Tuesday, May 26, 2020

For the Record: Rage

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

Marco on Hong Kong

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


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

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


Monday, May 25, 2020

Douthat: Q Is Right!

Ding dong, the Bilderberg is dead!

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

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Innocence of Presumption

Moving goalposts, via.

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

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

Friday, May 22, 2020

David Brooks Urges Us to Tighten Up



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

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

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Flynn Update Update

Via Reddit.


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

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

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

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

United Front Door

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Flynn Update

Illustration by Simon Landrain/The New Yorker.

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

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

Monday, May 18, 2020

For the Record: Now With More Pompeo

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

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


Career Counseling






Saturday, May 16, 2020

For the Record: Waltz of the Inspectors General

Carsington Water, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, with troll, via TripAdvisor.





L'état profond, c'est moi

Drawing by Signe Wilkinson, November 2019.

Well, it's Saturday, so we're asking for the third time in the past six weeks which inspector general Trump fired last night. Today it's the state department, whose inspector general, Steve Linick, "no longer" enjoys Trump's "fullest confidence" and will be replaced, Politico said, with an "ally of Vice President Pence", because that's what we naturally want in an inspector general, somebody who's already beholden to a White House patron.

Or putting it another way,
A State Department spokesperson said that Amb. Stephen Akard, a former career Foreign Service officer, "will now lead the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department" in an acting capacity.
He won't actually be the inspector general, he'll just play one in the news, and "lead the office" while the inspector general doesn't exist. This would make such a great plot for a Gogol story if Gogol hadn't used the title for a different idea.

But why?

Literary Corner: A Greek Invocation to Call Fools Into a Circle


Already forgot what GG outrage prompted this, but had something to do with how candidate Joe Biden is indistinguishable from Emperor Trump in some views.

To the lost tune of Amiens's song from Shakespeare's As You Like It, here as imagined by Dr. Arne:


Under the Greenwald tree
Who loves to write with me
Drowning his feckless foes
In bucketsful of prose
Come hither, come hither, come hither:
Here shall he see
No enemy
But all our friends together.

Whose takes are so darn hot
They're more than what he's got
Making him want to seem
Increasingly extreme
Come hither, come hither,  come hither:
Here shall he see
The enemy
Is all our friends together.

An if it should come to pass
He's really just an ass
Dumping upon his friends
To questionable ends
Ducdame, ducdame, ducdame:
Here shall he see
The enemy
Is him if you just ask me.

And here as Donovan imagined it, of course, since you can't expect me to skip an opportunity to post a Donovan cut, though the maestro gets some things wrong, notably confusing Shakespeare's an meaning "if" with and meaning "and" and mispronouncing the "Greek invocation to call fools into a circle" ducdame, which must rhyme with "come to me":

Friday, May 15, 2020

Ordinary People

Ruan Lingyu in Xin Nüxing (New Woman), Shanghai 1935, via Silents Please.

Tolstoyan deep thinker David F. Brooks ("Ordinary People Are Leading the Leaders") is learning, and hoping others will learn, from the masses, and the beauteous simplicity of their way of life, doing without frivolous luxuries like long-term thinking:
Endurance is patience. It is shortening your time horizon so you just have to get through this day. Endurance is living with unpleasantness. In fact, it is finding you can adapt and turn the strangest circumstance into routine.
Endurance is fortifying. It is discovering you can get socked in the nose and take it.
Above all, endurance is living with uncertainty. Sometimes, it’s remaining quiet in the face of uncertainty because no conjecture will really tell you what is coming. Endurance is the knowledge that the only way out is through and whatever must be borne will be borne.
Where by "the masses" I mean, of course, people, also known as ordinary people, who you can only find out about if you make use of their primitive methods of communication:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Unmask This


Opening of Grenell's list, via Adam L. Silverman/Balloon Juice.
"The fact that Vice President Biden and all of the president's inner circle, President Obama's inner circle, individually requested to unmask Gen. Flynn is very troubling," he said. "Unmasking involves revealing the identity of an American's private phone conversation without a constitutional warrant to eavesdrop on that conversation." (Senator Rand Paul, quoted on Fox News)
Q: Dad, what's unmasking?

A: I thought you'd never ask. I found out around the beginning of the Republican attempt to discredit the case against Michael Flynn, in April 2017, and first wrote about it then. Actually I sort of found out earlier than that, during the days of High Greenwaldianism following the Snowden leaks of 2013, but didn't pay the same kind of attention.

Monday, May 11, 2020

For the Record: The Era of Tubes


Got kind of snappish with a good Twitter friend, of which I'm not proud, but for the record, and because we maybe got somewhere:


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Literary Corner: Tests Aren't Necessarily Great



Our emperor was lamenting the vagaries of coronavirus testing, which don't always come out the same way, "all of a sudden", "out of the blue", "for some reason":

The Whole Concept of Tests
by Donald J. Trump 
well I don't know much about it
does anybody want to talk about it
she's a wonderful young woman Katie
she tested very good for a long period of time
and then all of a sudden she tested positive
she hasn't come into contact with me
spends some time with the vice president
it's I believe the press person right
so she tested positive out of the blue
this is why the whole concept of
tests aren't necessarily great
the tests are perfect but something can happen
between the test where it's good and then something happens
where all of a sudden she was tested very recently and tested negative
and then today I guess for some reason she tested positive
so Mike knows about it and Mike has done what he has to do
I think he's on an airplane going to some faraway place

Friday, May 8, 2020

Out Like Flynn Revisited

OK now it's really getting crazy, as the Justice Department seems to think it's found a way to pardon Mike Flynn without giving Trump the trouble of doing it himself. I'm recapitulating some of the things I was thinking about at the time of Flynn's second guilty plea, in December 2018, in the light of what we've learned since then from the Mueller investigation, as a response to the Flynn news.

New York Post editorial page:
Flynn’s supposed crime was lying to FBI agents in a January 2017 interview at the White House. Yet the concealed evidence included 1) a top FBI official’s notes suggesting the entire purpose of the interview was to catch Flynn in a lie, or get him to admit to a technical violation of the Logan Act — all in order to force him from office. And 2) an internal Justice Department memo, from the day before that interview, calling on the FBI to close the Flynn investigation because agents had dug up absolutely no wrongdoing.
In fact, they already had the transcript of Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador that was the supposed reason for the interview — and knew he’d said nothing improper, just things an incoming national-security adviser should discuss.
Actually no. The calls Flynn exchanged with Ambassador Kislyak from where he was supposed to be on vacation in the Dominican Republic between 29 and 31 December 2016 were a response to what the Presidential Transition Team regarded as an emergency, after President Obama imposed new sanctions on the Russian state in return for Russia's well-established interference in the 2016 presidential election and Foreign Minister Lavrov announced that Russia would be retaliating with measures of its own. After getting briefed by the PTT, Flynn called Kislyak (whom he'd met for the first time with Jared Kushner on 30 November, at Trump Tower, for a conversation in which Kushner had talked about Trump's desire to "start afresh" with Russia and Flynn lamented the lack of a secure line for them to communicate—secure, that is, from observation by the US government) and urged him to stop President Putin from said retaliation because if he showed some restraint that would make it easier for the incoming Trump administration to end all the sanctions, including those related to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Ukrainian territory, and its murder of the whistleblowing attorney Sergey Magnitsky; two days later Putin agreed.

The PTT was, as we now know, intensely involved with these calls, consulting with Flynn by email and phone before and after each one, through his deputy K.T. McFarland, who was at the Mar-a-Lago club with the president-elect's party:

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Literary Corner: Elegy For the War Dead

William Blake watercolor illustration for Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", 1777-78, via Wikipedia.

From an interview on ABC News with David Muir (in which the poet once again complained about the "broken tests" bequeathed him by the Obama administration, to no pushback from Muir; I'd say it's not surprising if they didn't work very well in diagnosing Covid-19, but very remarkable that they should have existed at all, since Obama left office more than three years before the virus was discovered, or is it possible that Trump is not telling the truth here? Just asking questions).

Muir observed that the pandemic has now taken upwards of 70,000 lives, more than the Vietnam War, and asked the president if he had a message for the bereaved families; rather than telling him that he was a bad reporter and calling the question "nasty", as he has done in the past, Trump offered an answer in the form of a lengthy elegy, in which his capacity for empathy was on unusually full display:

I wanna say I love you 
by Donald J. Trump
I wanna say that we're doing everything
we can I also wanna say that we're
trying to protect people over 60
years old we're trying so hard
I wanna just say to the people
that have lost family
and have lost loved ones
and the people that have just
suffered so badly and just
made it and just made it
that we love you we're with
you we're working with you

Monday, May 4, 2020

Alarms and Excursions



Via NYTimes.


The Penn Wharton Budget Model at the University of Pennsylvania issued a new tool for estimating the costs and benefits of "reopening" states from their different lockdowns against the Covid-19 on Friday—costs being in infections and deaths, benefits in "economic growth" (scare quotes a function of having listened to this, which I hope to come back to) and regaining of lost jobs. Reporting on the thing is kind of nuts, as exemplified by this from Yahoo Business
According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM), reopening states will result in an additional 233,000 deaths from the virus — even if states don’t reopen at all and with social distancing rules in place. This means that if the states were to reopen, 350,000 people in total would die from coronavirus by the end of June, the study found....

Saturday, May 2, 2020

More on Kushner

Thanks for the shoutout, Tengrain!

NewYork, uncredited stock photo via Financial Times.

A rather rich person, owner of a couple of Lower Manhattan boutique hotels, once told my wife the secret of getting rich: You have to be able to entirely ignore the content of whatever it is you're doing, the product if your business is producing something, in favor of the bottom line. I naturally thought, what a sad approach to one's livelihood, how like starving oneself.

Then, the things that former Observer publisher Jared Kushner is not interested in, by former Observer editor Kyle Pope:
MOST WEEKS, KUSHNER NOT ONLY DIDN’T READ the Observer, he didn’t appear to read anything else, either. I never knew him to discuss a book, a play, or anything else that was in the Observer’s cultural wheelhouse. His circle of friends was fairly limited, largely tech executives and other successful business people, a smattering of celebrities, and a coterie of much older successful men, people like Rupert Murdoch, financier Ron Perelman, and the public relations impresario Howard Rubenstein.
Even politics seemed to lie outside his area of interest. Every week, Kushner and I held a conference call with the Observer’s editorial writer, who would pitch ideas for the paper’s two main editorial slots. These ideas usually touched on state, local, or national politics. Kushner almost never showed any interest in what tended, at the time, to be the hottest and most pressing issues of the day.
What he wanted The Observer for was to serve as a "bullhorn for his own financial interests", Pope thought, a vehicle for rewarding allies by putting their names in annual lists of the "top people" in New York real estate, and commissioning "hit pieces" against refractory bankers who balked at giving him loans, but mostly just to establish his general valuableness as a person who gets talked about in a positive way, which is always good for business. Central to that was that the paper should be seen as a financial success, compromised by the way he chose to make it one, by saving money on writers, whom he regarded as incomprehensible annoyances:

Friday, May 1, 2020

And the grift goes on...

Drawing by Tom Toles.

This peculiar but sober-sounding lede (story from Washington Post flagged by Jane Mayer)
Federal prosecutors are examining the communications of a New York family doctor who appears frequently on Fox News and has been in touch with the White House to tout an anti-malarial as a treatment for the novel coronavirus, according to people contacted as part of the inquiry.
conceals a snapshot, I think, that epitomizes the soul and the style of Trump World so tightly and so hilariously that I feel a need to try telling it, as WaPo doesn't seem to want to do, involving a mistake made by wingnut villain Jerome Corsi when he sent an email meant for Dr. Vladimir "Zev" Zelenko to federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky instead.