Preparing for Crisis

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

On March 21st, The Hill and NBC, among others, reported that the DOJ was asking Congress for emergency powers during the COVID-19 Crisis. This leapt out at me, as I imagine it did a lot of Americans, who are strongly in favor of the rule of law, and habeas corpus, and who are aghast at the undermining of Constitutional prerogatives. But in seeking “emergency powers” AG Barr was also making use of the title of my new thriller (due out Oct. 1, 2020), called Emergency Powers.

DOJ-EmgPwrCentral to the thriller’s action (which I began writing in the spring of 2017) is a corrupted DOJ, a pliant Attorney General and a power-mad president who chips away at the underlying foundation of government. It’s up to FBI Agent Imogen Trager—unsure whom she can trust in the Bureau—to see that this crisis is not compounded.

And in the novel, the crisis the president and his cabal create will allow him to invoke emergency powers, and increase his grip on power. While the fictional crisis is much different from our current situation, politicians and policy people are fond of noting that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It’s the heart of the story.

But in order not to waste the crisis opportunity, those who seek advantage must first be prepared, must have laid the groundwork. For Imogen Trager in the thriller, and for us in real life, it’s instructive to look at what has been prepared.

The dictum about never wasting a crisis is generally attributed to Rahm Emanuel, but it was first uttered by Stanford economist Paul Romer, and it echoes the political scientist, John Kingdon’s notion of “policy windows” and “policy entrepreneurs.”

These shifts can end up being positive, or negative. The point is that a set of policy entrepreneurs has an agenda, and that policy change comes about when the three streams of problems, politics, and policies connect. To gain advantage, they must be prepared ahead of time.

In the 1930’s, FDR responded to the Depression with the New Deal policies. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the “W” Bush administration hurried through its war-on-terror agenda, which included the Patriot Act, pre-emptive war with Iraq and enhanced interrogation. The Trump administration seems inward focused, bent on eroding Constitutional prerogatives. It’s disquieting to see what this administration has been preparing in the background.

Emergency Powers is the third book in the Imogen Trager thriller series, which began with Faithless Elector and Dark Network. As I’ve written elsewhere in this blog, I’ve been doing what could be called Kingdonian plot entrepreneurism.”

That is, rather than react and respond in a ripped-from-the-headlines manner, I’ve looked at the broader state of our democracy and thought forward: “How might it be made worse?” “What are the forces behind this decline?” and “What would it take to subvert those machinations?”

And, I’ve asked myself whether it could be stopped…

#   #   #

 

The Imogen Trager #NoirPolitik Thrillers at a glance:

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

trilogy-draft

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers  Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

_JMc-contact20

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also  available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com

 

Anything But Straightforward

For the Electoral College, the way forward is anything but straightforward.

In the 1796 presidential election, when one elector, Samuel Miles, who was pledged to Adams (Federalist candidate) changed his mind and voted for Jefferson (Democratic-Republican candidate), Federalist party members were outraged.

Samuel Miles-elector

Samuel Miles

One wrote, “Do I choose Samuel Miles to determine for me whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson shall be President? No, I choose him to act, not to think.”

This has been the central question for the Electoral College for over 200 years, since the rise of national parties.

A scant four years ago, Faithless Elector debuted, and it’s been thrilling and challenging readers ever since. Its combination of strong characters pitted against forces larger than themselves resonated then, and it continues to do so now.  FaithlessElector-cvrAgainst the backdrop of a very close presidential race, the novel asks, “What if?”

What if Electors could be lobbied and bought? What if a group of ruthless conspirators saw a way to upend an election for their own gain? How far would the conspiracy go to keep the machinations quiet?

The questions FBI Agent Imogen Trager, Duncan Calder and Matthew Yamashita are forced to confront as they risk everything to uncover who’s behind the conspiracy and stop it, haven’t just remained salient, they have become more relevant.

Who decides the presidency?

