Book Review: The Mueller Report

The Mueller Report by Robert S. Mueller makes for a somewhat different kind of book review.

Well, I did it. I slugged through the entire report. It’s all free online, don’t even have to steal it.

As eBooks go, this is not the most entertaining page-turner. There are a lot of footnotes, for example, which tend to interrupt the flow.

Moreover, as a narrative this is one of the all-time most anticlimactic stories ever told.

Rather than a book to be judged on its own merits, it’s really more about the news cycle context than anything else.

All this makes it rather difficult to review.

But let us try. Firstly, the context of Volume I: This section heavily details Russian interference in that infamous 2016 election via social media spamming as well the DNC hack. Is this still a controversial fact in some circles? If you are interested in learning about the IRA—the Internet Research Agency—this report is as good a source as any. If you dismiss it as a left-wing conspiracy theory fake news or something, then apparently nothing will truly convince especially some legalistic government report.

The schizophrenia of the U.S. government at this time is quite fascinating, how the highest level of the executive branch can have such a different spin than the entire intelligence apparatus (although recent tweets may have finally admitted that he had help, if tweets are something we are going to get into then).

Which perhaps is the whole point. In these post-truth times, can anyone be convinced of anything anymore?

Then we have endless detail on collusion. Yes, outright collusion. There’s a colorful cast of characters, such as foreign policy “expert” George Papadopoulos and the ever-present diplomat Sergey Kislyak. There’s Richard Gates, Roger Stone, and of course Don Jr. and the big tower meeting. What a stream of reports and reports and reports about how much they welcomed Russian help and even tried and failed to further collude but couldn’t get as far as they’d have liked due to incompetence.

It does not make for a very satisfying read. To learn all this, and then find out that the legal definition for conspiracy is so narrow that they ultimately find it inconclusive and ultimately don’t charge the big guy. Cue the insipid right-wing exoneration talking points.

One particularly close example of what may be illegal, as far as specifically trading campaign work for favors, is the question of the Republican party changing their stance on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine at the RNC convention. This highlights the entire problem with the report right there–we have a question that is unanswered. Did or didn’t officials in the campaign trade influence? This subject even part of the written answers with the president, which were dismissed and sadly not followed up on. More on that failure of a Q & A below.

These near-misses continue; again and again it’s a running theme. Was it illegal for Don Jr. to have a meeting with Russians, whether or not it was really about adoptions? The answer is yes, due to campaign finance law, that’s clearly against the law. But then… they say let’s go ahead and not charge him because he probably didn’t know it was illegal and it would be hard to prove intent in court and whatever in this case ignorance of the law is apparently a valid excuse.

So much painstaking research, and so much giving up. These impossible standards keep making it frustrating for the reader.

Not that there aren’t plenty of convictions and crimes uncovered. Paul Manafort was a pretty large get, let’s acknowledge that. But when it comes to the most powerful of the powerful, there is a sense of exasperation. That in the end, America is about protecting those who are too big to lose and the system will always find a way to make sure those on top will never face the consequences they deserve.

And at least we reach Volume II: Obstruction. Here is where it may or may not get good. There are the ten examples of the president unambiguously obstructing justice to the best of his ability. Public witness-tampering, changing the story on firing Comey, live on TV no less, demands of loyalty, et al. There’s quite a lot of that whole thing.

[And please don’t give me that line about how there can’t be obstruction if there’s no underlying crime. 1: That’s not true, period. If it was true, wouldn’t it be an incentive to obstruct because if it works criminals would get away with the crime? 2: More importantly, there were so many crimes! The president’s own personal lawyer Cohen lied about the Moscow tower, is in jail now, and let’s not even get into the campaign finance violation with the porn star affair hush money. If nothing else simply firing Comey in order to protect his friend Michael Flynn, a convicted criminal, then that is clearly obstructing justice. It’s not only about evidence of collusion/conspiracy at the top. There’s still plenty of obstructing investigations if only to protect his dirty circle. If that’s not corrupt, what is?]

So, then it all ends in a pathetically lame copout in which DOJ guidelines say they can’t indict so they don’t bother indicting. Yes, Mueller went on television trying to explain his logic puzzle of how you can’t charge a crime against someone who can’t go to trial, even though at the same time it’s not an exoneration, punting to Congress as he hints that only they can hold the office to account. Yeah, like oversight is going to go well.

This is the core frustration of this document, and of this entire era we live in. It is postmodern enough that everybody gets their own talking point. You get to interpret the entire investigation however you want. Witch hunt or a valid call for impeachment, pick and chose your own interpretation. Attorney General Barr certainly wants you to interpret it in a political way that benefits his side, based on his initial coverup-y behavior. Mueller simply wants you to be smart enough to read 400 pages and decide for yourself (one of the most naïve positions possible in this age).

In the end, everyone is unsatisfied and the waters couldn’t be muddier. So if you want a sense of closure after reading this, you will still have a long while to wait as we see how history unfolds. So far, to put it lightly, I’m not sensing anything close to a national consensus in the near future.

Isn’t it amazing? This was supposed to be it, and the polls show that right-wingers still believe what they believe, they even have a few quotes to highlight to defend their extreme rationalizations. While the rest of the country vaguely listen to mainstream news summations and have ever so slightly leaned towards kinda’ maybe let’s-investigate-more-and-maybe-impeach-even-though-it’s-for-naught-cause-of-the-Senate.

Sadly, it seems that perhaps obstruction totally works and the people will never know. The appendix in which the president submits his written answers are certainly more of the same. Mueller even says more or less outright that the questionnaire isn’t enough, but he must give up because a subpoena would take too long and he wants to get this damn thing over with. Over thirty answers of “I don’t remember” with no chance to follow up. Once again, the system let’s the powerful get away with anything.

Hell, perhaps all the good stuff is redacted. There are a lot of redactions. So if this is a coverup, then one can only conclude that coverups work.

The story is still continuing. The television drama won’t be over any time soon. In the meantime, the vast majority of Americans will not read this free report. They won’t even read the summaries.

I suppose all that’s left is to depend on the Democrats, and that is a sad notion indeed.

The country is in trouble.

For these reasons above, for this humble reader at this particular time in history, one can only judge this book however full of facts to be a terrible disappointment.

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Reflections on the year 2016

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2016 was, to say the least, a tumultuous year.

It’s already something of a meme to say that 2016 sucks so much. And yeah, that’s largely true specifically in the political sense anyway.

However, in my personal life I can definitely declare that though it’s been hard I can claim lot of positive growth over the past year. I traveled the world, I promoted some writing, I published here and there, wrote another book, and I even moved in with my girlfriend!

There has been a lot on this very blog worth share. I reviewed, I interviewed. And although at this stage it’s hard to say if it will lead anywhere, one of my personal productive favorites of the year was starting anew on my hobby of drawing silly little comics.

In thinking over this arbitrary marking of the Earth going around the sun that we all mark on our calendars, I have thought about it most nostalgically and created a list of links below. Here, a few posts that stand out to me to sum up the crazy intensities of this most epically year:

 

In February, right after Chinese New Year, I was lucky enough to be detained by the Chinese police after attending an unlicensed rave party. I tested negative for drugs and was soon released, while sadly others I knew tested positive, leaving me with the opportunity to write what proved to be my most popular piece of writing ever. The guys over at Reddit China were somewhat opinionated. But I had my say.

Hey it even led to a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

 

With my novel South China Morning Blues published — from Blacksmith Books, Hong Kong — in late 2015, I was very focused on promoting the book all over Shenzhen (and Guangzhou, and Hong Kong) over the beginning of the following year and on. It was a big part of my job for months on end. The highlight was definitely in March when I went to both Beijing and Chengdu for a little get-together known as the Bookworm Literary Festival.

 

The travel it did continue. I visited the great country/not country of Taiwan as part of my girlfriend Bronwen’s art residency in May. Absolutely wonderful place. There will be more on Taiwan come the next new year.

And in June it was time to go to Israel for the bi-annual visiting of the family. What a trip I met some little nieces and nephews, saw my parents, had emotions, all the while some legal complications came up and had to be dealt with.

 

One event that really stood out in the summer was the art exhibition by Bronwen and some other locally sourced artists over at Sin Sin Fine Art in Hong Kong. Great work. I happened to write an article about it.

 

At last, the dreaded subject of American politics. Over the second half of 2016, I carried on with my life and moved and wrote and promoted, meanwhile in America (totally affecting the rest of the world) it all went well and truly insane. I became rather consumed in following the politics of the horrible election cycle. Finally, of all things, I was forced to start writing political columns. The anxieties of the day before, then November’s horrific results, and a touch of conspiracy theory commentary.

Sadly, at this rate I will probably have yet more to say in 2017. A lot more. Despite the apocalyptic scenarios at hand, I’ll try to be optimistic about the new year. What’s certainly true is that nobody knows what will happen next.

 

Thus was the year. I and you survived. Thanks for paying attention to me and my humble perspective. On a concluding note, let us mourn the actual concept of truth and facts with this cartoon by Tom Tomorrow… RIP truth~

Good luck to 2017, we’ll need it!

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