Saturday, July 21, 2018

For the Record: Pushback

Image by PhotoAtelier (I think).

There's a set of talking points floating around the rightosphere about how Emperor Trump can't possibly be Putin's puppet because look at all the ways he's shown his indepedence and pushed back against the Russian strongman's desires; I heard it on the radio yesterday, and again today from a Twitter wingnut with whom I have one of those civility relationships. So I prepared a response, as follows:

Friday, July 20, 2018

Got paranoia?

From a 1948 Republic movie serial, via Wikipedia.

So I'm watching MSNBC, and no, I'm not apologizing, it's something that happens, and Ali Velshi is asking the FBI counterintelligence veteran Frank Figliuzzi for a little color commentary—where is that tape, of the conversation on the subject of Playmate payoffs between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, physically located? And he says, oh, all those tapes are part of the Southern District US attorney investigation, they're in the New York FBI field office, and a penny drops, like this:
  • The Michael Cohen tapes are in the New York FBI field office;
  • Rudolph Giuliani, who has replaced Cohen as the president's "lawyer" (meaning that's his title but he's not doing any legal work to justify it, he's mostly going on TV spouting gibberish at certain key moments), is on TV all day talking up this particular tape of the Karen MacDougal conversation as offering "powerful exculpatory evidence" for his imperial highness, which I won't bother to try refuting because "I really don't care do u?";
  • the lead story on TV would otherwise certainly be how DNI Dan Coats broke up into appalled laughter when informed in real time that Trump had invited President Putin to the White House for more of the summitry that went so well for him on Monday.
When I first started hearing the story of the MacDougal tape around midday, my immediate response was to fire off a reproach to a wingnut darkly talking about leaks from the Mueller inquiry:
I wanted to delete that, because it seemed obviously wrong: how could Trump's lawyer or Trump's "lawyer" as the case may be have access to the audio taken by the FBI from Cohen's office and apartment and hotel room?

But it now looks as if there's a very simple answer to that question, and one that involves the same guys as the ones who trapped James Comey into revealing the "investigation" of the Huma Abedin laptop for Halloween 2016, still collaborating with Rudy. Those boys are up to their old tricks again! Working the refs, and making the conversation about something other than Putin while waiting for that conversation to subside. You read it here first.

Oh, and I could have been right the first time, because per #Maddow this tape is one of the 3 out of a million documents in the Cohen collection that actually was considered protected as a matter of attorney-client privilege, and the president's lawyers received it directly from Cohen's.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Mr. Sandman

Photo by Walker Evans for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941, of folks being taken care of by the intimate, affectionate local authorities, free from the burdens of one-size-fits-all federal regulations.

Meanwhile, breaking news from Dreamland, where David F. "Sandman" Brooks has come into a fresh supply of that classic Russell Kirk sand to sprinkle into our stinging eyes ("The Localist Revolution"):
Localism is the belief that power should be wielded as much as possible at the neighborhood, city and state levels. Localism is thriving — as a philosophy and a way of doing things — because the national government is dysfunctional while many towns are reviving. Politicians in Washington are miserable, hurling ideological abstractions at one another, but mayors and governors are fulfilled, producing tangible results.
Bill de Blasio says thanks for the endorsement, but are you sure that's what you meant? There's no question but that the federal government is dysfunctional and has been since the 2010 midterm election gave the House of Representatives to the Republicans and reduced the Democrats' majority in the Senate from an almost-functioning 57 to a wholly impotent 51, and the conservatives began to use their renewed power, as they always will, to demonstrate the hypothesis that government can't do anything. And no question but that in some localities people are coping with losses in federal funding in creative ways. Good for them! But there are other localities where they aren't, lots of them, as always, where local elites refuse to help, because they want to hang on to their money. A lot of them are in what they call "Trump country".

You can't always get what you want, but if you try some time you just might find you get what you pay for

Drawing by Mark Taylor, 1 February 2018, via The Commoner Call.

I was complaining the other day about newspaper pandits being unable to speak clearly or think clearly abut the current emergency because, since they can't permit themselves to imagine whether Trump is guilty or innocent, they can't imagine what the crime he might be guilty of could have been—clothed in the opacity of the virtually meaningless "collusion" (I can't locate it any more, but I ran into a rightwing debate among people who suspected that "collusion" and "meddling" mean about the same thing, only one sounds more illegal than the other, and couldn't even begin to understand that the journalists are applying one of them to Trump and the other one to Putin and the two men aren't suspected of doing the same thing).

So who should come along to illustrate this but our friend Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, apparently sensing the approach of an epistemological change of some sort over the past ten days or so and readying himself for the possibility that Trump could turn out to be guilty after all, trying to seize that thing, but shrinking from the question of what the thing is ("Trump and Russia: One Mystery, Three Theories—An agnostic's guide to our president's strange conduct"). Instead, falling into the default position of political journalists everywhere, he tries to handicap it: what are the chances that Trump is guilty of whatever it might be? And comes up with a model, with

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

New York Note

Our very good blogfriend Jim Tarrant asked, in a comment on yesterday's post,
Sorry, not from NY. What’s the WFP? (White Freedom Party?)
I thought I'd share the response up front here, for the instruction of all you out-of-staters:

Sorry about that! It's the Working Families Party, a hopefully leftist NYS group (to which I've contributed, full disclosure) whose strategy is to offer ballot endorsements in return for policy endorsements from the candidate. It's worth talking about because it's generally been a good example of what a third party in the American system can do to exert progressive pressure on the election process. Generally they endorse the Democrat after the primary, and it's nice to vote on their line instead of the Democrats' to let the latter know you're not pleased with them at the national level.

They need to be very careful about endorsing candidates at the primary level, because they'll make somebody angry, and in 2014 they did this in a huge way, allowing themselves to be pressured into endorsing Andrew Cuomo over progressive hero Zephyr Teachout and enraging about three quarters of their voters and a hell of a lot of their contributors (I wrote it up here). This year they did the same thing, endorsing the Democrats' machine candidate, Joe Crowley of Queens, over the wonderful progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx, only worse, because she won.

Now Crowley—

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Identity politics with David Brooks: The wolves are in the henhouse

National Geographic lightweight house via Daily Mail
David Brooks's hot take on the Trump-Putin summit ("The Murder-Suicide of the West", taking off from Jonah Goldberg's new title but adding the murder part for added drama, apparently)  was that it was like when C.S. Lewis's mother died, not that he was there, it was in 1908, but he's read about it, and it's pretty sad, she had cancer and the kid was only ten, and they shipped him off to a boarding school with a psychotic headmaster afterwards, so that it may not sound exactly like the Trump-Putin summit to you, but the thing is Trump has broken up with Europe, and Europe is our mother, as Americans, the source of democracy, universities, good manners, luxury hotels, and public parks! Trump is taking our Mom away! He's stuck her in an assisted-living facility and he's dating that trampy little Russia!

I'm barely kidding:

What Happened

Emperor Napoleon welomes Tsar Alexander to the floating pavilion on the Neman near Tilsit, 25 June 1807. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Interpreting what happened yesterday in Helsinki is handicapped by the news media's reluctance to consider whether Donald Trump is guilty of something or not. Which is totally understandable! They're not supposed to judge! But they can't even allow themselves to consider what kind of crime we'd be talking about with any specificity, and this leads to a kind of sentimental muddling of the story, as in this report from The Times:
“You have been watching,” said the disembodied voice of Anderson Cooper, “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader that I’ve ever seen.”
Perhaps Mr. Cooper had briefly forgotten the mores of his profession — stolidity and a Cronkite-ian cool — in the heat of a surreal live event: a public pas de deux on Monday between President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in which the president criticized United States intelligence agencies and declined multiple opportunities to blame Mr. Putin for interfering in American elections.
Disrespect for the intelligence community? Failure to blame? Is it having inappropriate beliefs, that Putin knows more than the IC or is more reliable? Is it disgraceful to have those beliefs, or is it stupid? Or is it disgraceful or stupid to express them, would a decent president keep his weird beliefs silent?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Mr. Trump is Not Authorized to Speak For the Trump Administration, part 42

Art by Jim Cooke via the late lamented Gawker, March 2016, from a lovely and prophetic Ashley Feinberg piece.

Kenneth Adelman, of all people, Ronald Reagan's UN ambassador and lead arms control negotiator and, as I just learned, author of Shakespeare in Charge: The Bard's Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage—but also a Republican who managed to denounce the Iraq invasion by 2006 and vote for Obama in 2008—showed up on both NPR and BBC this morning to provide some advance panditry on the Trump-Putin summit or whatever it is.

He said something I thought was kind of interesting: NPR's interviewer, Noel King, was confronting him with the line that the Trump administration had after all been very tough on the Putin regime, sanctioning them in various ways, and Adelman just said no; the US government did that stuff—I guess he meant primarily Secretary Mattis and the Congressional leadership—and he welcomed it, but Trump himself wasn't working in the interests of the US government, but his own, the political interest of satisfying his base. He could have gone further, I think, and said that Trump has worked consistently against the US government on the Russia issue, trying to stop the sanctions or counter them in any way he can, and he could have suggested that Trump works in his financial interests too, funneling taxpayer money into his businesses and continuing to look for opportunities: I'm absolutely convinced he hasn't given up on the idea of that Trump Tower Moscow. What else could he have meant in that bizarre pair of tweets?

Specific Chemical Materials

Is David Sanger of the New York Times playing a Michael Gordon/Judith Miller role in building up a case for hostility to Iran? Massive story in which Sanger shares a byline with the Yedioth Ahronoth analyst Ronen Bergman, reporting Israel's raid last January of an Iranian storage facility stealing documents from 2003, which Prime Minister Netanyahu himself reported last April as part of his personal effort to push Emperor Trump into abandoning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran's nuclear activities, which paid off a few days later when Trump indeed left. The documents reveal that the Iran nuclear weapons program was more advanced in 2003 than somebody or other thought it was, though it's also clear that Iran totally dismantled it that year, as they claimed.

Why is The Times reporting it now, six months after the raid and three months after the news? Because the Israeli government invited them over for a junket, pumped up with thrilling detail about the bravura of Mossad in the break-in:
TEL AVIV — The Mossad agents moving in on a warehouse in a drab commercial district of Tehran knew exactly how much time they had to disable the alarms, break through two doors, cut through dozens of giant safes and get out of the city with a half-ton of secret materials: six hours and 29 minutes.
The morning shift of Iranian guards would arrive around 7 a.m., a year of surveillance of the warehouse by the Israeli spy agency had revealed, and the agents were under orders to leave before 5 a.m. to have enough time to escape. Once the Iranian custodians arrived, it would be instantly clear that someone had stolen much of the country’s clandestine nuclear archive, documenting years of work on atomic weapons, warhead designs and production plans.
The agents arrived that night, Jan. 31, with torches that burned at least 3,600 degrees, hot enough, as they knew from intelligence collected during the planning of the operation, to cut through the 32 Iranian-made safes. But they left many untouched, going first for the ones containing the black binders, which contained the most critical designs.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Literary Corner: England, My England!

Trump's redecoration of Air Force One, as reported by (update: fake, this is a known bad source).

In his interview with the so-called newspaper The Sun (via CNN) the other day, Emperor Trump was musing on how England doesn't seem to be England any more, at least toponymically: "You don't hear the word 'England' as much as you should. I miss the name England. I think England is a beautiful name. And you don't hear it very much anymore. But (the football team at the World Cup is) playing as 'England'. That's very interesting. That's good." Apparently not aware that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland field teams (none of which made it to the Round of 36, like the US, this year) as well. Then, during his exclusive tarmac interview aboard a grounded Air Force One with the hack Piers Morgan for the Daily Mail,
Under the TV are three digital clocks. They permanently display the same three times – Washington DC, local time and time in the next destination [I presume the displays of the local time and next destination are not permanent but change, in fact, as the location and intinerary of the plane change]. To the right of the TV was a brown leather sofa. Two hi-tech phones were behind it.
‘Can I pick one up and call someone?’ I asked, reaching down to phone Lord Sugar and boast about where I was.
‘NO!!!!!’ exclaimed another aide. ‘Do NOT touch those phones… please. Thank you, sir.’
The President’s staff all exude an air of delightfully polite menace. Next to the phones was a black leather bound menu containing that night’s culinary fare [as opposed presumably to the entertainment options and the locations of the emergency exits].
as Trump worked to slide away from revealing that he doesn't have any idea what Britain's industrial products might be, in advance of making a trade agreement with that ancient and distinguished country in which the United States might replace the European Single Market in Britain's economy, he got into toponymy again, but that turned out to be a dangerous subject too:

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Nothing is easier than getting an indictment

Trying to imagine how an investigation team that had a bunch of flashy assertions with no evidence managed to compose a couple of paragraphs like these from the indictment (from the money laundering count 10):
59. ...To further avoid creating a centralized paper trail of all of their purchases, the Conspirators purchased infrastructure using hundreds of different email accounts, in some cases using a new account for each purchase. The Conspirators used fictitious names and addresses in order to obscure their identities and their links to Russia and the Russian government. For example, the domain was registered and paid for using the fictitious name “Carrie Feehan” and an address in New York. In some cases, as part of the payment process, the Conspirators provided vendors with nonsensical addresses such as “usa Denver AZ,”'“gfhgh ghfhgfh fdgfdg WA,” and “1 2 dwd District of Columbia.” 
60. The Conspirators used several dedicated email accounts to track basic bitcoin transaction information and to facilitate bitcoin payments to vendors. One of these dedicated accounts, registered with the username “gfadel47,” received hundreds of bitcoin payment requests from approximately 100 different email accounts. For example, on or about February 1, 2016, the gfadel47 account received the instruction to “[p]lease send exactly 0.026043 bitcoin to” a certain thirty-four character bitcoin address. Shortly thereafter, a transaction matching those exact instructions was added to the Blockchain.
Like this?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Bogus Logjam

The four-mile log jam at Taylors Falls on the St. Croix River, "so spectacular that excursion trains traveled from Duluth to see it," 13 June 1886, via Minnesota Historical Society.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Quiet Death of Racial Progress", New York Times, 13 July 2018:
I was planning to write a column about all the tremendous progress that has been made in achieving racial equality in the United States since 1960, with black unemployment at historically low levels, but the more research I did the more I learned something totally unexpected, which is that the progress mostly stopped in around 1980 and nobody seems to have noticed. So I'll take twelve paragraphs to lay out these shocking facts, which will leave me four paragraphs to give my prescriptions. I'd say, if anybody asked me, that we should go with all the experts I know who feel that we have two basic problems, structural and cultural. Only unfortunately those people don't exist, we only have leftists who blame society in general for  the structural racism of society in general and rightists who blame black people for not adopting the bourgeois norms of serving in the military, getting married, and going to church, and therefore we are clearly in need of compromising on this because both sides are right because oops I'm out of space again.
Yes, it looks like David Brooks has been making a lot of progress himself in his understanding of the issues, and he's now ready after 30 years of denial to admit that systemic societal racism, including residential and educational segregation and the starkly different treatment of black people, especially men, by the criminal justice system from the beat cop to mass incarceration, holds black people, especially men, in a disadvantaged position relative to people of other races—but only if we'll admit that it's their fault because why won't they be more bourgeois?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Goodlatte lies so baldly you'd expect his hair to fall out

An encouraging squeeze from the Padrone, from the chairman's Facebook page.

Bob Goodlatte addresses the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees on the occasion of Peter Strzok's testimony, 12 July 2018:
"For those who think we are wasting time in this committee, suppose all of this had been said about candidate Obama before he was elected, or even more topical, about Hillary Clinton while she was running in the same election. Would we be where we are today? The only honest answer is an absolute affirmative, "YES"! Of course we would be here because every single Democrat would be protesting bias and discrimination against their preferred candidates by an out-of-control FBI and DOJ. So please stop saying this doesn't matter and is only the product of conspiracy theory," Goodlatte told the committee.
Former attorney general Loretta Lynch testifies for the FBI inspector general on her meeting with former FBI director James Comey, 31 October 2016, as the phony investigation of the Huma Abidin laptop was getting leaked to the public a week before the 2016 election:
And then I said, "Now, we’ve got to talk about the New York office in general." And he said, "Yes." And I said, "We both work with them. We both know them. We both, you know, think highly of them," I said, "but this has become a problem." And he said, and he said to me that it had become clear to him, he didn’t say over the course of what investigation or whatever, he said, "It’s clear to me that there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton." And he said,  "It is, it is deep. It’s..." and he said, he said it was surprising to him or stunning to him.
You know, I didn’t get the impression he was agreeing with [the New York office's Clinton hatred] at all, by the way. But he was saying it did exist, and it was hard to manage because these were agents that were very, very senior, or had even had timed out and were staying on, and therefore did not really feel under pressure from headquarters or anything to that effect. And I said, "You know, I’m aware of that...."
Is every Democrat protesting bias and discrimination against their preferred candidate by an out-of-control FBI as witnessed by the attorney general and FBI director in sworn testimony that is now public? As information that those very same New York FBI had sat on for a month, failing to act, suddenly became public through a leak that seems to have been engineered by them and Jason Chaffetz, the then chairman of the House Oversight Committee, in an October surprise that almost certainly played a principal part in Hillary Clinton's unexpected defeat in the election?

I'm not hearing a whole lot of that, frankly. Certainly not as much as is merited. There's some hope that the inspector general is looking at it.

Is the House Judiciary Committee on it? How many subpoenas has Goodlatte issued? Give me a fucking break. "The only honest answer"? NO, as Goodlatte might put it. These liars need to be driven out of office and made to work for a living. They are really bad people.

More from Bethesda1971.

Nothing Happened

Nuts of Fury Breakfast brown ale, made with local grain from Appalachian Malting and fresh Vienna Roast coffee from Iron Star Roasting Company, from the Fury Brewing Company of Huntingdon, PA, via untappd.

So it was all bullshit. The Breakfast of Fury was a performance, as Steve notes, for Trump's base in the United States to watch their God-Emperor filling the hearts of the foreigners with fear and trembling, and what actually happened at the NATO summit in Brussels was, precisely, nothing.

That's not what he said at his own press conference, of course (via Telegraph):
Mr Trump refused to deny that he had threatened to pull the US out of the organisation, and said the atmosphere in the meeting was "a little tough for a little while," but cordial after the spending commitments went up "like a rocket ship".
"Everyone in the room thanked me," he said. "There is a great collegial atmosphere in that room, that I don't think they've had for many years."
Asked directly whether he had threatened to withdraw, he replied: "I told people I'd be very unhappy if they didn't up their commitment. Yesterday I let them know I was extremely unhappy."...
"Nato is much stronger than it was two days ago," Mr Trump declared.
"We had a fantastic meeting at the end. Germany has increased very substantially what it is doing. I brought it up, no one brought it up but me.
"And frankly maybe everyone is going to have a good relationship with Russia."
It's just nonsense, as we learn from the AP report of the press conference of the president of France:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Continental Breakfast

Gif via Buzzfeed.
No doubt everybody's seen this video and heard the first-order commentary on the utter mortification on Chief of Staff John Kelly's lips as the boss is saying, in essence, to the German chancellor, "No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet!" while the stricken smile of our ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, is saying, "Well, bless his heart!" as one does in a Texas Baptist church when one's brother-in-law starts hallucinating again and drops his trousers and takes a dump on the altar table during the collection. I'm pretty sure it's not the first time we've seen Kelly making that face, but his involuntary leg movements—as if they want to escape and he can barely command them—are something else.

You've probably also heard how the press secretary acknowledged that Kelly was upset, but didn't acknowledge that he was upset because people whose opinion he values were seeing him as the helpless imprisoned tool of your impulsive and not very bright old uncle with the serious anger issues who nurses his rage from dawn till dusk at the teat of the TV, or because the grandest military alliance in human history was perhaps being shattered before his eyes. No,
In a statement to The Post, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "[Kelly] was displeased because he was expecting a full breakfast and there were only pastries and cheese." (Washington Post)
Like the axe murderer in the Snickers commercial who turns out to be Jan Brady once she gets down some calories. Give Kelly his bacon and eggs and he'll be Dean Acheson.

And what on earth made you think it had something to do with the president?

We know Huckabee-Sanders lies all the time, too. There's nothing new here! And yet I can't stop feeling some kind of line has really been crossed this time. Like, she can't really be expecting people to cooperate with this one, can she? Can she?

Update:  Not even close. For one thing, it was Americans, in the form of Ambassador Hutchinson's residence, who paid for breakfast. and for another, there was plenty to eat.

Thus offering an explanation that is not only hilariously unbelievable but also throws a (distinguished Republican) colleague under the bus. In this way Huckabee Sanders provides an illustration of Trumpiness in which mendacity, stupidity, and treachery may be combined more intimately than they have ever been. H/t Cullen Martin.

For the Record: Bad Numbers and Conspiracy Theories

Alphabet Bad Student. Hand-drawn grunge font by Arkady Kazantsev via dreamstime.

Not only that. I don't know where young Charlie's getting his numbers from, but they're totally wrong: there were
—24.6 million being a lot more than minus 3.5 million by most calculations. Just so you know.

I'm surprised there are that many registered, almost 89%. Let's get those people off their asses in November.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The New York Times Welcomes Brett Kavanaugh

Welcoming committee at the Baroque city of Karlskrona in southeast Sweden, via Cruise Baltic,
David Brooks getting first in line for the New York Times parade of greetings on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh ("It Took a Village to Raise Kavanaugh") is really adorable, in the way you can figure out how he proceeded to write it: knowing somebody was going to get named yesterday, he wrote one of his book report columns with blanks in the first two paragraphs—
In the weeks ahead, we’re going to spend a lot of time going over _______ _______’s biography — where he’s from and what he’s written. But that’s not the most important way to understand the guy.
_______ is the product of a community. He is the product of a conservative legal infrastructure that develops ideas, recruits talent, links rising stars, nurtures genius, molds and launches judicial nominees. It almost doesn’t matter which Republican is president. The conservative legal infrastructure is the entity driving the whole project. It almost doesn’t even matter if _______ is confirmed or shot down; there are dozens more who can fill the vacancy, just as smart and just as conservative.
—and then, when the announcement came out last night, filled in the blanks with Kavanaugh's name and filed the piece. It works, in its way, because "the best way to understand the guy" is to realize that it doesn't matter who it is; it will turn out to be is a product of the same cookie cutter created in the 1980s, as described by Steven Teles in The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law (2009), which is the subject of Brooks's book report for today.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

For the Record: Pompeo Seeks Peace

Montage by Alice Wielinga/Time.

Speaking of North Korea, I think I may have just noticed something significant, stimulated by a Twitter friend:
Namely, as you see, that Fox's first story on how North Korea was not doing anything to "denuclearize" and was in fact going back to building up forces appeared on the same day as the State Department announcement that Pompeo was going back for a visit to Pyongyang. And the next day that Trump tweeted for the last time (so far) on the subject:

Saturday, July 7, 2018


Photo by David Ake/Getty Images.

David F. Brooks, 24 April 2015:
There are two great defining features of child-rearing today. First, children are now praised to an unprecedented degree. As Dorothy Parker once joked, American children aren’t raised; they are incited. They are given food, shelter and applause. That’s a thousand times more true today. Children are incessantly told how special they are.
Then the other great defining feature in that column is his contrdictory thesis that children aren't praised unless they do something meritocratic, like their homework, or a victory in a sporting or artistic activity, so that they will grow up thinking their parents' love is conditional, which will make them resentful, risk-averse, and "driven by internalized pressures more than by real freedom of choice," which is a bad thing, unless of course, as is so often the case in the thinking of David Brooks, it isn't, as last November, when real freedom of choice was the bothsides curse of modern society:

Managing the Emperor

Drawing by Marian Kamensky/Cartoon Movement, Octover 2017.

We have a question from The New York Times:

Trump Starts a Trade War, but Does He Have a Plan to Win It?

Spoiler alert: He doesn't have a plan. He never has a plan, from the chaos of MuslimBan 1.0 a week after inauguration to the ongoing chaos of the Central American parent-child separation program, and the people who work for him don't have a plan either, whether because they simply don't have the ability or because there's some problem with what Trump wants them to do, like Mexico really isn't going to pay for the wall. In a sense he's the true Underpants Gnome president:
  • Phase one: Collect wall-building funds from Mexico
  • Phase two: ?????????
  • Phase three: Profit!!
What he has is a sense of how great he's going to look when he's successful, which is what he means by saying he "keeps his promises". He's going to look the way he told them he'd look, at the campaign rallies, and if the staff doesn't make him look that way they need to go.

Thus poor Pompeo, trying to work him through his fantasy of "solving" North Korea:

Friday, July 6, 2018

Karma in Kuala Lumpur

The Equanimity, photo by Yoan Ari/AP via Australian Broadcasting Company.
On Wednesday, Dato' Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, Najib Razak for short, the son of Malaysia's second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak and nephew of the third prime minister Dato' Hussein Onn, and himself the nation's sixth prime minister, serving from 2009 until just a couple of months ago, was arrested and charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust over a sum of 42 million Malaysian ringgit (US $10.6 million) from a finance company called SRC International, which had wandered into the prime minister's own bank acccount. That's only a fraction of the $731 million Najib is alleged to have siphoned from SRC's parent, the government-run investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) that Najib created in his first year as PM, in a case being run by prosecutors in the United States, money that Najib and his wife had largely converted into luxury goods that have been seized from his various properties, including 567 handbags, 2,200 rings and 14 tiaras, and a $27.3-million pink diamond necklace.

