Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Rules of the Game


So French voters did that thing they do periodically, usually in a presidential election, and rejected fascism decisively in the second round of the snap legislative election. Somewhat grudgingly—they don't want the candidates they voted for to think they're impressed, but they know their duty.

As did the parties, which showed commendable discipline in carrying out the program of dropping out candidates to turn every race into the two-person race in which they had the best chance of defeating the Rassemblement Nationale. But it was the massive turnout that completed the job and defeated not just the fascists but the pollsters as well, who kept predicting a majority for the Rassemblement well into yesterday afternoon,  even as they noticed an unexpectedly large number of voters.

I couldn't help thinking I was seeing a repetition of a pattern we've been seeing a lot of lately, of voters breaking the poll predictions when they're voting to say there's a degree of authoritarianism they can't tolerate, in Brazil and in Poland, Spain and Iran, even when it's not enough to really change anything, as in the losses endured by authoritarian rulers of India and Turkey, and Hungary (in June's EU election), and of course in the United States of America in elections going back to 2018 reacting against the chaos of Trumpery, the terror of the incompetent COVID response and the racist violence of police forces, the overturning of Roe and rush to outlaw abortion.

I mean, it's not just heartening, but it's also interesting that the polls keep erring in that direction, with authoritarians underperforming. It doesn't happen when authoritarianism isn't a primary issue, like in Germany in June (where the appeal of the fascistoid Alternativ für Deutschland is still only in the former East Germany, while voters in the former West were punishing the sort-of leftist government by voting for the normie conservatives). Though in Britain one survey had Nigel Farage's "Reform Party" winning 18 seats in Thursday's general election (they won four).

Friday, July 5, 2024

The Gaza News Is Biden News

All of a sudden this morning the Gaza ceasefire seemed to be back in the air. I was determined not to let them sucker me again

but right now an awful lot of things really seem to be happening, starting with yesterday morning's Biden-Netanyahu call, which went on for half an hour, according to NPR, and during which, according to the White House readout,

President Biden and the Prime Minister discussed ongoing efforts to finalize a ceasefire deal together with the release of hostages, as outlined by President Biden and endorsed by the UN Security Council, the G7, and countries around the world.

The leaders discussed the recent response received from Hamas. The President welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to authorize his negotiators to engage with U.S., Qatari, and Egyptian mediators in an effort to close out the deal. 

or going back beyond that to Tuesday's reports in The New York Times and Jerusalem Post that the Israeli military leadership is starting to get seriously fed up with Netanyahu's apparent insistence that they should have to fight two wars simultaneously, against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and demanding that the government start prioritizing getting the hostages back, even if it means accepting Hamas's terms and withdrawing from Gaza entirely, and apparently saying so sort of openly, to The Times:

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

I happen to have Alexander Hamilton right here with me...

Drawing by David Levine, New York Review of Books, 1964.


It's a little amusing that Roberts is citing Breyer there, in Clinton v. Jones, that's the Paula Jones case, where Breyer is arguing, in a unanimous decision (Democrat Stevens wrote the opinion), that Clinton was not immune (from civil lawsuits based on private conduct), in spite of the fact that Clinton was indeed the president at the time and the case was certainly "distracting his time and energy", the thing the Framers are said to have been so particularly tender about, and in spite of the fact that this was only the third time in American history that such a suit had been filed against a sitting president. Clinton had failed to prove, Breyer thought, that the US government needed for Clinton to have the immunity:

As Madison pointed out in The Federalist No. 51, "[t]he great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack." Id., at 321-322 (emphasis added). I agree with the majority's determination that a constitutional defense must await a more specific showing of need; I do not agree with what I believe to be an understatement of the "danger." 

