Sunday, June 30, 2019

What Do the Simple Folk Think?

"What part of 'ordinary people' do you not understand?"

What conclusions, Mr. Bret Stephens would like to know, should "ordinary people" draw from the first round of Democratic debates last week, as to what Democrats stand for?
Here’s what: a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.
They speak Spanish. We don’t. They are not U.S. citizens or legal residents. We are. They broke the rules to get into this country. We didn’t. They pay few or no taxes. We already pay most of those taxes. They willingly got themselves into debt. We’re asked to write it off. They don’t pay the premiums for private health insurance. We’re supposed to give up ours in exchange for some V.A.-type nightmare. They didn’t start enterprises that create employment and drive innovation. We’re expected to join the candidates in demonizing the job-creators, breaking up their businesses and taxing them to the hilt.
Unfortunately readers didn't all recognize that that was an op-editorial "we", and stumbled into thinking Bret Stephens was himself an ordinary voter, which was just beastly of them!

In which I agree with Bari Weiss

Photo by Robert Cherny for The Frisc.

Sort of. "From the left," as you might say, with Weiss's views ("San Francisco Will Spend $600,000 to Erase History") on
the San Francisco school board’s unanimous decision on Tuesday night to spend at least $600,000 of taxpayer money not just to shroud a historic work of art but to destroy it.
By now stories of progressive Puritanism (or perhaps the better word is Philistinism) are so commonplace — snowflakes seek safe space! — that it can feel tedious to track the details of the latest outrage. But this case is so absurd that it’s worth reviewing the specifics.
It's about the 13 fresco murals painted in 1936 inside George Washington High School in San Francisco by Victor Arnautoff, a Communist student of Diego Rivera, under the auspices of the WPA, depicting a less sanitized version of the life of George Washington in which the Father of Our Country is shown managing the enslaved workers on his tobacco plantation at Mount Vernon (not cotton, as too many reports including Weiss's claim), and as a land speculator pushing the colonization of the frontier literally over the dead body of a murdered Native.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Literary Corner: President Litella

Soviet Jewelry from Gal Beckerman on Vimeo.

Aaron Blake for WaPo had issued a very good take on these remarkable passages from Trump's Osaka news conference at the conclusion of the G-20 meeting, but I was already committed to reading them as poetry and believe there's more to be said:

Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, and the Viability of Busing in School Desegregation
by Donald J. Trump

I. Where Do You Stand on Federally Mandated Busing?

Before I get into that,
I thought she was given too much credit.
He did not do well, certainly. And maybe
the facts were not necessarily on his side.
I think she was given too much credit
for what she did. Was it that outstanding?
I think probably he was hit harder
than he should have been hit. I thought
he was hit actually harder.
As far as that, I will tell you in about four weeks
because we are coming out with certain policies
that are going to be very interesting
and very surprising to a lot of people.
Shortly after this appeared, valued tweep snowmanomics wrote, "No doubt Trump thinks the busing controversy refers to the typical method students get transported to school," and shortly after that this preposterous joke turned out to be true:

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Rest of the Moral Case

Loretta Young demonstrates how to be agreeable in Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), via Fritzi.

"The rest of the moral case" against Trump, David Brooks was saying, "means hitting him from the right as well as the left."

We're good at calling Trump a racist and an immigrant hater, he's saying, but we ought to be accusing him of things conservatives don't like?

And then David Brooks would consider voting for us?

Why doesn't the left attack Trump from the right, and other dilemmas

William S. Hart in Hell's Hinges (1916), via Fritzi.

Well, here's an urgent question: how is the Democratic party going to get David Brooks's vote in 2020 ("Dems, Please Don't Drive Me Away")?
I could never in a million years vote for Donald Trump. So my question to Democrats is: Will there be a candidate I can vote for?
According to a recent Gallup poll, 35 percent of Americans call themselves conservative, 35 percent call themselves moderate and 26 percent call themselves liberal. The candidates at the debates this week fall mostly within the 26 percent. The party seems to think it can win without any of the 35 percent of us in the moderate camp, the ones who actually delivered the 2018 midterm win.

Brooks now identifies as one of those soccer moms, I guess. I'm just so fatigued with the one-dimensional view of politics—everybody standing on that line, with everybody else to their left or their right, and the politician's job being to capture a majority by dominating a particular line segment. You'd think if we'd learned nothing else from Trump, we'd have learned that that's not how it works.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Hi It's Stupid: White Working Class edition

Cooperative Congressional Election Study 2016.

Hi, it's Stupid to say there's no such thing in the United States as "the white working class", but there's an elegant new way of saying it, from Thomas B. Edsall, the New York Times columnist so colorless that nobody even knows whether they hate him or not, but I often kind of like him, when I remember to take a look, as in this case, where it's right in the headline: "There Are Really Two Distinct White Working Classes".

The idea, which is drawing on polling for the AFL-CIO that I think I don't have access to, is that when you look at the polling category of white people without college degrees (standing in for the hopelessly ill-defined "white working class" category), which would be an enormous group if it was in fact a bloc, from 48% to 54% (see above chart) of the electorate, they are very sharply divided by political behavior, around 40% of them being Democrats or Democrat leaners, and about 50% Republicans or Republican leaners (the leaners being pretty small groups on both sides), with the balance being true independents.

They're also distinct in other demographic ways, as you might expect. The non-college white Democrats are a lot younger, twice as many of them under 38 or so as the Republicans, and a lot more female (59%-41%, as opposed to 51%-49%). They are markedly less Christian, and less evangelical/born-again in particular. Edsall doesn't give any figures for income, but I think these factors make it obvious that the Democrats have a good deal less money, and from there I would speculate, on lines I've talked about before, that the non-college white Democrats are much more likely to be low-level employees, while non-college white Republicans are the ones who have mastered the art of getting rich without a college degree, the proprietors of small or tiny businesses. Hold that thought for a few minutes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Mueller: The Off-Broadway Trumpfenfestspiel

Somebody had one of the same ideas I had for familiarizing people with the Mueller Report, that of a dramatic reading of enough of the witness testimony to add up to an intelligible story—

In fact, a distinguished playwright did, Robert Schenkkan, perhaps best noted for another political piece, All the Way, which won the Best Play Tony for its Broadway run in 2014, starring Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Baines Johnson, meaning somebody who was able to get the thing done, which happened last night, at the Riverside Church in uptown Manhattan, presented by a nonprofit education-and-advocacy organization called Law Works, and directed by Scott Ellis, with a pretty amazing cast including John Lithgow as a diabolical but engaging Donald Trump (you haven't lived until you've watched Lithgow crumpling into despair as he says, "Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm fucked") and Annette Bening as a counter-narrator reading the occasional sidebar of text that was not from the Report.

The performance was streamed live (as I learned too late to see it, but I watched it this afternoon) and is freely distributable on any website you want to distribute it from, so the first thing I want to do is give it to you right here before I move on to any spoilers:

After which just a few words on what I think it is and what it's likely to work at.

Weird Endings

Image by Kate Peters/Financial Times

A classic Brooks in strictly formal terms ("How Artificial Intelligence Can Save Your Life"): 13 paragraphs on how nice AI can be, presented as interesting things he's been learning about in his wide reading on the subject, and then in paragraph 14 a first reference to a book by this guy he just met at the Aspen Ideas Festival, from which 10 of the previous paragraphs are in fact culled (Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, by Eric Topol, 2019).

At the end, he brushes up against an issue that might be interesting: something I never know quite what to think about, anyway, the privacy issue, the way these genuinely lifesaving capacities are connected to the existence of intimate information about us all over cyberspace, in this case the AI programs that can estimate how serious texts sent to a suicide hotline are by analyzing their vocabulary, or diagnose depression on the basis of Instagram posts. But where Brooks wanders is really peculiar:
You can imagine how problematic this could be if the information gets used by employers or the state.
But if it’s a matter of life and death, I suspect we’re going to go there. At some level we’re all strangers to ourselves. We’re all about to know ourselves a lot more deeply. You tell me if that’s good or bad.
and that's it. What the hell? The Internet is going to force us all to attain self-knowledge? (Brooks was very hot on opposing self-knowledge in 2014.) It threatens our ability to keep things private from ourselves?

Monday, June 24, 2019

West of Eden: Surrender Documents

Jews and Palestinians sharing the street at the Jaffa Gate in Old Jerusalem before World War I, via +972.

This is making it pretty explicit:

The famous Jared Kushner "peace plan", part of which the White House unveiled a sketchy picture of over the weekend, isn't a settlement but a surrender in which Palestinians are being asked to permanently abandon their claims of nationhood in return for something more than $25 billion (but much less than the $50 billion you'll see in the headlines, since almost half of that is devoted to funding projects in Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan) in bribe money over ten years, ponied up not by Israel or the United States but by the "wealthy Gulf states and nations in Europe and Asia, along with private investors" who should be represented at the formal rollout in Manama, Bahrain, this week—no Palestinians, who are boycotting the conference, will be there, and no Israelis either; since they have no obligations under the proposal, why should they bother?

Nor will the "regional business leaders" the plan depends on, according to the Washington Post. Why wouldn't they want to invest a billion dollars in Gaza and West Bank tourism? Well, there's not going to be an airport for the West Bank, and the only internal options are buses, shared taxis, or a dicey experience with a rental car:

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Take a look at your optimism!

Verdon and Fosse, April 2018, screengrab from NBC via.

The Todd-Trump conversation broke down irretrievably over Todd's attempt to ask a pretty interesting question on a passage from the Mueller Report (I:117), as to whether Junior, who "declined to be voluntarily interviewed" by the Mueller team, might have involuntarily testified to the grand jury, as an immediately following redaction hints, maybe:

TODD: So did you not read the Mueller report?
TRUMP: Let me tell you, I read much of it.
TODD: The unredacted version or no?
TRUMP [unable to risk revealing that he doesn't know what the correct answer is supposed to be]: I read -- No I didn't.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Donald don't do this number—

—it's the only one you own...

There was a pretty funky smell, I thought, to the remarks on NPR of acting ICE director Mark Morgan on the subject of his agency's plan for a big sweep of some thousands of undocumented immigrant families starting Sunday:
"My duty is not to look at the political optics, or the will [of] the American people, that's for the politicians to decide," Morgan said. "What the American people should want us to do as law enforcement officials is to enforce the rule of law and maintain the integrity of that system."
Did he mean there was some special reason for enforcing the rule of law this weekend, as opposed to the rest of the time? Launched Monday by an out-of-the-blue presidential tweet (the night before he officially opened his reelection bid in Orlando)?

No politics there for sure! Though there did seem to be some kind of alleged reason, in Morgan's telling:

Friday, June 21, 2019

My God How the Money Rolls In

Re-upping these lyrics from February 2017, in honor of the new reporting from David Fahrenthold, below the fold:
My prezzie owns several nice golf clubs
With carts you can take for a spin
And when he's there serving as tummler,
My God, how the money rolls in!
Rolls in, rolls in,
My God, how the money rolls in, rolls in,
Rolls in, rolls in,
My God how the money rolls in!
My prezzie is not quite a genius
He's dumber than General Flynn
But at dinnertime at Mar-a-Lago,
My God how the money rolls in!
Rolls in, rolls in,
My God, how the money rolls in, rolls in,
Rolls in, rolls in,
My God how the money rolls in!
My prezzie knows practically nothing
Except how to cheat and to win
But when he's at work on the weekends
My God how the money rolls in!
Rolls in, rolls in,
My God, how the money rolls in, rolls in,
Rolls in, rolls in,
My God how the money rolls in!

If you think you're getting away with this, Buster, you're making a big—

—error such as we all make from time to time, don't we, I mean after all who among us doesn't have to deal with a loose and stupid general? Or national security adviser with a mustache that looks like a goddamned exotic vacuum cleaner attachment, amirite?

Or, Donald Trump Became President Today, sometime between TV time at 7:15 in the morning

and noon or so, when he was on his way to lunch with Prime Minister Trudeau for the hour-and-a-half of his work day that wasn't devoted to executive time:

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Literary Corner: On Second Thoughts

Strom Thurmond, in contrast, Joe really liked. Via Current Affairs.

Vice President Biden's Literary Corner entry evokes the Wordsworth of the Lyrical Ballads, with its plain and natural diction organizing itself, as if by magic, into rhyme.

In Memory of James O. Eastland
by Joey Biden
He never called me "boy",
He always called me "son".
At least there was some civil-
Ity. We got things done.
It also occurs to me, on second thoughts, that he's not (at least this time, he's done it before) talking about being friends with these people. He says of Herman Talmadge that he was "one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guys" and a possible reading of the "boy" remark is "Maybe I didn't have to suffer Eastland's racist filth, but he did give me shit over my youth."

[Update: Steve came up with this hypothesis last night, a good eight or nine hours before I did. I should have known.]

Which seems pretty likely, given how young Biden was during the brief period they served together, 1973 to 1978, as the sixth-youngest senator in US history, 31 at the start, when Eastland was turning 69, and what a nasty, peremptory old fool Eastland was. I'll bet Eastland smacked him down in Judiciary Committee.

So he too was pained by Eastland, in this more modest way, he might be trying to say. He too hated those bastards, and they hated him, but it didn't stop them from legislatin' up a storm, as it might do today, now that all the vilest racists are holed up in the other party.

And there's something to that. You could say the racists were better back in the day, but mainly the lesson is that you can forget all that Aaron Sorkin sentimentality, Tip'n'Ronnie and all: politics is about people who can't stand each other getting things done. Though it certainly doesn't sound like something Biden would say, and it's not an argument for voting for him either, because it's pretty clear if he did have some special technique for dealing with fellow Democrats Talmadge and Eastland (which I doubt: Eastland liked being courted by presidents from Roosevelt through Carter and important senators like Kennedy and Mondale, not first-term pipsqueaks like Joe), it's not going to work on Republican Mitch McConnell.

It's not an argument for voting for Biden and his incorrigible verbal carelessness, which often makes it next to impossible to guess what he's trying to say and sets him up to be accused of all sorts of awful things, but it's an argument for not hating on him any more than you already did.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Shuffleboard Lane

Happy Juneteenth, but this is too much:
Joseph R. Biden Jr., defending himself on Tuesday night against suggestions that he is too “old fashioned” for today’s Democratic Party, invoked two Southern segregationist senators by name as he fondly recalled the “civility” of the Senate in the 1970s and 1980s....
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Mr. Biden said, slipping briefly into a Southern accent, according to a pool report from the fund-raiser. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’”
This is not a good way to defend yourself against suggestions that you are too old-fashioned for today's Democratic party. It suggests you're too old-fashioned to have been alive in 1966, when 14-year-old Janis Ian's song "Society's Child"  was released ("I could understand your tears and your shame—she calls you 'boy' instead of  your name").

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Cuba, 1896-97, via latinamericanstudies.
In 1896 General Valeriano Weyler, leading Spanish imperial forces against a Cuban guerilla insurgency, decided like many imperial commanders from Napoleon to Westmoreland that it's a problem when your enemy consists of irregular forces blended into the general population, and came up with a novel method of separating them out: he'd take the non-militant members of communities off their land and "reconcentrate" them in central locations where he could stop them from helping the guerillas with food and shelter and keep them out of harm's way, in what he called, with a military bureaucrat's gift for dulling a concept with neuter phrasing, campos de concentración. The policy was, effectively, race-based, as was the war:
'"...del millón seicientos mil habitantes que aproximadamente había en Cuba cuando empezó esta guerra, unos doscientas mil eran españoles, quinientos mil negros o mulatos, unos ochocientos mil blancos cubanos o criollos y un número no determinado de chinos, jamaicanos, haitianos y otros. Los españoles, con alguna notable excepción en especial dentro del clero, se mantenían fieles a España y en contra de la revolución de los cubanos. Los negros, salvo conductas puntuales, estaban entusiásticamente unidos para apoyar a los rebeldes bajo promesa de abolición de la esclavitud, y por que intuían que al final triunfaría la rebelión contra España...Esperaban que bajo el nuevo régimen tendrían condiciones muy similares a las de la vecina república de Haití... soñaban con una Cuba libre ..." 
[Out of the approximately 1.6 million inhabitants of Cuba about 200,000 were Spanish, 500,000 Negroes and mulattos, 800,000 white Cubans and Creoles, and an undetermined number of Chinese, Jamaicans, Haitians, and others. The Spaniards, with some notable exceptions in particular among the Catholic clergy, remained faithful to Spain and opposed to the Cuban revolution. The Negroes, except for particular cases, were enthusiastically united in support of the rebels under a promise that slavery would be abolished, and because they had an intuitive sense that the rebellion would win... They hoped that under the new regime conditions like those in the nearby republic of Haiti could be created, and dreamed of a free Cuba...]

Brooks on Harvard

Reading Room, Langdell Hall, Photo by John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons.

An interesting take from moral philosopher David F. Brooks ("Harvard's False Path to Wisdom") on the case of Kyle Kashuv, the gun nut Trump acolyte among the survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school shooting, whose Harvard acceptance has been rescinded after the discovery of some extremely offensive text messages and other communications he wrote "years ago", in his words, or in some cases 18 months, as in the below example (via Steve M):

Most conservative commentators focused on the unfairness of Harvard's decision, as Ben Shapiro, a mentor of Kashuv's, described it:  "Harvard's auto-da-fe sets up an insane, cruel standard no one can possibly meet", because who among us has not as a teenager typed things like this?

Monday, June 17, 2019

Literary Corner: They Laughed "Haha" That Was So Funny

Song of Vengeance for George Stephanopoulos
by Donald J. Trump

Excuse me, read the report,
read the conclusion of the report,
just read it. 
Ok, I mean look
you are one that said
Donald Trump is not going to win
and then you smiled when I
got into the race, and you laughed.
You and Maggie Haberman
would laugh ‘haha’ that was so funny
and I will give your deputy chairman
of the DNC credit. 
Because he looked at the two of you
and said, sorry to tell you but
Donald Trump is going to win.
And you laughed because you thought
it was ridiculous and Maggie Haberman
of the New York Times who knows
nothing about me, by the way,
I rarely speak to her, she laughed
and thought it was so funny.
The people that didn’t think it was funny
were the people that voted for me
(Text via ABC)

Little does he know, those were the ones who thought it was really funny. But then they were laughing with him, not at him, at the discomfiture of the libtards.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Mueller: The Airport Paperback

Here's some drafting for the airport novel version. Superscript notes identify material that's exclusive to the Mueller Report. Material on Flynn in the previous sketch is not yet known to these characters, although I guess it will be. Sorry I can't seem to get rid of the links and blockquotes.

Justice League of America #1, October 1960, art by Murphy Anderson, via Wikipedia.

Sally Yates, the slender blonde with the soft Southern accent who'd become the acting attorney general three days earlier, as the new president was being inaugurated, swept her hair back with an impatient hand. "I'm really freaked out about it," [M II:30 fn 134] she told Andy McCabe, the FBI nerd, contemplating her from the other side of the desk, as Mary McCord, DOJ national security specialist, shook her head from side to side next to him.
"This" was General Mike Flynn, fired head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the previous administration and now the new chief of the National Security Council. A craggy-faced fanatic from the paranoid wing of his Republican party, he'd become indispensable to his candidate, Donald J. Trump, a pudgy, pasty hotel-keeper and television schmoozer, lending him an air of austerity and toughness, one of the men the candidate called "my generals", but he'd been turning out to have more in his past than just his enmity with the outgoing president.

Father's Day post

Before I had siblings. Aunt Nell's electric vehicle in Huntington Beach.

Shorter Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, "Can Dads Have It All?", The New York Times, 16 June 2019:
Sure it's true that fathers do more total work than mothers nowadays, when you add up paid work, housework, and childcare—a good 20 minutes in families where both parents work, according to the latest statistical manipulations by Robert VerBruggen of the Institute For Family Studies, or considerably more, depending on how you massage it, but I'm not resentful. After all, women's work is harder, but they probably like doing it better than I do, so it all works out. I will point out, though, that this dispensation, combined with the need to watch children all the time because we're not allowed to just order them outside while we play with our X-Box, leaves both parents exhausted, inevitably lowering marriage and fertility rates, which is very important.
Because, he doesn't add, it leads to the possibility of race suicide, or, worse, contraception.

VerBruggen's piece is pretty silly, but it also brings up the reasonable idea that women generally do all the managerial work in the household (according to a 1989 study by Linda Thompson and Alexis J. Walker), which I find pretty stimulating to think about. It suggests to me that by current Republican standards women's home responsibilities should be regarded as about 271 times more valuable than men's. I don't have that much respect for management, on principle, but since most women do more than their share of dogwork as well, I'd say it adds up to a lot.

In my own child-rearing experience, where that pattern holds (I was absolutely the primary caregiver but we'd have had pure anarchy if not for the Old Lady stepping in as CEO for the occasional intervention), I was largely OK with the drudgery from diapers to dinner (not that I did it very well except for the cooking part) but poisoned from time to time with resentment at the financial inequity of her having a career and me scrabbling by with part-time work—crudely, by the need to beg her for money—as she was scandalized by the uncleanliness of the house. We survived it, and our kids are wonderful human beings, but it lent a degree of suffering and can't-talk-about-it emotional withholding both of us could have done without while that phase lasted. And I think I have some insight from that into the plight of couples like my own stay-at-home mom and somewhat remote, harried father, raging when some kid had dropped a sock on the stairs and nobody but him would pick it up, in the days when they were poor (and they weren't poor forever, and the hilarious and hopeful father of my infancy came back eventually). Which Ross, raised by two generations of wealthy divorcées (thing I learned today is that his grandparents were divorced too), probably lacks.

Which is, I think, that rather than quantifying the amount of work parents do in terms of minutes clocked in, we might want to qualify it in terms of prestige and affection and adjust our models, from the traditional economically nonsensical household where Mom has all the executive responsibility but has to fight for the executive privilege of ordering Dad around, to a situation where everybody gets respect and warmth in relatively equal measure, and some down time too. Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Voters, David Brooks doesn't like the way you smell

David F. Brooks in the presence of someone who's not conversant with the liberal international order. Via Medium.

Shorter David Brooks, "Voters, Your Foreign Policy Views Stink!", The New York Times, 13 June 2019:
The problem with foreign policy in America nowadays is the voters, who have never heard of the phrase "maintaining the liberal international order" and are therefore hostile to it, or at any rate hostile to the thing that they actually have heard of that is more or less the same thing, or else it's because they have for some reason that escapes me lost faith in human nature and human possibility and become, especially among the young, distrustful, alienated, and unwilling to get involved in the strange, hostile, outside world.  Therefore we need a leader who can grapple with failures like Iraq, build a younger leadership class, and embody optimism. Probably he should also be a member of a minority, a senator from a state like Illinois, and a talented writer, with experience living in a foreign country not in Europe.
Just making up that last sentence, of course: the Obama nostalgia is completely subliminal here, and real Brooks would be startled to hear himself accused of it. He's never been able to grasp that Obama has any actual original foreign policy views, if only because he can't imagine the possibility that anybody could come up with original foreign policy views after Wolfowitz or maybe Clausewitz or thereabouts or let's say after he got his Chicago BA. But he seems to have a dim awareness that once there was a moment when somebody grappled with the failure of Iraq for a while, and there were a bunch of foreign policy experts under 50, and something more than lip service was given to optimism, while the Republicans grimly kept their eyes averted from the unpleasant spectacle.

The remarkably childish headline is for real. What he's depressed about today is a new survey study:

Thursday, June 13, 2019


Everybody's talking about this Stephanopoulos interview:
PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: By the way, not only wasn’t he [Donald Junior] charged, if you read it, with all of the horrible fake news- I mean, I was reading that my son was going to go to jail — this is a good young man — that he was going to go to jail. And then the report comes out, and they didn’t even say, they hardly even talked about him.
OK, so I read it. He's cited on 44 pages of the Report (the same, as it happens, as "Russian sanctions"). Mueller doesn't call him a good young man. Mueller explains that he committed a crime in accepting the offer of help in the form of "dirt" on Clinton from a foreign government, but he felt it would be too hard to convince a jury that he knew what he was doing, or that the thing on offer was a "thing of value", given that as far as anybody knows it turned out to be not valuable (as you know, I think there's more to be said on that and new evidence in the Mueller Report bearing me out), so he decided not to prosecute:
taking into account the high burden to establish a culpable mental state in a campaign-finance prosecution and the difficulty in establishing the required valuation, the Office decided not to pursue criminal campaign-finance charges against Trump Jr.
Or as Marcy's explained, he'd have a hard time showing Junior was smart enough to understand that he was risking jail. It was nevertheless a crime, and it still is one. Hold that thought.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Conservative Case Against Witches, and Other Arcana

And don't even get me started on those bloody Tarot readers! Tower, by Vera Petruk.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Age of Aquarius, All Over Again!" The New York Times, 10 June 2019:
These young people today with their belief in astrology, witchcraft, and (shudder!) mindfulness, take it to a point where I can't even laugh at it, in spite of my normally wry and urbane disposition. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez allowed her birth chart to be done! Thirteen thousand witches got together to put a curse on Brett Kavanaugh! Plus they are all woke! In fact the ones I talk to don't literally believe in astrology and are ironical while the witches are surprisingly normal, giving standard self-help advice, but I won't let that stop me from flying into a panic. The worst is that in their hodgepodge spirituality each person borrows practices from, say, Native American, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and SoulCycle traditions and blends them in a way he or she finds moving. There is no grand narrative, no specific way one is expected to live, no set of laws you have to obey or even a specific cult leader! This must not stand!
Unlike David F. Brooks, who in his recent well-publicized divorce from any mainstream religion (The Second Mountain:The Quest For a Moral Life, Random House 2019) has adopted a hodgepodge spirituality borrowing notions from Catholic, Jewish, Prosperity Gospel, Civic Americana, and self-help psychology traditions and binds them in a way he finds moving with no grand narrative (well, except Lincoln existed at one time, that was undeniably grand), no specific way he is expected to live, no set of laws he must obey, and not even a cult leader, though he's clearly available for the job if anybody's interested, but don't expect him to give you a set of laws to live by, or even a repertoire of spiritual practices even as doctrinally attenuated and indisputably good for you as mindfulness, because he can't be bothered by any of this pettiness. His interest is in actualizing himself on the climb up that second mountain on his own, taking an occasional breather to scream at the beastly individualists in the lower altitudes, because there's nothing worse than beastly individualists with their self-actualization and hodgy-podgy list of spiritual practices and lack of cult leaders.

Fucking hippies! Why can't these low-life dillettantes learn to be serious, like David F. Brooks?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Dramatic Readings: Priebus

Screenshot from CNN broadcast of 20 February 2017

Another sketch in my project of dramatizing the Mueller Report, this one dealing with less boring characters than Mueller himself, and forcing me to invent the dialogue myself, since Mueller reports only the content, not in general the words.

As before, the aim is to clarify what the Report is and is not saying by letting the witnesses speak directly, like the participants' reminiscences in a TV documentary, mediated by some kind of voice-over (VO) narration where I'm allowed to speak a bit for myself, mostly through congressional-style pointed questioning. It also involves scrambling the Report's time sequence a bit, to bring together the individual threads that get stranded in Mueller's cop-report style.

I'm seriously trying to find a way of communicating the story somewhat concealed in the Report, to a broad public, ideally in a real documentary film or stage performance, but at any rate in readable form, at this point where the public doesn't seem to be catching on and the House committees are prevented by Trump's and Barr's continuing obstruction from doing it in the way Sam Dash and Sam Ervin did it in 1973. I have no idea if this approach works, I'm blinded in one of those trees-vs.-forest situations, and would appreciate being told one way or another.

PRIEBUS: Reince Priebus, sir, serving at the time as chairman of the Republican National Committee, and incoming chief of staff to President Trump, so I was spending a lot of time working with Trump headquarters in those first weeks of January, getting the system set up.
VO: And you got a call from the president, on January 12?
PRIEBUS: I did. He was upset.
VO: He was upset, on January 12? About what?

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Art of the Shakedown

Image via.

Jonathan Chait, making fun of Donald Trump's Art this morning:
I’ve been working up a brilliant moneymaking scheme. My plan is to throw a bunch of wild accusations at my neighbors. I’ll comb city regulations to find rules they’re breaking, and if I can’t come up with anything, I’ll just make stuff up. After I’ve bombarded them with accusations of unfair treatment, I can threaten them with lawsuits. Eventually they’ll give me some money, maybe a few hundred dollars, to drop the matter.
The plan I’m describing would probably work. But as you’re probably intuiting, it’s an extremely stupid plan. It only seems like a way to extract concessions. In reality, I’d be paying a heavy cost. The goodwill of my neighbors is a valuable long-term asset. It’s pleasant to get along with them, but also practical. We rely on each other for all sorts of arrangements, from borrowing that ingredient you suddenly realize you’re missing in the middle of cooking dinner to calling 911 if there’s an emergency. Whatever payoff I could jack out of them with crazy threats would simply be a short-term monetization with long-term costs.
Donald Trump on CNBC this morning (via Raw Story), confirming that Chait has his number:

“I’ll tell you this: The European Union, which is a fantastic group of negotiators, they actually, a very, very prominent person who you know well, who’s on your show a lot, said the person at the European Union that is in charge of taxation hates the United States more than any person anywhere in the world,” Trump began. “But I really believe that’s true! Every week you see them going after Facebook and Apple and all of these companies that are great companies. There’s something going on.”
“When they give European Union $7 billion and $5 billion and $2 billion, you know, Apple gets sued for $10 billion, and you know, right now it’s going on and they’ll end up settling, they get all this money,” he said. “Well, we should be doing that! They’re our companies, so they’re actually attacking our companies. But we should be doing what they’re doing! They think there’s a monopoly, but I’m not sure that they think that, they just figure this is easy money, we’ll sue Apple for $7 billion and we’ll either settle or win the case. So I think it’s a bad situation but obviously there is something going on in terms of monopoly.”
What's going on in terms of monopoly being, apparently, that European companies unfairly don't want US companies to have one?

But it's clear that when Trump said he was going to bring his business skills to the White House what he meant was The Art of the Shakedown.

Literary Corner: Telling It Slant

Joely Richardson in William Luce's The Belle of Amherst, off-Broadway 2014, photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN. Charles Isherwood at The Times didn't think the concept had a chance of working: "Although the posthumous publication of her extraordinary poetry made Dickinson a celebrated literary figure, during her lifetime, she was known in her hometown primarily for a reclusiveness bordering on pathology. The notion that she would confide her life story and her most deeply felt poems — or even her recipes for cake and gingerbread — to a couple of hundred strangers a night renders Mr. Luce’s play almost nonsensical from the get-go."

If President Obama Made the Deals
by Donald J. Trump
If President Obama made
the deals that I have made -
both - at the Border - and
for the Economy -
the Corrupt Media would be hailing
them as Incredible -
& a National Holiday would be
immediately declared - 
With me - despite our record
setting Economy -
and all that I have done -
no credit!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Don Tzu's Art of War

Drawing of the late 16th-century Azuchi Castle near Kyoto, from the collection of the Osaka Castle Museum, via Wikipedia.

Don Tzu said, It is better not to go to war. But if you must go to war, go to war against your friends rather than your enemies, for your friends have an interest in letting you look good afterwards.

This can be seen especially in the Emperor's conduct of economic war, in which he hasn't followed his own advice but waged it against practically everybody, as The Times was saying,
Over a few weeks, Mr. Trump has declared European and Japanese cars, Chinese telecom equipment and Mexican immigrants national security threats. Those declarations have given the president authority to use Cold War powers to inflict economic pain on countries through tariffs, government blacklists and other restrictions.
(with the odd little exception of Russia, neither a friend nor a foe), and found when he does it to the people he hates, like Iran and China, they just end up laughing at him, whereas the European Union or Japan or Australia always make the effort to avoid hurting his feelings.

So, Mexico, against which he declared economic war on 30 May:
It seems this was provoked not by a Fox News person but some talk-radio rant, I don't know from whom, in the absence of some key adults, Pence and Kudlow and maybe Lighthizer, per CNBC:

Friday, June 7, 2019

Who Knew?

Civic Saturday.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Racial Reckoning Comes", New York Times, 6 June 2019:
I just learned that throughout American history some people haven't had the same chance as others to achieve the American dream! Like the Native Americans from whom the land was stolen and the African Americans held for centuries in brutal chattel slavery. I learned this from a book by an Aspen Institute guy who's one of those multiculturalists, which sounds pretty scary, but he has a reconciling, loving temperament, and likes Abraham Lincoln. And he claims Trump is not a historic aberration but the embodiment of white supremacy that has always been near the core of the American experience and a lot of liberals think the same way and they could be right! Can you believe that? I'm gobsmacked, this could be really important!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Sanctions. II

Photo by Alexei Klimentiev, AFP/Getty Images, via Time.
Continued from a previous installment

After Trump had finally surrendered to 14 months of demands by Congress that he should punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 US presidential election, by putting sanctions on 19 individuals and 5 entities mostly among the ones named in Mueller's 16 February indictments around the Internet Research Agency and its social media contributions to the Trump campaign, widely regarded as an inadequate gesture

Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, one of those indicted by Mueller and hit with sanctions on Thursday, said in comments cited by RIA news agency that he already had been hit with U.S. sanctions “maybe three or four times - I’m tired of counting.”
“I’m not worried by this,” Prigozhin was quoted as saying. “Except that now I will stop going to McDonald’s.”
—his first big thought seems to have been devoted to getting together with Vladimir Putin, as soon as possible, perhaps with an invitation for a White House summit; he arranged for a phone call, five days later, on 20 March, two days after Putin's victory in the Russian presidential election, to his second consecutive and fourth total term in office (more than 16 years, since the length of the term had been changed to six years in 2012). Briefing materials from Trump's aides warned him in all caps, "DO NOT CONGRATULATE", we're told, but Trump congratulated Putin anyway.

My statement on Donald Trump's proposed address to the American People from the Lincoln Memorial on July 4

I mean every word of that. If it's not clear I'm talking about his refusal to cooperate with the House committees investigating him, withholding documents and stopping all witnesses from testifying; and the emergencies include the one that allows the administration to sell arms to Saudi Arabia for pursuing their war on the people of Yemen, in spite of a Congressional resolution commanding him not to; the one that may (if sustained in federal court) allow the administration to steal money from our armed forces and use it for the wall Congress has repeatedly refused to fund; and the one that seems to permit him to levy lunatic import taxes on goods from any country he's having a snit with, which increasingly seems to be pretty much all of them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

For the Record: Impeachment is another Great Pumpkin

Lengthy exchange with some no doubt good-hearted young person that I should probably forget about but it rankles:

What legal experts all agree? What transformation does the word "impeachment" work? I looked up an authoritative source for what are all these fabulous powers House Judiciary will get by changing the name of its hearing, and I have to say I wasn't too impressed:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

For the Record: June 4

Image by via Taiwan News and an excellent discussion of George H.W. Bush's failure to respond to the Tiananmen killings.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, I got embroiled in an idiotic Twitter war discussing the Chinese president with a transatlantic mob of conservatives who have recently found that they object to the treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang province being forcibly "re-educated" into Xi Jinping Thought and the decisions of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, after being completely indifferent to it for years, and my tweet went a little viral:

An awful lot of people decided I was trying to say that Xi Jinping was a nicer person than Trump, and haughtily informed me that Xi is in fact a bad man.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Sanctions. I

Note: This piece is overwhelmingly indebted to the timeline published by in July 2018; in places it's little more than an abridgment of that, fosusing on the single issue of sanctions.

The first time Donald Trump had a conversation with Vladimir Putin, as far as we know, was on 14 November 2016, following up on Putin's congratulatory telegram immediately after the election, and I don't mean to say I have any sinister suspicions there was an earlier talk, I only mean to say we probably wouldn't know if there was, and we really only know about this one because the Kremlin issued a statement on it, on which The New York Times wrote a report:
The two agreed “on the absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations,” said the statement, and they both endorsed the idea of undertaking joint efforts “to normalize relations and pursue constructive cooperation on the broadest possible range of issues”
and Putin
hoped that Moscow could build a “collaborative dialogue” with Washington on the bases of “equality, mutual respect and noninterference in the other’s internal affairs,” the release said.
The statement didn't mention the economic and diplomatic sanctions the US had been imposing on Russia since 18 individual Russians were sanctioned in 2013 under the provisions of the Magnitsky Act, and in conjunction with the European Union, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea and the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in 2014, "so-called sectoral sanctions were imposed against major Russian energy firms, financial institutions, parastatal organizations, and state-owned corporations [including] restricted access to global capital markets, which had served as a major funding source until that point." But it would hardly have been a surprise if Putin had wanted to talk about them, as a part of what made the situation "absolutely unsatisfactory", and I don't think it would have aroused a lot of critical comment, even. The Times mentioned sanctions in its story, in a quirky little paragraph of early Trumpology: