Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Literary Corner: I Got Rhythm

Donald Trump's latest performance piece, Commuting Roger, a multimedia blizzard of tweets, video clips, official statements, and court papers, came out to rave reviews, as the president himself said ("I'm getting rave reviews"). Critics adored the extraordinarily swift pacing of the dénouement, in which the attorney general said Stone's prosecution was justified, Stone confessed that he'd committed his crimes (lying and intimidating witnesses) to cover up the president's high crimes, and Trump announced he'd paid the price of keeping Stone silent on the details in a Friday night news dump, all in an Aristotelian span of less than 24 hours:

July 9, 2020: Attorney General William Barr declares that Roger Stone’s prosecution was “righteous.”

July 10, 2020: After learning that his appeals to remain out of prison have been denied and that he must surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on July 14, Roger Stone tells reporter Howard Fineman, “I had 29 or 30 conversations with Trump during the campaign period. He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t. They wanted me to play Judas. I refused.”

Also on July 10, 2020: Shortly after Fineman’s interview with Stone becomes public, Trump commutes Stone’s sentence and he becomes a free man. (Steven Harper/BillMoyers.com)

But there were many remarkable effects along the way, not least the moment in the next day's epilogue, "Remarks to Stakeholders Positively Impacted by Law Enforcement" when he slipped, unexpectedly, out of his usual choppy free verse into 15 lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter, the line of Shakespeare and Milton:

Monday, July 13, 2020

Douthat and the only-two-countries-in-the-world model of Grand Strategy

Mahjong tiles revealing that China has words for "north", "east", "south", and "west".

Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, takes his Grand Strategy chops out for a spin ("The Chinese Decade"):

richer-but-not-freer China proved that it was possible for an authoritarian power to tame the internet, to make its citizens hardworking capitalists without granting them substantial political freedoms, to buy allies across the developing world, and to establish beachheads of influence — in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, American academia, the NBA, Washington, D.C. — in the power centers of its superpower rival....

So China has won twice over: First rising with the active collaboration of naïve American centrists, and then consolidating its gains with the de facto collaboration of a feckless American populist. Four months into the coronavirus era, Xi Jinping’s government is throttling Hong Kong, taking tiny bites out of India, saber-rattling with its other neighbors, and perpetrating a near-genocide in its Muslim West. Meanwhile America is rudderless and leaderless, consumed by protests and elite psychodrama and a moral crusade whose zeal seems turned entirely inward, with no time to spare for a rival power’s crimes.

Furthermore, Trump’s likely successor is a figure whose record and instincts and family connections all belong to the recent period of American illusions about China. 

One of those naïve American centrists, he means, Joe Biden, and of course sneaking in the reference to the familiar smear for the cognoscenti, because that's how Ross rolls—Biden's "family connections" meaning the bogus story from Peter Schweitzer's fabrication factory according to which Hunter Biden took some kind of illicit profit from associations with the Chinese government (I dealt with it briefly here in the form of a Radio Yerevan joke).

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Ismus of Enema

Via the Brooklyn Meetup Philosophy Book Club.

Hi, welcome to the Philosophy Diner, I'm David Brooks ("Two Cheers For Liberalism! (Or Maybe One and a Half)"), and I'll be your server. Today's special is Liberalism, which is my favorite, but I have to warn you, this is not the spicy kind of Liberalism you get from Eleanor Roosevelt and Saul Alinsky, but a more traditional or even antique kind of Liberalism, which is based on the idea that reason is separate from emotion, so it tends to devolve into a detached, passionless Rationalism. Or it's based on the idea that the choosing individual is the basic unit of society, so it devolves into Atomism, in an alienated society of lonely buffered selves. Or if it's based on the idea that people are primarily motivated by self-interest, it could devolve into disenchanted Materialism. To say nothing of Racism, which reduces a human being to a skin color, and people nowadays who dehumanize themselves by reducing themselves to a single label and making politics their one identity, as when they say, "speaking as a Liberal...," leaving no room for the individual conscience. 
I guess basically the Liberalism just devolves no matter what you do, and to be honest I can't recommend it, though, speaking as a Liberal, I've been there all my life myself, in this peculiar Rationalist, Atomistic, and Materialist sense. I only give two cheers, like E.M. Forster on Democracy, or am I thinking of Kristol on Capitalism, or Jonathan Chait on Socialism, or something else? Or even less than two cheers, maybe one and a half, because you probably won't like it at all, if only because of the Individualism, which leaves an unpleasant roughness at the back of the palate. I'd advise you to order a small plate of Liberalism with a small plate of Personalism, which is not based on the idea that the choosing individual is the basic unit of society, but the idea that the individual with individual conscience is the basic unit of society. And a basket of freshly buffered selves on the side.
See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Personalism, which is what Brooks's column is apparently really cheering, as opposed to any of these kinds of Liberalism, for further information. It seems to be a very specifically Christian and theologized kind of 19th-century philosophy working its way down to John Paul II, and a way of having your individualism and eating it too, if you know what I mean, often involving the recognition that God is a person too. That's undoubtedly a very crude oversimplification or schematic distortion but I'm not inclined to take it too seriously and just hope nobody cares a lot more than I do.