It seems to me that with Trump v. United States the Court has turned this upside down, shifting the burden of proof from the offender to the offended. Henceforth (I once knew a cat called Henceforth, and a pretty good cat too), it will just be assumed that the president shouldn't be asked to answer any questions, even after they've left office, nor should his White House employees, even when they're glorified nursemaids for the cranky old psychopath, like poor Hope Hicks helping him ride his way through the scandal of the Access Hollywood video. She was part of the apparatus enabling Trump's "energetic, vigorous, decisive and speedy execution of the laws" when he was paying his hush money debt to Michael Cohen with $420,000 in checks disguised as legal fees so nobody would know about it, so it looks like her testimony in the New York case should not have been given, and his conviction now seems likely to turn into a mistrial, even though you'd be hard put to name any occasions when he executed any laws at all beyond his photo op bill-signing moments with the presidential Sharpie.

It would be fun to put that on trial, wouldn't it?  "Do you recall faithfully executing any laws in 2017, Mr. Trump? Can you list some of those for the jury?" But of course it's unimaginable.

It's also difficult to imagine a Supreme Court majority now citing Federalist 51, with its focus on checks and balances among the three branches, and Madison wistfully letting on how much he wished he could have had the president and Supreme Court justices directly elected:

Monday, July 1, 2024

Kenobi v. Vader

Image via Lovepop.

I. Senility

Tim Miller of The Bulwark, a month ago:

Biden didn't do that on Thursday, though he did really lose the thread for one awful moment early in, trying to process this torrent of falsehood, delusionality, and incoherence from Trump supposedly explaining the enormous budget deficits of his time in office

Because the tax cuts spurred the greatest economy that we’ve ever seen just prior to COVID, and even after COVID. It was so strong that we were able to get through COVID much better than just about any other country. But we spurred – that tax spurred. Now, when we cut the taxes – as an example, the corporate tax was cut down to 21 percent from 39 percent, plus beyond that – we took in more revenue with much less tax and companies were bringing back trillions of dollars back into our country. The country was going like never before. And we were ready to start paying down debt. We were ready to start using the liquid gold right under our feet, the oil and gas right under our feet. We were going to have something that nobody else has had. We got hit with COVID. We did a lot to fix it. I gave him an unbelievable situation, with all of the therapeutics and all of the things that we came up with. We – we gave him something great. Remember, more people died under his administration, even though we had largely fixed it. More people died under his administration than our administration, and we were right in the middle of it. Something which a lot of people don’t like to talk about, but he had far more people dying in his administration. He did the mandate, which is a disaster. Mandating it. The vaccine went out. He did a mandate on the vaccine, which is the thing that people most objected to about the vaccine. And he did a very poor job, just a very poor job. And I will tell you, not only poor there, but throughout the entire world, we’re no longer respected as a country. They don’t respect our leadership. They don’t respect the United States anymore. We’re like a Third World nation. Between weaponization of his election, trying to go after his political opponent, all of the things he’s done, we’ve become like a Third World nation. And it’s a shame the damage he’s done to our country. And I’d love to ask him, and will, why he allowed millions of people to come in here from prisons, jails and mental institutions to come into our country and destroy our country

When Tapper asked Biden to respond to "this question about the national debt", he managed to remember more or less what the question had been two minutes earlier, and started off fine, too, answering the question as he'd expected to get it, with the right numbers, though he sometimes struggled for them:

Ask Etty Kett

Dear Etty,

I know a bunch of people who would like to be ambassador to Uruguay, and as President of the United States I'm definitely entitled to give one of them the job. But I can't give it to all of them. So I had this brilliant idea that I could auction it off to the highest bidder, like give me a billion dollars and I'll name you ambassador to Uruguay?

Only my lawyers think I might get into trouble for that, and to be honest I've had some bad experiences with stuff like this recently. Like I had this charitable foundation where I used to get people to make me payments so I wouldn't have to pay income taxes on them, because I'm smart that way, and this stupid state attorney general, a colored lady by the way, this is what affirmative action gets you, said I was violating the law on charities and closed the whole foundation down and made me pay a big fine. And then this actress I banged years ago wrote a whole story about having sex with me and could have published it in the middle of my presidential campaign and I had my other lawyer pay her a hundred thirty large to keep it to herself and then when I was paying him back I kind of structured the payments to make them look like normal legal fees and now I'm stuck with a 34-count criminal conviction from yet another colored prosecutor for falsification of business records for which I can't even pardon myself since it's not in a federal court.

So I thought it would be best if I just took the money straight, like a billion-dollar check, and deposit it, not in the superPAC or whatever, but right in my own account. Will that work?

Blessed in Bedminster

Friday, June 28, 2024



Cast party at the Waffle House, via New York Times.
John Ganz:
Still, there’s a lot of time before the election. Maybe Biden will spring miraculously back to life and thrash Trump in a later debate. Maybe one day we will all laugh about how everyone pissed their pants. But then again, maybe not. God does have a sense of humor, but it often seems at our expense.

He sprang back to life the minute it was over, at least if your TV was tuned to MSNBC, which showed him glad-handing the entourage and giving a brief improvised speech. Even his voice was back. He was a happy warrior. He looked positively joyous.

The commentators don't seem to know what was wrong with Biden during the "debate", but it was obvious to me in the first, and as it turned out only, sentences I typed about him in the notes I started taking:

Biden seems pretty nervous, his voice is so hoarse and he's speaking so fast it's not fully intelligible. Better in the follow up when he's not reciting from memory.

(I took more notes after that, but they were all about Trump’s stunning torrent of lies and misdirections.)

Performance anxiety. Stage fright. Le trac. Lampenfieber ("spotlight fever"). He's not really good at this bizarre ritual of American politics, though most of the time he's good enough. It's what sunk him in his first presidential run 36 years ago (he was talking too fast then too, spitting out memorized bits of his stump speech, which included those quotes from the UK Labour leader Neil Kinnock, and he left out Kinnock's name in the rush, leading the press to accuse him, ridiculously, of plagiarism, as if they hadn't heard him attributing the material a dozen times before), and the memory of that failure only serves to make it worse. And this time the stakes are incredible. It's him or it's Project 2025! It has little or nothing to do with his age!

I've been there. I did a bunch of acting in my youth, which I was not too bad at, and a certain amount of music, in which I was not so good, and I know how it feels. One real disaster: accompanying a British baritone in a song by Ralph Vaughan Williams which was probably not too congenial to me. The piano part was mostly not that hard, but there was a solo bit at the end, after the singer's part was finished, that I could not master; I choked there at the actual performance and couldn't go on—banged out a C major chord (at least it was the right key) and stopped, and I never played the piano publicly again, which is probably a good thing.

In Biden's case it unquestionably has to do with the stutter. He literally choked (now I know where the expression comes from), which is why he was so hard to hear.

The worst is what a stupid ritual it is, as Lawrence O'Donnell was saying. The TV debate is in every way irrelevant to what presidents do, which is with a roomful of advisors expected to remember everything you might not remember, and not in 60- or 120-second bursts. (I'm pretty sure the time limits were a real difficulty for him—it seemed to me the moderators were cutting him off a lot more than they were Trump, and probably with cause, because Trump doesn't need a lot of time to do what he does, tell a lie or violently change the subject, while Biden needs to work his way through a thought, because thinking is one of the main things presidents have to do, and Trump wouldn't even know where to start on that). There is no reason to ask candidates to do it, nothing about it that relates to a qualification for the job. It's no more relevant to the presidency than a hot dog eating contest.

I don't know what should happen now, other than hating the whole thing. It seems to me that the mechanics of finding a new candidate now, with all the primaries over and all the delegates committed, are just insuperable, unless they choose Harris, and the sniveling centrists producing most of the calls for Biden to step down—Claire McCaskill to Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof—won't like her either. Krugman, no centrist, is an exception:

Joe Biden has done an excellent job as president. In fact, I consider him the best president of my adult life. Based on his policy record, he should be an overwhelming favorite for re-election.

But he isn’t, and on Thursday night he failed to rise to the occasion when it really mattered....Kamala Harris was, by all accounts, an effective district attorney and attorney general, and she has also been quietly effective as vice president, promoting Biden’s policies. Choosing her as his successor would in no sense be settling for less.

It’s true that she didn’t do well in the 2020 Democratic primaries, but her problem then, as I saw it, was that she had a hard time making the case for choosing her over other candidates. She would have no problem making the case for choosing her over Trump.

Biden is the best president of my adult life too, and it kills me to think we might give him up over such idiocy as this. I love the thought of a Harris presidency too, especially as associated as she is now with Biden's agenda, but I have little hope that she can defeat a tag team of American racism and American misogyny, especially in the tumult you can expect within the party if Biden drops out. I don't know what happens next, but I kind of hope it's nothing.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Another Day, Another Annoying Poll


Seeing some terror in the ranks over this poll of six battleground states issued by Washington Post (with the assistance of the Schar School of Government at George Mason University), particularly this result:

Even though these same respondents also seem to think Trump is a serious threat to democracy himself; a huge majority predicts that he will refuse to accept the results of the upcoming election, and a very substantial plurality believe Trump will "try to rule as a dictator" (while just a fifth, well within the crazification factor, suspect that Biden will do that).

I'm not going to be able to tell you what's going on here, because I'm stuck on a still more insane feature, which is what it's a poll of—it's a poll of particularly unlikely voters, designated as "The Deciders" for a fairly good but confusing reason, because they're in fact people who find it particularly difficult to make up their minds, don't know for sure whom they are going to support, and are just as likely to decide not to vote at all. Assuming, though, that the electorate is extremely tightly polarized to the point where the likely voters are almost equally divided, which is not an unreasonable interpretation of the normal polling data, it's the unlikely voters who will actually make the decision, for better or for worse or at random, by the way they sort themselves out in November. That's insane as a fact, that the decision is going to be made by the people with the least ability to even think about it, but it is a kind of a fact, and I ought to feel kind of flattered by the Washington Post for working on it, because, as I wrote for the first time in 2017,

Monday, June 24, 2024

Joe Did What? Stand up to Zionists Edition

Joe Biden suggesting Israel pull back rather than permanently occupy the conquered territories in 1973, when he was a 30-year-old freshman senator:

The unnamed official said Biden told Meir that during meetings in Cairo prior to his arrival in Israel, officials there assured him they accept “Israel’s military superiority.”

Golda Meir smokes a cigarette during an interview. (Kan Archive)

Biden warned that Israel’s actions in the territories it had captured during the Six Day War, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, were leading to “creeping annexation.”

Since he believed Israel was militarily dominant in the region, he suggested the Jewish state might initiate a first step for peace through unilateral withdrawals from areas with no strategic importance.

The official said Biden criticized the Nixon administration for being “dragged by Israel,” complaining that it was impossible to have a real debate in the Senate about the Middle East as senators were fearful of saying things unpopular with Jewish voters.

Meir rejected Biden’s call for unilateral steps, launching into a speech about the region and its problems (possibly the spiel Biden alluded to in his own comments years later). 

It's an outstanding story published in Times of Israel during the 2020 campaign.

The Big Ten


The drunkenness of Noah, from the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493, via Wikipedia.


"Has anyone read the 'Thou shalt not steal'? I mean, has anybody read this incredible stuff? It's just incredible," Trump said at the gathering of the Faith & Freedom Coalition. "They don't want it to go up. It's a crazy world.'' (via CBS News)

Well, no, there's nothing wrong with "Thou shalt not steal," and it would be great for Donald Trump to give some thought to the 8th Commandment, as well as the 7th and 9th, and not only stop stealing stuff, but also stop committing adultery and bearing false witness. It would be pretty interesting to see Trump adopting the Ten Commandments as his own personal moral code, but he clearly hasn't done that yet.

But I think people are really missing the important issue here. It's not a bad thing that the Commandments advise them not to steal stuff. Then again, every moral code tells you not to steal stuff. That's not what makes the Commandments what they are. I have this feeling the conservative Christians are not really reading the thing at all, or reading it from a standpoint of such confirmation bias that they're unable to see what it is really about. 

  1. I am Yahweh your Elohim the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. If you are not somebody I brought out of the land of Egypt and the house of slavery, like an Egyptian or something yourself, you can apply for an exemption from this Commandment, using form 310B from the Exceptionalism Department, for permission to have some other gods before me, including but not limited to Ra, of course; Zeus/Iuppiter; Marduk (and sometimes Anu and Enlil); Brahman and Shiva and Vishnu/Krishna and his other avatars, whoever wins over the long run; and possibly, at some point in the next 6 or 7 centuries, the Holy Trinity of which I am considering being adopted as a board member, sharing (and oversharing!) duties with My only-begotten Son and our sometimes feminine partner the Holy Spirit. I'm already construed as plural ("I am your elohim") in both the Exodus and  Deuteronomy editions of these Commandments, so you should be prepared for this outcome; the number of God, not to mention the gender, may in the end prove to be more important than Their name. Other than that, you shall have no other gods before me.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Tales of the Resistance

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Socialist Climber


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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Permission to Be Your Worst Self

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

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

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

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

Think about it: 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024



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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 1, 2024

What's Going On. II

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Worst Gets Some Convictions


I get it about the reading disability, but he should be able to ask one of his lawyers www.washingtonpost.com/politics/202...

[image or embed]

— Yastreblyansky (@yastreblyansky.bsky.social) May 30, 2024 at 1:53 PM

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

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

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

Literary Corner: Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

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

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

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

Sunday, May 26, 2024

In the Unlikely Event

5/27: Updated version at the Substack

I hate the hypercorrect "whom" in that headline: a headline is a truncated sentence, and surely the truncated question it's answering is "Who is the presidential candidate voters say they'll support?", not "Whom do voters say they'll support as a presidential candidate?"

It's something from the Other Nate (Cohn, at The Times) that I'm taking a personal interest in, because I've been asking somebody with the resources to do it for a long time: going in search of the unlikely voter. Except he doesn't know that's what he's doing.

That is, when he was looking into the factors that might be associated with voter preference for Biden, he found that people who were otherwise likely to vote for Biden—self-identified Democrats, people who voted for Biden in 2020, minority members, the relatively young—it was those who didn't vote at all in the 2022 midterms, who were more likely to express a preference for Trump or no preference at all:

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Moral Equivalence

Larry Thomas and Bret Mendenhall in Uwe Boll's 2008 Postal, via The New York Times.

On the prospect of the International Criminal Court issuing arrest warrants on Yahya Sinwar (the head of Hamas in Gaza), Ismail Haniyeh (head of the Hamas Political Bureau), Mohammed Deif (commander-in-chief of the Qassam Brigades), and the Israeli prime minister and defense minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant, there's been a lot of angry talk about the ICC prosecutor practicing "moral equivalence", including from President Biden

The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous. And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas.  We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.  

A truly weird error in this connection from NBC News, which ran an interview with Netanyahu yesterday in which the prime minister complained that he was being given a "bum rap" (Trump's language choices are a bad influence, now Bibi too sounds like a 1950s gangster):

Echoing Biden's comments, Netanyahu said Khan's decision to seek arrest warrants for both Israel's and Hamas' leaders reflected a "false symmetry" that he said was comparable to the arrest warrants that were issued for both President George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Remember when ICC put out a warrant on Bush? I was so startled I looked it up, but of course it didn't happen (the court did open a preliminary investigation of war crimes in Afghanistan after the country ratified the Rome statute in 2003, but after 11 years of that, from 2006 to 2017, it took until 2020 for them to decide to move on to a full investigation, upon which Trump put sanctions on them, which Biden has reversed). And Netanyahu didn't say it did. You can get a more accurate report of what he said on NBC from The Times of Israel:

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

My "Unified Reich" T-shirt is raising many questions that are answered by my "Unified Reich" T-shirt

Image via Finescale Modeler.

Trump's mind going totally blank, you really have to watch it: 

The background music is the original audio, a track Trump has been using for a couple of years, at rallies and in campaign videos. It's been identified as "WWG1WGA"—a reference to the QAnon slogan "Where we go one, we go all" (when the song comes on in the rallies, Q aficionados in the audience make the Q index finger salute), by a tech house composer known as "Richard Feelgood"—

Richard Feelgood is a compelling Electronic and Tech House artist from Enschede, Netherlands. Feelgood has established himself as a leading figure in the electronic music industry thanks to his distinctive style and contagious beats. His work skillfully combines aspects of electronic music with the rhythm and energy of tech house, creating a distinctive and dynamic sound that captivates listeners.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

For the Record

TV lawyers keep fretting about how key witness Michael Cohen is a noted liar—he's even got a felony conviction for it—so juries might have trouble believing him. I don't know, if it's a "he-said-he-said" between him and Trump and he's explaining the deceit Trump was paying him to practice...

Also, the only important Cohen lie in this case is the one COVERING UP FOR TRUMP in his guilty plea, when he claimed he'd made an illegal campaign contribution (the Stormy payment), hiding the fact that Trump had reimbursed him (as Cohen proved in 2019 with the canceled checks).

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— Yastreblyansky (@yastreblyansky.bsky.social) May 16, 2024 at 9:34 PM

(cite from Politico in August 2018 www.politico.com/story/2018/0...

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— Yastreblyansky (@yastreblyansky.bsky.social) May 16, 2024 at 9:41 PM


Monday, May 13, 2024

Right to Defend


Village of Atatra, Northern Gaza, October 21, 2023. Satellite image by Maxar Technologies, via AP

A "centrist" Israeli parliamentarian on BBC was less uncomfortable to listen to than the rightwingers generally are, soft-spoken with a kind of Central European vocal quality unlike the shouty, hectoring Likudniks or the coldly domineering IDF spox, who all seem to have been trained in BBC announcer school themselves, but the message wasn't really any different: all about Israel's unquestioned "right to defend itself" (as if that were what they've been doing over the last six months, as opposed to creating an unending supply of future Hamas fighters thirsting for revenge from now into perpetuity) and the prosecution of a "just war". I'll get to that, and St. Thomas Aquinas, later. I just want to point out how deeply unimaginative the Israeli "center" is, like everywhere else, while I keep focusing on Netanyahu and his unspeakable fascist partners, and how unwilling the center is to even try to think outside the conservative box, and sometimes worse than that: like Defense Minister Yoav Gallant's proposal to build a shiny new settler city, Ariel, the capital of "Samaria":

“There needs to be a large and significant city developed there, following what is happening in the mountain ridge of Ariel, because this is the most central junction that allows us to shift Israel’s population eastward,” explained the defense minister.

To which I responded

Drang nach Osten. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drang_n... Fulfilling the Likud slogan "from the sea to the river [Jordan]" Honestly Gallant and Gantz have swung so far right themselves they might as well just join Likud.

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— Yastreblyansky (@yastreblyansky.bsky.social) May 11, 2024 at 1:52 PM

I'm running a little late on things because I spent too much time on the wrong State Department report (the 2023 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Israel, West Bank, and Gaza, which lays out many facts on misconduct by Israeli, Hamas, and Palestinian Authority forces through the end of last year but doesn't offer any opinions on the legal position or what Congress should or shouldn't do about it), before Just Security posted the one I've been waiting for, its Report to Congress under Section 2 of the Natonal Security Memorandum on Safeguards and Accountability with Respect to Transferred Defense Articles and Defense Services (NSM-20), a very valuable, though frustrating, document. 

The purpose is to examine assurances from seven recipients of US arms aid that are currently engaged in conflicts (Colombia, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Ukraine) that they will 

Monday, May 6, 2024

What's Going On


Tips of 15mm artillery shells and howitzer on the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo by Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images from Axios.

Activity on the Gaza front continues to intensify, not in Gaza itself, of course, where it's the same rhythm of lower-level Israeli attacks killing families in Rafah, though not the threatened major attack, and the death toll continuing to inch toward 35,000, and reports of "full-blown" famine from the director of the UN's World Food Program, Cindy McCain, yes, that Cindy McCain, but on the diplomatic side, where Haaretz (that's a gift link) reported yesterday that Hamas had agreed to Egypt's proposed ceasefire, while Israel issued a denial that this had happened. 

This round of talks in Cairo seems to be definitely over, with Haniyeh and Netanyahu blaming each other, of course, though CIA director William Burns is still shuttling around Tel Aviv, Doha, and Cairo as if it weren't, but the shape of the deal as reported makes it look to me like it's Israel that turned it down: a 118-day deal in three phases, during the second of which (34 days in)

the parties will start enacting the principles that will lead to a prolonged cease-fire, including the withdrawal of the IDF to the borderline. Not all of these principles are reported.

and in the final 42 days,

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Newsletter: Summer of 2024

This looks like the development I've been imagining for the last five months among the Israeli public, as the hostages become more and more salient and the need for revenge less and less so. It's evidently connected to the video released a little over a week ago by Hamas of the American-Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin (Hersh was my dad's Yiddish name, as it happens), in which he denounced Netanyahu for abandoning the hostages and made the claim that 70 of the hostages have been killed, so far, by Israeli bombs, which may well be true (I've expected from the start that IDF would kill more hostages than Hamas would), even though the video is plainly released for propaganda purposes, and it seems that a lot of Israelis believe it.

The really curious thing is it seems to be where the Hamas leadership is at too, asking for a permanent ceasefire and release of many prisoners in Israel in return for release of hostages held in Gaza. The odd man out is Binyamin Netanyahu, who can't accept the permanent ceasefire, which would prevent IDF from killing everybody in the Hamas leadership.

I know, I know, Hamas is bad (but "you don't make peace with your friends," as a wise man once said, "you make it with very unsavory enemies"). At the same time, if you think about it, you can understand why they might be reluctant to get killed. That's definitely not the most evil thing about them. It's even kind of normal. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Teh Stupid

It's now possible to embed Bluesky posts! I guess it has been for a while, but I haven't given much thought to posting threads here the way I used to do with Twitter threads. Then yesterday everybody was talking about that Trump interview in Time, and I thought I might use some of mine. At least these, which have a more threadish form:

I think Josh is literally incapable of understanding how stupid Trump is. talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/decod... He's probably never met anybody that stupid. On the NATO issue, Trump is unable to comprehend what the issue is. It's like his inability to comprehend that a tariff is an import tax...

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— Yastreblyansky (@yastreblyansky.bsky.social) Apr 30, 2024 at 5:36 PM

Trump doesn't know that the 2% rule is about the countries' individual defense budgets. He has made up a story for himself that makes sense to him--that all the NATO countries are supposed to pay some kind of fee to the US and they're all deadbeats. And it makes him really mad!

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— Yastreblyansky (@yastreblyansky.bsky.social) Apr 30, 2024 at 5:41 PM

It's the only way to make sense out of things like this latest version. "You got to pay your bills." www.cnn.com/2024/02/10/p...

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— Yastreblyansky (@yastreblyansky.bsky.social) Apr 30, 2024 at 5:44 PM

I'm sure aides like Kelly have tried to explain it to him over and over again, and he just can't get it. Kudlow explained tariffs to him too, but he's still talking like this in the Time interview:

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— Yastreblyansky (@yastreblyansky.bsky.social) Apr 30, 2024 at 5:49 PM

As Philip Bump has said, what he's doing in the interview is largely refusing to say what he might do in a second term because he hasn't thought about it and doesn't want to, and trying to interpret it as representing Trump's plans, as Eric Cortellessa does in his report of it, is a mug's game: 

a lot of what Trump is reported as planning to do is constructed from murky, noncommittal answers Trump offered to specific questions. The interview is very revealing about Trump’s approach to the position in that it strongly suggests he hasn’t thought much about important issues, and makes clear how relentlessly he relies on rhetoric to derail questions

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Literary Corner: Article II


To the tune of:

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H I got a law
called Article Two
Everyone says
It's the thing for a pres
that Article Two-Two-Two-Two-Two-Two
says I can do
what I wanna do
skeleton key
for the man that is me
my Article Two-Two-Two-Two-Two-Two

I don't have to worry
ever see a jury
I'm like a tsar
buy yourself a justice
someone who will trust us
hiya Sam Alito
everything's A-R-T

oh what a law
a hullabaloo
I'll shoot a guy
just for rolling his eye
on Fifth Avenue
I'll get a big erection
when I cancel the election
thanks to Article Two-Two-Two-Two-Two-Two

Friday, April 26, 2024

Radio Yerevan: The Immunity Question


Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it correct that Donald Trump had an Article II where he had the right to do whatever he wanted as president?

Answer: In principle, yes, but

  • first of all, he didn't really have it so much as he had access to it, as we all do, in the US Constitution, which is in the public domain, and easily accessible in excellent editions online if you don't want to burden yourself with a print copy;
  • second of all, it describes what the president is required to do (to take care that the laws of the United States be faithfully executed), not what he has the right to do, which may not be the same thing at all, other than issuing pardons and making his own decisions on who he wants to name as ambassadors and cabinet secretaries and the like—and it specifically lists some things that he is absolutely not allowed to do, although he did in fact do them, such as taking money in exchange for hotel rooms and food and beverage service at his businesses from representatives of foreign governments, which isn't supposed to happen because it could be an efficient way of accepting bribe money if it were allowed; and
  • third of all, he isn't president any more, at least at the moment, specifically because he also didn't have the right to stay in office after he lost his reelection bid, no matter how much he wanted to. Not that he didn't try.

One of the craziest pieces of news on this newsy day filled in some details on a Trump incident we heard about back when it happened, in summer 2019, when US intelligence caught an extraordinary satellite photo of the accidental explosion of an Iranian missile at its launch site, very classified, and sent it to the White House, and Trump promptly tweeted it.

What's news about this is what ABC News appears to have unearthed from the special counsel's investigation of the Mar-a-Lago stolen documents case, involving what Trump thought he was doing:

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Official Proceedings

Joseph Fischer in the Capitol, via LebTown.com.

Following the reporting on the arguments in the Supreme Court on behalf of Joseph Fischer, a cop from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, who had already started driving home from Trump's Stop the Steal rally on 1/6/20 when he heard on the radio about the crowd gathered around the Capitol and turned his car around to join the fracas, and made it as far as the East Rotunda where he turned on his phone's video recorder, yelled "Charge!" and went at a group of Capitol police who pepper-sprayed him as he slid to his ass on the slippery floor and into their line, and then hustled him back out of the building.

This behavior, while plainly illegal, did not do a lot of harm: it was already 3:24, well after the congressmembers had fled, and he was only there for about four minutes. How he became one of the 300-odd January 6 defendants, including former President Trump, to be charged with a felony count of "obstruction of an official proceeding" is something else, the insurrectionary violence of his intentions, as revealed in a series of texts and Facebook posts from before and after the riot: