Monday, February 18, 2019

Cheap Shots: Saturday Night



Hmm. You don't suppose the SNL crew is colluding with Russia, do you?


OK, so they make Putin better looking. What else do you have?

Got Paranoia? Puppet Puppet

Via Truiceman.


We're hearing a lot about Andrew McCabe's story, as retailed on CBS Sixty Minutes, of Trump telling his intelligence briefers, "I believe Putin", which doesn't seem like news to me at all—he's been telling us all himself for at least a couple of years. But NPR's interview with McCabe helpfully laid out the context, from which I think we can learn something new, and possibly a whole lot: I think we can tell exactly when and where Putin could have told him this, on an extremely significant day, and in that way corroborate that the story is true and fill in some important details of the conspiracy hypothesis, if you'll follow along:
Exhibit A: an FBI briefing with Trump that had "gone completely off the rails from the very beginning."
McCabe said the topic was supposed to be how Russian intelligence officers were using diplomatic compounds inside the U.S. to gather intelligence on American spy agencies. Those compounds were closed as part of the long diplomatic chill between the two countries.
"Instead the president kind of went off on a diatribe," McCabe told NPR, explaining that Trump changed the subject to his belief that North Korea had not actually launched any missiles because Russian President Vladimir Putin told him that the U.S. intelligence assessment was wrong and that "it was all a hoax."
The diplomatic compounds, officially home-away-from-home dachas for Russian diplomats missing their own dachas, were closed on a very specific occasion, on 28 December 2016, as part of the new sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration as retribution for Russia's interference in the presidential election, along with the expulsion of 35 personnel.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

For the Record: The Rhetoric of Emergency

Screenshot by BBC, May 2018.



Saturday, February 16, 2019

The emergency is still emerging



A funny thing happened to Trump on his way to declaring a national emergency in the Rose Garden yesterday, according to Mark Krikorian at National Review—he signed a bill into law that ensured he can't build any wall, at least not for the moment:
That’s because the bill allows the fencing to be built only in the Rio Grande Valley Sector in South Texas. It’s surely needed there [says Krikorian, wrongly], but real barriers are also needed elsewhere, such as the parts of the Arizona or New Mexico borders where there’s only vehicle fencing.
But the Democrats had a reason for this limitation. The bill states:

Friday, February 15, 2019

Breakup

Image by Justin Metz via The Economist.

Silliest response to the Amazon decision to give up on their Long Island City project was, I'm sorry to say, from Senator Professor Warren:

So now you're going to complain about corporations not taking bribes? There's just no satisfying you!

That said, it looks like the decision was for all the right reasons, and speaking as a New Yorker I'm feeling more and more not sorry it's ended this way:

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Word to the Wise Guys

From Ralph Bakshi's 1972 Fritz the Cat.

The most incoherent bit in The Atlantic's excerpt from Andrew McCabe's book, when he's describing his weird interactions with Trump and McGahn just after the firing of James Comey, when McCabe was the FBI's acting director, and Trump had this idea that he wanted to pay a formal visit to the Bureau, where he was convinced he was deeply loved, and McCabe wished he wouldn't, but was afraid to say so. Trump somehow doesn't believe his assurances:
I knew what a disaster it could turn out to be if he came to the Hoover Building in the near future. He pressed further, asking specifically, Do you think it would be a good idea for me to come down now? I said, Sure.
He looked at Don McGahn. The president said, Don, what do you think? Do you think I should go down to the FBI and speak to the people?
McGahn was sitting in one of the wooden chairs to my right. Making eye contact with Trump, he said, in a very pat and very prepared way, If the acting director of the FBI is telling you he thinks it is a good idea for you to come visit the FBI, then you should do it.
Then McGahn turned and looked at me. And Trump looked at me and asked, Is that what you’re telling me? Do you think it is a good idea?
It was a bizarre performance. I said it would be fine. I had no real choice. This was not worth the ultimate sacrifice.
What on earth is this about? Why would they be pressing him like this, to say something he's already said? Is it that they see his reluctance in his eyes? Or are we reading this—is McCabe reading this—completely backwards? Is McGahn actually begging McCabe to tell Trump no? Aware that it's a terrible idea, as anti-Trump emotions in the FBI rise to fever pitch, but afraid to tell the wicked old tyrant himself and looking for backup, which McCabe, equally frightened or just clueless or both, fails to provide? It's very odd. And then,

