Saturday, June 15, 2024

Tales of the Resistance

There's this telling moment in the Ross Douthat interview of Senator J.D. Vance ("What J.D. Vance Believes"), where Vance is asked when he decided he "liked" Donald Trump, and he cites his first personal meeting with Trump, in 2021, and Trump telling him the story of how the generals tried to fool him into thinking they were obeying his orders to draw down US troops in northern Syria, in 2018-19, by shuffling them around instead:

The media has this view of Trump as motivated entirely by personal grievance, and the thing he talked the most about — this was not long after Jan. 6 — was “I’m the president, and I told the generals to do something, and they didn’t do it.” And I was like, OK, this guy’s deeper than I’d given him credit for. And also I was deeply offended by this. Talk about a threat to democracy — the generals not listening to the president of the United States about matters like troop redeployment.

Actually, it was probably not a general but a civilian, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in the first place and then Mark Esper. It was a matter of maybe 200 troops out of a total of 2500 US troops in the region, with an extremely specific function: protecting our Kurdish allies (guarding the detained remnants of the Islamic State so it couldn't reestablish itself in the region) from our Turkish allies, who didn't care about the Islamic State, but were eager to get all the Kurds, who President Recep Tayyib Erdoğan regarded as anti-Turkish terrorists, away from the Turkish border; he'd been calling Trump all year, demanding the removal of the US troops so he could conquer all the Kurd-held territory without crossing any Americans, and Trump obediently tried to make it happen, but then the troops didn't actually go away.

Why was Trump so determined to obey Erdoğan's orders and throw the Kurds under the Turkish bus, against the urgent advice of every single member of the national security and foreign policy staff? Perhaps because he so valued his "very good relationships" with authoritarians like Putin, Kim, Xi, MBS, and Erdoğan too? He'd rather have the secretary of defense get mad at him than the president of Turkey. He could fire the secretary of defense (and eventually did, of course, over Esper's refusal to contemplate putting down American protestors with American troops).

But then there's another aspect to Trump-Turkish relations, the "conflict of interest" he mentioned to Stephen Bannon in a 2015 interview:

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Socialist Climber


David F. Brooks on "The Sins of the Educated Class":

When I was young, I was a man on the left. In the early 1980s, I used to go to the library and read early 20th-century issues of left-wing magazines like The Masses and The New Republic. I was energized by stories of workers fighting for their rights against the elites — at Haymarket, at the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, on the railways where the Pullman sleeping car porters struggled for decent wages a few years after that. My heroes were all on the left: John Reed, Clifford Odets, Frances Perkins and Hubert Humphrey.

Even the left-wing New Republic! If you couldn't tell the difference between actual Communists (The Masses, Reed, Odets), The New Republic (the magazine had belonged to the same progressive movement as former president Theodore Roosevelt and Walter Lippmann when it was founded in 1914, but it was supporting Reagan's "bombing the Soviet Union in five minutes" foreign policy under Marty Peretz when Brooks was in college), and the stalwart New Dealers Perkins and Humphrey, then you weren't reading very attentively.

By his senior year at Chicago he was calling himself a "democratic socialist" like the great Michael Harrington or "social democrat" like the Roy Jenkins/David Owen faction that broke off rightward from the British Labour Party in 1981, unable to tell those apart as well, but also successfully attracting the attention of William F. Buckley, Jr., who tossed him a job offer with the National Review after a humor piece he'd written for the Maroon in advance of a Buckley campus visit, and the fanatically neoliberal economist Milton Friedman, who brutally shut down his socialism in a couple of sentences in a televised debate (see image at top, and video from around 2:10 to 6:20) by asking how come all the Nobel prizes went to private universities (neither he nor Brooks seems to have been aware of the 13 Nobels awarded to graduates of the City University of New York at a time when it was tuition free, or the 32 earned by alumni of the University of California at Berkeley, to say nothing of the state universities of Paris, Berlin—29 for the Humboldt-Universität alone—, Bologna, Tübingen, Tokyo—18—, and so on).

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Permission to Be Your Worst Self

Over at the Xitter, Dinesh D'Souza is really on drugs now:

No, Dinesh, it's a 1787 document. See the "We the people" up at top?

Eleven years earlier, the authors had been members of a rebellion against a monarchy, and they could conceivably have been arrested for it, if the British army had been able to get close enough (I know for instance that Samuel Adams and John Hancock were expecting to be arrested in 1775 and fled Boston for Concord), but they weren't, and none of them was ever charged with, let alone convicted of, a felony. You can't become a convicted felon without having a trial first. That's how Trump did it, with a grand jury deciding to charge him and a regular jury deciding he was guilty.

That's just one of the differences between Donald Trump and James Madison. If you're looking for a Trump parallel in the story, you'd do better going with George III, another extremely wealthy but profoundly stupid grandchild of German immigrants who believed that God had put him above the law.

Think about it: 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024



Drawing by Lin Rui for Renmin Ribao/The People's Daily, 

When Trump starts ranting about rigged trials and the "weaponized" Justice Department, everybody needs to understand that he knows what he's talking about, and he's lying, rather than just bullshitting.

I mean, he knows because he's worked at doing it, during his time as president. "Lawfare" as they call it (because it's warfare continued by other means, as Clausewitz didn't say) is the one government-related thing he devoted the most of his time and energy to when he was in the White House, at first defensively, to save himself from being held to account for his earlier crimes and protect his illegal business activities from government interference, then aggressively, to punish the law enforcement figures who had menaced him, and eventually try to cripple his main political rival and establish himself as presidentissimo-for-life; and while the defensive use was remarkably successful, when you think about it, the aggressive use really wasn't.

He found that it's really hard, in the US, to pervert the justice system into an army for vanquishing your enemies. He was able to stop Comey and McCabe and Strzok etc. from investigating him, by firing them, but when he tried to sic the IRS on them, along with John O. Brennan, Hillary Clinton, and Jeff Bezos, his chief of staff, John Kelly, refused to cooperate, according to Kelly's sworn statement, and most important, when Comey and McCabe really were subjected to an intrusive IRS audit (I guess when Mick Mulvaney or Mark Meadows was chief of staff), the agency was unable to punish them, because neither man had done anything wrong.

And McCabe even got his stolen pension back when he sued. (Settlements of Lisa Page's and Peter Strzok's suits against the Justice Department are expected to be announced by the end of this month.)

Similarly, when Trump finally found "his Roy Cohn" in the person of Attorney General William Barr, Barr was able to protect him from the consequences of the Mueller investigation by issuing his own bogus summary of the report a month before the report itself was published, but when Trump wanted the investigators hunted down and disgraced for conspiring to bring him down, in two investigations, one by the inspector general Michael Horowitz and one by the infamous special counsel John Durham, but they hadn't actually conspired to bring Trump down, and Durham was unable to charge them with anything.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

What's Going On. II

From the Livre d'Or des Voyages of Louis Mainard, 1890, via

Déjà vu all over again? Biden (the day after the guilty verdict for convicted felon Donald Trump, some people think that's relevant) announces proposals for a ceasefire in Gaza, to be carried out in three phases: six weeks during which all Israeli forces withdraw from the Strip, hostages in Gaza (especially women and elderly, and remains of the dead) will be exchanged for detainees in Israeli prisons, Gazan civilians will return home, supplied with temporary shelters, and delivery of food, water, medicine, and fuel will get back to full strength, and the parties will work out the details of a probably lengthier second phase; a second phase in which the exchange of hostages and prisoners will be completed and the parties will negotiate a final, permanent ceasefire; and a third, which is supposed to last forever, when Gaza is rebuilt and the last remains are transmitted.  

Isn't this approximately where we arrived three weeks ago, when Haaretz reported that Hamas had accepted a deal proposed by Egypt with a very similar shape, and Israel appeared to have turned it down?

Not exactly. The big difference, to my mind, which isn't getting a lot of press attention, is that this one is billed as an Israeli proposal—Biden is very insistent on that:

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Worst Gets Some Convictions


I get it about the reading disability, but he should be able to ask one of his lawyers

[image or embed]

— Yastreblyansky ( May 30, 2024 at 1:53 PM

You'd think he'd have figured some of it out by now: It's illegal to falsify business records in New York State. Just three or four months ago Trump was found liable for $355 million worth of falsified business records, has he forgotten about that? That was a civil case (for Trump; it was a criminal case for his company and its CFO Allen Weisselberg), and the thing that made it important was the sheer magnitude of the crime, but it's basically falsifying business records, the financial statements Trump put out for the bankers and insurance brokers who needed to know how much risk he posed:

falsifying business records, and conspiring to falsify business records, in order to issue a false financial statement and commit insurance fraud. (In some cases, notably that of his primary lender Deutsche Bank, the corporate culture was so corrupt that they didn't care how much of the company's money they were throwing away, but that doesn't make it OK, as they try to tell you by calling it a victimless crime.)

Today's verdict was in a criminal case, and involved a tiny amount of money in comparison (though it would be an awful lot of money to me, and pretty much everybody I know), but it too was all about falsifying business records, at bottom, the records of Trump's payments to his New York fixer Michael Cohen, disguising them as a regular attorney retainer—

Literary Corner: Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States

It’s a disgrace. Mother Teresa
could not beat those charges.
These charges are rigged.
The whole thing is rigged.
The country's a mess
between the borders
and fake elections and
you have a trial like this,
where the judge is so
conflicted he can’t breathe.
He’s got to do his job.
It's not for me,
that I can tell you.
It's a disgrace. And I
mean that. Mother Teresa
could not beat these charges.
But we'll see. We'll see how we do.
It’s a very disgraceful situation.

Actually, I've been trying to give some thought to this—to the idea of Mother Teresa, learning that adult film star Randy Jackhammer has been pitching a story to the National Enquirer, "My One-Night Stand With Mother Teresa", recounting their years-ago tryst, with some vivid detail, even anatomical. Which did not happen, as far as I know, but if it did.