Which is in turn only a fraction of the $4.5 billion extracted from 1MDB by a conspiracy led, apparently, not by the ex–prime minister but by a close associate of his, the now fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, who may be the owner of the 54th largest yacht in the world, the 90-meter Equanimity (sleeps 28 crew and 18 guests) seized by Indonesian authorities as it sailed from Lombok to Bali last March.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Scrutonizing America

Iconic representation of the trickle-down prose of Roger Scruton, via Luxury Fountains for Your Home.

Ten days ago David Brooks devoted one of his book-report segments to Roger Scruton, the somewhat important writer on aesthetics and damnfool English political writer, whose new book, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition, is described by Joseph Hogan in The Nation as
less an intellectual history of conservatism than a brisk walking tour through its main hall. We hear from Aristotle, skip to Burke, Thomas Jefferson, and later get to T.S. Eliot, Buckley, Russell Kirk. These individual voices join in a chorus of custom-worship, of adoration for tradition and nonideological prudence. Jefferson is important to conservatives, we’re told, for his “insistence on continuity and custom as necessary conditions for successful constitution building.” Burke teaches us that “Real popular sovereignty…involves respect for what the people themselves respect—namely tradition, law and the narrative of legitimate order.” Throughout the book, Scruton makes little effort to clarify what these ideas have looked like—or, more importantly, could look like—in practice. One quickly realizes that the book introduces conservatism in the style of promotional material. In effect, Scruton has authored a 150-page pamphlet to be handed out to freshmen at Hillsdale College or at a Heritage Foundation conference table. 

Why I Hate The New York Times, part 4,427

The rest of America thinks the best thing for your dog's self-esteem is meaningful work. Image via True American Dog.

Peter Haldeman in The New York Times ("The Secret Price of Pets") reports that you can now have your ex-male dog furnished with surgically implanted silicon nuts, known by the trademark "Neuticles", like Kim Kardashian's boxer and Larry Flynt's dobermans:
“Some people throw the dog in the car and have him turned into a eunuch because they don’t care,” [their inventor Gregg A.] Miller said recently. “But there’s a certain segment of pet owners that do care, and that’s where Neuticles come in. And it’s not only canines and felines. We’ve done an elephant, we’ve done prairie dogs. I Neuticled a monkey in Pocahontas, Ark., and a colony of rats for the University of Louisiana.”
But the majority of his clients, Mr. Miller said, are “everyday pet owners who opt for Neuticles so their pet will maintain its dignity and self-esteem.”
I think this is a mistake, as far as the self-esteem part goes. It's more important to your dog to smell like he has balls than to look like he has balls.

The whole article is not the worst Times Style article you've ever seen—it's pretty funny throughout, and covers all sorts of interesting developments, from plastic surgery (now going beyond tummy tucks and eyebrow lifts to gender reassignment, generally for what sound like legitimate medical reasons) to cannabis-based lip balm and psychopharmacology, and its celebrity names extend to Oprah Winfrey and Jon Stewart (whose French bulldog has received some motivational life coaching to help him on the path "from impulse-based behavior to the way of higher consciousness"), but honestly, this is not The Way We Live Now.
“Right now ‘Asian fusion’ is trending,” said Jorge Bendersky, a New York dog groomer, of a cut that was developed in Japan. Mr. Bendersky charges up to $300 an hour to style clients like Rita, Gisele Bündchen’s Yorkshire terrier, and Sophie, P. Diddy’s miniature Maltese. “That’s very short on the body and very long on the legs, like big bell bottoms, which gives them the opportunity to <b>wear a dress or a sweater and necklace without messing up the hairstyle</b>.”
The only positive outcome for me is a plausible new nickname for former Speaker of the House Newticles Gingrich, which I hope to start using in the near future.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Dream piece

Statue of Wilson in Tirana, Albania, via wikimpia.

Upstate, kept waking up before dawn to some extraordinary bird call, and then ended up sleeping until 8:00. Dreamed Trump decided to name Woodrow Wilson to the Supreme Court.

I was on 84th Street, at PS 9, only in the middle of a vast and empty parking lot with a statue of Wilson—you couldn't see anything else, not even the school itself, it was as big as Kansas—waiting for my wife, who was in there applying for a job, which is in itself bizarre, if she were looking for a job it wouldn't be at an elementary school. I had my phone and was looking at Twitter and gradually began to realize it was trending that Trump had picked Wilson.

My first thought was spitefully noting that he'd gone back on his pledge to stick to the Federalist Society list. The man never keeps his promises! Only then did I realize it was much worse than that. "But he's been dead since 1919!"

It may have been making this error or realizing it was an error—his stroke was in 1919 but he stayed alive till 1924—that woke me up. Happy Independence Day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Brooks on the Gender War

La Dixième Symphonie, Abel Gance, 1918.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Gender War Is On! And Fake", New York Times, 3 July 2018:
Of course it's silly to say gender equality will lead to men and women being equal, for instance the Nordic countries have more gender equality than anywhere else but fewer women in top management positions than Estonia and Latvia, not to mention the United States, Mongolia, Belarus, Colombia, Saint Lucia, and Jamaica, which proves that this method of counting how many women are in top management is an infallible statistical tool. In America, gender equality is advanced, as all millennials agree that the best system is to have feminism in the workplace and neotraditionalism at home. Nevertheless young women insist on mobilizing in America, insisting they are economically worse off then men, which ironically forces young men to follow Jordan Peterson and complain that they are the real victims. Yes, women are to blame for Jordan Peterson, who I used to like but it turns out he's not as fashionable as I was expecting. And Donald Trump's cartoonish masculinity is clearly a response to women cartoonishly asking "Why can't we hate men?" But anyway not to worry, they'll calm down when they settle down and have kids, thank you all.
That assertion about how young folk prefer an egalitarian office and an authoritarian home—

Monday, July 2, 2018

Bafflement, Odium, and Blood

I dunno, in some Yellow families Dad's always around.

The secret masters who run the Deep Times, the esoteric newspaper in the subtext of the New York Times of which the profane catch a glimpse whenever Jeremy Peters is sent to eat breakfast with the Trump voters in an off-the-Interstate diner, had a job for the Op-Ed page for which David Brooks, remarkably enough, wasn't stupid enough.

A guest piece by somebody called Matthew Schmitz explaining to sophisticated Times readers why it is that white Christian Pennsylvanians and Michiganders think of President Trump as a moral role model, "Trump's 'Purple' Family Values". You may have seen the money sentence on the Internet somewhere in the last hours:
Baffling as it may be to elites, Mr. Trump embodies a real if imperfect model of family values.
Schmitz is a senior editor diplomatically representing the Roman Catholic faith at the evangelical theoblog-magazine First Things, where his most recent outing on his home turf was a heliotrope- and candle wax–scented review of Alfred Hitchcock's great Catholic film, maybe you weren't aware that's what it was, Vertigo (1958):

Sunday, July 1, 2018

For the Record: Fart Act and Other Disasters

Trump had to double down, of course, and say it was done on purpose, a message to the Fake Media, though he obviously couldn't say clearly what the message was ("Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares"), or explain why her communications director had said there was no message and her stylist was completely unfamiliar with the jacket. He's really trying to convince us that he was in control of whatever it was. I believe Trump would rather be accused of almost anything, no matter how gross, than admit that a woman got out ahead of him. 

When I was first working in Singapore, the National University moved from the ancient hill of Bukit Timah to a new campus in the south of the island, everything very shiny and new, and in the faculty of Arts and Social Sciences every office door was equipped with a bright brass plaque displaying the room number, ASS 1, ASS 2, etc. As a representative American, I quietly let the Dean know he had a problem, and the faulty acronym was replaced with something else, with Singaporean efficiency, basically overnight, before we moved in.

This kind of thing can happen in a densely multilingual society, where people up and down the hierarchy share enough languages to give and receive orders but not necessarily the ones they need to get the job done. In my later career as a magazine editor I found that the art direction staff were always graduates of Chinese-language schools, while the editorial were inevitably from English-language ones, and crucial miscommunications could take place, though none quite that funny.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Well Said, Mr. POTUS

John William Waterhouse (1845-1917), The remorse of Nero after the murder of his mother, pen and ink, via Artnet.

Do I detect—this is going to sound weird—a note of remorse in our poet-president's response to the newspaper office slaughter in Annapolis on Thursday? Because what does he mean, otherwise, with "shocked the conscience of our nation"? What "shocks the conscience" other than the awareness of guilt?

I'd Like to Address
By Donald J. Trump

I’d like to address the horrific shooting
that took place yesterday at Capital Gazette
newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland.
This attack shocked the conscience of our nation
and filled our hearts with grief. Journalists,
like all Americans, should be free from the fear
of being violently attacked while doing their job.
Horrible, horrible event, horrible thing happened.
In your suffering, we pledge our eternal support.
The suffering is so great... My government will not
rest until we have done everything in our power
to reduce violent crime and to protect innocent life.
I always feel the formula "I'd like to address" is apologetic in its own right, in the sense of if you'd like to, why don't you just do it? But yes, I'm thinking about the intemperate violence of the president's language toward journalists, the way he keeps them caged at his rallies and mocks them for the delectation of the fans, and the failure of society at large to recognize the signs, especially in the murderer's Twitter feed, as reported in the Baltimore Sun:

Friday, June 29, 2018

We-ness Envy

Lillian Gish in D.W. Griffith's A Romance of Happy Valley, 1919, via Giphy.

So world-famous moral philosopher David Brooks is really pissed off with Anthony Kennedy: not, of course, because Kennedy suddenly decided to retire from the Supreme Court last week, giving Trump a second opportunity to name a Supreme Court justice and reshape the court in the Federalist Society image for the next 30 or 40 years, but for something Kennedy did 26 years ago ("Almira Gulch, for 26 years I've been dying to tell you what I think of you!"), when he single-handedly turned the philosophical collectivism of our Founding Fathers into the amoral, dog-eat-dog philosophical jungle we've been living in ever since, which you may not have noticed but it looks pretty serious ("Anthony Kennedy and the Privatization of Meaning"):
America’s founders certainly believed in individual liberty, but they believed that liberty happens within a shared community. They began the Constitution with the phrase, “We the People.” We are all one thing — a people, a nation, a collective.
Yes, instead of starting off the Preamble with "I James Madison, I Alexander Hamilton, I William Samuel Johnson, I Rufus King..." as you would have expected, though it would have made the Preamble kind of long, they just used the plural, quietly inventing the great American concept of corporate speech.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Literary Corner: Dactyls

Suprematism  no. 5B, by Konstantin Malevich, 1916, via Arina Anoschenko

Trump's lyrical tribute to himself for getting the DPRK government to release the remains of the US's Korean War dead in his conversation with the supreme leader Kim Jong-un, has a springy, remarkably consistent, dactylic rhythm:

The Last Thing I Asked
by Donald J. Trump
It was the last thing I asked,
I said, ‘Do you mind?

would I be able to
get the remains back
of all those great heroes
     from so many years ago?’
And he said, ‘I will do that.’
And you probably read,
they have already done
     200 people. Which is so great.
Well, which might be so great if it was true, and all the parents of the fallen heroes, who would themselves be octogenarians if they were alive, Trump said there were thousands of them imploring him to take care of this, were now taking their children's bodies home, or somewhere. You probably haven't read it, because it didn't happen —can't remember where I originally got this from, thought it was Digby but it's not) :

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

It's in whose court?

Harriet Miers, by Mike Keefe, October 2005.
I think Mr. P. is absolutely right on this one. There's nothing dumber or more self-defeating than "Well it was totally wrong and illegitimate when McConnell refused to allow a vote or even a hearing on Merrick Garland so now I want to do the same thing." There's nothing better, or at least nothing better available, than explaining in detail that Trump can't be trusted, and I mean seriously: I mean he will try to get a nominee who will be personally loyal to him, the way he tried to work Comey (and fired him when it didn't work out).

If you've been wondering

Trump Doonbeg from the air.
First information on something I've been wondering about for a long time, but nowhere near the end of the story.

ProPublica has tried to get a fix on how much money Emperor Trump has pocketed from the use of his hotels, golf courses, and restaurants by his own campaign, the Republican Party, and federal and state governments since he declared his candidacy: at least $16.1 million.

For instance, in April 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and two aides stayed at Mar-a-Lago during the visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping, and the state department shelled $546 per night for each of them, since the stay was "to meet with POTUS for a high level meeting." I love that: my president went to Florida and all I got was this lousy meeting. In March 2017, the Secret Service spent $27,724.32 at the golf course at Doonbeg, Ireland, "to support E. Trump Visit" the following month, when Eric Trump was there for a couple of days of business meetings. The State Department spent a total of $24,298.30 at Doonbeg at some points in time, but ProPublica wasn't able to find out when.
The vast majority of the money — at least $13.5 million, or more than 84 percent of what we tracked — was spent by Trump’s presidential campaign (including on Tag Air, the entity that operates Trump’s personal airplane). Republican Senate and House political committees and campaigns have shelled out at least another $2.1 million at Trump properties. At least $400,000 has been spent by federal, state and local agencies. (For example, the Florida Police Chiefs Association held its summer conference last year at the Trump National Doral Miami.) The state and local tally appears to be a gross undercount because of the agencies’ spotty disclosures and reporting.
A worker in the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado who went to Washington for training in April 2017 was reimbursed $2,740 for five days at the Trump International, including room service and valet parking, since he rented a car even though he said he was staying there to be within walking distance of his conference so he wouldn't have to rent one.
When asked about cheaper nearby hotels and the parking costs, Snyder wrote in an email: “I could offer clarity, but I choose not to.”
That's an intriguing statement. The judge in the lawsuit conducted by the District of Columbia and Maryland against Trump's violations of the domestic emoluments clause (Article II, section 1, clause 7), Peter Messtite, has suggested that the parties "may very well" feel they're being shaken down to benefit the Trump properties. The data on the taxpayer dollars finding their way to Trump's pockets is incomplete because the 15 agencies they're investigating "are fighting disclosure," ProPublica says, but they're still working, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Who Failed Conservatism This Time?

Image via TheNewsBuzz.

Longer™ David Brooks ("Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose"):
You see, a while back we were walking along the yellow brick road, and—no, wait, it was other people, George Will and Steve Schmidt, who said it is time to leave the Republican party now that it's rotten to the core, and Dr. William Kristol, who says it's not, which is a good sign it is, given his record as the only New York Times columnist in history so consistently wrong about everything that the paper had to let him go, and when you recognize that I've still got my job, you'll understand that's saying a lot. But while I've posed this interesting question of whether it's time to leave the Republican party yet, I think it will be much more valuable to discuss something else, namely, since everybody in this discussion is a conservative, what is a conservative? Or, putting it more precisely, how can I bend the discussion into a book promo for Roger Scruton?
You see, as Roger Scruton reminds us, conservatism was invented during the Enlightenment, when thinkers in England, France, and North America were thinking about eliminating the monarchy. Since society was created by a social contract, these Enlightenment thinkers reasoned, in which free individuals came together to negotiate a sociopolitical order, therefore they should build an order based on reason, and the consent of the governed. Conservatives said, "We agree with this general effort, but it is based on a misunderstanding of human nature." There are no literally free individuals who can come together to build an order, they explained, so you must have the order first, and the freedom can come afterwards.