Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Problem with Paranoia

Silly dustups with people from our side spreading the claim that Trump stole $2.8 million from veterans' organizations, or, more realistically, raised the money for veterans' organizations and kept it for himself, which I agree would come to the same thing. Including the extremely estimable David Atkins, who put it in the Washington Monthly:
 it should still leave us speechless that only a few days ago the President of the United States was held liable by judge of defrauding veterans to the tune of millions of dollars via a fake charity he used for vainglorious personal and campaign expenses....
Only that's just not what happened.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Coup that Wasn't, Maybe

Ex-president Carlos Mesa of the Revolutionary Left Front (Frente Revolucionário del Izquierdo), second-place finisher in the disputed Bolivian election, demonstrating last month. Photo by Juan Karita/AP via New York Times.

OK, let's do this. (With some uncredited help from blogfriend @pauloCanning who may show up to explain what I've gotten wrong here.)

Evo Morales, the Aymara coca workers' leader who came out of the Bolivian mountains in 1997 to overturn the ethnarchy of the white minority that had run the country since the colonial period, and finally became president in January 2006, was a hero, beyond question, and an extremely effective politician, whose administration accomplished enormous things in the way of promoting social justice and reducing inequality while growing the country's economy, admired by everybody from The Nation to the Washington Post as a model of how Latin American socialism can work.

He also just wanted to stay too long, for one thing (and not the most serious thing in my view; I'll get to others below). When he decided in the early days of his third term, in 2016, that he wanted to go for an unconstitutional fourth, and put the question to the people in a referendum, they disagreed. When he then went to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to ask if he could ignore the referendum and run for a fourth term anyway, and the Supreme Tribunal responded by abolishing term limits for everybody, people started getting upset. When he went ahead and ran this year, the election results and the hiccups in the counting process looked pretty shady:

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Literary Corner: It must suck to be John Kennedy

Fiddlers Allemande, early 19th-century England? Via Jane Austen's World.

"In three short years, President Trump has doubled the growth in the greatest economy in all of human history. And do you know what our Democratic friends have done for him? Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to impeach him. I don’t mean any disrespect, but it must suck to be that dumb." (Senator John Kennedy, R-LA)
Kennedy's Villanelle
The Senate's premiere intellect
regards his audience as scum.
I don't mean any disrespect.
Though Oxford's where he's coming from—
a first at Magdalen, that's correct!
But it must suck to be that dumb.
I wonder if his mind was wrecked
by drugs like methedrine, or rum.
I don't mean any disrespect.
He cannot do a basic sum;
his grade-school taunts have no effect.
But it must suck to be that dumb.
And in faux bayou dialect,
such unremitting pabulum—
I don't mean any disrespect—
it needs to be severely checked
before we're all completely numb.
I don't mean any disrespect,
but it must suck to be that dumb.


Well, in 1747 Johann Sebastian Bach, then 62 and not looking for a more interesting job than the one he'd held for almost 25 years at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, heard from an old acquaintance, the polymath Lorenz Christoph Mizler von Kolof, the first person after the Renaissance to lecture on music history at a German university, and at this point in his life court physician to King August III of Poland, and the founder and permanent secretary of the Corresponding Society for the Musical Sciences (Correspondierende Societät der musikalischen Wissenschaften); Bach was invited to become the society's 14th member. In return, he presented the society with a work of fantastical complexity and weirdness, Some Canonic Variations on the Christmas Song "Vom Himmel Hoch", and a portrait of himself, the famed painting by E.G. Haussmann, in which he is shown holding a copy of another one of those crazy last works, the triplex canon for six voices BWV 1076.

The melody had been composed by Martin Luther a couple of centuries earlier, and Bach apparently liked it a lot, having set it several times in church music works. A canon is a polyphonic work in which different voices play or sing the same melody starting at different times (Row, Row, Row Your Boat is a canon) and often at different pitches and sometimes different tempos. These five start off as two-part canons in the organist's left and right hands while the feet play the original Luther melody on the pedals, but they get more complicated. The graphics in this video do a brilliant job of showing how it works:

Friday, November 8, 2019

Sweet Charity. With an Unexpected Kallstrom Appearance

For the record: Donald writes:

Donald Trump has not given major money to charity.

The Trump Foundation may have made donations of $19 million in the course of its now terminated existence between 1987 and 2017, as Trump's personal lawyer Alan J. Futerfas has repeatedly claimed over the past couple of years without offering any evidence, but it's known that Trump himself contributed just over $5.4 million to it, just a little more than the $5 million WWE executives Vince and Linda McMahon are known to have given the Trump Foundation (though this looks like a way of paying him for his appearances on the 2007 Wrestlemania, in a way that allowed him to evade taxes), and Trump hasn't given it a dime since 2008. Oprah Winfrey, by contrast, who is not supposed to be as rich as Trump, has built up a fund worth $242 million through her own donations$22.5 million over the single year 2018-19.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Celebrity White House

One of the ideas kicked around by Burnett and the president was shooting a new version of the Trump-branded Apprentice, tentatively titled The Apprentice: White House, and to produce it shortly after the president leaves office. This time, however, the TV program would be explicitly politics-themed and take full advantage of Trump’s status as a former president of the United States and a newfound Republican kingmaker.
“There have been several discussions between Burnett and Trump about The Apprentice: White House,” a person with knowledge of the situation told The Daily Beast. “It is something Burnett thinks could be a money-spinner and Trump is very keen on doing.” 



Can't begin to tell you how psyched the network is about The Apprentice: White House. There are a bunch of obstacles that need to be worked through before you get the green light but if you guys can make your end happen and I'm sure you can this is looking to be the greatest reality show of all time and I'm not even kidding. You and I are going to be richer than Mr. Trump by the time this thing is over. I mean we already are richer than Mr. Trump but richer than Mr. Trump thinks he is.

Points that instantly come to mind are:

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

For the Record: Secret Hearings

‘Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first - verdict afterwards.’

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’

‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.

‘I won’t!’ said Alice.

‘Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved. (Via Gates of Vienna)
This was a weird exchange over more than a week that ended up unexpectedly plugging into the released transcript of the Yovanovich interview:

Of course inside the Wingosphere nobody pleads guilty just because they're guilty. There must be some occult thing going on. Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to save his obnoxious son Mike Junior from a fate worse than having a dad in prison, though it's never clear what the Feds might have on the lad, other than his being a ratfucking Twitter scandalmongerer and working in Mike Senior's criminal business, involving performing services for the Turkish government that should not be performed and taking unreportable money. "Son, I've decided to take the rap for all the crimes I could have tried to blame on you."

Monday, November 4, 2019

New York Note

I almost exercised my brand new right to vote before Election Day in New York, but the fact is my own polling place is less than two minutes away from home and news reports suggested early voting is doing great and it didn't need any encouragement from me to succeed and the fact is that while I enthusiastically endorse early voting as an option for those who have problems with Tuesdays, I also personally like participating in Election Day a lot, so I didn't.

Asked my family what they were planning to do and got one meaningful response, from the very smart Millennial who said she had sort of heard something about one of the five ballot propositions. Also, I hear that the propositions on the physical ballot or presented in 7-point type, and nobody's passing out magnifying glasses. So I decided that I should post a very short tutorial.

tl;dr: vote for all of them. Vote for Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to finish the term that Letitia James had to give up when she was elected state attorney general, and vote yes on everything else, viz., Propositions
  1. Ranked Choice Voting in all primary and special elections for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council as of January 2021, which permits voters to register their second through fifth choices, which can in turn be used to create a kind of runoff vote when nobody earns a majority and encourages unexpected candidacies and interesting results and has worked really well where it's been tried in the US;
  2. increasing effectiveness of the Civilian Complaints Review Board for overseeing the city police, adding clout to the City Council and Public Advocate by giving them some nominations to the membership, and most importantly giving them more power to investigate cases, with subpoena power and the ability to investigate false cop statements;
  3. a miscellany of anti-corruption and good government initiatives including restrictions on lobbying for ex-officials; it's got a bunch of stuff good people can disagree on, and if you want to vote no on something this would be the place, but I won't;
  4. city budget reforms including a Rainy Day Fund, and
  5. land use reforms, giving more power to borough presidents and community boards to deliberate on land use proposals.
More information at The Gothamist, New York's best local paper, all online and now the property of WNYC radio.

Sunday, November 3, 2019


Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed has begun posting a bunch of documents from the Mueller investigation that he obtained through a FOIA request, starting with some pretty heavily redacted 302s (FBI informal records of agent interviews) of sessions with Paul Manafort's second-in-command, Rick Gates, now in prison for his part in some of Manafort's Ukraine misdeeds (there's also material on Michael Cohen and Stephen Bannon that I haven't worked through yet). But these interviews are about the Trump campaign, and particularly the months around 9 June 2016 and the meeting at Trump Tower, which Gates didn't attend or necessarily even know about—he carefully told the FBI that Trump Jr. never spoke to him about the Veselnitskaya meeting, didn't say he never heard of it (weird detail: when that story broke in June 2017, Manafort asked Gates if he'd been at the meeting—I wonder what he would have asked next).

They don't naturally tell us anything directly about the meeting itself, but they're pretty enlightening, in my view, about its context, in such a way as to add some new clarity to my own reconstruction, and I wanted to blog my way through it right away, before I find out what everybody else is doing with it.

The interviews are structured more or less chronologically, and they start off (interview of 10 April 2018) with the lead-up to the Veselnitskaya meeting, in April and May 2016, when the atmosphere in the Trump campaign was all about emails: "interest in the emails was ratcheting up in the April-May 2016 timeframe because it was likely the emails could help campaign":

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Don't shoot the comedian

Volodymyr Zelenskyy last March, at a taping for his comedy series Servant of the People. Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images via NPR.

Pleased on Thursday to note Washington Post confirming my speculation of Wednesday ("Vindman heard Trump himself asking Zelenskyy for the same thing, as a "favor", so you can see how serious it must have begun to seem, to him and to Eisenberg too, who decided to hide the transcript away before they had even finished editing it"):
Moments after President Trump ended his phone call with Ukraine’s president on July 25, an unsettled national security aide rushed to the office of White House lawyer John Eisenberg....

Friday, November 1, 2019

Something to see here, move on anyway

Harry Langdon in Soldier Man (1926), via Fritzi.

David Brooks may have seen the House vote for impeachment as the death of civility in the United States, and a signal to move to the bargaining stage of grief ("Impeach Trump. Then Move On.")
The evidence against Trump is overwhelming. This Ukraine quid pro quo wasn’t just a single reckless phone call. It was a multiprong several-month campaign to use the levers of American power to destroy a political rival.... But there is little chance [Democrats] will come close to ousting the president. So I hope they set a Thanksgiving deadline. Play the impeachment card through November, have the House vote and then move on to other things.
OK, just the tip, if you have to, but then let's move on, or back, to the real problem, which is "elite negligence" in the face of "national decline", which cuts both ways among voters, he thinks,
Many Trump voters take it as a matter of course that for the rest of their lives things are going to get worse for them — economically, spiritually, politically and culturally. They are not the only voters who think this way. Many young voters in their OK Boomer T-shirts feel exactly the same, except about climate change, employment prospects and debt.
I don't know that anybody blames these things on negligence exactly. We're Americans, after all, heirs of the "paranoid style", and we're more likely to blame our problems on an actively hostile enemy, which is not necessarily an "elite" for the Trump voter, who feels assaulted by African Americans and immigrants, gay people, uppity women, college graduates, and people who think they're cool—people he feels have maybe not more status than him, but more status than they deserve compared to him—or just access to mysterious stuff whether it's cash welfare or college admissions. The young Brooks is talking about would presumably have a more focused sense of being persecuted by the elite of wealth: rapacious corporations destroying the planet, keeping the majority in chains of low wages and indebtedness, and dominating government to widen inequality.

Oh, Republicans.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Cleaning up the Jefferson monument

Jefferson Memorial aims to clean up a microbial colony of algae, fungi and bacteria that has tarnished the monument’s dome. (Kirk D. McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Grand Duchess Ivanka Donaldovna reminding her papa that other great men have had it just as tough as he has:
Somebody was thinking it would be pretty amusing if the "inventing where facts fail them" Jefferson was complaining about was a reference to the campaign slur claiming he had fathered a child on an enslaved woman, which was actually true, of course (actually six children, and it's hard to imagine Martha didn't know about it; the woman in question, Sally Hemings, was her mother's half-sister, and a very central person in the household after her mother's death).

Is Ivanka quoting a sinful president begging for sympathy over wicked and salacious accusations that are in fact true as she seeks to console another one?

Sadly, no, as a great blogger used to say:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Rosemary Woods and Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, via ABC News

Well, I'm damned. Of all the things I could have picked to be dead wrong about, the ellipsis-gaps-in-the-phone-call wasn't one I was expecting to hear about from the testimony of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, but that's where he went, according to three people who spoke to The New York Times:
The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.
That is, contrary to what I've been telling everybody for weeks, at least one of the three ellipses in what The Times is now calling a "reconstructed transcript" (i.e., a transcript created by a committee, not from a recording but from a robot transcript and two or three sets of notes taken by people who listened in, and group-edited by other people who listened—Vindman, as the NSC's senior Ukraine expert, was one of the editors) really represents something that's been left out, the one in the last line below:

Monday, October 28, 2019

Sir Story

It would be remiss of me not to note how much of the president's account of the adventure was fictional:
Q    Did you have to make any decisions in the moment, while troops were on the ground?
THE PRESIDENT:  No, they had it just incredible.  We were getting full reports on literally a minute-by-minute basis.  “Sir, we just broke in.”  “Sir, the wall is down.” “Sir,” you know, “we’ve captured.” “Sir, two people are coming out right now.  Hands up.”  Fighters. Then, the 11 children out.  Numerous people were dead within the building that they killed.
Then, it turned out, they gave us a report: “Sir, there’s only one person in the building. We are sure he’s in the tunnel trying to escape.” But it’s a dead-end tunnel.  And it was brutal. But it was over.
It's apparently not the case, as Obama White House photographer Pete Souza was suggesting, that Trump wasn't even in the situation room as the drama unfolded; he left the Sterling golf course around 3:30 in the afternoon, and the raid began around 5:00. So while it's not certain that he watched the whole "movie" {"I don’t want to say how, but we had absolutely perfect — as though you were watching a movie") in real time, there's no reason to believe he missed it (see Snopes for details).
Though Souza was clearly right to point to the difference between the awful picture (by Shealah Craighead, not that it's her fault) of the men in neckties looking Very Serious over a very odd tangle of colorful but unconnected Ethernet cables

and Souza's own justifiably famous photo of the situation room during the killing of Osama Bin Laden

On the other hand, he was certainly there for the "movie"; they didn't let him in until they were safe from him trying to make a decision, as he says. Also, it wasn't the movie he described:

And Trump's main contribution over the long preparation period was getting in the way with his whimsical deal-making:

Literary Corner: Today Donald Trump Didn't Become President

Image by Adam/Know Your Meme.
I'm seeing a lot of skepticism on today's big story of the operation to kill the former Caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,  that it was a wag-the-dog operation to distract the public from the horrible testimony of the last couple of weeks demonstrating that Trump really did attempt to extort cooperation with his personal political agenda from the Ukrainian government. Or even that it killed not Baghdadi but some innocent set extra, or was entirely staged.

But I still like the view I held immediately after hearing the news this morning, that not only did it really happen, but Trump himself was the one getting bamboozled: by the Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces and the US military, who kept him more or less in the dark until he got back from the golf course, when they informed him that he had just won the formerly endless war. They were in the right:
Armed with that initial tip, the C.I.A. worked closely with Iraqi and Kurdish intelligence officials in Iraq and Syria to identify more precisely Mr. al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts and to put spies in place to monitor his periodic movements. American officials said the Kurds continued to provide information to the C.I.A. on Mr. al-Baghdadi’s location even after Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw the American troops left the Syrian Kurds to confront a Turkish offensive alone.
The Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, one official said, provided more intelligence for the raid than any single country.

That is, I think the Kurds and US may have been working together to defeat Trump's ill-timed move to remove American troops from Syria and allow Turkish troops to begin seizing a huge strip of Syrian land along their border. Using Trump's well-known desire to "take the oil" wherever there's a war in the Middle East, they've talked him into reversing the decision (rather late, as Turkish forces are already there) and maintaining an American force in the region, starting with the move of Senator Lindsey Graham and General Jack Keane, on 14 October, to accomplish something he believes Bush and Obama failed to accomplish:

Sunday, October 27, 2019

For the Record: Out Like Flynn

Image by Trumped Up Flicks/Kos.

This kindhearted troll concerned for General Flynn's family was so daunted that he never responded at all, but I think there's some value in laying out something about his legal situation, apart from his 2015 work in support of RT television and violation of the retired officers' version of the emoluments provision, with a new and especially delusional lawyer, who may be advising him this year to break his annual customary guilty plea

Saturday, October 26, 2019

But it's better to be immoral than unconstrained

Wall Street Journal isn't complaining about Singapore dim sum in spite of the tipping policy.

I was going to skip yesterday's Brooks ("The Tipping System Is Immoral"), because it has so little relevance to the ongoing intellectual wildfires that threaten to kill us all—he's like a schoolkid who has to write an essay to be graded by some randomly selected teacher and whose main concern in choosing the topic is to make sure no matter who it is they won't be offended, and I didn't even think I disagreed with his ostensible conclusion on a first quick reading:
Tipping inflames a sexist dynamic. Some men use their tips as leverage to harass female servers. Young blond women are tipped more than older brunettes. Male Uber riders tip female drivers 12 percent more, but only if they are young.
Tipping inflames a racist dynamic. African-American and Latino servers get much smaller tips. In a 2005 study of more than 1,000 tips to taxi drivers in New Haven, black drivers were tipped about a third less than white drivers.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Barr's Zombie Investigation

From the CDC's Zombie Preparedness site.

I think I know what this story
Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges.
—is about. It's about Trump, and the idée fixe of Trump's increasing paranoia: that he must get to his enemies by using their weapons, of saying "bad things" and getting "dirt". Investigate them all! Lock them up! And its failure so far, which has been accelerating in recent weeks, as Barr's meta-investigation falls apart.

That is: Barr's task, as you'll remember, is to find that there was something wrong with the FBI's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which eventually became, after Trump fired the FBI director, an investigation of Trump himself under the direction of Special Counsel Mueller. Trump has been complaining about this since long before it was understood that he had anything to do with it, whether because it was suggesting "bad things" about V.V. Putin, or because it was depriving him of Manafort's services, or after the election because it was suggesting his victory wasn't legitimate, or because it was forcing him to let Flynn go, or because "they were spying on me!" And trying in secret to put a stop to it, as chronicled in Mueller's volume II.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Shark Jump

The Fonz representing the end of a cultural moment. Via inews.co.uk.

Roy (subscription) ties the ongoing shift in public opinion on impeachment to a phenomenon he's been interested in for a while:
The What Liberal Media has us a bit brainwashed with its endless thinkpieces about the how weird and alien and unreachable Trump voters are supposed to be, and the Nazi goblins and dinner-table racists who make up a large chunk of his base certainly are. But most Trump voters are no more weird than other Americans like you and me. I think we spend so much time worrying about how to convince them of the error their ways that we forget most of them are normal adults, able to make judgments on their own. They didn’t need our input to find out that Trump was not a good long-term investment. He was indeed like the pet rock, or maybe more to the point Big Mouth Billy Bass — a funny joke that over time got obnoxious, then disgusting, and had to be taken down.
Which gives him some hope that the bottom could really be dropping out of the Trump market and the Republicans could be forced to ditch him, the sooner the better (for them, not us).

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Literary Corner: I Have Seen Numbers

Man Ray, Endgame, 1946, via Washington Post.

So the Emperor had a cabinet meeting yesterday morning, opened with a grace, though it wasn't a meal, from Secretary Carson, and a remarkable rant—somebody clocked it at 13,000 words, including the grace and the press questions—from his imperial loquacity, duly published online by the faithful whitehouse.gov. What you've mainly heard is how he revealed that he doesn't know what an "emoluments clause" is (it's one of article I, section 9, paragraph 8, or article II, section I, clause 7, of the United States Constitution) but suspects it's "phony", but the whole thing was really in top form from the bard-in-chief.

This bit, with its florid repetitions, almost like an abstract arabesque pattern, and its fantastical segue from the poet's TV contemplation of pundits talking about the Middle East to a rhapsodic view of the median household income dissolving into a kind of arithmetical plasma, is extraordinary:

Nobody Has Ever Seen Numbers
by Donald J. Trump

But I sort of have to smile to myself. I was telling
a couple of people — I’m watching these people
that I’ve been watching for 20 years. I’ve been
watching the same faces; they’re just a little bit
older and a little bit grayer. I’ve been watching them
for 20 years, saying about the Middle East. And they’ve
been wrong on everything they’ve ever said. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

For the Record: M4A

I feel as if I may have been getting confusing lately on the subject of health care coverage, speaking positively about a "Medicare For All" model I've never liked that much, but then you have to ask, compared to what?

For instance, compared to the chaos that will commence if the Supreme Court finds for the plaintiff in Texas v. Azar (for which we should be getting a ruling from the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court sometime fairly soon) and the entire Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act is voided overnight, we won't have any ACA around to improve, and Medicare For All looks pretty good. Not that it's at all likely to happen. It would be a worse economic disruption than hard Brexit, and John Roberts wouldn't let it happen. And I don't think he could lay down some kind of structured settlement in which the ACA is gradually disassembled rather than being wiped out instantly; he'll just have to find it's constitutional, which is not that much of a stretch, because it clearly is constitutional.

Got Paranoia? Giuliani and John Solomon

Emperor Calus of the Cabal Empire, via Destinypedia.

A detail brought up by emptywheel the other day caught my attention, on the subject of the SDNY investigation of Rudolph Giuliani's activities in Ukraine: when Giuliani was supposedly working with the prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko on a list of imaginary crimes committed by Ambassador Marie Yovanovich, Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, and other Americans regarded as Trump enemies (allegations Lutsenko now denies he ever made), the procedure he followed, as reported in The Times:
Mr. Lutsenko initially asked Mr. Giuliani to represent him, according to the former mayor, who said he declined because it would have posed a conflict with his work for the president. Instead, Mr. Giuliani said, he interviewed Mr. Lutsenko for hours, then had one of his employees — a “professional investigator who works for my company” — write memos detailing the Ukrainian prosecutors’ claims about Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

And in current psychopathy...

Yesterday, here in Trumplandia, the Emperor got his feelings wounded in a telephone conversation with a person in space, one of the two astronauts who just performed the first all-female spacewalk operation in history, which he referred to in his initial remarks as "the first time for a woman outside of the Space Station... the first-ever female spacewalk". When they finally got a chance to speak one of them, one of them, Dr. Jessica Meir, noted that it wasn't actually the first spacewalk a woman has ever performed, in justice to the great women who have done it in the past, and a shadow crossed his face, and he gave that brave astronaut the finger, disguised as an innocent scratch, in a cowardly fifth-grader's attempt to slip it past the teacher's attention or maintain plausible deniability

(my screenshot). Because nobody's allowed to tell the Emperor he's wrong in public, ever.

Meanwhile in Westminster, the House of Commons dealt Prime Minister Johnson a blow today by passing the Letwin Amendment, requiring him to send Brussels a letter requesting a three-month extension on the Brexit deadline before they'd vote on the deal he brought home from Brussels this week, and he swore he'd never do it, as he's been swearing for weeks he'll never ask for an extension and the nation will leave Europe as scheduled on Halloween no matter what, though in fact he had to do it before midnight tonight.

Boris Johnson has sent a request to the EU for a delay to Brexit – but without his signature.
The request was accompanied by a second letter, signed by Mr Johnson, which says he believes that a delay would be a mistake.
The PM was required by law to ask the EU for an extension to the 31 October deadline after losing a Commons vote.
(BBC via Lemieux) he sent it anonymously. With a cover letter denouncing it. Presumably so his fans will believe he kept his promise.

I just was struck by the immensity of the petulance of these two psychopaths, one of then in the pettiest possible position of doing a photo op at an occasion that means nothing to him, the other in a matter of extraordinary moment, both so drowning in their own amour-propre that they can't even see what's going on around them.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Two Cheers for Brooks

Well, two restrained cheers for David Brooks ("If It's Trump Vs. Warren, Then What?"): He's wrong about Warren in general, but he's right that he wouldn't want to vote for her if he understood what she was up to, and he's right that, if Trump and Warren are the nominees, he should vote for her nevertheless, for reasons that I think are pretty solid:
Politics is downstream from morality and culture. Warren represents a policy wrong turn, in my view, but policies can be argued about and reversed. Trump represents a much more important and fundamental threat — to the norms, values, standards and soul of this country.
I'd like to return the favor with an inverse pledge, but it's really hard to imagine a Democrat against whom I'd vote for, say, Willard Mitt Romney or even William Weld, because Democrats don't run like Trump. If Rod Blagojevic got nominated, I'd know he has a pretty bad reputation, but he has a sense that these institutions exist outside of him. If Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump was to run as a Democrat, I'd easily vote for Weld, but that's not going to happen either. Nor is empty-eyed cult member Tulsi Gabbard, for that matter. Nobody like that is going to get the Democratic nomination. Ever.

Everybody makes fun of Democrats for being obsessed with "electability", but it's true we always look for a candidate who only tells lies for a good reason and doesn't have a dangerous personality disorder. We're not going to nominate somebody like Blagojevic for the presidency, or even like Reagan, let alone Scrooge McAsshole and his brood of ducklings. We won't even nominate Steyer or Bloomberg. It might be interesting to ask why Republicans are so careless about electability and still exist as a party. They have such objectively horrible people at all levels, from Mitch McConnell to Matt Gaetz and Duncan Hunter, people you really wouldn't want to let in your house, and yet they carry on.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Literary Corner: Recep, Don't Be a Tough Guy

President Trump being castigated by the Speaker of the House, enlarged from the picture in his Twitter feed.

Letter to his Excellency the President of Turkey
by Donald J. Trump

Dear Mr. President:
Let's work out
a good deal!
You don't want to be responsible
for slaughtering thousands of people,
and I don't want to be responsible
for destroying the Turkish economy —
and I will.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Debate blogging

Lord Chatham (Pitt the elder) collapsing during a debate on American independence in the House of Lords, 1778, via NewEgg

Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, says Klobuchar and Buttigieg won the debate by giving people who like Biden a reason not to necessarily vote for Biden, I think:
they’re problem-solving Midwesterners with realistic policy blueprints who can win swing states, and (less explicitly) that they’re like Biden in their practicality and electability but unlike him in their relative youth and lack of baggage.
I hardly noticed either one of them. My notes praise Klobuchar for explaining that anti-trust law is about encouraging competition—
Start talking about this as a pro-competition issue. This used to be a Republican and Democratic issue, because America, our founding fathers, actually wanted to have less consolidation. We were a place of entrepreneurship. We are seeing a startup slump in this country. (WaPo running transcript)
and laugh at Buttigieg for "a plan for 'depoliticizing' Supreme Court that's so Baroque the National Review might like it"

Monday, October 14, 2019

He sure as hell misjudged Lindsey-Woolsey

Funeral Monday for five Syrian Democratic Forces fighters killed in battles against Turkish-led forces. Photo by Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, via The New York Times.

When I was trolling the trolls yesterday with my apocalyptic prediction

I wasn't expected it to be fulfilled before nightfall (I mean nightfall in New York, not Syria), but that's what happened, more or less.

Violent imagery

Kathy Griffin and photographer Tyler Shields, via Slate.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

For the Record: Some Troll

Syrian Arab and Kurdish civilians reaching safety in Hakassah. Photo by Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images via The Guardian.

This sequence covers mainly two bases: the fecklessness of Trump's failure in northern Syria and some of the details of his financial peculations. Some of it's new, or at least new sources, so I'm posting it here:

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A Yarn Ball as Big as China

Junior, unnamed friend, Parnas, and Fruman at some Trump property in May 2018, Facebook screenshot via Financial Times.

So I was having the craziest dream, all bound up, naturally, with the impeachment inquiries, and the House Intelligence Committee attempt to get witnesses and Trump and Barr trying to make then all refuse, and there were these two respectively Ukrainian- and Belarus-born Florida business guys, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who had worked in some capacity for the president's personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, in the Ukraine matter, refusing to testify or provide documents, only they did it by mail, in the form of a letter from their lawyer, John Dowd, who used to be Trump's personal lawyer, only the letter was in Comic Sans

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Springtime for Erdoğan

Kurdish fighters on the Syria-Iraq border, September 2013. Photo by James Gordon/Flickr via Foreign Policy in Focus.

So I was at least partly wrong and Operation Peace Spring (Barış Pınarı Harekatı; the "spring", pınar, is a spring of water, it's not that they don't realize it's October) has begun, against what the announcement refers to as "the PKK/YPG and Daesh terror organizations" (slipping in the false assertion that PKK, the militant Kurdish group in Turkey, and YPG, the Syrian Kurdish army that has been fighting the Da'esh in Syria for years with US support, are the same thing) and aiming, says BBC, to establish a "safe zone" on the Turkish-Syrian border and eventually repatriate about two million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees now living in camps in Turkey.
The old "ancient hatreds" argument used, as it so often is, to evade the responsibility the US bears for the fighting of recent years launched by the senseless invasion of Iraq, not to mention the other powers allied with Trump (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia) and not (Iran).

Trump seems to have the idea that all the Da'esh soldiers in Kurdish custody in the area are recruits from Europe, but in fact it's about 2,000 out of 10,000, according to BBC, and not, as he believes, mostly from Belgium, Britain, and France, but Chechens from Russia. He's become obsessed with them in recent months, apparently feeling that they are costing the US a lot of money, which is nonsensical, as Brett McGurk has explained, and sometimes suggests he's just going to bus them all from northern Syria to Belgium and let them out:

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Great and Unmatched Wisdom

Democratic Underground, using art by Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito from Captain America #227 (1978).

Funny bit of a buried lede in NPR's story on Trump and Erdoğan and the Syrian Kurds this morning, the angle of which was Pentagon sources telling Tom Bowman how entirely blindsided the Defense Department was by the development: they said that the Trump-Erdoğan call on Sunday had been what White House staff refers to as a "bad call", which I immediately took to mean the kind of call where Trump loses his temper, screams, and makes a rash decision in the hope of punishing everybody (as right at the beginning of the presidency, when he had those crazy interactions with Malcolm Turner of Australia and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico).

It startled me because I'd been imagining something quite different—like so many of us I've got Leader calls and quids pro quo on the brain at the moment, and just assumed Trump was greenlighting a Turkish attack on the Syrian Kurds in return for something from Turkey, or somebody else who had something he wanted, like "dirt" on an opponent or maybe just cash, and spent much of the day speculating on what it might be. When I should have been reading down to the bottom of the stories we already had, like this in The Times from Peter Baker and Lara Jakes:
In this case, Mr. Trump seemed to be responding instinctively to an unexpected comment by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey near the end of a telephone call on Sunday that otherwise focused on trade and defense assistance. Mr. Erdogan, who has long threatened to send troops over the border against Kurdish fighters allied with the United States, told Mr. Trump that he was finally moving forward.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

What Got You Trump

Continuation from yesterday
Photo via Garrett Bridger Gilmore, "David Brooks's Imaginary Friends", at The Outline.

Why NeverTrumpers Keep Trumping

An imagined conversation with Capitol Hill Opinionist.
Upper West Side Blogger: I hope you read the transcript of that Trump phone call with the Ukrainian president and the whistleblower complaint and the WhatsApp messages among the various flunkies. Trump clearly used his power to withhold defensive weapons from a foreign ally to ask the ally to forge documents incriminating his political opponent. This is impeachable. Not to mention trying to give some kind of official status to Rudy Giuliani's tinfoil hat theories about how Russia didn't interfere with the 2016 elections and Paul Manafort was wrongly convicted and everything in Volume I of the Mueller Report was apparently some kind of hallucination. I don’t see how you can deny the facts in front of your face.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Voyage into the Heart of Whiteness, Revisited

The death of Cleopatra, by Domenico Riccio, via Daily Beast.
An imagined conversation with Flyover Man.
Opinion Columnist
Honest to god, and then he gets offended when people make fun of him for offering an argument-by-fiction.
That's only 3.5 states per week so far, sorry. And last week you only went to three.

It's not so much the quantity of contact as the quality, my dear David. You may talk to all kinds of people, but you show few signs of having listened to them. And then when it's time to write it up you give us an "imagined conversation", as your dek text puts it, instead of a real interview, and answer your question by making it up.