Friday, July 10, 2020

For the Record: Stupid or Wicked?

Kin Ming Estates, Tseung Kwon O, Hong Kong, housing 22,000 people. Image by Baycrest via Wikipedia.

Roy (subscription) asks, on the subject of the contrast between helpless Jonah Goldberg and Rod Dreher and malevolent Tucker Carlson, where we draw the line for conservatives between stupid and evil. It generated a huge amount of very interesting commentary, from which my main contribution:

I'm enough of an old-school love-me-I'm-a-liberal, by upbringing and temperament, that the question makes me kind of uncomfortable. Am I implicitly wondering whether we in the progressive community are really, really smart, or just really, really good?

There's a classic liberal answer according to which stupid and evil are two sides of one coin. People are evil because they don't know any better, and they're stupid because they're too selfish to bother learning. Chicken and egg. Conservatives are evil because they're so unconscious of the exigencies of life outside their own tiny and comfy community that they can't conceive how anybody could get into trouble unless they were bad people, and therefore feel no pity. There's a parallel failure of perspective among liberals like Dickens's Mrs. Jellyby, whose emotions were wholly devoted to starting a mission in Africa while she lost track of her neglected children and suicidal husband, but at least Mrs. Jellyby has some moral imagination.

If conservatives are forced to find out, they might learn. I think David French truly learned something about what it's like to be a black kid when he adopted one and his ugly-white community turned on them. Everybody knows about Mrs. Reagan realizing that stem-cell research isn't immoral when she was caring 24/7 for an Alzheimer's patient and heard that the research could help. That's why we love stories like The Prince and the Pauper or Trading Places.

The thing that distinguishes Tucker from Jonah is the energy he's willing to put into staying ignorant or, if necessary, turning to ignorance on a 1984 dime, as he did with the subject of mask-wearing the other day, adopting the Trump view after weeks of telling his audience the (scientifically correct) opposite. Jonah doesn't have any energy and trusts his friends to make the decisions (David Brooks has a wider circle of friends and adopts three or four contradictory viewpoints without noticing the contradictions). Tucker actively looks for the view that will advance his power goals whether it's true or not, and I agree that's evil. But he doesn't think it's important because he's too stupid to imagine the real-world consequences; he's just a high school kid taking the side the debate coach assigned him, doing his best to win it for the team.

The conversation quickly fell into worrying about "DLC Democrats" or "establishment Democrats", and I had something to say about that as well:


Via cheezburger.com.

One thing clear about the Supreme Court rulings today on the emperor's financial records is that no decision was going to give us, or the journalists, a chance to look at his financial records any time soon. In the case of Trump v. Vance, his attempt to prevent the Manhattan district attorney from obtaining his tax records by subpoena, which Trump clearly lost, we were never going to see the records; when Vance gets them, which may not be very soon, they'll be in materials submitted to a grand jury in the investigation of Trump's campaign violations when he was suppressing the stories of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal (in the case for which Michael Cohen has been jailed and Trump is an official unidicted conspirator), and whatever the grand jury gets will be subject to grand jury secrecy. On Trump v. Mazars (where the Court's ruling also applied to Trump v. Deutsche Bank), the deal Ian Milhiser hypothesizes was probably inevitable (more inevitable than Milhiser thinks it was):

that the Court’s liberals simply lacked the votes to order the House subpoenas enforced, so they decided that it was better to cast their lot with Roberts than to risk having their conservative colleagues unite behind a rule that was even more favorable to Trump.

