If Kanye Really Hates Monolithic Thought, He Will Run For President As A Whig. Or If He Is Having A Bad Day, As A Know-Nothing.

As a former high school teacher (US History, World History, Afro-American History–as we called it then) on the South Side of Chicago during the 1990s, I deny having any responsibility for Kanye West’s lack of perspective on the political party system.  In brief, the political parties have changed their platforms quite a few times in the last 200 or so years.  The Democratic Party of the 21st century is not the same as the party of Andrew Jackson, whom President Trump seems to adore.  The Republican Party of 1854 did not begin by fetishizing lower corporate tax rates.  The anti-immigrant party of the day wasn’t the Republicans, it was the Know-Nothings.  The “bad” immigrants of the 1850s were Catholics, just as they are now, but they were Irish, not Mexican.  I wonder if John Kelly (since he is not, unlike his boss, an “idiot”) knows that?

Anyway, Kanye West went to a high school in southwest suburban Oak Lawn, Illinois, whereas I taught in southeast Chicago, so I never taught his history class.  I wonder if he is aware that, on his good days, he has Whiggish tendencies.  With his social media reach he could probably reanimate the Whig Party in no time.  An alternative scenario: we do not yet have a 21st-century political party bold and honest enough to come out publicly as the Know-Nothing Party.  But if anyone could rebrand Know-Nothingism, it is Kanye–excuse me, the Honorable Mr. President Kanye.

 

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Could We See Some “Dragon Energy” That Actually Improves Lives?

Even if Kanye West has a point in calling Trump his “dragon energy” brother, is it too much to ask that the people with dragon energy to spare use it to improve our world?  I suppose Michelle Wolf brought plenty of dragon energy to her White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech, and probably boosted her career, but her profanity distracted from her sometimes accurate jabs, did nothing to help principled resistance to the president, and only served to make Trump’s pose of solidarity with regular folks a little more plausible.  Oh well—if I wait another few hours the conversation will move on.

Trump’s Revenge On Macron: He’s Going To Fix The French Language Once And For All

The Times (of London, not the times-come-lately in NYC) says today in a headline that “Trump will visit the UK in July.” The second sentence of the story hedges a bit: “the Us president is thought to be planning” to go to London after meetings in Brussels on July 11-12.

I hate to tell the British that they are kidding themselves, but let me put it this way: President Trump does not plan, at least not in such a way that lesser beings can fathom his actions in advance.  That being said, I have some inside information.  Trump will in fact travel from Brussels to Paris for his second Bastille Day military parade.  After that he will, without doubt, make a special appearance at the Academie Francaise to lecture the 40 Immortals on “My Clear And Very Distinct Ideas.”  He will finally fulfill, in fact, after almost 499 years, the original mission of the Academie, which was founded by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635.  In the United States, President Trump has accomplished so very many things that no president before him even attempted.  And in Paris, at the French Academy, Trump will finally “fix the French language, giving it rules, making it pure and comprehensible for all.”  Warm-up act for Mr. Trump will be noted philosopher and linguist Kanye West, speaking on “Proper Terminology and Neology.”

Regulation Is Good For Me But Maybe Not For Thee: Excrementitious Matter (Finally) Gone From Parrish, Alabama

The contents of the poop train in Parrish, Alabama have finally been moved to a nearby landfill, after more than two months.  Erin Shaw Street of the Washington Post reports the good news for Parrish today, adding that “little Parrish is left with the sting of feeling as if no one cared that all of this excrement was left on its doorstep.  The town had become purgatory in a little-known pipeline that imports materials no one wants, for profit–big-city waste from the North that heads to landfills in the rural South.  ‘It sounds like a joke, like the poop emoji,’ said Michelle Buford…’It felt like the Northerners were trying to pile up messes on the Southerners.'”

Sorry to say, but that kind of framing may just perpetuate the problem.  The mayor, Heather Hall, is quoted saying that “as soon as I found out, I was on the phone to Montgomery [the state capital], to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, even to the president…they all said it was out of their hands.”  And they were probably right: as the article reports, the trains “remained in Parrish until the city council voted to deny a business license to Big Sky.”  Heaven help towns like Parrish if business interests (whether “up north” or in Birmingham) get the Alabama state legislature to do what North Carolina and other Republican-dominated legislatures have done and outlaw local ordinances that regulate nuisances like the poop train.

The lesson I take from this is that some evil people are telling us that regulation is great if it protects me and my gated swamp, but very bad if it limits my profiteering and protects you from any and all excrementitious matter.  If the people of Parrish, and towns like it, breathe their (temporarily) free air and decide they really like breathing freely, I hope they can identify their plight as an effect of the Republican mania for deregulation.  Scott Pruitt is not draining any swamps.  He and his enablers do not seem to worry that they are ever going to be sentenced to a life sentence of prison time at hard labor on a poop train.  I hope they are wrong, and I also really hope the people of small towns inundated with poop start voting for politicians who might care a little about regulations that protect our environment, because there’s no gated community that’s going to protect most of us from the degradation Scott Pruitt and his cronies are imposing on us.  Big-city elite liberals from New York may be convenient bogeymen, and they probably don’t care as much about Parrish, Alabama as they could, but it might be worth a try to kick out the current crew of deregulators.  They are not on our side, and they don’t give a fig for “freedom” if it means freedom not to breathe poop all day.

When It Comes To Trump, “Report Is [Always] Changeable. ‘Tis [Always] Time To Look About”

In Shakespeare’s King Lear, act 4, scene 7, a Gentleman informs the Earl of Kent that “they say Edgar, [Lear’s] banished son, is with the Earl of Kent in Germany.”  The Earl of Kent (incognito) replies drily: “Report is changeable. ‘Tis time to look about.”  Those of us trying to parse the news, especially the news reports that “the White House plans” to do such and such, ought by now to have learned the basic lesson that “report is changeable.”  Yet headlines in papers from yesterday stated as fact that the United States was poised to announce further economic sanctions on Russia today.  These reports cited what Nikki Haley said on a Sunday morning TV show.  We ought to know by know that Nikki Haley is not the decider.  Maybe we have reached the point where Cabinet members are just putting things out there and hoping Trump never hears about them, or cares so little that he does nothing to veto them.  But please, media, a few more words in practically every article would be much more accurate, like so: “[chief of staff; or VP; or Secretary of Defense; or …] said this and that today, but who the hell knows what the president will do if he ever hears about it.”  While Trump is king, whirl is king.

I Never Asked Trump For Personal Loyalty. I Hardly Know The Guy–But I Did Sorta Hope He Would Preserve, Protect, And Defend The Constitution

I have never asked Trump for Personal Loyalty.  I hardly know the guy.  But was it too much to hope that he would at least make a stab at fulfilling his oath of office, to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”  Yes it was.

Do James Comey’s imperfections and manifold blind spots do anything to negate or even mitigate his characterization of the president as a mob boss.  No they don’t.

Comey’s favorite theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of Christian faith is original sin.”  Does it matter that Comey may or may not realize that Niebuhr’s dictum applies to Comey himself?  Not much.

Is Karen Tumulty, former reporter and now opinion writer for the Washington Post, right in her view that “Donald Trump is contagious… He turns everyone he touches into Donald Trump”?  Maybe, and maybe Rick Wilson is onto something with his slogan that “everything Trump touches dies.”  But I would say that the self-selection process works both ways, and that Trump and his agents latch onto one another, wittingly or unwittingly.

As I said, I hardly know the guy, but I am concerned that he hasn’t bottomed out yet.  His problem isn’t the Deep State, as Trump himself is probably quite aware.  It’s the regular old drab ponderous state that is getting ready to spit him back out.  It’s a classic emic vs. etic situation, though that understates Trump’s extreme deviance.  Here’s hoping the system “works,” though in the best case it’s going to be very messy.

 

Trump Assails Comey’s “Very Superficial Understanding Of Reinhold Niebuhr”

Gotta give it up to the president today for his extremely accurate takedown of James Comey on the core issue at stake.  I refer of course to Comey’s “very superficial” and “hermeneutically naive,” as the president put it, interpretation of Moral Man and Immoral Society.  The 45th president correctly noted on social media that Reinhold Niebuhr himself said his book ought to have been titled “Immoral Man and Even More Immoral Society,” a fact that Comey had inexplicably overlooked–especially given Comey’s purportedly 24/7 access to the most up-to-speed Deep State algorithms.  Moreover, Comey utterly failed to consider the role in Niebuhr’s spiritual development of his journal of pastoral work in Detroit, published under the rubric of Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic.  Trump knows tamed cynic like nobody’s business, and Comey clearly does not.  “Untruthful slimeball” is really far better than Comey deserved to be labelled in these circumstances.  And as of Friday morning April 13th Comey has so far failed utterly to defend his reputation as either a reliable witness or a thoughtful moral theologian.

“Don’t Say We Already Do What GDPR Requires”–Mr. Zuckerberg’s Last Talking Point

The last of Mark Zuckerberg’s written talking points for his Senate testimony today–which I know about not because of my power to scrape any data, but because Zuckerberg left his notes open on the table during a break and I looked at a photo–refers to the European General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect next month.  So far, he needn’t have worried about having to defend Facebook against calls from Congress to copy and paste the European plan into the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.  Why not?  (Other than the sheer cluelessness of the well-aged Senators)

We as a country might do well to adopt laws, like the new EU plan, that actually take data protection and privacy rights seriously.  But if we copied and pasted their rules we would have a tougher time crowing about our great, special, exceptional Americanness, wouldn’t we?  Tant pis for us, as the French might say.

https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/law-topic/data-protection/data-protection-eu_en

What Exactly Is “Defiant Trump” Defying?

Noted media critic Donald Trump complained this morning that a Washington Post headline framed his defiance in a misleadling way.  Today’s top right headline of the Post‘s print edition reads “Trump Defiant as China adds trade penalties.”  I should probably be grateful that the president is supporting Jeff Bezos by subscribing to the print edition, but I digress.  He, Trump, like him or not, knows exactly how headlines about “defiance” ought to be presented.  Trump possesses agency, others are mere instruments of his will.  Trump is the subject, everybody else is the object.  In his world, it’s “Trump Defiant as U.S. Adds Trade Penalties, Will End Barriers And Massive I.P. Theft.”  I could quibble that his rewritten headline is a terribly run-on sentence; also why capitalize every single word except “as,” or I could be more charitable and say that as a president, the president is a pretty terrific copy editor.

Does it even make any sense, moreover, to speak of a U.S. president as “defiant”?  Not if we are the world’s only superpower and the president is really in charge of the executive branch.  That Trump did not dispute the framing that he could be “defiant” at all is telling.  Trump wants to cash in on what he gains from being seen as a “defiant” outsider toiling heroically to drain the swamp.  A lot of us are not convinced, to say the least, but Trump is determined to hold onto the loyalty of his camp followers, so “defiant” is still very useful, as if Hillary is somehow calling shots and taking away jobs and failing to prevent mayhem–and Donald Trump is still the “defiant” swamp-draining champion of the forgotten man.

What are the odds, by the way, that Xi Jinping will be gaslit by Trump?  Or that Trump’s manly addition of yet more “trade penalties” will result in ending trade barriers?  Some people say that President-for-Life Xi is not likely to bow down to the mighty Trump.  Who is in a better position to impose real pain on their citizens?  Probably the country where the people are not really citizens–that would be, for the time being, China.  To whip up his political base, Trump is turning to not-easily-won trade wars and not-easily-funded-by-Mexico border walls.  He probably won’t have great success unless he is willing to risk big failure by actually fabricating an emergency, the shape of which we can imagine in outline if not in detail.  Carl Schmitt wrote almost a hundred years ago that he who can create “the exception” is sovereign.  Trump’s feelings seem in sync with Schmitt’s theories of politics, but our president has so far taken only half-measures.  If he feels truly “unchained” and “unleashed” and goes all in on the “exception” and emergency, who or what will stop him?  I wouldn’t want to bet much on the courage of Republican majorities in Congress or on the Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Kennedy-Gorsuch majority on the Supreme Court.  I do hope that Trump’s own strong aversion to being blamed for anything will restrain him.  If he felt he could gaslight enough of us to evade blame, though, he might do almost anything.

 

Why Is Mark Zuckerberg Hating On Tim Cook’s “Extreme Glibness”?

In an interview with Ezra Klein of Vox, Mark Zuckerberg rattled global markets with the prima facie laughable assertion that Tim Cook is “extremely glib.”  If Tim Cook is extremely glib, what was Steve Jobs?  Now that was “glib” personified.  Tim Cook and “reality distortion field,” do they really go together?  Don’t think so.  Technically, Zuckerberg didn’t call Cook himself extremely glib, just what he said about Facebook–that Cook wouldn’t have gotten himself into Facebook’s pickle in the first place, because Apple builds great products and sell them to customers and that that’s a sounder business model than Facebook’s flim-flam.

Zuckerberg denied that the business model of “monetizing user attention” is an intractable problem.  His response to Klein was deflective, though: “you know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib and not at all aligned with the truth.”  Zuckerberg then tried to align himself with truth, with mixed success at best.  His snippish remark that “it’s important that we don’t all get Stockholm syndrome and let the companies that work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you.”  I found this a little bit plausible, until I read Josh Barro’s retort on Twitter that “Apple is a company that works hard to charge you more.  Amazon is a company that works hard to charge you less.  Facebook is a company that works hard to charge someone else more for access to you.”  That seems a much fairer summary of where we are than Zuckerberg’s self-serving doublespeak.

I don’t imagine that Zuckerberg is enjoying his tour of media outlets, or the downward trajectory of Facebook stock, even less his impending Congressional testimony (or the backlash if he continues to refuse to testify in the UK about Cambridge Analytica).  Zuckerberg’s goal in speaking publicly, I assume, is to shape any future government regulations in the US and Europe and, perhaps just as importantly, across other hemispheres.

I do hope the 99%, of whom I am one, can afford to enjoy the oligarch vs. oligarch trashtalking that may be coming  Not sure that they will achieve the heights of Little Rocket Man vs. The Dotard, but one can hope.  I would like to savor an Apple vs. Facebook vs. Google circular firing squad, kayfabe or real, while waiting for the autumn elections to provide us with the possibility of real oversight of both political authoritarianism and corruption and tech oligarch abuses.  Of course neither political party is immune to capture by the tech giants, but the president’s recent attacks on Amazon are transparently abusive and ominous.  Disclosure: I have never joined Facebook, and only completed one under-$20 Amazon purchase about ten years ago and never again, I hope.  It is inconvenient, though, for many of us to even try to disentangle from our new tech overlords–and I do use Google and Apple daily.

P.S. Have duly noted that Facebook’s motto/mission statement was once “move fast and break things” and is now “bring the world closer together.”