Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Literary Corner: To Greenland's Icy Mountains




The Way It Should Work
by Donald J. Trump

It was the G8 for a long time,
and now it’s the G7.
I could certainly see it being the G8 again.
If someone would make that motion,
I would be disposed
to think about it favorably.
As you know, for most of the time
it was the G8 and it included Russia.
I guess President Obama—because Putin
outsmarted him—President Obama thought
it wasn’t good so he wanted Russia out,
but I think it’s much more appropriate
to have Russia in. A lot of the things
we talk about have to do with Russia.
President Obama didn’t want Russia in
because he got outsmarted.
Well, that’s not really the way it should work.
That "if someone would make that motion", another evocation of how little he feels himself being the president, being in power—the idea that these things are accomplished at meetings to which he's not invited (it doesn't occur to him he could "make that motion" himself), conducted more formally than the things he sits in on. But also raises a mystery: in our world, the Russian Federation was expelled by the G-8 after the internationally illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, the most flagrant violation of territorial sovereignty since the Axis powers lost World War II, but in Trump's world it was—he "guesses"—because President Putin "outsmarted" President Obama. What?

I'll get back to the poem, but I'm really obsessed with his rage at Denmark for making fun of his plan to buy Greenland's 836,300 square miles:

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pompeo

Esther and Asahuerus at her banquet, with Haman lowering at the side, just realizing he's doomed, by Rembrandt, 1660, via Wikipedia.

Speaking of conservative Christians who recognize Trump for what he is but think that's what God wants him for, see Susan Glasser's terrific New Yorker profile of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:


March 2016:
On March 5th, Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, arrived in Wichita for the caucus. Rubio left his closing argument to Pompeo, who told the crowd at the Century II arena, “I’m going to speak to you from the heart about what I believe is the best path forward for America.” An Army veteran who finished first in his class at West Point, Pompeo cited Trump’s boast that if he ordered a soldier to commit a war crime the soldier would “go do it.” As the audience booed, Pompeo warned that Trump—like Barack Obama—would be “an authoritarian President who ignored our Constitution.”

August 2019:

Monday, August 19, 2019

One of the President's Humanoid Relationships

Inauguration Day. Photo by Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes.

Money quote from the Politico article on the sad breakup of Donald Trump and his friend and mentor Tom Barrack:
The key issue driving the two men apart: Barrack’s role as chairman of the president’s 2017 inauguration fund, which is under investigation by prosecutors.
Trump was “really upset” to read reports about Barrack’s role in allegedly making it easy for some foreigners and others to try to spend money to get access to Trump and his inner circle and whether some of the inauguration money was misspent, according to a senior administration official.
“The president was really surprised to read all about the inauguration and who was trying to buy access and how, because the president doesn’t get any of that money,” said the official.
Didn't bother him that Barrack was selling access to the president any more than it bothered him that Michael Cohen was (at least until after Cohen "flipped" four months after the story came out), or Corey Lewandowski, or his sons, or Zhang Yujing. Bothered him that he wasn't getting his cut.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Downward Trajectory

Cistercian Abbey of Mount St. Bernard. Photo by Financial Times.


A weird thought from the theologically-minded Elizabeth Bruenig, having dinner with some  evangelical Trump supporters in a small town an hour or so from Dallas during Easter week, in a big article in the Washington Post last week:
In some sense it seemed that Trump is able, by being less Christian than your average Christian, to protect Christians who fear incursions from a hostile dominant culture. But that paradox also supplies a handy solution to the question of whether Christians should direct their efforts to worldly politics or turn inward, shunning political life for spiritual pursuits. By voting for Trump — even over more identifiably Christian candidates — evangelicals seem to have found a way to outsource their fears and instead reserve a strictly spiritual space for themselves inside politics without placing evangelical politicians themselves in power. In that sense, they can be both active political agents and a semi-cloistered religious minority, both of the world and removed from it, advancing their values while retreating to their own societies.
It's like only Nixon being able to go to China without freaking out the rightwingers because his anti-communism was such a certain thing, or maybe the mirror image of that; the very extremity of Trump's worldliness, his open worship of money and sex and himself and his total lack of compassion, makes him the man who can achieve their aims or delay their downfall without corrupting any "good" people in the process. Since they believe all secular life is rotten with corruption it will take corruption on the grand scale to get it done, and he's corrupt enough already.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

For the Record: Devin's Farm



Apparently Devin Nunes, scourge of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and special secret emissary of the White House to the Hill, has gotten tired of all those people mocking him for claiming he's a Tulare County family farmer just because the family dairy farm moved to Iowa some years ago without him, where it's generally worked by undocumented immigrants, while he himself stayed in California growing fragrant and multiflowered paranoid fantasies about President Trump and the FBI, so he's bought himself a spread of acres in his district, well, maybe half an acre:
Nunes, R-Tulare, reported on a newly released financial disclosure form that he owns a Tulare County farm that generates no income for him and is worth less than $15,000.
Nunes has never before claimed a farm as one of his assets in annual financial disclosures, according to public records dating back to 2007.
That suggests he either bought a small part in a farm recently or he improperly filed previous financial disclosures, according to Delaney Marsco, legal counsel on ethics for the nonpartisan watchdog group Campaign Legal Center.
“Either he had a tiny stake in this farm all along and he’s been improperly filing financial disclosures, or he bought a tiny, tiny farm this year in order to protect his reputation as a farmer in his district,” Marsco said.
Except the reporters couldn't find any records that he or his wife had bought any land in 2018 either, so who knows? Anyway, I just couldn't really resist:

More Economic Opportunities

Mainland Chinese rapper VaVa registers her disapproval of Hong Kong demonstrators on her Instagram account (which is of course illegal in mainland China except for those with the money to maintain a VPN). This in no way makes her look as if she is cravenly currying favor with the Beijing government, except—well, yeah, it does.

How nuts is the entire world right now?

Well, India's only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, has had its constitution somehow revoked by the Hindu-nationalist government and now the entire state is under something like house arrest, under curfew and phone lines and Internet down for the past 12 days (these are supposedly being restored), politicians arrested, insulin and baby food running out, because that's how Prime Minister Modi thinks he can get the people "more economic opportunities".

That line is another one of the lines that enrages me, with its more than a hint of bribery: "Surely you can put up with a little oppression if we pay you enough." And its buried presupposition that the politician delivering the line is the only one who can deliver the cash, not so buried in the case of Trump:
"The bottom line is, I know you like me, this is a love fest, but you have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k)'s down the tubes. Everything is going to be down the tubes," Mr Trump said. "So whether you love me or hate me, you've got to vote for me."
(The day after [checks notes] an 800-point drop in the DJI.)

Modi's economic policies, the thing that was going to make up for his party's overt "Aryan" chauvinism (not going to win him friends in the country's southern states) and Islamophobia, haven't actually been that great for the masses, in spite of continued high growth rates, because the growth isn't shared, but benefits only the top 10%, with persistent caste divisions (Modi and the BJP castigate "caste politics" the way Republicans talk about "identity politics", as a way of shutting down discussion of the issue) sharpening the inequality, which seems to be getting worse:
Annabel Bligh: The Modi government has been accused of withholding jobs data in the run up to the election because of how bad the official figures are. But the latest employment survey, which was approved by India’s national statistics commission, was leaked to the Indian newspaper the Business Standard in late January and showed unemployment was at a record high of 6.1%.
Indrajit Roy: By a lot of standards 6.1% is not a bad unemployment rate. But for India it’s very significant, according to Jens Lerche, because there isn’t strong welfare provision in the country. And the unemployment rate was just 2.2% in the 2011-2012 financial year.
Jens Lerche: Now unemployment is uncommon in a country such as India because poor people have to work. So, people being without jobs to some extent is people that can afford not to work – educated people that have a family background that they can live off for a while. But, what we have seen here is jobs that have disappeared also within the agricultural sector and low end of manufacturing sector. So it does appear as if poor people are also losing their jobs here.
And since his reelection in May things have started looking pretty gloomy for the business community as well:
Despite an uptick in August, Mumbai’s Sensex stock index is about as close to October’s lows as it is to June’s highs. In July foreigners pulled more money out of Indian equities than they put in. India’s cautious business press has begun to criticise the government. So too, even more gingerly, have its cowed business leaders. “There is no demand and no private investment,” groused Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Auto, a motorcycle-maker, at its annual meeting in late July. “So where will growth come from?” The remark, widely interpreted as a swipe at Mr Modi, encapsulates Indian business’s disenchantment with the man they once regarded as their champion.
The immediate cause of the mood swing was the budget, presented on July 5th by Nirmala Sitharaman, the newly appointed finance minister. Business folk tuned in to the two-hour presentation expecting less red tape, fewer tariffs, more incentives for investment and lower taxes. They got the opposite....
So it seems likely that the timing of the Kashmir action could be related to the general sourness people are feeling about the government. For more, see this interview with the Kashmiri (but London-resident) novelist Mirza Waheed in The New Yorker.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Then again...

Regaliceratops peterhewsi, a.k.a. "Hellboy", a triceratops cousin discovered some 15 years ago in southeastern Alberta, via Smithsonian.

I've been in something of a funk, I don't mind telling you, and I think it must have been Matt Taibbi, someone I am normally able to regard with cheerful disrespect, who got me into the political part of it, with a big report from Iowa in late July in which he suggested that the Democratic party was making the same mistakes the Republicans made in 2016, in fielding a bunch of candidates nobody could possibly want:
The top Democrats’ best arguments for office are that they are not each other. Harris is rising in part because she’s not Biden; Warren, because she isn’t Bernie. Bernie’s best argument is the disfavor of the hated Democratic establishment. The Democratic establishment chose Biden because he was the Plan B last time and the party apparently hasn’t come up with anything better since. Nothing says “We’re out of ideas” quite like pulling a pushing-eighty ex-vice president off the bench to lead the most important race in the party’s history.
But I think Matt may have some difficulty recognizing that women politicians are interesting above the neck, humans you can have conversations with, and that some of them are more attractive than others in the same way as men politicians are. In any case, it's not clear the Republican process was a mistake at all, since for one thing they ended up with a candidate who won, in his own peculiar way, and would have been ready to accomplish all the party's principal goals if he weren't so incompetent as a people manager and so unable to delay personal gratification.

In a way, the 2016 thing was a Darwinian experiment, gathering together a collection of political mutants and seeing which mutations were adaptive, an alternative to the conventional method of seeking the candidate who conforms most to the stereotype the choosers feel comfortable with, and what came up was as big a surprise as the triceratops must have been, back in the day, but it wasn't ineffective. While the Democrats' process may have been too sober. This time around, maybe we're performing a similar experiment, and with some real results, in the sense that some of our oddest candidates are the ones who have risen to the top: our oldest candidates in history, our first professional academic to run since Woodrow Wilson (and a more talented academic than he was by far). We've had candidates who became famous as tough-guy prosecutors like Harvey Dent—Thomas E. Dewey, Estes Kefauver, Rodolfo Giuliani, Christopher Christie, all losers in the presidential stakes—but how about prosecutors famous for opposing the death penalty and being black and putting the screws on a sanctimonious, reptilian Supreme Court nominee?

What I'm trying to say is, maybe our candidates are weird enough this time around to shake up the formula and make this unnatural selection process yield something.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Aaargh




Cleve R. Wootson, Jr. and Ashley Parker for the Washington Post on whether we want the next president to Make America Boring Again:
 All Brian Fisher wants is to make it through Season 2 of HBO’s “Westworld.”
Fisher, 65, retired from Silicon Valley to Alicante, Spain, where he imagined he’d spend his time catching up on television and enjoying the beach.  But now, he jokes, he can’t seem to do either — and for that, he blames President Trump.
 “You think, ‘Well, I’ll have my coffee and see what happened overnight in the States,’ ” he said, before describing a morning ritual that includes copious cable news and scrolling through the news alerts on his phone. “I can barely find time to go out to the beach. I live on the beach in Spain — that’s the whole point — but by the time I finish the news, it’s already getting dark.”
Don't know how come they have to report from Iowa to get a quote from the Valencian coast, but I guess that's our ever-shrinking world.

Meanwhile,
I'm not sure I can stand it any more.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.