculate track record with their news releases?  What if they used anonymous sources?  Would you care if they’ve always been accurate?  Personally, I don’t mind the use of anonymous sources if they’re being verified by someone who I trust.  Not all anonymous sources should be treated equally.

So we would want everyone to be held accountable to the same standards of honesty.  How that would be accomplished exactly, I’m not sure.  I think it would probably do well to partner with an existing fact checking organization, but the best solution would involve the community holding its own community members accountable.  Something I enjoy thoroughly about the comment section on Reddit (depending on the subreddit), is that the most upvoted comment is often one that adds more clarity to the article.  Sometimes it’s for calling out the article on inaccuracies, sometimes it’s by providing additional sources to elaborate on a point.  I think that a community like this would be imperative to this platform’s long-term success.

The next thing I’d like to see on journalist prifles are accuracy of speculative statements.  If you have someone who’s always telling you how things are going to turn out, it’s important to know how often they’re right.  Those who are able to predict the future with a high degree of accuracy should probably be listened to more.  Those found to be crying wolf too often, should probably be heard less.  Allowing for people to be held accountable to these speculative statements will hopefully drive more practical discussions and limit unreasonable fear mongering.

However this profile ends up looking, it’s purpose is to give the audience context about who they’re hearing the story from.  It’s to help create an informed reader, while encouraging journalistic integrity.  Especially in a climate like this, I’m confident in the value of honesty.  I’m confident in the peoples’ value of journalistic integrity and honesty, but I’m also sympathetic to their distrust of large media corporations controlling the dialogue.  This would be a big step in separating the two.

I think this would have to work in tandem with a user profile as well.  One of the biggest issues we run into in modern media are thought bubbles and echo chambers.  Perhaps a way around that is having an algorithm track your bias.  For example, if your political bias shows that you’re off center, the algorithm would include some of the most credible articles that might disagree with your views.  A balanced perspective is key, and there’s no evidence to suggest that everything in your news feed should be something that you agree with.

Another element of this platform is that it would welcome all sources of media.  Podcasts are the new radio.  YouTube is the new TV.  This is about inclusivity of talent, and allowing merit to drive the spotlight.

Now how would you go about attracting all these high quality reporters away from their existing jobs?  Promise them the flexibility and freedom to write about whatever they’d like, at whatever place they’d like to write at?  Too easy.  Tell them they get to work from where ever they’d like, as little or as often as they’d like?  Meh.  Promise them that they’ll be the one’s who are recognized for their articles and that they have the ability to build a personal brand around their craft?  Maybe.  Or maybe tell them that they’ll have a 50% revenue split with all ad revenue generated by their articles.  Bam.

People might say that democracy is dying when Trump is elected while half the American voting population stays home.  Yet we’re liking, and up-voting more than ever.  I think we enjoy voting, it’s just that there’s a bit of a cost reward calculation going on.  Putting some big up-votes behind some talented journalists who aren’t afraid to put their neck on the line to expose those big truths… we could bring them to the mainstream.  We could make heroes out of them and remind ourselves of the ideals we should be striving for.  We could give journalism the home it deserves.

So where to start?  School news papers of course.  I\ve learned that when looking to the future, look to the kids.  Go to the high schools, universities and colleges, and show them how easy it is to move their school publication on to this platform.  Instead of having to run everything through the bureaucracy of a normal news paper or site, have your journalists operate independently.  Teachers might not be into it. Some parent’s might be concerned.  But that’s the point.  And the fun.  Have the conversations that they don’t want you to have.  Talk about the things that you’ve been told not to talk about.  Dig into the real.  And imagine how real that gets at a university paper.  And imagine the power of a platform like this taking hold at an academic level, and producing the fierce, confident, intelligent, rational journalists that are capable of providing us with an honest and accurate view of the world.

Wouldn’t that be something.

There’s a Storm Coming

I tried to write an entry on reverse seniority last night.  I couldn’t do it.  I’m bugging out.

No cannabis.  That’s probably part of it.

I have a brain that doesn’t turn off, a large appetite for information, and an obsession for understanding things.  Something I’ve been doing since high school is recognizing patterns and using them to predict what comes next.  Nothing is concrete, just possibilities and probabilities.  Too many variables to keep track of, but sometimes you can see part of the picture and filling in the rest isn’t so tough.

Coming from an investment background, it’s difficult to ignore what I see in the markets.  Bonds are paying next to nothing.  The equity market hasn’t had a major correction in about 10 years.  The housing market is on tilt.  Even crypto is now detached from reality.  Besides my private equity investments, I’m now in 100% cash for the first time in my life.  It’s like being at a poker table with a bunch of drunk rookies.  I have chips, I know how to play, but when everyone else at the table is throwing money at shitty hands… you have to be patient.  Some days are easier than others.

My friends and I used to battle it out for who could be more generous.  We’d always enjoy trying to pay for one another.  Now we’re too poor to hang out with each other.  Half of them still live with their parents to avoid paying rent.  I look at my generation and I see an epidemic of drugs used to treat an epidemic of depression.  If it wasn’t for my drive and my lack of emotions, I’d probably be in the same boat.  Considering how much weed I was smoking, maybe I was in the same boat.  I’m surrounded by a generation of kids who were told that if they stayed in school and worked hard, they’d be able to land themselves a good career and that a good career would lead to a comfortable life.  I’m surrounded by a generation of the most educated kids we’ve ever produced, entering into a rapidly deteriorating job market, with the highest cost of living we’ve experienced in modern history.  We’re barely treading water.  Something’s gotta give.

Maybe it’s the birth rate.  Maybe this is how we cull the population.  I literally broke up with the first girl I thought I’d marry because she was fixated on having children in the immediate future.  I wasn’t willing to bring a family into this world without building a foundation first.  The biological clock is real.  And my heart goes out to the women struggling to understand what they should be doing at a time like this.

I saw Paul Ryan on TV the other night saying that the Republican tax reform was going to give the middle class the boost it needed to get back to having kids.  What a bold faced lie.  But that’s become the status quo for American politics.  Only a few of us will actually put the effort into understanding what’s going on.  The rest of us will just pick a team.  Red or Blue.  By picking a team, we think we’re taking a stand for what we believe in.  But we’re not.  Red or Blue, it’s the same song and dance.  The value of a politician isn’t a function of policies, their ability to inspire, or their ability to govern – it’s their ability to raise funds for their campaign.  Why?  Because the best campaign wins the seat.  But in the age of billion dollar campaigns, where is this funding coming from?  Big business and the top 1%.  So is an elected official’s loyalty to the people who voted for them?  Or to the people who paid for them?  If you’re not sure, I suggest you ask net neutrality.

With problems this obvious though, how are we not motivated towards change?  I’d argue that we are.  Trump was elected for exactly that reason.  As much as I liked Obama, he didn’t do enough to stop what was coming.  People were left behind.  All the pain and disillusion that we’re seeing in major cities today, the rural towns were ahead of the curve.  But they were team red.  They were loyal.  And someone on team red came along and said I have all the answers, here’s who you should blame, and if they ever say otherwise, they’re lying.  MAGA.  And half the country became complicit.

But maybe this is just what we needed.  When Trump was elected, I knew he didn’t have the character, integrity, or intelligence to be a great president, but I was open to the possibility of him being a good president.  As things started to play out, I knew that ship had sailed.  What did occur to me though is that he might still be valuable.  He might be so crooked, so corrupt, and so incompetent that the world couldn’t help but see that he had reached the most powerful seat in the world – not by merit – but through the abuse of American ignorance and a system which has been compromised beyond repair.  And maybe that would be our motivation.

You know what I wanted for Christmas this year?  Mueller.  I check my newsfeeds at least a dozen times a day.  Every time I do, I hope to see another piece of the puzzle.  Eventually, I hope to see justice.  And perhaps justice means that Trump is exonerated from crimes which he didn’t commit.  But I doubt it.  And I’m good at predicting these things.

So what happens when one of the most respected law enforcement officials of all time lifts the veil on the real Donald Trump?  What do those tax returns actually look like?  How much is he actually worth?  Who does he actually owe money to?  And what happens if there was collusion?  Will it be enough to shatter the image and faith placed in Trump?  I hope so.

I see the clouds on the horizon, and I can hear rumbles of thunder, but the storm is still too far away.  And I wanna dance in the rain.

I don’t know what that first crack of lightning will be.  Maybe it will be Trump going to jail.  Maybe it’ll be the Republicans refusing to impeach him.  Maybe it’ll be a loss of consumer confidence that triggers an overdue recession.  Maybe it’ll be the bond bubble that’s been growing since the last recession.  Maybe it’ll be China’s house of cards that finally topples.  Or maybe it’s on us.  Maybe we finally realize that you and I aren’t so different.  Maybe we realize that we aren’t the enemy.  Maybe we realize that we’re in this together…. and maybe we march together, up those stairs, and tell them that this does not belong to you.

And tear the whole. god. damn. thing. down.