February 2017
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net


I wrote some lines of dialog of which I am proud, in a play which has never been performed (it is for twenty actresses and was written on a dare). A President of the United States is talking to an ex-CIA agent, both women.

President: Do you think I'm a killer?

Ex-CIA Agent: You're the President of the United States.

When I first read, in 2009, that President Obama had ordered a drone strike, I thought, "He's a killer now." Donald Trump became one as of the bungled Special Forces raid in Yemen, which resulted in the deaths of twenty or so civilians as well as one of our soldiers. The civilians included a small daughter of Anwar Al-Allaki, whose teenage son we also killed "by accident" after we took out Al-Allaki himself with a targeted Hellfire missile.

Of all the public figures who ever swam across my field of vision, Trump is probably the one I would least have wanted to have the power to kill people he didn't like. But that's just me.

Judge Gorsuch

Gorsuch seems highly qualified to be on the Supreme Court. So was Merrick Garland. The Framers apparently imagined a process in which we confirm qualified people regardless of whether we agree with their politics or not. Government, like anything else, is a Prisoner's Dilemma. The most commonly used successful strategy in that game theory model is called "tit for tat": you cooperate with cooperators and betray betrayers. The Republicans played a huge betrayal card by refusing Garland a hearing. They even intimated, had Hillary Clinton been elected, that they would refuse her nominees any hearings for four years. The Democrats should retaliate by filibustering Gorsuch. In the abstruse vocabulary of game theorists, cooperating with betrayers is actually known as the "sucker's payoff". Let's not be suckers.

Fiduciary rule

Trump's acting SEC chair, Michael Piwowar, says that the fiduciary rule is "about enabling trial lawyers to increase profits." But in reality, the purpose of making investment advisers fiduciaries of their clients was to keep Wall Street brokers from being easily able to take the retirement savings of old, naive people and make a lot of commissions frittering away the principal in risky trades. Crap like that happens, a lot; even the Obama administration failed to prosecute anyone for the extremely predatory mortgage games which cost millions their homes and disinvited recently included minorities from the middle class. The Republican Party is running interference for the pirates and gangsters of commerce, and in recent years, they have been given an open season on the rest of us. As a side thought, Republicans love demonizing innocuous and optimistic sounding words and phrases, like "liberal", "safe zone" and "fiduciary".


I went to a heart-breaking Town Board meeting in East Hampton in which white, American born locals, some of them crying, spoke of foreign friends who wanted to attend but were frightened that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would arrest them in the parking lot. That is the world we live in now. You can abuse a woman and then turn her in to ICE, who will be waiting for her at court when she arrives for a hearing on a restraining order. ICE is rounding people up outside or near schools and churches, and when they come to Immigration itself to check in under Obama-era programs. They are bullying and threatening even foreign born American citizens and visa holders in airports. Trump has enabled some very racist, cruel ICE employees who have apparently been waiting for years for their moment.


I am struggling with the attempt being made by Glenn Greenwald and others to compare today's anti-Putinism to McCarthyism, as I am anti-Putin and anti-McCarthy. Am I in a contradictory, hypocritical position? I don't think so. In the main article, I say that in order really to understand any free speech controversy, you have to know first who is speaking to whom, and how much power each holds. McCarthyism involved powerful Congressfolk and fellow traveler journalists bullying and destroying marginal and frightened professors, writers, blue collar workers. Greenwald is saying that journalists criticizing, or in some cases just covering, President Trump, are doing the same thing. This is actually a classic, and discreditable, sleight of hand, in which the right (and people providing covering fire, among whom I regretfully include Greenwald) inverts the First Amendment to argue that it should protect the powerful from being criticized by the weak.

I fear and dislike Putin not because he is ex-Communist but because he is a killer. The vast myopia by which he is viewed by large segments not only of the nationalist right but also, frighteningly, by the progressive left elides the fact that, even in the last few weeks, he has apparently poisoned another dissident, Vladimir Kara-Murza. I don't like people who suppress free speech even by merely bullying and frightening the speakers. People who stand up to Putin sicken from exotic poisons or are mysteriously shot in the head.