Roberts bothsided his arguments for all they were worth, like a kind of judicial David Brooks, fiercely denouncing the theory that the president is completely immune from investigation but insisting that the House of Representatives overstated its own case:

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

For the Record: With Cheap Shots

Not to mention the administration's ongoing effort (not likely to succeed, because he doesn't have the power under our "federal" system which seems like a good thing for a change) to force public schools to open ahead of time, which just seems ridiculously dangerous, for teachers and other staff, for kids (and the horrible danger of the Kawasaki-like syndrome that has afflicted some when "normal" Covid-19 left them apparently unscathed) and the parents and grandparents to whom they could bring the disease home. I have my own theory of what his "plan" is—

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Hopeful Family

Californian community activist Allen Hernandez, with the Sacred Heart of Jesus on his left arm and the Mayan god Kukulkan (Quetzalcoatl in Aztec) on the right, via Religion News.

Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic envoy to 42nd Street, has an interesting thought about the relation between religion and the current condition of the progressive movement in the US ("The Religious Roots of a New Progressive Era"), with a big hole in it just the right shape for me to crawl through, starting with a famous evasive remark from the 1952 presidential campaign:
“Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith,” Dwight Eisenhower said in 1952, “and I don’t care what it is.”
Which is really nothing more than a hilariously Ikish way of recapitulating John Adams's wonderful explanation, in a letter to Jefferson of June 1813, of what he had meant in 1798 by telling the Massachusetts Militia that "our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people"—

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Counterintelligence News

Zandar flagged some important and at first sight kind of depressing reporting from Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker, showing how the fix was in on the Mueller investigation from the start, with some new details on two meetings from the beginning, one in which Andrew McCabe (in his brief time as acting director of the FBI) briefs Mueller on what the FBI knows about the stuff Mueller will be investigating, and one in which Mueller gets initial instructions from acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein. It's in the latter that the fix comes:

Rosenstein wasn’t as familiar with the evidence as McCabe and his team were, but he had a broader piece of advice for Mueller. Now that he was Mueller’s boss, it could be interpreted as a command. “I love Ken Starr,” Rosenstein said, according to people present. (Starr was the independent counsel who oversaw the Clinton Whitewater investigation; Rosenstein had been a prosecutor on the Arkansas portion of that inquiry.) “But his investigation was a fishing expedition. Don’t do that. This is a criminal investigation. Do your job, and then shut it down.”

In other words, far from authorizing a wide-ranging investigation of the President and his allies, the Justice Department directed Mueller to limit his probe to individuals who were reasonably suspected of committing crimes.

I always forget how good Toobin is (as a TV pundit I find him annoying, but on the page he's still a real New Yorker writer), but in this case I think he's mistaken; Rosenstein was right about the danger of emulating Starr, and Mueller was right to take heed. But I also think Toobin is missing something important that we here in Left Blogistan just happen to know about, and it's causing him to misread his evidence.

Literary Corner: Swiftian

One of Trump's reading glitches, when he couldn't lift the word "sweeping" off its spot on the teleprompter, landed him into spectacular territory in his Fourth of July speech:

These Planes
by Stephen Miller and Donald J. Trump

These planes once launched 
off of massive aircraft carriers 
in the fiercest battles 
of World War II 

They raced through the 
skies of Korea's MiG Alley 

They carried American 
warriors into the 
dense fields and jungles 
of Vietnam

they delivered a swift 
and Swiftian—
you know that—
it was swift and 
it was sweeping like nobody's
ever seen anything happen

it was a victory in 
Operation Desert Storm
a lot of you were involved in that
a lot of you were involved
that was the quick one

Somebody's deceptive edit of the video (above) made it sound as if Trump thought Operation Desert Storm was in Vietnam instead of Iraq, but of course there is no evidence of that (his interpolation "that was the quick one" suggests he remembers pretty well, in its contrast to the slow Iraq war, which the speech naturally wouldn't mention at all because it wasn't a victory).

