Tuesday, May 26, 2020

For the Record: Rage

Photo by Tyrone Siu/Reuters, via Trending A to Z.

Marco on Hong Kong

It enrages me beyond words that an ignorant hypocrite like Rubio should get away with capitalizing on the suffering of people in Hong Kong to build up his cred.


It seems Americans are really not familiar with this: Hong Kong doesn't have democracy, though it has had economic freedom and a good deal of freedom of speech and assembly which are nowadays under very serious threat. The Hong Kong Legco has never been a representative body, though when Hong Kong was a British colony it represented the (originally all-white) business community. But even after elections were introduced there were always enough appointed seats to ensure the governor general (then) or Beijing-appointed executive (now) would command a majority, as the Republican governor of Florida does, through various techniques of disenfranchisement. Rubio doesn't see anything wrong with that. Coincidentally, it keeps him in a position of power.

The British had a chance to institute real democracy in Hong Kong in the years leading up to 1997 but they chose not to. Rubio has a chance to back democracy in Florida but don't hold your breath.


Monday, May 25, 2020

Douthat: Q Is Right!

Ding dong, the Bilderberg is dead!

And here's Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, at his weirdest, with an agenda I want to try unpacking ("The End of the New World Order"): it starts off with a mysterious warning that some rightwing conspiracy theories, while false, may be sort of true in a way that overrides their particular falsehood:
This is as true in the Trump era as in any other. Extraterrestrials are probably not among us, but we keep being handed new evidence that the U.F.O. phenomenon is real. QAnon is a landscape of fantasy, but the fact that powerful sexual predators have ties to presidents, popes and princes is a hard post-Jeffrey Epstein truth....
The phrase “New World Order” was lifted by the conspiracy-minded from the optimistic rhetoric of George H.W. Bush, and since then the paranoia and the facts have always existed symbiotically. The fantasy is looming totalitarian control, black helicopters descending, secret Bilderberg plots. But it’s been encouraged by various undeniable realities — the growth of transnational institutions, the manifest power of a global overclass, the often undemocratic expansion of the European Union and the rise of digital surveillance and the ties binding China and the U.S. into “Chimerica.”
I'm not so sure about this whole perspective. It's like if you read about the myths of Zeus or Thor and came away with the idea you'd found proof that thunder goes back at least 3000 years. That's not the point! We have independent reasons for believing that thunder is millions of years older than that because that's how Earth weather works! They made up stories about it 3000 years ago because they didn't know that, but we do; the myths tell us more about the people than about the natural phenomenon.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Innocence of Presumption

Moving goalposts, via.

I know you're all sick of Mike Flynn by now but Mr. Bret Stephens ("Michael Flynn and the Presumption of Guilt") piping up to put his imprimatur on the worst version of the "Flynn is innocent" canard in his most offensively bland "just asking questions" manner really has to be fisked.
“Damn right, exactly right,” the fired, retired three-star general said in answer to audience chants of “lock her up.” “And you know why we’re saying that? We’re saying that because if I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth, a tenth of what [Hillary Clinton] did, I would be in jail today.” This was said by a man who, as a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and top foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump, had already taken $45,000 from the K.G.B. regime in Moscow and would later take $530,000 from the Islamist regime in Ankara as an unregistered foreign agent. If Flynn had been prosecuted, judged and sentenced according to his own moral arithmetic, he’d be behind bars today.
Fortunately he isn’t, because sleazy behavior isn’t the same as criminal conduct.
Way to sneak in the suggestion that Hillary Clinton probably is guilty of some moral equivalent to bagging over $5 million (i.e., ten times Flynn's acknowledged $530K)  as an unauthorized foreign agent without bothering to say what you think it might be. And the suggestion that what we agree Flynn did is just sleazy behavior, not criminal conduct.

Violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act is a crime. Rick Gates and Paul Manafort, for example, have pleaded guilty to it, among other crimes, and are doing time as we speak. And while Flynn's first legal team negotiated him down to more lying in that case—to an uncharged count of filing a false FARA declaration—it is clearly stipulated in the Statement of Offense:

Friday, May 22, 2020

David Brooks Urges Us to Tighten Up



Ah, what's up, Brooksie ("The First Invasion of America")?
I was an American history major in college, back in the 1980s.
I’ll be honest with you. I thrilled to the way the American story was told back then. To immigrate to America was to join the luckiest and greatest nation in history. “Nothing in all history had ever succeeded like America, and every American knew it,” Henry Steele Commager wrote in his 1950 book, “The American Mind.”
He was an undergraduate and his bibliography was already 30 years out of date.

Because the practice of American historiography utterly changed in the two decades after David Brooks's birth, as Jonathan Wiener explained at the 1983 meeting of the Organization of American Historians (published in 1989, putting both Eric Foner and Sean Wilentz, Marxish and un-Marxish, at the head of the acknowledgment footnote):

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Flynn Update Update

Via Reddit.


Re the White House meeting of 5 January 2017 following the intelligence community briefing on Russian election interference and what we now know as the Steele dossier, yesterday I wrote:
And it was also three days after the intelligence community first learned of the Flynn-Kislyak calls of 29-30 December, so that was also part of the discussion (though not apparently part of the discussion in Trump Tower).
Which is pretty interesting in itself, because in the Grenell list of unmasking requests there are no requests between 28 December and 5 January—IC seems to have learned about those calls by some other means. Or as I suspected Flynn's identity may have been obvious, to Clapper in particular. But chief of staff Denis McDonough did make an unmasking request the same day as the IC briefing.
Looks like I was onto something!