Since Faithless Elector’s publication, we have witnessed the election of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote, but won in the Electoral College (the second president to so this century). Into the bargain, in 2016 we had seven (7!) Faithless Elector defections. Now, at the end of April, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for and against so-called Faithless Elector laws in the states.

At stake, and the central plot point for the characters trying to save the presidency, is whether Electors are regarded as independent actors or mere delegates. That debate is over 200 years old.

The Supreme Court will decide, but as the twists and turns of Faithless Elector show–and the articles below demonstrate–the way forward is anything but straightforward. It’s unlikely any single group will be happy with the Court’s decision. Whatever it is.

 

Why do We Have an Electoral College Again?(NYTimes)

What if We Just Counted Up All the Votes for President and Saw Who Won? (NYTimes)

The Electoral College is long past its sell-by date… (NYTimes)

How to—Carefully—Surmount the Electoral College (Atlantic):

The Chaos Coming for the U.S. Election (Atlantic):

The Imogen Trager Thrillers at a glance:

trilogy-draft

Faithless Elector – Everyone thinks the election is over, but six weeks is a long time in politics. An idealistic, young researcher stumbles onto a plot to steal the presidency, with deadly consequences.

Dark Network – Without law, there’s only power. FBI Agent Imogen Trager is alone and in grave danger from a conspiracy she failed to destroy. She’ll have to fight against time, a sinister network, and even her own colleagues to defeat it.

Emergency Powers (Oct. 1) – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

#   #   #

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

_JMc-contact20

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:  JamesMcCrone.com

 

A Split Ticket Presidential Bid

Joe Biden’s little remarked claim that he would consider a Republican running mate (CNN-12/30/2019) came and went during the Christmas-New Year week. This kind of Statesman seeming, half-measure is at the heart of the latest #NoirPolitik Imogen Trager thriller, EMERGENCY POWERS, due out October 1, 2020, and it sets in motion a series of disastrous events.Biden-Repub-runningmate-scrnshot

I expect that Biden was just hoping to generate some headlines during a slow news week, but a bipartisan ticket would probably only serve to dilute and confuse the issues facing the nation. Political party matters, particularly at the national level. Senators and Congress Reps vote with their party more than 90 percent of the time*.

FE3.Pawn-to-King.w copyDespite our claims as voters that we want our representatives to act independently, we would be aghast if a politician actually did vote that way. We certainly don’t. 90 to 95% of registered Democrats will vote for their party’s nominee*, as will the same number of registered Republican voters.

In the forthcoming Emergency Powers, as in Faithless Elector and Dark Network, there are forces at work outside of—and parasitic upon—the major parties. But they are effective (in the books, and some would say in real life) because these extra-party groups have captured the party’s leadership.

Though focused on Imogen’s struggles, and without being about current leadership, each book continues to have a ripped-from-the-headlines feel:  a fractious FBI, an undermined Attorney General, powerful people using all manner of treachery to maintain their hold on power—and to get more. And in Emergency Powers, the key to re-establishing faith in government and the rule of law was a Statesman-seeming compromise, a bipartisan ticket. But the conspirators aren’t satisfied. They’re avaricious and mean to control every lever of power.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say “ripped-from-the-headlines,” but anticipating them?

The Imogen Trager series demystifies the processes at work. The previous novels dealt with Faithless Electors as possibly corrupt actors in a presidential election (Faithless Elector in early 2016) and a factional FBI eating itself from within in Dark Network (2017). At the center of it all is the feisty Agent Imogen Trager, who will do battle with the conspirators, her own demons–and even her own colleagues.

What insights into real events will Emergency Powers bring?

 

In EMERGENCY POWERS (Oct. 2020) the investigation that was FBI Agent Imogen Trager’s undoing may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to tighten a puppet president’s grip on power.

Imogen is haunted—and sidelined—by a case she couldn’t solve. When the president dies in office, she knows that the conspiracy she chased down a blind alley still has life in it—and she needs to get back in the hunt. The new accidental president is no accident, and the old case may be the key to stopping a brutal, false flag terrorist attack meant to finalize the new puppet president’s grip on power. Imogen doesn’t know it yet, but she’s running out of time…

Emergency Powers goes on sale October 1st.

*I’m grateful to Nate Silver and the folks at the 538 blog, and to Ohio Northern University’s Prof. Robert Alexander for details on voting behavior.

#   #   #

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network , about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming October 1st, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, you can pick up your copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

 

Recurring Nightmares

Concerns and issues surrounding the Electoral College and Faithless Electors remain firmly in the spotlight with frightening implications. We’re still just over a year away from the 2020 election, and already alarm bells are sounding. The presidency remains frighteningly open to mischief and manipulation–perhaps more so than in March of 2016 when Faithless Elector debuted.

NYTimes.FaithlessOn October 14 the NY Times reported Faithless Electors’ Could Tip the 2020 Election: Will the Supreme Court Stop Them? At the story’s center, was a petition to the Supreme Court asking for a ruling as to whether so-called Faithless Electors were independent actors or whether the state laws requiring them to vote as pledged were constitutional. The petitioners noted that in the 2016 Presidential Election, there were seven (7!) such defections. Thus far in our history, no Faithless Elector(s) has ever changed what might be regarded as the result of a presidential election. But as the petition points out:

“A swing by that same number of electors [7] would have changed the results in five of fifty-eight prior presidential elections” [emphasis mine].

Cvr page-faithless-petitionTwo weeks later, Charles Lane, writing in the Washington Post, posited “A Nightmare Scenario for 2020: A Tie that Can’t be Broken.”  (It should be noted that Lane’s “scenario” ought to have come along with a royalty check to me–his opening paragraphs describe my first two thrillers, Faithless Elector and Dark Network very closely. 🙂 )

This past Friday (Nov. 1), Brookings described the problematic electoral college math in the impeachment proceedings thus far: The States that will Decide the 2020 Election Oppose Impeaching Trump. Once again, even though majorities favor the proceedings, the opinions of staunch Republican voters in the likely swing states of AZ, FLa, MI, NC, PA and WI oppose impeachment and removal by an average of 52%. While that could change as more comes out, it is well to note that electoral math is once again not on the side of the majority.

Brookings.FE.blog.pngWorse, as my thrillers point out, the Electoral College is ripe for mischief. A very close election, like the 2000 Bush-Gore election (where only 5 Electoral votes–271-266–separated the two candidates) could be disastrous for the nation. And, there was a Faithless Elector in that election, too–Barbara Lett-Simmons, a DC Elector–who did not cast her vote for Gore in protest of the District’s lack of representation in Congress. If four Electors had defected to Gore over the Florida recount debacle, he’d have won.

Screen Shot 2019-11-04 at 10.38.34 AMThe recent petition, probably with the 2000 election in mind–and the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision halting the Florida recount specifically–notes that: “the demographics of the United States indicate that contests will become even closer, [and] there is a significant probability that such swings could force this Court to resolve the question of electoral freedom within the context of an ongoing contest.”

That is to say, if the Supreme Court does not take the case or does not issue a ruling, we could  be arguing the validity of a result in the midst of the election.

It gets worse. A more perfect nightmare would be if in 2000 only 1 or 2 had defected, leaving neither candidate with a clear 270-vote majority. As is provided in the constitution, when there is no clear majority, Congress chooses the president–with each state delegation having only 1 vote.

A set of bad actors, who wanted to sow greater distrust in the voting process and undermine the integrity of the nation and its laws couldn’t dream of a better scenario– overturning a close election for their own purposes…leaving We the People entirely out of the process, and a nation lacking “the consent of the governed.”

#   #   #

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network , about a stolen presidency, a conspiracy, and a nation on edge.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming soon, and he’s at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

 

Faithless Electors could have tipped 5 elections, and may tip the 2020 election

The New York Times published an article in their Sidebar section yesterday, “Faithless Electors Could Tip the 2020 Election: Will the Supreme Court Stop Them?” and it references the petition, a Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court, requesting a speedy review regarding the question of whether so-called Faithless Electors are independent actors or are bound to vote as pledged.

Cvr page-faithless-petitionThe petition points out that in the 2016 Presidential Election, there were seven (7!) such defections. Thus far in our history, no Faithless Elector(s) has ever changed what might be regarded as the result of a presidential election. But as the petition points out: 

“A swing by that same number of electors [7] would have changed the results in five of fifty-eight prior presidential elections” [emphasis mine].

It goes on to note:

“And as the demographics of the United States indicate that contests will become even closer, there is a significant probability that such swings could force this Court to resolve the question of electoral freedom within the context of an ongoing contest.”

Meaning that it would be best to decide the matter now ahead of the contest rather than in the heat of a presidential election, when it is bound to look partisan and thus illegitimate (Bush v. Gore anyone?).

I did not include the fact about Electors potentially overturning 5 elections in my thriller Faithless Elector (pub. March 2016) because it was published before the 2016 election and these 10 defections. Indeed, neither Trump nor Clinton appear in its pages. I wanted the novel to be free of partisanship. It’s a taut thriller with engaging, determined characters set a against a background that exposes the latent weaknesses and potential for mischief in the Electoral College system. The revelation that someone is trying to manipulate the Electoral vote and steal the presidency sets the characters on a dangerous path and pits them against deadly opposition. Based on the good reviews, as well as readers’ generous responses at book fairs and over social media, it seems I have achieved that goal.

Because while its setting is the 2016 election, the latent weaknesses remain in place, as the Writ of Certiorari/Petition makes clear. The petition, in fact, candidly states what I proposed (albeit fictionally) when I wrote Faithless: that in a close election, where only a few votes separate the two candidates, politics of a kind we would not regard as legitimate could determine the outcome.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming soon, and he is at work on a fourth book called Bastard Verdict (w/t) .

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

 

The Death of a Thousand Cuts

What would an accidental president need to do to solidify his grip on power?

Good stories demand verisimilitude. To make them believable, a writer has to imagine them from multiple angles. S/he must “see” as the characters see, and that includes (maybe especially) seeing what it is the bad guys want and why. From there, the writer has to imagine how the conspirators would achieve their goals.

pawn-to-king-WhogovernsWhat would an accidental president need to do to solidify his grip on power? That’s the question I set myself for the new thriller, Emergency Powers, with chillingly real implications. I find my stories once again sailing too close to the wind.

In Emergency Powers, FBI Agent Imogen Trager is haunted and undone by a case she failed to solve. When the president dies in office, she knows that the conspiracy she chased down a blind alley still has life in it–and she needs to get back in the hunt. The accidental president is no accident.

The (not) accidental president will take steps to solidify his grip on power, with deadly results. His party controls both Houses, so impeachment hearings or Senate Judicial hearings are unlikely. But he’ll need a pliant Attorney General to thwart, delay and/or make a mess of certain investigations that might bring the truth to light. Moreover, to guard his flanks, he has to secure the allegiance of the Federal bureaucracy.

It’s dismaying that a number of the key moves I ascribe to the conspirators’ playbook turn out to be exactly the kind of thing the Trump administration enacts, and there are spoilers I’m leaving out which also synchronize with both playbooks. I didn’t set out to write a screed against one party or another, nor to malign any particular politician. I wanted to tell a cracking story that would be thrilling…and plausible.

So how is it that our government consistently acts like the bad guys in my books?

Step one in Emergency Powers, after achieving the presidency, is to remove and replace the Attorney General, who will guard against any investigation getting too close. At the same time, the new administration proposes a number of federal rule changes. It’s immaterial whether the rules actually go into effect. The act of proposing them–and observing the reaction–is meant to help the conspirators sort out who is with them, and who is not.  Then, with that information in hand, they begin dismantling the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and move on to Step Two.

Screen Shot 2019-07-16 at 11.12.08 AMI had all this in the first draft of Emergency Powers, which I finished in October of 2018. That same month (unbeknownst to me at the time), Jeff Tien Han Pon was asked to resign as Director of OPM. As of this writing, there is still only an acting Director, Margaret Weichart, who is also the Deputy Director of OMB.  Pon’s resignation came as the Trump administration began work to dismantle the Office of Personnel Management and to bring it under the ambit of White House administration, which folds the daily business of the Federal government into one run by political appointees: patronage politics, or a return to the “spoils system.”

February of this year, the Trump administration appointed William Barr as AG after Jeff Sessions proved incapable of shielding the president from attacks. Barr has been doggedly faithful to his president, if not to his office or the American people.Barr-AG

Thriller writers generally work in broad strokes–assassinations, a terrorist plot, a proxy war. A hero thwarts it all at the last moment. Emergency Powers has all that (no spoilers), but it also works on (and maybe gets too right) the little things.  Not only is there an ugly, violent plot, but the conspirators in my books simultaneously attack seemingly mundane institutions and/or procedures in the hope of slipping by unnoticed…until it’s too late to stop them. Or in the case of Emergency Powers, by the time anyone notices, the conspirators will control all levers of power and levels of government meant to check them. Ideally (for them), the truth may never come out.

It’s death (of democracy) by a thousand cuts, and it’s shocking how closely reality and fiction meld.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

Operating as designed…

blog.StupidWatergate-OliverI don’t write about current events. If anything, my thrillers anticipate them.

We are living through what the comedian John Oliver aptly calls Stupid Watergate, which is “a scandal with all the potential ramifications of Watergate, but where everyone involved is stupid and bad at everything.”

But what if an administration were run by smart, seasoned, ruthless political operatives? What if it were the culmination of a years-long plan? What if–historical norms aside–the President’s Constitutional powers were operating more or less as designed, so that the sinkholes created by the systematic erosion of democracy couldn’t even properly be called a “crisis?”

“If the president does it, it’s legal,” Nixon famously asserted.

And what if one party controls all the levers of power meant to check them? We’re seeing in real time what a pliant Attorney General can accomplish merely by resisting. What if the AG were actively involved?

In my third thriller, Emergency Powers, Agent Imogen Trager confronts this very problem, and she knows that the incoming AG will discredit and close her investigation:

When FBI Agent Imogen Trager learns that the President has died in office, she knows it’s no isolated tragedy but the final stage of a dark network power grab. The new president owes his position to a clandestine power that’s avid for greater control.  Not content with merely “owning” a President, the wealthy, ruthless autocrat known only as The Postman plans to tighten his grip on power by staging a horrific false flag terrorist attack, which will allow his new President to invoke emergency powers and martial law. The pendulum of rule has swung decisively.  Unless Imogen can stop them, it won’t swing again.

As bodies pile up and leads go cold, a break in the case arrives when a dark network operative on the run from the FBI and marked for death by the Postman, reaches out. Trager is wary of trusting him, and not only because he’s offering intelligence that sounds too good to be true.  He’s already tried to kill her once.

That’s the premise of the “noir politik” thriller, Emergency Powers.  

It’s not precisely what we’re experiencing in the moment, but as the earlier thrillers have demonstrated, it’s certainly possible–Faithless Elector pitted Duncan Calder and Imogen Trager against a conspiracy that tries to steal the presidency by manipulating the Electoral College; and in Dark Network, Imogen confronts a diabolical plot–and a mountainous FBI “mole” hill–when Congress convenes for a contingent election.

In Emergency Powers, the conspirators are two steps away from total rule. Unless Imogen and her colleagues can find and exploit a gap in the armor, the conspiracy will prevail. She’s running out of time.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com