It's Stephen Miller's knowledge that is represented here, not Trump's, and Miller wasn't making anything up, either; he was clearly working from the list of historical planes doing the flyovers that were the evening's main entertainment, allowing Trump to cast himself as a kind of MC for the occasion (last year was a similarly structured guided tour, but the flyovers were ordered by service branch instead of time period). The interpolation "a lot of you were involved" does suggest to me that Trump doesn't remember Desert Storm was 30 years ago, and few of the active military among the "front-line workers and their families" who made up the guest list could have participated in it. 

It's clear, on the other hand, that at the Swiftian moment, Trump isn't himself aware that his text has left Vietnam and moved on to Iraq; the huge font on his teleprompter screen doesn't allow enough words to get him there. And as usual he hasn't read the speech in advance.

I'm the only one who thinks Trump said "Swiftian", by the way. Partly because I long for it to be true, but it still sounds plausible, not that Trump knows the word. I thought it would apply very well all the same to the Vietnam War—savage, sarcastic, scatological, and conducted by higher-ups who wouldn't have refused to consider the costs and benefits of eating babies, if it had been suggested to them.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Humility Lesson Postscript

Edward Wood and James Cagney in William Wellman's Public Enemy (1931).

A spectacular literary fail I forgot to mention in the Brooks column that I know you'll all appreciate: a metaphor in which America is the Matt Damon character in Good Will Hunting and Brooks himself is the infinitely wise but irreparably damaged Robin Williams character:

We’re confronted with a succession of wicked problems and it turns out we’re not even capable of putting on a friggin’ mask.

In the days leading up to this July 4 weekend, I’ve been thinking about a scene in “Good Will Hunting.” We’ve seen Will perform all these mathematical feats and flights of verbal brilliance, but the Robin Williams character sits him down on a park bench and confronts him with a rot at the core of his character. “I look at you; I don’t see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared” kid.

The last three years have been like that Robin Williams speech for a whole nation — an intervention, a truth-telling.

By coyly bowdlerizing the line 
I look at you; I don’t see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared shitless kid.
while scrupulously keeping the quotation mark truthful, just seconds after the awkward attempt at being racy in his own voice with the euphemism "friggin'", he bleeds out the line's meaning, turning it from the deeply startling moment of the 1997 movie (the weird acoustic weight of "scared shitless" as a modifier before "kid" in addition to the semantic weight of all the "shits" and "fucks" in the passage on the part of the kindly older man addressing the genius punk) into something that would already have sounded like a cliché if Pat O'Brien had used it in the 1930s.

Humility Lessons

Harold Lloyd in Hal Roach's Haunted Spooks, 1920, via.

David Brooks, 21 May
Aside from a few protesters and a depraved president, most of us have understood we need to suspend the old individualistic American creed. In the midst of a complex epidemiological disaster, to be anti-authority is to be ignorant. In the midst of a contagion, to act as if you are self-sufficient is just selfish.
David Brooks, 28 May
But it’s too easy to offload all blame on Trump. Trump’s problem is not only that he’s emotionally damaged; it is that he is unlettered. He has no literary, spiritual or historical resources to draw upon in a crisis.
David Brooks, 25 June
There are five gigantic changes happening in America right now. The first is that we are losing the fight against Covid-19. Our behavior doesn’t have anything to do with the reality around us. We just got tired so we’re giving up.
David Brooks, 3 July ("The National Humiliation We Need")

It wasn’t Trump who went out to bars in Tempe, 
Austin and Los Angeles in June. 
It wasn’t Trump who put on hospital gowns 
and told the American people you could suspend 
the lockdown if your cause was just. Once 
you told people they could suspend the lockdown 
for one thing, they were going to suspend it for others.

Does anybody know what that is about the hospital gowns? It's in the position where Brooks would normally put a bothsides antinomy, so I suppose to counterbalance the Republican individualist bargoers he's referring to some group of Social Justice Warriors going out undistanced, but why would they be wearing hospital gowns, especially when PPE supplies could still be precarious? Dr. Google is baffled; he finds some Wisconsin family planning advocates in hospital gowns picketing Scott Walker in 2015 over abortion law, and a bunch of Darrel Issa's San Diego constituents in hospital gowns in 2017 protesting Issa's vote against Obamacare, but in 2020 it's just nurses protesting the lack of PPE, and they obviously couldn't have been wearing gowns because they couldn't spare any.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Literary Corner: It's Gonna Be Gone

Arshile Gorky, Untitled, 1944-45, via artsy.net.