Ellen Nakashima/Washington Post explains,
It was the FBI, not the NSA, that wiretapped Kislyak’s calls and created the summary and transcript,... former officials said.
“When the FBI circulated [the report], they included Flynn’s name from the beginning” because it was essential to understanding its significance, said a former senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive intelligence. “There were therefore no requests for the unmasking of that information.”
Because it wasn't masked in the first place. Emily Litella Award for the week goes to Lindsey Graham.

All those requests were for calls relating to other skullduggery Flynn was involved in, the majority of them (30 out of 48 requests) being on something we may have not heard of at all yet, clustered around 14-16 December and invoked by a ton of NATO personnel, the ambassador to Russia, the Department of Energy, the Treasury department, and something called the Syria Group as well as CIA and FBI.

Emptywheel guessed most of this long before Nakashima reported it, and wrote it up a week ago (shame on me for missing it). She considers, but doubts, the hypothesis that the remarkable flurry was over Flynn's nutty scheme for building nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East—and a hypothesis that interests me more, that it could have concerned Flynn's and Kushner's early December Trump Tower meeting with Kislyak, the proposal for a back channel of communications with the Kremlin, Syria cooperation, and sanctions (administered by Treasury), plus Kushner's follow-up meeting 13 December with Sergey Gorkov of Vnesheconombank (VEB), but it's not clear what the Energy department would have had to do with it (but the department does have responsibilities in administering sanctions related to nuclear materials, like those the Obama administration slapped on the state-owned Rosoboronexport firm in 2015 over exports to Iran or Syria).

United Front Door

Drawing by Tom Tomorrow, for a less optimistic view from last August.

"Everybody" is reading this wonderful piece in The Atlantic by Ed Yong ("America's Patchwork Pandemic Is Fraying Even Further")—well, at any rate everybody ought to be reading it—describing the situation under the controlling metaphor of patchwork: it's a patchwork pandemic in the US more than elsewhere because the virus is acting in so many different ways as it covers this very big country, at so many different tempos, that no prediction seems likely to be borne out, except the one that it will get worse before it gets better and it won't go away; it's a patchwork response, too, because Republican-style "federalism", the ideology of asking the localities to take care of themselves, is so in synch with Trump's laziness and incapacity, and the fecklessness and venality of his administration; and it's a patchwork country, as a reflex of our imperial history, in which whole communities live like neglected or dreaded colonies, amidst the islands of incredible wealth, which is being pointed out by the pandemic with a brutality we've hardly seen in recent decades, as we contemplate the Navajo Nation, where 40% of the population lacks running water for careful hand washing, among other deprivations that are literally killing them.

That inequality is also reflected in an obvious way in the way some of us live sheltering in place while others risk their lives to take care of us, providing us with food and medical care side by side with the doctors (who risk their own lives like frontier district officers leading the hospitals and clinics where the two worlds come into direct contact)—mostly people of color, and it becomes a thing for overwhelmingly white Republicans to decide that means they can live with it:

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Flynn Update

Illustration by Simon Landrain/The New Yorker.

The biggest piece of evidence offered by rightwingers for the theory of Obama's conspiracy to do something dreadful to Trump's national security adviser Mike Flynn was the report of a meeting Obama called 5 January 2017, with FBI director Comey, deputy attorney general Sally Yates, vice president Biden, and national security adviser Susan Rice, which Rice memorialized in an email to herself on Inauguration Day two weeks later, released in a redacted version by Chuckles Grassley and Lindsey Graham in February 2018.

Rice's memo said the meeting was "following a briefing by IC leadership on Russian hacking during the 2016 Presidential election," but Obama already knew something about that—Washington Post reported 9 December that Obama had ordered an investigation following CIA conclusions on the hacking—and it seems in particular to have been the meeting where the leadership (Comey, John O. Brennan for CIA, Mike Rogers for NSA, and DNI Clapper) told Obama about the allegations in the Steele dossier, as evidence of how the Russian active measures seemed intended to favor Trump over Clinton in the election, and which Comey briefed Trump about the next day at Trump Tower (the dossier was published by BuzzFeed on the 10th), by way of warning him that the allegations were circulating;

Monday, May 18, 2020

For the Record: Now With More Pompeo

Photo by Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images via Intercept (I think originally used in The New Yorker).

Trump has only two ideas about China, both of which are not actually about China but about his election campaign—wanting to get his name on a "deal" to the content of which he is basically indifferent, which will enhance his view of himself as a master negotiator, and wanting to blame China for all the problems of the universe, which the rally crowds adore—and doesn't understand that they contradict each other and that the more abuse he heaps on the country the more difficult it will be for the dictator Xi Jinping to have another playdate with him. But the way he's working the coronavirus into the latter goal, pushing his people to fabricate the case that Chinese scientists created the virus in a Wuhan laboratory, is getting dangerously reminiscent of the kind of fabrication used to set up the Iraq War in 2002-03, and there's something scary about the role Secretary of State Pompeo is playing in the business:


Career Counseling