Monday, September 30, 2019

Hi It's Stupid: Concern Trolling

Troll, via.

Hi, it's Stupid to tell Republican senators they'd be smart to join Democrats in sufficient numbers to convict Trump or even better send that delegation over to the White House in the next few weeks if that had a chance of getting him to move out.

Not that I do concern trolling, and I don't think I have any Republican senator readers anyway, but I think one could make a pretty solid Brooks-style argument that Speaker Pelosi has just offered them the best deal they're likely to get:

Yes, Trump Is Guilty, and Republicans Ignore That at Their Peril

This political brawl could permanently break the party.
I don't mean it could split your party leadership into irreconcilable factions of Trumpers and anti-Trumpers as if the latter, an insignificant minority, could pose an existential threat to the former, instead of just slinking out almost unnoticed like Kristol or finding a way of getting along like Brooks. I mean it could leave the party voted nearly out of existence in November 2020 and unable to reconstruct itself, like the Whigs in 1852. But before I get to that, senators, let me appeal to the better angels of your nature.

Sunday, September 29, 2019



Required reading, the best thing I've ever seen on Trump's speech style and its relationship, if any, to his belief system, by David Roth for Deadspin:
It is a problem for President Donald Trump that it’s often impossible to tell what the hell he’s talking about. This is not one of those signature Trump defects that can readily be spun into a secret strength or as a subtle bit of advanced dealcraft that only experts and initiates can appreciate. His mind is a television that changes channels every three seconds and where every channel has an infomercial on it; it cycles day and night without ever quite cohering into a signal. There is plenty of noise, though, and because Trump so utterly lacks discernment he is constantly interrupting himself with some new bit or blurt. As a result, his average sentence is a parade of wild upstage moves in which whatever thought he’s had most recently is forever blundering into and past the one he had just begun to express—imagine one of those halftime shows at a NBA game in which people throw down wild dunks after leaping off trampolines except there’s a new guy jumping on the trampoline every second and there are frequent midair collisions. Trump also only knows about a hundred words, about a third of which refer to volume or size....
And much, much more.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Longer™ David Brooks: Impeachment

Organ grinder and girl, Rosh Hashanah card from Brooklyn, early 1900s. I may wish you another Happy New Year later but Brooks almost certainly won't. Image via The Blog About the Postcards.

This political brawl will leave Trump victorious.
David Brooks
Opinion Columnist
Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense on that call with the Ukrainian president. But that doesn’t mean Democrats are right to start an impeachment process.
Remember, impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. Some people say that means the definition of what constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors isn't a question for lawyers like in a court proceeding but politicians like in Congress which is where impeachment takes place, but I have a quirky original take, which is that it really means nobody's required to impeach anybody, it's just something you can do if you think it's a good idea, like passing appropriations bills, which used to be regarded as a must, but nowadays you just put through a continuing resolution and save yourself all the agita, and don't even think about budgets.

Friday, September 27, 2019

And in local decompensation news...

David Rothkopf mentioned Captain Queeg, but Queeg was far more in touch with reality than this. Our president, who does not even know the word "apostrophe", wants the world to consecrate his misuse of one.


Tin sign from Desperate Enterprises, $10.56 down from $14.99.

I'm really shaken by this, via NPR:
Americans are split, 49%-46%, on whether they approve of Democrats' impeachment inquiry into President Trump, and independents at this point are not on board, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll finds.
But the pollsters warn that the new developments could change public opinion quickly, especially with 7 in 10 saying they are paying attention to the news.
You bet it could. The number favoring has never been anywhere near this close to 50% before, let alone higher than the number opposing. It looks like a really new world, and your congresscritters, who either are or aren't seeing similar developments in their own constituencies, know if it is or isn't. This was taken Wednesday night, after Pelosi announced the formalization of the impeachment inquiry, before the whistleblower complaint was released. It could move very fast indeed.

Or it could be just more statistical noise—one poll never tells you the truth about anything, don't get too excited—but if it's a real phenomenon and sustains itself, I'm seriously starting to imagine we could end up removing Trump from office, in the way I was suggesting last March, a month or so before the Mueller Report arrived, when I discovered this chart:

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Attempting to extort one Ukrainian president may be regarded as a misfortune, Mr. Worthing..

...attempting to extort two Ukrainian presidents looks like carelessness.

David Suchet as Lady Bracknell at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, 2015.

Here's Junior:

Actually there's a bit more here going on here than just laughing at Junior for thinking it's a thing that you can impeach senators; something that sheds a good bit of light on the current case (of which I was reminded a day or two ago by our friend Boswood).

Not that the allegation he's retweeting is true. The letter of 4 May 2018 from Senators Menendez, Durbin, and Leahy to the Ukrainian prosecutor general Yurii Lutsenko did not ask him to "investigate Trump"; it asked him not to stop its cooperation with the Mueller investigation in its investigation of the criminal Paul Manafort, as they appeared to have done "to avoid the ire of President Trump":

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The gun is smokin, it's really smokin

...come in spies and blink your eyes I say this gun is smokin

Quickly, some key excerpts from the "transcript" (not a diplomatic-phonetic transcription but clearly pretty well done) of the Trump-Zelensky phone conversation of 25 July, with comments from me:

Zelenskyy (apparently that's how his name is spelled on his passport) has clearly been briefed on how Trump likes to be talked to.

Nice little country you got here...

Hi It's Stupid: Impeachment

(No Bruckner, a composer I really can't stand, but this Wagner, conducted by Levine to last a full minute longer than Wilhelm Furtwängler's version, illustrates the kind of agonizing drawing-out alluded to in the reference below.)

Hi, it's Stupid to say I've been completely wrong about the dangers of moving into full impeachment mode over the past few days, because I could probably change my mind again in about 20 minutes, but my main objections to the way it was going forward seem to have been answered: we are not moving to impeach the president over a single phone call where he probably acted like a gangster, and we're not going to rush to get it over with before the New Hampshire primary.

The phone call, or rather the whole effort from the Ukrainian election in April to now to put the squeeze on President Zelensky to do something to harm Joe Biden or risk the US funding of the Ukrainian effort to hold off Russian conquest, which I still think is more Giuliani's baby than Trump's, is important for a couple of genuine reasons, as veteran Carl Hulse puts it at The Times, not just because of the exceptional clarity of the case itself but also because of the exceptional illegality of the White House response to public questions about it:

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Got Paranoia?


Just thinking out loud here:

Well, they didn't narrow them that far. Three articles were approved, on obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress (the one Trump and Barr are so busy committing at the moment with their refusal to obey Nadler's and others' subpoenas), and two rejected, on the administration's falsification of records of the secret Cambodia bombing (we could have jailed Kissinger!) and Nixon's own failure to pay taxes on government-paid improvements to his places in San Clemente and Key Biscayne, which was characterized in the Article as taking unconstitutional emoluments (Nixon must be laughing hysterically in his grave over what Trump gets away with on this score).

Monday, September 23, 2019

Government of men

What -Gate is it going to be? I was thinking maybe we should call it Greatgate, i.e., the Great Gate of Kiev. Btw if you only know these pieces in the stylish orchestration by Ravel, you will be surprised by the mystery and emotion of Musorgsky's original piano suite.

Very depressing post from Steve M warns us not to get our hopes up because this thing of Trump putting pressure on Ukraine's new president Volodymyr Zelensky is not going to go anywhere, with which I agree, though for somewhat different reasons—I don't see the use of putting so much blame on Democrats, especially Speaker Pelosi, as they maneuver their way through an inconceivably strange situation.

It was on 25 July, the very day after Robert Mueller's less than devastating congressional testimony, note Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, and Rachael Bade in a useful WaPo piece, that Trump, having declared himself totally exonerated of any attempt to collude with a foreign government to influence a US election, made that phone call in a different attempt to collude with a different foreign government to influence another US election; "Trump's Ukraine call," say the headline writers, "reveals a president convinced of his own invincibility."

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Longer™ David Brooks: Moderate Utopia

If you haven't read Steve's take on this singularly awful Brooks column, or that of Eric Levitz at New York Magazine, you might want to look at them first.

Edmond van Daele as Robespierre in Abel Gance's Napoléon (1927)
Or, 'Tis 30 years since: A look back at the Warren presidency from the imaginary future.
David Brooks
Opinion Columnist

Few could imagine in the second decade of the 21st century that our divided country would ever find peace and unity under the beneficent rule of the Moderate Liberal Party that has now held power for 25 years, though one of them was certainly me, I mean one of the imagineers, for I had always retained my faith in the essential goodness of Americans. 
For others, however, there was a crisis of legitimacy. Many people had the general impression that legitimacy was not what it had once been and was now something different. Others felt that there was too little, or too much. It can't have had anything to do with the United States for the first time electing a president with African ancestry at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, although undoubtedly some people said that other people thought that was illegitimate, because that's how divisive and hurtful they used to be, and then the ones it was said about felt bad.

Non-humble brag

Image via Wikipedia.

Just realized I predicted all this two and a half weeks ago:

Friday, September 20, 2019

Third Thoughts: Narratology

I hope I'm not getting repetitive here, but it's driving me nuts the way the journalists keep losing the thread and getting themselves manipulated from a significant development
The potentially incendiary whistleblower complaint that reportedly involves President Trump, also at least partially centers on Ukraine, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported Thursday evening.
While the contents of the complaint are still largely shrouded in mystery, multiple reports indicate that the complaint focuses on President Trump and an apparent “promise” he made during a phone call with a foreign leader. (Nicole Lafond/TPM; my bold)
to a completely unwarranted formulation
The DNI whistleblower case Josh has been tracking blew up Thursday night, as Giuliani gave an interview on CNN during which he admitted that he asked Ukrainian officials to look into Biden before quickly denying that he ever said such a thing. This bombshell comes amidst news that Trump made a promise to the Ukrainian president so alarming that it triggered the whistleblower’s complaint. (TPM staff; their bold)
There is no witness claiming that Volodymyr Zelensky is the foreign leader to whom Trump "made a promise". To the extent that anything about this story is true, and I suppose a lot of it is, that doesn't even make any sense.

What we know about the Giuliani strand is that

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Second Thought

Photo by George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images via Vanity Fair.

Re yesterday's post. Not my thought, but that of some Twitter persons, which I can elaborate:
The Trump-Putin mystery call was 31 July. It was almost a month later, 28 August, that Politico reported the White House "seriously thinking" about refusing to renew its military aid program to Ukraine, which expires at the end of September, just after Trump's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weekend with the G7 in Biarritz:

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Thought

Photo by Grigory Dukor/Reuters via Al Jazeera.
What did Trump say to a foreign leader on the phone to a "foreign leader" a couple of months or so ago that
included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Well, our source, the Washington Post, takes us through a list of Trump's contacts with foreign leaders in the weeks before the complaint was filed on 12 August that includes exactly one phone call:

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.)...