Putting Out the Fires
by Donald J. Trump

It’s gonna go.
It’s gonna leave. 
It’s gonna be gone.

It’s gonna be eradicated.
It might take longer, it might 
be in smaller sections. 

It won’t be what we had. 
If you have a flare-up in a 
certain area—I call them burning
embers—boom, we put it out. 
We know how to put it out now....
Some areas 
that were very hard hit 
are now doing very well. 

Some were doing very well, 
and we thought they may be gone, 
and they flare up, and 
we’re putting out the fires. 

But other places were long 
before us, and they’re now —

it’s got a life, and we’re putting 
out that life, because 
that’s a bad life that we’re talking about.

I can't even. But...

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Emperor Has No Nose (But He Thinks He's Got the Best)

Via Medium, and a nice post by William Sonn with an alternative answer to "Which Roman emperor does Trump resemble most?"—Caracalla, he argues persuasively.

Hi, I just want to turn the mic over to good old Watergate hero Carl Bernstein, reporting for CNN:

(CNN)In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America's principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials -- including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff -- that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.

The calls caused former top Trump deputies -- including national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials -- to conclude that the President was often "delusional," as two sources put it, in his dealings with foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence that the President became more skillful or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. Rather, he continued to believe that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, and often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest.
This is the first report of a four-month CNN investigation that seems to be following up on the Zelenskyy affair and the glimpse it offered of what Trump's leader conversations are like, bullying, cajoling, and focusing on his personal interests, his complete inability to sustain a normal give-and-take interaction with another person. Though when you think about it we've been seeing it from the beginning, with the reports of Trump's calls with Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull

Monday, June 29, 2020

NYT Book Review: Sentence them to the galleys!

Right, "Intel" gave him a call 10:30 Sunday night after leaving him hanging for 48 hours. "Hi, Mr. President, Intel here, we got a line on that report that we've been collecting evidence going back to January that GRU has been paying Afghan militants to kill NATO troops since 2018, and it turns out when we had that emergency National Security Council meeting on the subject last March, as reported in The Times, WaPo, and Wall Street Journal, among other places, we apparently decided the evidence wasn't credible, so we didn't want to bother you. We suspect the New York Times Book Review of fabricating the whole thing."

With their field critics in Helmand, who planted the story with the militants ("Just tell the interrogators Russians were paying you, and in turn we'll get you lunch with an agent to pitch your manuscript"). No, the @nytimesbooks bit must be a bizarre Autocorrect. But in general he's once again gotten out ahead of where the cleanup crew can follow him, simultaneously acknowledging that the reports exist, "based at least in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals", and claiming that The Times made them up.

And in other cheap shots:

Saturday, June 27, 2020

And How They GRU

This story, reported last night by Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz in The Times, is nuts: that the Russian GRU unit 29155, implicated in the attempted murder of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in Sofia in 2015, the attempt to assassinate the Montenegrin prime minister and overturn that country's government in 2016, the attempted murder of Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018, has also been active in Afghanistan, orchestrating attacks by Taliban-linked militants on American and other NATO troops there and paying them bounties for success in some fraction of those killings (something like 50 Americans have been killed in hostile fire and IED attacks in Afghanistan since 2017). 

Let's just say that again: Russian intelligence helping Afghan insurgents kill Americans, and paying them for it. The report doesn't offer any conclusions about how far up the Russian chain of command it goes, but we're always told that nothing big happens without Vladimir Putin's approval. 
The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.
The White House has been sitting on this information for close to four months, apparently unable to make up its mind to do anything, though. Except to keep it secret, apparently. Though Trump has been conducting his own Russia policy of pushing the readmission of Russia to the former G8, now G7, even though the crimes in Ukraine for which Russia was expelled (the annexation of Crimea and collaborating in an insurgency in the Donbass region) are ongoing, doubling down on the idea of invitating Putin to attend a G7 summit.. As Twitter was quick to note:

Friday, June 26, 2020

Social Justice League

Via Washington Area Spark. Note it was a multiracial crowd.

While Monsignor Douthat urges the Marxists supposedly betrayed by the Democrats to join up with his own white-power movement, if that's what he's really up to, David Brooks continues with the simpler task of sketching out the Democratic Party he'd enjoy voting for, which would be more attentive to his particular sensibilities, and less distracted from what he regards as the Big Issues ("America Is Facing 5 Epic Crises All at Once: This is not the time to obsess about symbolism"):
  1. "We" are losing the battle against Covid-19;
  2. "all Americans but especially white Americans" are rapidly learning about the struggles involved in being an African American;
  3. the American public is "vehemently rejecting" the Republican Party under Trumpian leadership;
  4. American cultural institutions are being taken over by the "quasi-religion" of Social Justice, which sees history as "essentially a power struggle between groups, some of which are oppressors and others of which are oppressed", and speech as "a form of violence that has to be regulated"; and
  5. we might be on the verge of a severe depression.

These five changes, each reflecting a huge crisis and hitting all at once, have created a moral, spiritual and emotional disaster. Americans are now less happy than at any time since they started measuring happiness nearly 50 years ago. Americans now express less pride in their nation than at any time since Gallup started measuring it 20 years ago.

Points 1 and 5 are real problems, though I think Brooks is too pessimistic about the first—it's not a battle with an enemy that can win—the virus can either run out of hosts to infect if we're all dead, or find a way of carrying on without killing us all, but it can't declare victory and occupy a throne somewhere; there's an other side that we'll all reach sooner or later, some of us sooner because we're willing to change our behavior, others not. Governors Abbot, Kemp, DeSantis, and Ducey certainly seem to be losing their wars. but they're against the Democrats and the citizens, and I hear Abbot is starting to negotiate for peace. On the last point, Brooks is too optimistic: this is a very bad economic crisis, and it will take a lot to emerge from it. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Ross Goes Bannon

Via Medium.

Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, deeply concerned about the Democrats, as always, and showing some weird sentimental attachment to Bernie Sanders and the politics of class struggle ("The Second Defeat of Bernie Sanders"):

Three months ago, Bernie Sanders lost his chance at the Democratic nomination, after a brief moment in which his socialist revolution seemed poised to raze the bastions of neoliberal power. But the developments of the last month, the George Floyd protests and their cultural repercussions, may prove the more significant defeat for the Sanders cause. In the winter he merely lost a presidential nomination; in the summer he may be losing the battle for the future of the left.

It's the usual story of the Democrats abandoning the "working class" and economic issues in favor of "elites" with their "social" concerns, except Douthat's refusal to believe that the working class has any black and brown people in it, or women, for whom racism and sexism are in fact serious economic issues, is getting really deafening at the moment:

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Radio Heads

Via Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

From the open tabs:

I've been meaning to say something about the awfulness of Michael Pack, the new head of the US Agency for Global Media, which is the umbrella agency for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and other international news outlets widely recognized for the quality and independence of their work; a rightwing filmmaker (he produced the documentary Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words) and pal of another would-be Hollywood mogul, Stephen Bannon, we're told, who is in turn an inveterate enemy of VOA:

“VOA is a rotten fish from top to bottom,” Bannon, the former leader of the conservative Breitbart news site, said in an interview. “It’s now totally controlled by the deep-state apparatus.”

He has been pushing Trump to take control of the Voice of America since he served as chief White House strategist during Trump’s first seven months in office. Following his forced departure, Bannon has kept up the fight from the outside. (Los Angeles Times, December 2018)

Now he's sacked the heads of more or less all these outlets, in a clear effort to seize ideological control, and it's a plainly horrible thing from the standpoint of US prestige—like shutting down the Peace Corps or all the USIS libraries, among the few American things that rouse universal admiration in the flood of Trumpy embarrassments and war crimes memories—but I'm not hearing as much outrage as I'd expect.

Why? I have a feeling it's partly the outrage overload, and the fact that we don't generally watch/listen to VOA here in the states—they're not really meant for us (I should say I run into RFE written materials online all the time, and they're really well done, well sourced, good on complexities, and not tendentious), and we don't feel personally threatened by it.

And then we don't have a sense of why they'd want to destroy VOA and RFE, so it just seems more like garden-variety vandalism than anything important. For the very reason that Americans don't use them, how could they be used to further Trumpy ends? For propaganda? What's the value of propaganda that we never hear/

So, for a little paranoia, how about the following: It's not Trump that suffers from VOA and RFE and so on, but Trump's friends: Xi Jinping, Mohammad bin Salman, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Rodrigo Duterte, and above all Bannon's Eurasianist Führer Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Some of whom have been known to provide Trump with a little election help (and Russia has been putting pressure on VOA and RFE/RL since the beginning of Trump's term, designating them as "foreign agents" back in December 2017).

Is Trump doing his friends a little favor, as friends do?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Literary Corner: Ramp, the Bootleg Tape

Emperor Trump's road show has been likened to the Grateful Dead, for the loyal fans, Trumpheads, who follow it from town to town, making it look as if he has a sizable following in every town on the tour, competing with one another as to who's seen him the most times.

He also resembles the Dead, it occurs to me, in the way he trots out his greatest hits for the audience, stories we've heard in canned versions now pulled out and prolonged with spun-out psychedelic riffs, of which this incredible 14-minute jam on his latest chart-buster Epic of the Ramp (illustrated with photos evoking the stage directions) has to be the most stunning of all time:

Sing, O Muse, the Ramp of Achilles
by Donald J. Trump

You know, it was interesting. To show you how fake they are. You might have 
seen it. So last week they called me, and they say, ‘Sir, West Point. West Point. 
We’re ready.’ I said, ‘Oh that’s right, I have to make a commencement speech 
at West Point.’ You know they delayed it for six weeks because of COVID. So 
they delayed it. And I went there, 1106 cadets were graduating, and beautiful. 
Beautiful cadets. So, just to show you how bad the fake news is. So, they say to me, 
‘Sir! We’re ready to go.’ I say, ‘Let’s go!’ This is after saying hello to a lot 
of cadets; inspecting little areas of a building. That was very exciting, actually, 
it’s beautiful, very old. Studied a lot of our great generals, some of our presidents 
that went there. West Point is beautiful. Right on the Hudson River. But after an 
hour – the general that runs it is a fantastic guy – after an hour, we land, we 
do some more inspections and they say, ‘Sir are you ready?’ ‘Yes, I am.’ So 
we walk like, the equivalent of about three blocks, which was fine. We go on stage, 
which is fine. They make some speeches, then I make a speech. It lasted a long time, 
I don’t know, maybe 45 minutes, maybe longer, I don’t know, but a long time. The sun 
is pouring down on me. OK? But they said to me before the speech, ‘Sir! Would you
 like to salute each cadet, each single cadet? Or maybe they’ll be in groups 
of two. Would you like to salute? Like this, yes. 

Like this. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

For the Record: I Started a Joke

Oh wait, apparently he didn't really mean it.

Or did he?

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Times They Are

Updated 8:00 PM

I should say that Senator Young (R-ND) has been dead even longer than my friend Dick (he served in the Senate from 1945 to 1981 and died two years after leaving office), so it's hard to evaluate his sources, but it's an interesting thought. What is Geoffrey Berman's office currently investigating? 

Everybody tells us he's looking at Rudy Giuliani's probably illegal conduct in the Ukraine with Lev and Igor and the drug deal, in which Trump is already an unindicted but impeached co-conspirator. He's also reported to have
conducted an investigation into Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, subpoenaing financial and other records as part of a broad inquiry into possible illegal contributions from foreigners.
I assume that means The Times knows this from looking at the filings, and the same presumably goes for reports of the SDNY continuing its investigations of Deutsche Bank—weirdly, Berman's deputy Robert Kharzumi, and the bizarrely unqualified person Barr wants to replace Berman, SEC chairman Jay Clayton, have both represented Deutsche Bank as attorneys, and, Forbes comments,

Friday, June 19, 2020

Moderately Woke

Drawing by David Levine, 27 October 1983.

I'm not annoyed by the main idea of David Brooks's contribution to the Juneteenth commemorations, ("How Moderates Failed Black America"), indirectly evoking Dr. King's frequently quoted castigation of the white moderate in the 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
But that isn't the sort of thing Brooks is talking about at all; 57 years and practically all of his own life later, it still hasn't occurred to him that African Americans might wish to act in their own behalf instead of waiting for the gentry to take care of them. What he's sort of apologizing for is the failure of white moderates to come up with a working plan for liberating black people, unaware that they could find it preferable to get some cooperation in the project of liberating themselves:

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Bolton the Barn Door

Image by Donkey Hotey 2018, via es.news-front.

The one thing Bolton got really angry about, as Jennifer Szalai notes in an enjoyably snarky Times review:
the moment he cites as the real “turning point” for him in the administration had to do with an attack on Iran that, to Bolton’s abject disappointment, didn’t happen. 
In June 2019, Iran had shot down an unmanned American drone, and Bolton, who has always championed what he proudly calls “disproportionate response,” pushed Trump to approve a series of military strikes in retaliation. You can sense Bolton’s excitement when he describes going home “at about 5:30” for a change of clothes because he expected to be at the White House “all night.” It’s therefore an awful shock when Trump decided to call off the strikes at the very last minute, after learning they would kill as many as 150 people. “Too many body bags,” Trump told him. “Not proportionate.”
Bolton still seems incensed at this unexpected display of caution and humanity on the part of Trump, deeming it “the most irrational thing I ever witnessed any President do.”
Right. "I understand hesitating to say he believes the US intelligence community because Vladimir Putin says they they gave him a bum rap, but refusing to kill 150 beastly Persians when you have a chance? That's irrational!"

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Hi It's Stupid: Horse Race

Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, figurine by Donald F. Saari, 1973, via WorthPoint.

Hi, it's Stupid to say Elizabeth Warren shouldn't compete for the vice presidency with all the means at her disposal, including deploying all the power of those hot influencers Lawrence Tribe and Jane Fonda. After all, doesn't she have the right to think she's the best for the job?

With all respect and fervent admiration, she has the right to think she's the best for a lot of jobs, and she's probably right about it, too, but that doesn't mean she has to take all of them. I've said it before and I'll say it again: why shouldn't she chair the Senate Banking Committee after the coming blue wave democratizes the Senate and exercise some real power? Why should she opt instead to be "buried before I am dead", as Daniel Webster saw it when he turned down the vice presidency in 1839?

Monday, June 15, 2020

Terror in the Bath

After the Bath. Drawing by Edgar Degas ca. 1900, Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Such a pleasure to see the Supreme Court frustrating the presidency with their refusal today to take on bullshit gun rights cases and the DOJ desire to challenge "sanctuary cities" laws, but obviously the big thing is their recognition, by a 6-to-3 margin, that LGBTQ people can be discriminated against under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act since "sex" became a protected category in 1991. Apparently because, as I suspected, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch (who wrote the very well crafted opinion) have some limits as to how low they're willing to go in gratifying Republicans. Not that they're nice people, and I don't think you should be too optimistic about the survival of the Affordable Care Act or the exposure of the Trump tax returns (I'm going to express a tiny hope on both, and a stronger one on the survival of the DACA program), but they see themselves as true aristocrats, too good to follow the Republicans all the way into the swine trough.

Bret Kavanaugh, in infuriated dissent:

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Literary Corner: Dude Descending a Staircase

Have You Talked to Your Kids About Bathmophobia?

The Last Thing I Was Going to Do
by Donald J. Trump

The ramp that I descended 
after my West Point Commencement speech 
was very long & steep, 
had no handrail and, most 
importantly, was very slippery. 

The last thing I was going to do 
is “fall” for the Fake News to 
have fun with. Final ten feet 
I ran down to level ground. Momentum!

Bathmophobia, I'm informed by The Sun (UK), is the pathological fear of slopes and stairs, and something we've seen a lot of in our president, as when he snatched the hand of a startled Prime Minister May at the White House or outside Blenheim Palace. I'm glad to see here an indication that he's aware of his fear of falling, or at least "falling", a kind of fake fall of which the Fake News would inevitably take advantage to plant the story that the president actually does fall when he merely "falls". Obviously not a risk worth taking. 

He does not "run down" the final ten feet but rather gathers his wits after reaching level ground. Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, Superintendent of the Military Academy, must be pretty battle-hardened, because he doesn't look scared at all, and I think I see an indication in the video that Trump would like to have grabbed his hand too, but represses the urge with manly firmness.


Steve M reminds us that he's had these problems for a long time.