What "environmental" means

You know those coastal élites who think it's funny to be preoccupied with cow farts and the like? I guess they just think the 40% of all US land that's devoted to agriculture, as Purdy notes, producing 9% of our carbon emissions (in the very conservative EPA figures), is just flyover country. Seriously, those people love to talk about the "heartland" and their deep connection with the rural population, but they don't really believe it exists outside of their sentiments. Photo via University of Minnesota Extension

Another approach to the thing I wanted to say about the Green New Deal from Jedediah Purdy-Britton in the Times ("The Green New Deal Is What Realistic Environmental Policy Looks Like") and its roping of everything from indigenous rights to combating monopolies into the same structure:
this everything-and-the-carbon-sink strategy is actually a feature of the approach, not a bug, and not only for reasons of ideological branding. In the 21st century, environmental policy is economic policy. Keeping the two separate isn’t a feat of intellectual discipline. It’s an anachronism.
Because all these factors are literally built in to the situation:
Our carbon emissions are not mainly about the price of gasoline or electricity. They’re about infrastructure. For every human being, there are over 1,000 tons of built environment: roads, office buildings, power plants, cars and trains and long-haul trucks. It is a technological exoskeleton for the species. Everything most of us do, we do through it: calling our parents, getting to work, moving for a job, taking the family on vacation, finding food for the evening or staying warm in a polar vortex. Just being human in this artificial world implies a definite carbon footprint — and for that matter, a trail of footprints in water use, soil compaction, habitat degradation and pesticide use. You cannot change the climate impact of Americans without changing the built American landscape.
So the proposals to retrofit buildings, retool transportation and build a clean-energy system are simply ways of tackling the problem where it starts. They are public-works projects because large capital projects — especially ones that, like highways, involve widespread public benefit — have always required public money. They are jobs programs, unless robots do the work, so the jobs might as well be good.
The deeper point is that any economic policy is a jobs policy. The oil and gas sector provides at least 1.4 million American jobs, more if you believe industry estimates, and depends on public subsidies and infrastructure. You might say that producing the disaster of global climate change has taken a lot of economic policy and produced a lot of jobs programs. Reversing direction will take the same.
And so on. It's kind of what "environmental" means, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Literary Corner: Very, Very on Its Way

Image via Pixabay.



I Can't Say I'm Happy
by Donald J. Trump

I. I Can't Say I'm Happy
I can't say I'm thrilled,
but the wall is getting built regardless,
because we're doing other things
beyond what we're talking about here.
I have to study it.
I'm not happy about it.
It's not doing the trick,
but I'm adding things to it.
Am I happy at first glance?
I just got to see it.
The answer is no.
I'm not. I'm not happy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It's Green and it's New

Harold Lloyd, Royal Slyness (1920), via somebody's Pinterest.

Tom Friedman's 2007 idea of a Green New Deal (adopted, as he points out, in the 2008 Obama campaign, but melting after the financial collapse and the Obama election into the $800-billion vastness of the American Recovery and Readjustment Act, of which it formed a very successful $90-billion component but didn't seem anything like a full-blown New Deal any more) is moving out of the realm of Friedmanian fever dream and into the world of maybe, and I'm starting to believe it could really happen, judging from the panic with which it is being greeted by David Brooks ("How the Left Embraced Elitism"):
Under the Green New Deal, the government would provide a job to any person who wanted one. The government would oversee the renovation of every building in America. The government would put sector after sector under partial or complete federal control: the energy sector, the transportation system, the farm economy, capital markets, the health care system.
The authors liken their plan to the New Deal, but the real parallel is to World War II. It is the state mobilizing as many of society’s resources as possible to wage a war on global warming and other ills. The document is notably coy about how all this would be implemented. Exactly which agency would inspect and oversee the renovation of every building in America? Exactly which agency would hire every worker?
I can answer about the renovation of every building: that would be overseen by the same state agencies that enforce the energy efficiency building codes that already exist and report to the federal DOE. Brooksy picturing this unforgiving federal servant on every building site, carrying a clipboard no doubt, is imagining things. The plan will grow state governments more than it does the federal one.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Overstimulated

Via Institut Français de l'Éducation.

One of the worst things is that the 2020 presidential campaign seems to have begun. In fact it seems to have begun several months ago but I was in denial until the official announcements started coming out, but it's now impossible to ignore, because of course the media doesn't want to talk about anything other than Gillibrand's concern about the most photogenic way to eat chicken and waffles.

Incidentally,

You don't remember that, do you? Neither do I. That's because the only reporter with the courage to cover it was Kathleen Carey of the Daily Times of Delaware County, PA; when W claimed that he, unlike that decadent patrician John Kerry, took his cheesesteaks "Whiz with," he was prevaricating:
And the intrepid Carey came up with her own expose. She reported that Bush actually “prefers his steak absent of the usual Cheez Whiz and provolone, accompanied only by cheese of the American variety,” information that she obtained from her own Deep Throat, one Caeser Barnabei, the owner of the well-known cheesesteak shop, Jim’s Place. Barnabei, who has fed the Bush camp on previous swings through Pennsylvania and provided “70 to 80 hoagies” for the Bush campaign yesterday, confided to Carey that “the Jim’s Special is altered to whet the ‘W’ appetite.”
Meanwhile,

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Sorry



I should have said something too, having left the story up in the air with the pious hope we'd be seeing Fairfax as governor soon, and I regret that. Don't feel qualified to say more than that at the moment.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Brooks does a funny


Photo from Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville. Alabama.

David Brooks trotted out his humor-column machine for the first time in a long while, for a piece ("The Moral Indecency of the Away Message"), where the conceit was going to be parody out-of-office messages, but he could only think of one, revealing his suspicion that people who set their email to send an automatic response when they're on vacation are really trying to avoid him while they're available to more important people, like this fantasy correspondent:
As you know, away messages are the most dishonest form of modern communications. When we say we are away on vacation, we actually mean we are on vacation from people who need us more than we need them. If you are the sort of person I normally suck up to, you should know that my sucking up takes no breaks. For you, I am totally plugged in.
He needs to get over that.

Then there's the difficulty of redeeming one's frequent flier miles, which he seems to have confused with the difficulty of resetting a forgotten password, an issue I sympathize with, but it's so padded with distracting improbabilities that it sinks:

Thursday, February 7, 2019

My Blackface Career

Russian soprano Anna Netrebko as the Nubian princess Aida at the 2017 Salzburg Festival, bronzed like Trump.
And at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, in the HDTV performance I saw. How hard was that?

OK, I have no plans to run for office in Virginia or anywhere else, so I could keep this to myself, but I don't think I should. I was maybe 18, more likely 17, an unbearably raw white-boy freshman from a very small and faraway town—and I was invited, I don't recall by whom, to play the part of an enslaved black person in a video presentation, for educational purposes, of, or more likely from or about, Mrs. Mary H. Eastman's 1852 Aunt Phillis's Cabin, or, Southern Life as It Is, in brown face and hand makeup but a dignified jacket and tie, just reading my lines straight—I'm sure I'd remember if I'd been asked to read any dialect, or encouraged to do any clowning. and I don't, and I imagine it was a very small part. The book is pure propaganda against Mrs. Stowe, obviously,  and I would have been Uncle Bacchus, the good-hearted but helplessly shiftless opposite of Uncle Tom—refreshing the memory from Wikipedia, it looks very proto-libertarian, in that nearly all of the characters are educated white men arguing philosophically about their helpless dependents, who have hardly any voices at all; less a novel than a tedious treatise. No wonder Mrs. Stowe won.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Literary Corner: Hymn

Suffragette march in New York City, 1912, via Legends of America.


Hymn to Economic Miracles
Music by Sir Edward Elgar, 
lyrics attributed to Stephen Miller,
arranged for male chorus with obbligato kazoo

Victory is not winning for our party,
victory is winning for our country,
the majesty of America's mission,
and the power of American pride.
We can make our communities safer,
our families stronger, our culture richer,
our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger
and more prosperous than ever before.
We must reject the politics of revenge,
resistance and retribution, and embrace
the boundless potential of cooperation,
compromise and the common good.
We must choose between greatness or gridlock,
results or resistance, vision or vengeance,
incredible progress or pointless destruction.
An economic miracle is taking place
in the United States and the only thing
that can stop it are foolish wars,
politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.
If there is going to be peace and legislation,
there cannot be war and investigation.
It just doesn't work that way!
What I was mostly struck by in the SOTU was this profusion of chiasmus and alliteration in the early paragraphs, hysterically overwrought, like an Eminent Victorian funeral oration at the outset, but petering out to Johnny Cochrane (O.J. Simpson's memorable defense attorney) in the startling rhyme, and finally Trump himself, when it ends up saying to the whole of the assembled Congress, in essence, "I hope you can give me a break."

Which may be read as a plea or a threat, as you wish.

I didn't do much of anything with the text other than two move lines 3 and 4 into a place where they didn't belong, and I don't have a whole lot more to say about it, but I think it's really pretty funny on its own.

SOTU


Professional billionaire's girlfriend Melania Knauss pictures herself as First Lady in 2000 photo from Talk Magazine, via The Guardian.



And 14 seconds ago Trump finally became president. Oops, that finished fast!

His presidency is like one of those synthetic radioactive elements with a half-life so short only the most sensitive instruments can tell you it was there at all. Or alternatively this beloved journalist story of Trump's essential innocence and willingness to help the people, if only corrupt Washington hirelings would let him break out from the strictures they place on him, needs to be put to sleep forever.

I know how I vote. Trump doesn't have ideas. He has sentences that he likes, because he feels they make him sound attractive. Some of them sound as if they come from the "left". Remember when he was competing for the Reform Party nomination in 1999 and told reporters he wanted to retire the national debt with a one-time net-worth tax of 14.25% on fortunes of $10 million or more? Remember when he said his tax reform would "get the hedge fund guys"? He's been promising to solve the Israel-Palestine issue for decades, but when he gets a chance to try, he assigns the task to his son-in-law who literally does not know the Palestinian people exist. He's frequently claimed he'd like to eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth but has just trashed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty in a way that is more or less guaranteed to start a new arms race. This isn't because he's "changed his mind" about nuclear weapons, but because the new move also makes him sound attractive: he gets to complain about how Russia has cheated all the presidents except for him and show that he's "tough on Russia" (I share the widespread view that Putin isn't feeling at all punished by the development).

Does he contradict himself? Very well then, he contradicts himself! But he doesn't mean one side of these dilemmas more than the other side, at least unless he's personally involved in some way (I expect with the "hedge fund guys" he ended up favoring the interests of his own $85-million investment).

There's nothing new in his saying he's in favor of legal immigration. It's been an extremely important part of the rhetoric to insist that he has nothing against them, recognizes that American is a land of immigrants, etc., etc. He's not a racist! He objects to the people he objects to only because they're breaking the law! The whole movement talks the same way, and it's completely clear in the words Stephen Miller or whoever wrote for him for last night's performance (with the improvised words in brackets):
This is a moral issue. The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well‑being of all Americans. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today, who followed the rules and respected our laws. Legal immigrants enrich our Nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. I want people to come into our country [in the largest numbers ever], but they have to come in legally.
But he's against it at the same time, and nobody can say he was talked into it against his natural inclination, if you see the venom he puts into inveighing against "chain migration" (clearly unaware or unconcerned that some of his wives' families have practiced it under his patronage), or denouncing would-be immigrants from "shithole countries".

Nobody talks Trump into anything. Bannon or Miller or Sessions (whose most malevolent thoughts are still alive in the DOJ months after he left it) may provide the words he's too lazy to produce for himself, but they aren't changing his mind any more than anybody else. He's just completely happy to be a schmuck.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Literary Corner: Hot Pockets


Via me.me.


You're Going to Have Pockets
by Donald J. Trump

You're going to always have pockets
of something. What—you're going
to have people, like the one-armed man
who blew up a restaurant.
You're going to have pockets.
But you're not going to keep armies
there because you have a few people.
Or you even have fairly reasonable
numbers of people. We've been there
for many, many years.
This jaunty New York School surrealism—I'm thinking Kenneth Koch—would be truly charming if it hadn't been intended to have a meaning, but as so often happens with Trump's best-sounding work, it's kind of wrecked by its intention, which was to trivialize the situation in Syria as described in the Senate testimony of DNI director Dan Coats last seek:
It is, of course, accurate that ISIS has suffered significant leadership losses and near total loss of territorial control. But of course they’re still dangerous, which is your point, and they’re the largest Sunni terrorist group, and they still command thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria. So I think the stance in the administration and supported by the IC is that we’re going to work very hard to finish that mission and that we–that’s another example of where we must maintain a very robust monitoring regime and retain the ability to project into Syria should we need to.... Remaining pockets of ISIS and opposition fighters will continue, we agree–we assess, to stoke–to stoke violence as we have seen in incidents happening in the Idlib province of Syria.
I'm not saying there's no reason to reduce the US troop strength at least down to the levels of the end of the Obama administration (they've quadrupled under Trump from 500-something to over 2200), but the 2018 violence in Idlib began with another quarter of a million new internal refugees from indiscriminate bombing, possibly including chlorine weapons, and deliberate starvation of the population, and ended with new eruptions of violence (and executions and hand amputations in some areas) in spite of the September deal made by Russia and Turkey, and welcomed by the US and Iran, to reduce it. It's not "fairly reasonable numbers of people".

Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that the president's concern, or lack of concern, is exemplified by the story of a one-armed man who blew up a restaurant in Syria?

Answer: In principle yes, but first of all, the attack, during Ramadan, at the end of June 2016, was on an airport, not a restaurant, and second of all, it was the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, where there are no US troops, not in Syria, and third of all, it was three suicide bombers from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan who did the bombing, not the one-armed Chechen, Akhmet Chatayev, who directed them from a remote location, killing 44 and injuring more than 230.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Incompetence

Via Fake Posters.
This is rich:
The Trump administration says it would require extraordinary effort to reunite what may be thousands of migrant children who have been separated from their parents and, even if it could, the children would likely be emotionally harmed.
Jonathan White, who leads the Health and Human Services Department’s efforts to reunite migrant children with their parents, said removing children from “sponsor” homes to rejoin their parents “would present grave child welfare concerns.” He said the government should focus on reuniting children currently in its custody, not those who have already been released to sponsors.
The government's incompetence in the carrying out of their own stupid, cruel, and illegal policy has led to their being unable to rectify it for at least 2,737 children; they don't know which kids belong to which adults: Jallyn Sualog, deputy director of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, told the court in response to an ACLU suit, it's not "within the realm of the possible," and besides please give us more money:
“Even if performing the analysis Plaintiffs seek were within the realm of the possible, it would substantially imperil ORR’s ability to perform its core functions without significant increases in appropriations from Congress, and a rapid, dramatic expansion of the ORR data team.”
Now this Jonathan White, Executive Director, HHS/ASPR National Advisory Committees, is trying to suggest it's for the kids' own good. I don't think so.

Also, how many separated children that White wants his department to "focus on" are still in ORR custody since the court order of LAST JUNE required the agency to reunite them? In October, according to GAO, there were 437. WHY WOULD THERE BE ANY AT ALL?

Now we know those numbers were fraudulent; the administration began separating children from families almost a year before Sessions announced the policy in June 2018, and the GAO is unable to tell us how many children were separated altogether, but it could be thousands more than we were originally told. Don't you want to focus on finding the information you falsely claimed to have last fall before you start explaining which kids you're going to take care of as the law requires and which ones you're going to abandon?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Literary Corner: The area—the land—the area

Noon, 1947, Lee Krasner, via Wikiart.


Sonnet: On the Poet Attempting to Explain Why He Scolded the Intelligence Community For Disagreeing With Him on Syria Before Deciding That They Agreed With Him After All, Which Everybody Knows They Didn't
by Donald J. Trump

It wasn't so much a report. It was the questions
and answers as the report was submitted
and they were asked questions and answers.
We've done an incredible job with Syria.
When I took over Syria it was infested
with ISIS. It was all over the place.
And now you have very little ISIS and
you have the caliphate almost knocked out.
We will be announcing in the not too distant future
100 percent of the caliphate which is the area—
the land—the area—100. We're at
99 percent right now, we'll be at 100.
When I took it over it was a disaster.
I think we've done a great job with that.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Use of Tragedy




I may have something more useful to say on that whole "call-out culture" thing, thanks in the first place to the ongoing collapse of Virginia Democratic governor Ralph Northam since he's been called out for his repellent self-presentation in his 1984 med school yearbook, in a photograph where he was either in minstrel-show blackface or KKK robe and hood (we haven't yet been told which of the two people was him), and it looks as if he's going to have to resign eventually or, as David Brooks will be saying any day now, his life is being destroyed.

Or maybe sooner—as I write, AP is reporting what looks like an effort to plead innocent to the thing he just abjectly apologized for:
A Virginia Democrat who has spoken with Gov. Ralph Northam has told The Associated Press that the governor now does not believe he was in a racist picture in his 1984 medical yearbook and has no immediate plans to resign.
How's that? Had he thought at first we were talking about some other picture? [Update: He's confessing that he actually did darken his face in 1984 for an entirely different purpose, dressing as Michael Jackson in a dance contest, and thought initially that was the yearbook picture, although it's hard to figure how you could remember wearing a Michael Jackson costume and not remember that Michael Jackson rarely dressed like this:

Friday, February 1, 2019

Literary Corner: Born Under a Trump Sign



Donald's Blues
By Donald J. Trump
I was treated really badly during the election.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that I’m treated even worse.
I’m treated bad.
And I’m working hard.
This job is from an economic —
you know, I get a kick out of these people saying
“Oh, a rich Arab stayed at his hotel,”
you know, I’ll bet you,
between opportunity cost and actual cost, you know
but I lost massive amounts of money doing this job.
I was treated really badly during the election.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that I’m treated even worse.
I’m treated bad.
And I’m working hard.
This is not the money.
This is, this is one of the great losers of all time.
You know fortunately I don’t need money.
This is one of the great losers of all time.
But they’ll say that somebody from some country stayed at a hotel.
And I’ll say “Yeah.” But I lose, I mean, the numbers are incredible.
I was treated really badly during the election.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that I’m treated even worse.
I’m treated bad.
And I’m working hard.
If it wasn't for Arabs, wouldn't have no guests at all. Text from A.G. Sulzberger's interview of the president of the United States.

Homo make-me-a-sandwichensis

Margaret Leahy in Buster Keaton's Three Ages (1923). H/t Mary Ellen!

Two weeks ago David Brooks issued a column about "The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture" about an anecdote set in the "hard-core punk music scene in Richmond, Va." in which Emily, a performer, takes to Facebook to denounce a friend and fellow musician who has been caught sending some young lady a dick pic (I think, Brooks keeps it vague). The Facebook post ruins his life, he drops out of his own band and moves to another town, and nobody ever speaks to him again. Whereupon karma does her thing and Emily, who once bullied a girl victim of online abuse when they were in high school, is outed by a guy called Herbert and ostracized in turn, only it turns out that Herbert was abused sexually as a child, so it's all pretty sad, though it's not easy to see what anybody's supposed to do about it unless the solution is to just put up with abuse because you don't want anybody to really get hurt. In the society of niceness, you'll just suck it up.
Society enforces norms by murdering the bullies who break them. When systems are broken, vigilante justice may be rough justice, but it gets the job done. Prominent anthropologist Richard Wrangham says this is the only way civilization advances that he’s witnessed.
Really? Do we really think cycles of cruelty do more to advance civilization than cycles of wisdom and empathy? I’d say civilization moves forward when we embrace rule of law, not when we abandon it.
Though Emily explained pretty carefully that the rule of law didn't exist at the time, in regard to the time she was raped herself: