Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Pious Fraud

Bearded dragon, via Big Al's Pets.
Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, "The Abortion Mysticism of Pete Buttigieg", New York Times, 17 September 2019:
According to Buttigieg, there are passages in the Bible claiming that human life begins with the baby's first breath. This proves that the pro-abortion position is the most mystical, least scientifically defensible of possible positions, and anti-abortion absolutism is the simplest and most scientifically coherent one. Indeed, the reason most people reject my view is that it leans too heavily on scientific definitions and biological-philosophical rigor, in contrast to ordinary people's muddle of moral intuitions on the status of the embryo and the requirements of female equality. So in fact I'm much smarter than Mayor Pete and he's much more fogged by medieval theology.
No. I'm not sure Buttigieg understands this quite as clearly as he might, either. And I may have worked through this argument before somewhere, but here's a pretty new approach:

The Monsignor's position isn't in fact scientifically rigorous at all. It's merely the kind of half-educated scientism that makes conservatives insist that gender fluidity isn't real, arguing that you can reduce a fundamentally social question to biology and not even aware of what the biological facts are or have become since St. Thomas Aquinas learned them from reading Aristotle—which in the case of sex is pretty baroque:

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Another reason to impeach

T-shirt (apparently no longer available) by The Beehive

Now that the impeachment proceeding in House Judiciary has really taken off its mask at last—although there are people outside the committee (*cough* Steny Hoyer *cough*) continuing to deny it, and others (78-year-old freshman Donna Shalala) complaining that it's distracting from all the great work the House has done passing bills that Mitch McConnell will never allow the Senate to consider (you know, I'm a bit of a Shalala fan from 25 or so years ago when she was HHS secretary, but somebody needs to intervene to explain to her that your constituents don't get all that excited by bills that don't become law)—another possibility for how it could game itself out is occurring to me with more urgency, related to the fact that it's going on during a presidential election campaign, which has bothered me from the start.

What has bothered me being not so much that I object to it as that I don't know what it means: for example, how exactly does an incumbent president campaign during the impeachment process? This has never happened before, in the very short history of presidential impeachments.

There's a partly obvious answer, in that Trump will love telling the rallies about the victimization he's enduring from the Judiciary Committee, and they'll surely respond with perfervid passion, but is that really a good idea? Or will it attract more attention from the normal and not fully engaged to notice that he's accused of quite a lot of crimes, some of which he clearly committed?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

This is not the way to bring an end to class

This is not the way to bring an end to the class system.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Meritocracy Is Ripping America Apart: How Savage Exclusion Tears the Social Fabric", New York Times, 13 September 2019:
Hey, guys, it turns out inequality is really bad! Not only for you and me and the rest of the great mediocre majority who never get a chance to rule the world, but even for the brilliant Ivy-trained wizards who do rule it! They have to work too hard, and it's ruining their lives! Meanwhile, I've learned that there are these things called state universities! They have one in Arizona! I got to visit it last spring and it knocked my socks off. Instead of doing all they can to keep people out, they keep trying to get more people in, and instead of getting worse from letting all those mediocre people in, it gets better. This could be a game-changer!
He's come to some clarity on the subject of what it is he hates about meritocracy, thanks to the book Brooksy has read the first 20 pages of for Friday's column, The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite, by Daniel Markovits, a Yale law professor who is, according to the publisher blurb, "well placed to expose the sham of meritocracy. Having spent his life at elite universities, he knows from the inside the corrosive system we are trapped within." Well, speak for yourself, pal. If the rest of us peasants only know if from the outside, then we're not trapped within it. And if we're all trapped within it, then his experience isn't that special.

As a matter of fact it sounds like a pretty fierce indictment of something. As Thomas Frank writes, reviewing the book for The Times,

Thursday, September 12, 2019

There wasn't a process




Another example of Trump "joking", from April 2018:
“And by the way, John Bolton is here and we’ve just had a very big successful hit,” Trump said.
As Trump attempted to go on with his talk he was cut off by continued applause and a standing ovation.
“Hey John, that’s pretty good. I didn’t expect that. I’m a little jealous. Are you giving him all the credit?” Trump asked the audience. “You know that means the end of his job."
Unsurprisingly, John Bolton didn't do his job as National Security Adviser, or even seem to know what the job was, according to Brett McGurk, a veteran of the Bush, Obama, and Trump national security teams who resigned in protest last December ("In response, Trump wrote that he did not know McGurk and questioned if McGurk was a 'grandstander'," says Wikipedia) on NPR yesterday morning:
I think two problems with John Bolton's leadership in this job - there is both a process problem - he didn't really run much of a process. He didn't really try to facilitate the Cabinet secretaries to give the president options and advice. But then he had a policy problem because he has a very maximalist view of America's role in the world with a very minimalist president. So you just had all these contradictions from the start. And they really came to a head yesterday....
And I really can't speak to the, you know, the internal dynamics of what it was like between them day to day. But I do know there just - there wasn't a process. And without a process in which the national security adviser is harnessing all the incredible expertise around U.S. government to give fair warning, to give options to the president and to protect our country - that's really what this is about. So protecting our country - most important job in the world. And this chaos is just - it's extremely serious and puts our country at risk.
He seems to have thought he was supposed to be the president's personal opinionist and could safely ignore everybody else's opinions, and since the president found his opinions disagreeable, that wasn't going to get anybody anywhere. Bolton's incomprehension of everything beyond scrambling for personal advantage and calling for one country or another to be bombed is what makes me doubt very strongly that his book will be worth reading. He's an officious, self-serving, bloody-minded fool.

Which doesn't make Trump a good person simply by contrast. Tiresome as it is for people like Lawrence O'Donnell (see Steve M's post) to lionize Bolton just because Bolton is having a fight with Trump, it's even worse when everybody from Glenn Greenwald to NPR's Rachel Martin tries to force the formulation of the Bolton-Trump disagreement in terms of "hawk" vs. "dove" putatively instantiating "right" vs. "left". While Bolton has always been a hawk in the cliché sense to the point of parody, no doubt, his opposition to Trump is better expressed in the terms McGurk used:
MCGURK: Well, I mean, in some - the president is a, at heart - and this is what I talked about, a maximalist foreign policy with a minimalist president. In part, the president doesn't want to be involved in these things. He doesn't want to be much involved around the world.
MARTIN: Doesn't want to be involved in U.S. endeavors around the world or he personally doesn't want to think about them or both?
MCGURK: Well, both.
Trump's opposition to war is that you don't always get what you want (he'd be fine with the Iraq War if we'd "gotten the oil") and it's "tough", involving imagery that makes him uncomfortable. He admires Putin for seizing Crimea, but when he thinks about acquiring Greenland he'd rather just write a  check. Plus the problem of having allies, and working with them, which he really can't stand at any price. He loves what he thinks of as diplomacy, but that's just celebrity playdates, from the opening handshake competition to reading his beautiful thank-you note in the afterglow and telling the press that his relationships are very good. Anything like work, and the risk of the other guys thinking he's dumb, just makes him crabby.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Piketty Redux

Shirelock strip by TricksyWizard/DeviantArt.

Thomas Piketty has written a new book, The Guardian reports, under the title Capitale et Idéologie, as long as War and Peace, appearing tomorrow in French, with an English version scheduled to arrive in March. I doubt I'll be making any attempt to read it before then, but I want to put a heads up at the beginning of the presidential campaign for something in the Guardian's coverage that has really captured my imagination.

One of the things that was lacking from Capital in the Twenty-First Century, you may remember, was any very clear idea of what could be done about the increasing concentration of wealth around the world in the hands of an increasingly small group of aristocrats other than the thought that it would have to involve taxing rich people. Apparently he's got something much more specific this time, and it really warmed my heart:
Among the proposals in the book are that employees should have 50% of the seats on company boards; that the voting power of even the largest shareholders should be capped at 10%; much higher taxes on property, rising to 90% for the largest estates; a lump sum capital allocation of €120,000 (just over £107,000) to everyone when they reach 25; and an individualised carbon tax calculated by a personalised card that would track each person’s contribution to global heating.
In an interview with the French weekly news magazine L’Obs, Piketty made no apologies for the impact his ideas would have on the stock market. He said: “[Yes], it will also affect the price of real estate that is crazy in Paris, and it will allow new social groups to become owners and shareholders.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Trump Failing Another Turing Test



Exchange in the comments on yesterday's post:
Me: He doesn't think he can get out of it with a Sharpie, he thinks he can get out of it by denying it "very powerfully", like Putin or MBS. The Sharpie is pro forma, because it's the custom to offer evidence and because the problem is, for a change, so simple that he can do it himself. It's true he was surprised and annoyed that it wasn't good enough for people—that's because he doesn't understand the relationship between evidence and conclusion whereas your approach seems bent on insisting that he does.
Jordan: But at a certain point, he picked up the Sharpie and drew that curve onto the map. In that moment, what was he thinking? Are you saying he wasn't dealing with evidence and conclusion?
(I'm not picking a fight -- I'm genuinely interested and confused.)
I'm not very happy with the post, not just because I haven't succeeded in communicating my idea to the community but even more because I haven't succeeded in communicating it to myself. If we write to find out what our idea is, and that's a huge part of it for me, then I failed. I liked a part of the post nobody's interested in, the first paragraph, and Jordan's stuck on a point I think is obvious.

So I'm not picking a fight either, but I want to try coming at that point from a different direction, if I may, that I've written up a bit before on the Twitter, which is the subject of Trump "joking"—the pattern where he says some abominable thing

Monday, September 9, 2019

Trump Demands Staffers Lie: SADE!



The emperor knows he has no clothes on. In fact he likes the way he looks naked, though it is not conventionally attractive, and he wants everybody to see it, shocked and awed by the monumentality of his flesh. But it's not what he wants them to talk about. That wouldn't be humiliating enough. He wants them to abjectly accept that he's wearing clothes when they can see plainly that he isn't. That's the deal.

Jonathan Chait writes that Trump has "figured out how to corrupt the entire government":
Donald Trump came to the presidency a complete novice to government and often found his corrupt, authoritarian impulses frustrated by its bureaucracy. But he is slowly learning how to control the machine that has stymied him. This is the story of 2019, as Trump has replaced institutionalists attempting to curtail his grossest instincts with loyalists happy to indulge them. It is playing out across multiple dimensions. This is the through-line between several seemingly disconnected episodes from the last several days.
And adduces the Sharpie embellishment of the hurricane map, where he demonstrateed that Dorian might have hit Alabama by tampering with a weather map to include a bit of the state, but what strikes me is how little effort Trump bothers to make to convince anybody, with that extraneous black outline of a bulb that could not possibly have any relationship to the weather system of the cone. Not only does he not care if we can see it's a fake, it's almost as if he wants us to see it's a fake and then keep it quiet.

And even when he gets hold of some better-looking evidence he's not really trying, or expecting his henchmen to try:

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Camp David Discords

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menachem Begin in Camp David, MD, 31 August 1978, via Wikipedia.



My take last night, that Trump was not the author and that something was really wrong with the story:
Actually Ghani had already cancelled.

Detours and Diversions



The revelation about Trump apparently using his position as commander-in-chief to drive military traffic to the failing Prestwick airport and his failing Turnberry resort, if that's what it is, should be seen i n the context of the $400,000 ProPublica found had been spent by defense department civilian staff, state and and commerce departments, and other agencies at Trump properties in the first six months of 2017 alone—if they kept up the same pace, that would amount to something over $2.5 million by now. It's starting to look like a pattern, if you hadn't noticed:
Consider a trip last year by Matthew Snyder, who works for the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in Colorado. Snyder traveled to Washington, D.C., for 11 days in April 2017 to attend managerial training. He stayed first at a Marriott in Gaithersburg, Md. (where NIST is headquartered), and then at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Both rooms cost $242 per night [the Trump room, a suite, discounted from a listed rate of $740 or more], and both were covered by his per diem for lodging. (According to federal guidelines, $242 is the maximum nightly amount the government will reimburse for visits to the D.C. area in the spring season.)...

Saturday, September 7, 2019

My maintenance squadron went to Scotland, and all I got was this lousy invoice

The future Prestwick Spaceport, via South Ayrshire Council.


The important part of this remarkable Politico article by Natasha Bertrand and Bryan Bender, no doubt, is that it looks as if the US armed forces have been used to funnel money into the Trump Organization's coffers, but I want to start someplace a little different.
So Prestwick Airport is the one that serves Glasgow, in western Scotland, and also Trump Turnberry, the Luxury Collection Resort on the Firth of Clyde that the Trump Organization acquired in 2014, so the way Trump expected to make the airport successful would be presumably by bringing it a lot of golfer traffic. Which would be nice for the Scottish government, maybe, because they own it, since 2013, and it's a money loser.

He did not mean, I imagine, that the Pentagon would be spending $11 million on fuel there between October 2017 and June 2019 but that's a thing that happened, according to Bertrand and Bender, though they could have bought it a lot cheaper 360 miles away at Lakenheath, Suffolk, home to the 48th Fighter Wing of the United States Air Forces Europe–Air Forces Africa, or better still Mildenhall, also in Suffolk, home of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, if they were in the neighborhood. And they were apparently in the neighborhood pretty often: 629 separate purchase orders, says a letter from Elijah Cummings and Jamie Raskin of the House Oversight Committee to acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan (dated 21 June, just three days, as it happened, before Shanahan quit the post to spend more time with his problematic family).

Friday, September 6, 2019

Literary Corner: Make Like an Alt-Man

Unexpectedly, David Brooks ("And Now, a Word From a Fanatic—Inside the Mind of an Internet Extremist") offers a kind of Browning-like dramatic monologue in which he tries to get inside the mindset of, I think, the kind of unpleasant person who says rude things on the Internet, but right from the outset
I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased.
I am one of those fanatics on the alt-right and the alt-left, the ones who make online forums so vicious, the ones who cancel and call out, the minority of online posters who fill the air with hate. I’m one of those radicals whose rage is intertwined with psychological fragility, whose anger at real wrongs is corrupted by my existential panic about myself.
I found the words organizing themselves into a more specific rhythmic form, to the tune of a particularly great song:



Thursday, September 5, 2019

Fighting Words

Rep. Preston Brooks, painted by Adam B. Walter (1820-1875), had the same look of self-righteous stupidity as Tucker Carlson, it's very remarkable. Via Wikipedia.


I wonder how your civility hounds feel when they see stuff like this, from Question Time in Westminster, when Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (MP for Hough) asks the prime minister about a 2018 Telegraph article in which Johnson, 1950s English TV comedian that he is at heart, complained about the existence of women in burkas on the grounds that it was "absolutely ridiculous that women should go around resembling letterboxes and bank robbers":

I mean, it's clear these guys are not going out for a drink afterwards to plan the generous compromises in which everybody will get a bit of what they want in an atmosphere of mutual respect and affection. Does a David Brooks look at this room where Edmund Burke, the stern prophet of good manners and the aesthetics of the sublime, spent his career and wonder what happened to the Mother of Parliaments?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

An education in itself

Question to Radio Yerevan: Did Elizabeth Warren use to agree with Betsy DeVos?
Answer: Oh boy don't get me started...
W.C. Fields in Leo McCarey's Six of a Kind (1934), and the entire thing (just over an hour and featuring Charlie Ruggles and George Burns and Gracie Allen) is watchable here. H/t Professor Fate!


Shorter David Brooks, "When Elizabeth Warren Agreed With Betsy DeVos", New York Times, 3 September 2019:
We should be deeply concerned about Senator Elizabeth Warren, once a Republican law professor with startlingly heterodox and innovative views who wrote an entire book on the problem of women being forced to work outside the home, or not, as the case may be, not that there's anything wrong with whichever one of them she was against, and advocating school vouchers as the solution, just like President Trump's heterodox and innovative secretary of education. Now, suspiciously just in time for the presidential primary campaign where she is running as a Democrat, she's suddenly turned around and started blaming everything on the bankers instead!
Well, maybe not exactly. I'm not certain when she became a registered Democrat (sometime after 1993 or so), but as one of the nation's foremost and most innovative experts in bankruptcy law she has had the bankers in her sights for a very long time; she just used to think ("capitalist to her bones") members of the Republican party were allowed to feel that way, when it was associated with nice little George Bailey Main Street banks as opposed to the behemoths that gave us 2008:

I'll just leave this here



Sunday, September 1, 2019

For the Record: Christianity and Stuff

Residents of Tecun Uman, Guatemala, and migrants from Central America cross the Suchiate River June 10, 2019, to enter Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. (Photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters). As long as Father Martin exists, you'll never get me to say Christianity is evil, though I do understand the temptation.


Anyway this person informing me that ex-governor Huckabee seemed not to be a good Christian didn't realize that she was going to trigger me:

After that, it occurred to me that it might not be obvious to her why anybody might have a negative reaction to being told their Holy Book is evil (and she's probably somebody who thinks of herself as being "of the left"), and I started trying to explain, in an absolutely not hostile or oversensitive way:

Saturday, August 31, 2019

First they came for the obscenely wealthy Times pundits, and I said...

Drawing by Eli Valley. Please do not explain in the comments what "awoke from uneasy dreams" refers to. Those who don't recognize the phrase can refresh their memory here.

Shorter Bret Stephens, "World War II and the Ingredients of Slaughter", New York Times, 30 August 2019:
In commemoration of the German invasion of Poland 80 years ago on Sunday, I would like to note, as I often do, how frighteningly similar to those dark days our situation is now: with our rising dictatorships, failure of international organizations to stop them, and Twitter, which is practically the same thing as the Reichs-Rundfunk over which Hitler's propaganda was broadcast to 60 million Germans. Among the more haunting parallels is the dehumanizing rhetoric of infestation, in which people are associated with disease, or compared to bedbugs, of which all the examples I can enumerate seem to come from right-wingers, but I happen to know that the left is even worse.
Or, more precisely,

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Demographics

Something I've been saying for quite a while now about the 2016 presidential election: that the Trump "base" isn't exactly like that pathetic picture of the bewildered "white working class" left behind by globalization. Yes, they're white and don't have college degrees, but the real core are financially pretty comfortable, typically owners of small businesses, with sufficient leisure to eat breakfast out every morning and give interviews to The New York Times pretending to represent the working class, while their abject and underpaid employees (who rarely vote at all) open the shops. That's who made the party what it is today, which is strangely similar to what it used to be, back when it was the party of the wealthy.

So now there's some relevant information, surfacing in the column of the Times opinionist nobody ever notices because he's too interested in reality, Thomas B. Edsall ("We Aren’t Seeing White Support for Trump for What It Is"), reporting research by Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm, and I can report that the numbers don't exactly support a strong version of the theory, but they do confirm that there's something there:
Kitschelt and Rehm found that the common assumption that the contemporary Republican Party has become crucially dependent on the white working class — defined as whites without college degrees — is overly simplistic.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Blindingly Obvious



Ladies and gentlemen, the First Minister of Scotland.

Literally wondering if Boris von Pfeffel Kemal aka Johnson was getting advice from Donald Trump in their sideline conference in Biarritz over the weekend, because that's how bad today's move is looking—asking the Queen to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, ostensibly (this would be the normal reason, but a normal prorogation would last five or six days) to give him time, as the new prime minister, to prepare his government's legislative program, but obviously being Johnson he hasn't got a legislative program and plans to wing it, and the real reason is to render them unable to act to stop Britain from falling involuntarily out of the European Union on the Halloween deadline.

Or as John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons (in becoming speaker, he was required to give up all party affiliation, but he was a Conservative until then) put it:

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Literary Corner: A Very Big and Important Area

When the emperor was talking in Biarritz about his plan to be the G7's official hôtelier for its next meeting, at his Doral Resort and Golf Club in Miami-Dade County, so that he can collect all the moneys his colleagues spend during their visit to the US, the wall he stood in front of bore an interesting motto, apparently installed by the organizers of the summit:


"Lutter contre les inégalités", "Struggle against the forms of inequality". This could  be the best trolling of the whole weekend and I would like to offer a hearty salute to whoever thought of it.

By the way, the Doral is really struggling against the forms of going broke, and could use the money,
At Doral, which Trump has listed in federal disclosures as his biggest moneymaker hotel, room rates, banquets, golf and overall revenue were all down since 2015. In two years, the resort’s net operating income – a key figure, representing the amount left over after expenses are paid – had fallen by 69%.
Even in a vigorous economy, the property was missing the Trump Organization’s internal business targets; for instance, the club expected to take in $85 million in revenue in 2017 but took in just $75 million.
And then Doral settled a lawsuit from a guest who claimed to have been bitten by bedbugs.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Necrology


On the death of David Koch, I'm generally a nil nisi bonum kind of guy, but I think I might as well repost something from five years ago, which touches on some of the issues that have been coming up in the apologetics—that he wasn't really a moronic reactionary but a person compelled to his opinions by his special and enlightened philosophical bent, and that far from clinging selfishly and stingily to his fortune he spent it freely, but choosing his own causes rather than bowing to the will of the taxman—I was dubious then, and I haven't changed my mind:

Straw Dog photo from China News Service. Typical People's Republic, no credit to the photographer or even the author of the piece it illustrates, but there's an editor name, because hierarchy.
Via Steve M ("Libertarian Talk is Cheap"), I'm looking at a weird article by the editor in chief of Reason, one Nick Gillespie, who's been living by his own account off Koch brothers philanthropy for 21 years and wants us to know that old Charles and David are not hypocritical moralist Republican authoritarians but literally—wait for it—too liberal for the John Birch Society:

The Empire Strikes Out

Drawing by Kal for The Economist via Politico.


So it's a thing that seems pretty trivial in itself:

During a breakfast with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the Group of Seven meeting in this picturesque seaside town, a reporter asked Trump whether he had any “second thoughts” about his escalating trade war with China. Trump responded, “Yeah, sure. Why not.”
“Might as well,” he said. “Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything.”
Trump then claimed that talks were going well with China and that he planned to back away from some of his recent threats, such as seeking to force companies to leave China.
But back in the White House, it's a fatal error! How can this be? First thoughts are all our emperor needs!

So they start spinning:
“The president was asked if he had ‘any second thought on escalating the trade war with China.’ His answer has been greatly misinterpreted. President Trump responded in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
Right, While the president's chief economic adviser trots out an alternative, though even more transparent, lie:

Saturday, August 24, 2019

What did you do in the war against reality, Daddy?

George W. Bush in Texas with chainsaw. From Erynn's Pinterest.

I've been reading and digesting and rereading this essay, "Normalnost", in the current LA Review of Books, by Peter Pomerantsev and in conjunction with the marketing of his new book, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, which brings together the Russia theme and the Trump and Brexit themes across some unexpected parameters: not that Pomerantsev discounts the thing we've come to expect about "them" doing something horrible to "us", but that he sees the horrible thing that's happened to us as something that also happened to them, first, and something you could notice at first in the world of the arts, at the time of the breakup of the USSR, in the collapse of "a system of making sense of the world":
In History Becomes Form, the Russian art historian Boris Groys describes this process as the “Big Tsimtsum,” a term he borrows from the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah, an alternative version of creation where God first brings the word into being and then retreats from it. “[T]he withdrawal of Soviet power, or the Tsimtsum of Communism, created the infinite space of signs emptied of sense,” writes Groys. “Soviet ideology knew nothing of chance. […] It saw itself as the necessary product of historical development as understood by dialectical materialism. […] In the early 1990s this ideology was suddenly gone — and the world became devoid of meaning[, leaving Soviets] in a sea of empty signifiers.”
Which led to the Russian avant-garde of conceptualists and performance artists becoming increasingly fixated on the panic of meaninglessness, depicting meaning as disposable or abandoning language altogether or contrariwise trying to rebuild meaning as a kind of group-therapy activity, when

Friday, August 23, 2019

Grift for the Mill

Haunted by the story of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which is where the Justice Department's immigration policy is administered from, and thus the employer of the nation's 400 immigration judges, and sends all its employees a near-daily bloggy compilation of memos and news clippings and the like:
But on Monday, tucked between stories from The Washington Post and a public radio station, the briefing included a summary of and a link to a blog post from what the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a “Hate Group”: Vdare.com, a frequent platform for white nationalists espousing anti-Semitic and anti-immigration rhetoric.
The Vdare post singles out immigration judges by name, uses their photos and refers to them with an anti-Semitic slur. 
Coming the same week, as Reis Thebault notes at the Washington Post, as Trump scolded American Jews for being "disloyal" when they vote for Democrats and singled out the fanatical Jew-hater Henry Ford for praise, and a growing recognition that the White House may have an anti-Semitism problem. As the president of the judges' union, Ashley Tabbador, explained in a letter to the EOIR director James McHenry, the post was creating a hostile work environment:


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Literary Corner: To Greenland's Icy Mountains




The Way It Should Work
by Donald J. Trump

It was the G8 for a long time,
and now it’s the G7.
I could certainly see it being the G8 again.
If someone would make that motion,
I would be disposed
to think about it favorably.
As you know, for most of the time
it was the G8 and it included Russia.
I guess President Obama—because Putin
outsmarted him—President Obama thought
it wasn’t good so he wanted Russia out,
but I think it’s much more appropriate
to have Russia in. A lot of the things
we talk about have to do with Russia.
President Obama didn’t want Russia in
because he got outsmarted.
Well, that’s not really the way it should work.
That "if someone would make that motion", another evocation of how little he feels himself being the president, being in power—the idea that these things are accomplished at meetings to which he's not invited (it doesn't occur to him he could "make that motion" himself), conducted more formally than the things he sits in on. But also raises a mystery: in our world, the Russian Federation was expelled by the G8 after the internationally illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, the most flagrant violation of territorial sovereignty since the Axis powers lost World War II, but in Trump's world it was—he "guesses"—because President Putin "outsmarted" President Obama. What?

I'll get back to the poem, but I'm really obsessed with his rage at Denmark for making fun of his plan to buy Greenland's 836,300 square miles:

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pompeo

Esther and Asahuerus at her banquet, with Haman lowering at the side, just realizing he's doomed, by Rembrandt, 1660, via Wikipedia.

Speaking of conservative Christians who recognize Trump for what he is but think that's what God wants him for, see Susan Glasser's terrific New Yorker profile of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:


March 2016:
On March 5th, Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, arrived in Wichita for the caucus. Rubio left his closing argument to Pompeo, who told the crowd at the Century II arena, “I’m going to speak to you from the heart about what I believe is the best path forward for America.” An Army veteran who finished first in his class at West Point, Pompeo cited Trump’s boast that if he ordered a soldier to commit a war crime the soldier would “go do it.” As the audience booed, Pompeo warned that Trump—like Barack Obama—would be “an authoritarian President who ignored our Constitution.”

August 2019:

Monday, August 19, 2019

One of the President's Humanoid Relationships

Inauguration Day. Photo by Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes.

Money quote from the Politico article on the sad breakup of Donald Trump and his friend and mentor Tom Barrack:
The key issue driving the two men apart: Barrack’s role as chairman of the president’s 2017 inauguration fund, which is under investigation by prosecutors.
Trump was “really upset” to read reports about Barrack’s role in allegedly making it easy for some foreigners and others to try to spend money to get access to Trump and his inner circle and whether some of the inauguration money was misspent, according to a senior administration official.
“The president was really surprised to read all about the inauguration and who was trying to buy access and how, because the president doesn’t get any of that money,” said the official.
Didn't bother him that Barrack was selling access to the president any more than it bothered him that Michael Cohen was (at least until after Cohen "flipped" four months after the story came out), or Corey Lewandowski, or his sons, or Zhang Yujing. Bothered him that he wasn't getting his cut.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Downward Trajectory

Cistercian Abbey of Mount St. Bernard. Photo by Financial Times.


A weird thought from the theologically-minded Elizabeth Bruenig, having dinner with some  evangelical Trump supporters in a small town an hour or so from Dallas during Easter week, in a big article in the Washington Post last week:
In some sense it seemed that Trump is able, by being less Christian than your average Christian, to protect Christians who fear incursions from a hostile dominant culture. But that paradox also supplies a handy solution to the question of whether Christians should direct their efforts to worldly politics or turn inward, shunning political life for spiritual pursuits. By voting for Trump — even over more identifiably Christian candidates — evangelicals seem to have found a way to outsource their fears and instead reserve a strictly spiritual space for themselves inside politics without placing evangelical politicians themselves in power. In that sense, they can be both active political agents and a semi-cloistered religious minority, both of the world and removed from it, advancing their values while retreating to their own societies.
It's like only Nixon being able to go to China without freaking out the rightwingers because his anti-communism was such a certain thing, or maybe the mirror image of that; the very extremity of Trump's worldliness, his open worship of money and sex and himself and his total lack of compassion, makes him the man who can achieve their aims or delay their downfall without corrupting any "good" people in the process. Since they believe all secular life is rotten with corruption it will take corruption on the grand scale to get it done, and he's corrupt enough already.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

For the Record: Devin's Farm



Apparently Devin Nunes, scourge of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and special secret emissary of the White House to the Hill, has gotten tired of all those people mocking him for claiming he's a Tulare County family farmer just because the family dairy farm moved to Iowa some years ago without him, where it's generally worked by undocumented immigrants, while he himself stayed in California growing fragrant and multiflowered paranoid fantasies about President Trump and the FBI, so he's bought himself a spread of acres in his district, well, maybe half an acre:
Nunes, R-Tulare, reported on a newly released financial disclosure form that he owns a Tulare County farm that generates no income for him and is worth less than $15,000.
Nunes has never before claimed a farm as one of his assets in annual financial disclosures, according to public records dating back to 2007.
That suggests he either bought a small part in a farm recently or he improperly filed previous financial disclosures, according to Delaney Marsco, legal counsel on ethics for the nonpartisan watchdog group Campaign Legal Center.
“Either he had a tiny stake in this farm all along and he’s been improperly filing financial disclosures, or he bought a tiny, tiny farm this year in order to protect his reputation as a farmer in his district,” Marsco said.
Except the reporters couldn't find any records that he or his wife had bought any land in 2018 either, so who knows? Anyway, I just couldn't really resist:

More Economic Opportunities

Mainland Chinese rapper VaVa registers her disapproval of Hong Kong demonstrators on her Instagram account (which is of course illegal in mainland China except for those with the money to maintain a VPN). This in no way makes her look as if she is cravenly currying favor with the Beijing government, except—well, yeah, it does.

How nuts is the entire world right now?

Well, India's only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, has had its constitution somehow revoked by the Hindu-nationalist government and now the entire state is under something like house arrest, under curfew and phone lines and Internet down for the past 12 days (these are supposedly being restored), politicians arrested, insulin and baby food running out, because that's how Prime Minister Modi thinks he can get the people "more economic opportunities".

That line is another one of the lines that enrages me, with its more than a hint of bribery: "Surely you can put up with a little oppression if we pay you enough." And its buried presupposition that the politician delivering the line is the only one who can deliver the cash, not so buried in the case of Trump:
"The bottom line is, I know you like me, this is a love fest, but you have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k)'s down the tubes. Everything is going to be down the tubes," Mr Trump said. "So whether you love me or hate me, you've got to vote for me."
(The day after [checks notes] an 800-point drop in the DJI.)

Modi's economic policies, the thing that was going to make up for his party's overt "Aryan" chauvinism (not going to win him friends in the country's southern states) and Islamophobia, haven't actually been that great for the masses, in spite of continued high growth rates, because the growth isn't shared, but benefits only the top 10%, with persistent caste divisions (Modi and the BJP castigate "caste politics" the way Republicans talk about "identity politics", as a way of shutting down discussion of the issue) sharpening the inequality, which seems to be getting worse:
Annabel Bligh: The Modi government has been accused of withholding jobs data in the run up to the election because of how bad the official figures are. But the latest employment survey, which was approved by India’s national statistics commission, was leaked to the Indian newspaper the Business Standard in late January and showed unemployment was at a record high of 6.1%.
Indrajit Roy: By a lot of standards 6.1% is not a bad unemployment rate. But for India it’s very significant, according to Jens Lerche, because there isn’t strong welfare provision in the country. And the unemployment rate was just 2.2% in the 2011-2012 financial year.
Jens Lerche: Now unemployment is uncommon in a country such as India because poor people have to work. So, people being without jobs to some extent is people that can afford not to work – educated people that have a family background that they can live off for a while. But, what we have seen here is jobs that have disappeared also within the agricultural sector and low end of manufacturing sector. So it does appear as if poor people are also losing their jobs here.
And since his reelection in May things have started looking pretty gloomy for the business community as well:
Despite an uptick in August, Mumbai’s Sensex stock index is about as close to October’s lows as it is to June’s highs. In July foreigners pulled more money out of Indian equities than they put in. India’s cautious business press has begun to criticise the government. So too, even more gingerly, have its cowed business leaders. “There is no demand and no private investment,” groused Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Auto, a motorcycle-maker, at its annual meeting in late July. “So where will growth come from?” The remark, widely interpreted as a swipe at Mr Modi, encapsulates Indian business’s disenchantment with the man they once regarded as their champion.
The immediate cause of the mood swing was the budget, presented on July 5th by Nirmala Sitharaman, the newly appointed finance minister. Business folk tuned in to the two-hour presentation expecting less red tape, fewer tariffs, more incentives for investment and lower taxes. They got the opposite....
So it seems likely that the timing of the Kashmir action could be related to the general sourness people are feeling about the government. For more, see this interview with the Kashmiri (but London-resident) novelist Mirza Waheed in The New Yorker.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Then again...

Regaliceratops peterhewsi, a.k.a. "Hellboy", a triceratops cousin discovered some 15 years ago in southeastern Alberta, via Smithsonian.

I've been in something of a funk, I don't mind telling you, and I think it must have been Matt Taibbi, someone I am normally able to regard with cheerful disrespect, who got me into the political part of it, with a big report from Iowa in late July in which he suggested that the Democratic party was making the same mistakes the Republicans made in 2016, in fielding a bunch of candidates nobody could possibly want:
The top Democrats’ best arguments for office are that they are not each other. Harris is rising in part because she’s not Biden; Warren, because she isn’t Bernie. Bernie’s best argument is the disfavor of the hated Democratic establishment. The Democratic establishment chose Biden because he was the Plan B last time and the party apparently hasn’t come up with anything better since. Nothing says “We’re out of ideas” quite like pulling a pushing-eighty ex-vice president off the bench to lead the most important race in the party’s history.
But I think Matt may have some difficulty recognizing that women politicians are interesting above the neck, humans you can have conversations with, and that some of them are more attractive than others in the same way as men politicians are. In any case, it's not clear the Republican process was a mistake at all, since for one thing they ended up with a candidate who won, in his own peculiar way, and would have been ready to accomplish all the party's principal goals if he weren't so incompetent as a people manager and so unable to delay personal gratification.

In a way, the 2016 thing was a Darwinian experiment, gathering together a collection of political mutants and seeing which mutations were adaptive, an alternative to the conventional method of seeking the candidate who conforms most to the stereotype the choosers feel comfortable with, and what came up was as big a surprise as the triceratops must have been, back in the day, but it wasn't ineffective. While the Democrats' process may have been too sober. This time around, maybe we're performing a similar experiment, and with some real results, in the sense that some of our oddest candidates are the ones who have risen to the top: our oldest candidates in history, our first professional academic to run since Woodrow Wilson (and a more talented academic than he was by far). We've had candidates who became famous as tough-guy prosecutors like Harvey Dent—Thomas E. Dewey, Estes Kefauver, Rodolfo Giuliani, Christopher Christie, all losers in the presidential stakes—but how about prosecutors famous for opposing the death penalty and being black and putting the screws on a sanctimonious, reptilian Supreme Court nominee?

What I'm trying to say is, maybe our candidates are weird enough this time around to shake up the formula and make this unnatural selection process yield something.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Aaargh




Cleve R. Wootson, Jr. and Ashley Parker for the Washington Post on whether we want the next president to Make America Boring Again:
 All Brian Fisher wants is to make it through Season 2 of HBO’s “Westworld.”
Fisher, 65, retired from Silicon Valley to Alicante, Spain, where he imagined he’d spend his time catching up on television and enjoying the beach.  But now, he jokes, he can’t seem to do either — and for that, he blames President Trump.
 “You think, ‘Well, I’ll have my coffee and see what happened overnight in the States,’ ” he said, before describing a morning ritual that includes copious cable news and scrolling through the news alerts on his phone. “I can barely find time to go out to the beach. I live on the beach in Spain — that’s the whole point — but by the time I finish the news, it’s already getting dark.”
Don't know how come they have to report from Iowa to get a quote from the Valencian coast, but I guess that's our ever-shrinking world.

Meanwhile,
I'm not sure I can stand it any more.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Lift My Lamp

Not everybody agreed with the idea of the Emma Lazarus inscription on the Statue of Liberty at the time, including cartoonist Victor Gillam in March 1890 (h/t this blog post by Victoria Emily Jones). 

The All-New New Colossus
by Kenneth Cuccinelli

.................... Give me your tired, your poor,
At least if they can stand on their own feet,
But don't send us those homeless any more
Or people who don't have enough to eat.
Ship them back to their shitholes. Lock the door.

Via Splinter News, a story about Ken Cuccinelli's views on immigrants when he was Virginia attorney general (you'll remember him as the one who redesigned the state seal to conceal the left boob of the goddess Virtus, to make the state safe for Christians) that originally appeared in the lamented DCist: in a call to a conservative radio show in January 2012, he was complaining (falsely) about the District of Columbia catching rats and trucking them to Virginia instead of killing them and claiming (falsely) that the rules prevented them from "breaking up the families" of rats (it's true for some animal species, but rats and mice aren't among them):