“Donald Trump Is No More To Blame For What Happened In New Zealand Than Mark Zuckerberg Is Because He Invented Facebook” (Says Mick Mulvaney)

White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney stated an interesting hypothesis today on Face the Nation: “Donald Trump is no more to blame for what happened in New Zealand than Mark Zuckerberg is because he invented Facebook.”  This hypothesis does not entirely exonerate his boss, does it?  We can save Zuckerberg’s degree of culpability for another day.  Meanwhile, Mulvaney, unprompted by anything said by interviewer Margaret Brennan, began to argue that the president is the true victim here, of leftist mobs, of course. Brennan was trying to get Mulvaney to acknowledge that white nationalist and supremacist extremism is a rising threat, but Mulvaney wiggled out of such an affirmation (because it would contradict his boss) by deflecting to “Trump unfairly blamed for everything.”

Of course the president is not criminally liable for the mass murder by an Australian who massacred peaceful worshippers in a mosque in New Zealand, even if the murderer cited Trump as a defender of “white identity and common purpose” and even if the murderer cribbed some of his talking points from the US president.  And of course Mark Zuckerberg is (as far as I know) not criminally liable for failing to do a better and quicker job taking down toxic, racist, hateful content from its platforms.  But if Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Trump are eager to puff themselves up by claiming that Trump is a quasi-royal figure whose near-divine intervention has miraculously cured this or that problem, they are on shaky ground denying any connection at all between Trump’s public bile toward immigrants, Muslims, and other convenient Others, and acts of racial hatred.

Trump has made a specialty for decades of what historian Peter Gay called “the cultivation of hatred” (Gay was writing about “the bourgeois experience Victoria to Freud”).  According to Mr. Gay, “every culture, every century, constructs its distinctive alibis for aggression…. these alibis [give] valuable clues to the murky, largely unconscious domain of intimate human needs and anxieties…. Nothing seems more natural than the ease with which humans claim superiority over a collective Other.  It is an immensely serviceable alibi for aggression, solidifying the bracing sense of one’s merits–or assuaging the secret fear of one’s imperfections.  The discovery that outsiders are dogged by grave, perhaps repulsive defects grants, as it were, permission to think angry thoughts and commit hostile acts” (The Cultivation of Hatred, pp. 36- 37, 68).  When the president of the United States has displayed a pattern over many years of giving or withholding the benefit of the doubt to others based on their color, and a pattern of condemning or excusing aggression based on ethnicity and religion and skin color, and refused to acknowledge the glaringly obvious and lethal threat to society of rightwing white supremacist violence–it’s far from absurd to suggest that he is morally if not legally culpable and that he has disgraced the office he holds.

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Is White Nationalism A Problem? If You’re The President, Apparently Not.

Should we be grateful that the president who did say, basically, “white nationalism? a growing problem? not for me”–didn’t go to say that “white identity and common purpose” (which the New Zealand murderer referenced) sounds great? Or to say out loud at this moment that some people are being too politically correct and taking these isolated incidents too seriously? (Even while presidential mouthpieces do continue to intone that biased media who accuse the president of being a white nationalist failed to get that the president was obviously joking when he said X and Y and also Z? BTW Jean-Paul Sartre, in Anti-Semite and Jew, understood the privilege of “joking” about anti-Semitic hate with impunity, as Jeet Heer noted in an Atlantic post today.)

At some point, do we decide that it’s OK if we are too sluggish and dim to get that he is joking?  That it’s OK if we just decide that we would rather have a presidential president who might actually give the “leader of the free world” thing a try? That even if many media outlets take every chance to give this president the benefit of the doubt, follow him down every rabbit hole, and pine away for a “both sides” framining in order to “normalize” this president–that we the people have enough sense to know an out-of-control president when we see one? Would it be too crazy to say, we rolled the dice once, we got fooled once, but shame on us if we get fooled again by somebody who could hardly care less about the Constitution or democracy or the country or the people living in the country unless they bow down before him? Would that be a bad idea?

If you think I am talking here about the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump–well, you might assume that if you like, and you might well be right.  If the shoe fits, so be it.

The Art Of Shifting The Blame: Alive And Well In Both US And UK

What do Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and Theresa May have in common right now? Here’s one big thing: they are all disinclined to accept that the buck should not and will not stop with them.  Theresa May does not look too successful or polished at blame-shifting at the moment, although it is a stupefying accomplishment in a way that she is still occupying the prime ministership after the largest parliamentary defeat since prehistory.  Jeremy Corbyn has not yet become PM, but he has held on to the leadership of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition while refusing to commit himself to any particular Brexit policy at all.  If May’s government falls, is he capable to taking an actual policy position that would expose him to blame?  Speaker Nancy Pelosi has almost (but not quite) taken impeachment off the table, in hopes of blunting Republican attack lines and constant media inquiries that often devolve into “gotcha” questions.  She has not tried, as far as I know, to impede the oversight investigations of commitee chairs such as Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters and Elijah Cummings, but she has signaled to Chairman Nadler that she does not want any hearings yet with an open focus on “impeachment.”  Finally, Donald Trump has apparently been a bully and a blame-avoider his entire life.  Will he continue to benefit from MSM framing in which he, by virtue of the presumably dignified office he holds, is able to spew blame-shifting lies with minimal real-time chyrons and headlines that rebuke and correct those lies? One can hope. Blame avoidance is a cardinal principle of politics, ever and always.  It’s up to news outlets to be alert to this and give voters a chance to drain the swamp, so to speak, of buck-passing liars.

No President Who Was Loyal To America First Would Ever Say There’s A “Very Delicate Balance” Between The Warmbier Family And Kim Jong Un

Of course all presidents have to deal with unsavory people in other countries.  But no president who is loyal to the United States of America would ever say “I’m in such a horrible position because in one way I have to negotiate and the way I love Mr. and Mrs. Warmbier and I love Otto and it’s a very delicate balance.”  No president who understood that the buck stops on the Oval Office desk would ever deny reality by saying that “we got our great people back…and that includes our beautiful, beautiful Otto.” Or claim, absurdly and weakly, that he took Kim Jong Un at his word.  Or respond to the Warmbier family’s statement this week by saying “I never like to be misinterpreted.”  There was no misinterpretation by Otto Warmbier’s parents.

This president’s many many false statements, untruths, aka lies, are bad.  They are corroding public life, and sending a bad message to the young people of this country.  But what’s even worse is that the lies rarely if ever serve a larger public purpose.  They serve nothing but the narrow interests of one family–and Trump Sr. will probably throw his own family overboard before long.  The worst thing is that we have a president who shows no loyalty to the parents of Otto Warmbier or to any American families or communities.  He is not loyal to the Constitution or to the people who serve this country or to the citizens of the US.  Those opposing this president may be tempted to focus on his inaccuracies or factual misstatements or disregard for evidence and science. Better to focus on what’s even worse–his original sin is that he will turn on anyone and everyone–war veterans, POWs, honorable career professionals, regular people of all kinds–we are all “coffee boys” and nobodies to him.  But we can and should return his indifference and lack of loyalty by giving our loyalty to those of our political representatives who are trying to uphold the rule of law and the common good.

“It’s Not Just Putin, All Dictators Are My Role Models–So NO COLLUSION, Gotcha Liberals”

The thousands of lies are bad, but the disloyalty to America is worse. When a president says, in effect, “See, there’s no collusion, because I take Kim Jong Un’s lies and excuses at face value too, just like Putin’s and by the way the Saudi crown prince too. So there was absolutely no collusion.” And this kind of putting America totally not first, it’s going to continue every day this president is still president.

It’s good that one house of Congress is investigating our compromised president. It’s good to turn over some more of the rocks to reveal the moral filth underneath.  But the excuses Donald Trump made for the North Korean dictator about the death of Otto Warmbier ought to show all Americans that right now we have a president with no fellow feeling for regular Americans and no intention of upholding his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution.

Why It’s So Hard, Once You Get Started, To Stop Keeping The Cannoli

Michael Cohen looks pretty good in comparison to the hysterical and poorly prepared Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats). Relatively speaking, he’s cool, calm, and collected. Bottom line, takes a scumbag to know a scumbag; also, of course he’s not a terribly credible witness without receipts–but he does have some intriguing receipts, and seems to be holding some in reserve, probably on instructions from Mueller’s team.  He and Andrew McCabe presented Trump’s MO is very similar ways: he’s wily enough that he doesn’t directly say “you have to lie on my behalf,” but he coaches and grooms his subordinates (which means pretty much all Americans at this point, in the president’s mind) to parrot the bald lies that Trump feeds to them. Trump’s denials and Cohen’s testimony about the Stormy Daniels hush money may be the big headline for some lazy media outlets, but the more significant breadcrumbs left by Cohen, in my opinion, concern Weisselberg (Trump Org accountant) and Felix Sater and Trump’s possible advance knowledge via Roger Stone about the Wikileaks/GRU anti-Hillary data dump in August 2016

Cohen experienced the “‘intoxicating’ whiff of power” in Trump’s orbit, and is a vivid reminder to all of us tempted to give “Mr. Trump” the benefit of the doubt–don’t be gaslit! Step away from the cannoli! Of course it smells good, but step away.

Post-Truth? Actually It’s Past Time For Coverage Of The Post-Lying Presidency

For almost four years now, mainstream media coverage of Donald Trump has emphasized his many “factually incorrect” statements, and whether or not they ought to be called “lies.”  “Fact checking” has proliferated.  And the firehose of lies continues unabated.  While the president’s many many lies are bad, I believe that it’s time for media coverage to focus more on the bullsh–ing and a little less on the fact checking.  While journalists such as Daniel Dale have done heroic work informing us, and I hope he continues insofar as he can stand it, I hope that the 2020 election coverage is more about who benefits and who doesn’t from Trump’s worldview and corruption and biases and, yes, lies.  Put another way, Trump did not drain the swamp, he filled it up and then kept pouring on the poison and spewing the swamp gas.

With Trump, the signifying is even worse than the lying (for elaboration on this, see Charles H. Long, Significations, and Roger Abrahams, Afro-American Folktales).  And the signifying is aimed at keeping some people down and preserving the sweet deals of the 1% of the 1%.  With Trump, the entitled attitude and the utter lack of respect for the common good and the disrespect for non-privileged strivers is much worse than mere errors and factual misstatements.

Looking toward 2020, it’s not even Trump’s meanness that makes him unfit for the presidency.  We’ve had mean presidents before, but Trump is the first one whom I felt has no sense of loyalty to the people of the United States.  It’s not so much the straying from “truth” and “facts” or even the callousness per se.  It’s the callous disrespect toward anyone who doesn’t serve Trump’s immediate needs (which includes tens of millions of eligible voters who are unlikely to vote for Trump in 2020; but he doesn’t appear to think much of many of “his” voters either).  It’s not just the cruelty, it’s the hysterical self-pitying snowflake fake-victimhood that comes packaged with the cruelty.

The lying is bad enough, but if media criticism of Trump begins and ends with fact-checking, we’re letting him off way too easily and setting ourselves up for further erosion of our democratic republic.  This is not a “truth protected by a ‘bodyguard of lies’ situation.  This is a situation of “Trump bullsh—ing and distracting and yelling “squirrel” to feather his own nest and avoid prison while throwing the rest of us under the bus.

Have The North Carolinians Taken Off The Pictish Warpaint Yet?

Amidst all the other jaw-dropping stories of malfeasance today (and most days tbh) the news out of Raleigh, North Carolina that Mark Harris is now calling for a new election is holding its own in the Crazytown competition.  What made Harris, who had apparently won election to the US House of Representatives last November in the 9th NC district, change his position? Could it have been his own son’s testimony? His son, who is a US attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, seems to have undercut his dad’s professions of innocence and ignorance regarding the apparent election fraud conducted on his behalf by Pictish warrior lookalike McCrae Dowless.  The North Carolina Republican party had, along with Mark Harris, tried for months to wave off the fraud as immaterial to the outcome of the election.  Funny how some election frauds seem to be more equal than others. At last word the state elections board has declared that a new election will now be held.  I have no idea who will run, let alone win, this election, but I do hope there is agreement “on both sides” that North Carolina, and especially the 9th district, needs supervision by grown-up federal agents.  Sorry, Chief Justice Roberts, but it’s true, and your proclamations in the Shelby ruling were way out of line.

Is Presidential Power At Its Lowest Ebb Today?

The president is correct that there have been many national emergency declarations in recent decades (17 by Bill Clinton, 12 by George W. Bush, 13 by Barack Obama).  But none of them seized money appropriated by Congress for other purposes.  A Supreme Court case from the Korean War era shows why presidential power is at its “lowest ebb” today.  Reacting to the possibility of a labor strike at steel mills during that war, President Truman seized the output of mills, provoking the Youngstown Sheet and Tube case, decided in 1952.  The majority opinion rebuked Truman, but the words of the concurring opinion by Justice Robert Jackson (an FDR appointee and author of one of the most fascinating insider accounts of the FDR presidency, That Man) gave the most memorable explanation of the Court’s reasoning on balancing legislative against executive authority. Jackson wrote: The Constitution “enjoins upon its branches separateness but interdependence, autonomy but reciprocity….When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate….When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority…there is a zone of twilight….When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.”  There you have a blueprint for the Supreme Court.  I don’t have any sense of whether the Supreme Court, 67 years after Justice Robert Jackson’s Youngstown concurring opinion, will find a way to uphold the current president’s overreach–but Jackson laid out the way the Constitution ought to be interpreted.

Prime Minister Theresa May Promises “Jam Tomorrow”

Jam tomorrow! Sounds great! Oh, you think mouldy (or moldy) jam is best, Prime Minister? I think not. Please resign now.

I read in the NY Times that schools in England have begun to teach mindfulness. Perhaps after the UK Brexits, the Prime Minister, or ex-Prime Minister, will have some spare time to devote to mindfulness training so that she will think twice before sharing her views on mouldy jam.

Six weeks to go until a disorderly exit from the European Union, and Great Britain, especially the little England faction, seems deeply entrenched in silly season. Don’t these Tories know that wintertime is not silly season? Will they show any awareness at all that putting party over country, as they are still doing, has nothing to do at all with the “blitz spirit” they love to invoke?

Should Governor Ralph Northam Start His Reading Course By Studying The History Of White People?

In a word, yes.  Governor Ralph Northam is reportedly reading Alex Haley’s Roots, as well as Ta-Neheisi Coates.  That’s fine, but if the governor asked me I would suggest he take a look at Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People, Bernard Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years, subtitled The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675, Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, William Freehling’s Road to Disunion (in two volumes, Secessionists At Bay, 1776-1854 and Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861), David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War In American Memory, Rhys Isaac’s The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790, and maybe even the works of George Fitzhugh, defender of slavery for whites as well as blacks (Cannibals All and Sociology For The South).  If he can read these, or even any two of them, while performing the basic functions of governing, more power to him.  Then if he has the energy, he could certainly look at The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature, including Henry Louis Gates’s preface, “Talking Books.”

I do not need to see Governor Northam’s face on TV doing a “listening tour.”  May I suggest that he do a speaking tour, when he is ready to enlighten us on his journey to wokeness.  He need not impose any additional burdens on the inhabitants of Virginia or the rest of the United States.  We do not need to work to teach him anything.  He is term-limited as governor and is perhaps already a very lame duck, but he ought to think about studying and learning before he “listens” to anybody on camera. If he truly believes that his vocation as a doctor gives him a knack for healing, that’s the least he can do.  If he comes up with a policy agenda that promotes racial “equity,” that would be great too.

Here’s something that Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and probably Ralph Northam have in common: the Dunning thesis, which viewed Reconstruction as a disaster precisely because freedmen were unready for participation in American democracy.  W.E.B. DuBois, in his 1935 book, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, described Dunning as “less dogmatic” and more “judicious” than some of his reactionary and white supremacist academic colleagues at Johns Hopkins and Columbia and elsewhere, but DuBois levelled sharp criticism of the “Columbia school” for its “endless sympathy with the white South…ridicule, contempt or silence for the Negro,” and its conclusion that the North did a “grievous wrong” by promoting black suffrage.  During the 2016 campaign, both Trump and Clinton showed that they had likely absorbed this version of Reconstruction in high school history and never questioned it.  I imagine the same might well be true of Northam.  And I think that while we could argue over whether Northam made a faux pas by speaking of “indentured servants” at Old Point Comfort, Virginia in 1619, the destructive effect of uncritical absorption of the Dunning thesis on Reconstruction is likely a worse trap.  The civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s was a Second Reconstruction, and we are on the cusp if not in the midst of a Third, with all of the accompanying conflicts and bad conscience and awkwardness.  Ralph Northam, whether he stays in his office or not, is just a small piece of the puzzle.

 

Is Donald Trump Sr. More Ignorant About American History Than Donald Jr.?

Those (such as Brit Hume) who are saying that the president could not have intended to refer to the Trail of Tears in his recent Twitter attack on Senator Elizabeth Warren now find themselves in a tricky position after Donald Jr. applauded his father’s comment as “savage,” meaning, presumably, “nobly savage.”  The president, in my opinion, is unburdened by much grasp of the details of United States history, but he does have a knack for seizing on tidbits that give support to his “reactionary white majoritarianism,” as Jamelle Bouie put it in a NY Times op-ed piece today.  Given that he made a grossly offensive reference to Wounded Knee just a week or two ago, I suspect he had heard of the Cherokee Trail of Tears when he tweeted the other day.  I do look forward to a Kevin Kruse-like tweet thread from the president in which he smacks down Trump Jr. (just for raising the possibility in some MAGA heads that Sr. could know less than Jr. about anything at all) and lays out just how he “fell in love” with Andrew Jackson and, of course, vice versa.

Our Crusading Days Are Not Over, Say Five Catholic Men On Supreme Court–As They Deny Religious Freedom To A Muslim Facing Execution

Alabama went ahead and executed a convicted murderer last night.  Whatever you think and however you feel about the death penalty, I cannot understand how or why the Supreme Court, specifically five Catholic males on the Court, denied the man on death row his right to a spiritual counselor as he faced execution.  Alabama allows a Christian chaplain to be present during executions, and a federal appeals court put a stay on this execution to look further into the likely violation of the prisoner’s First Amendment religious exercise rights.  If Alabama denied religious counseling of any kind in the death chamber, that would be wrong, vicious, uncivilized, and barbaric–but not religious discrimination.  That’s not the situation here.

Several conservative commentators, to their credit, objected to the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule the appeals court’s stay of execution.  But John Roberts, what were you thinking? Elena Kagan’s dissent called you out for your willful abandonment of the “clearest command of the Establishment Clause,” which is that “one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.”  And you other crusading justices, Alito, and Thomas, and Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh? Were you raised by wolves? Where are your manners? Are you utterly unaware of the history of anti-Catholic discrimination and bigotry in the United States? Not to mention the legal history of Great Britain? And the many high horses you yourselves have ridden re “religious liberty”?  Do you really want to go down in flames by claiming that the prisoner failed to make his request in a timely way? Really? His request to have his imam present–which was completely consistent with Alabama law allowing for a spiritual counselor of one’s choice–was denied on January 23, and he appealed on January 28.  Five days is barely enough for some of you to clear your throats, you whited sepulchral deniers of fairness and justice and religious freedom.  You should truly be ashamed and repent while you still have time.

 

https://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/18A815-Dunn-v.-Ray-Order.pdf

Nobody Asked Roger Stone To Bear False Witness Against President Trump–Bearing True Witness Will Do Just Fine

The Washington Post headline today says that “Stone says he won’t testify against Trump after indictment.”  Mr. Stone said that he would not bear false witness, and therefore that he would not testify against the president because it would be “bearing false witness.” How many people believe that?  Not me.  But you be you, Roger.  Just bear true witness and everything will work out just fine.

And Now For Some Adult Supervision In Washington

Adult supervision was on the ballot in November 2018, and it won big.  Now some are predicting that 2019 will be an even wilder ride–but it doesn’t have to be that at all.  Why should we accept the soft bigotry of low expectations for our president?  Nancy Pelosi is not likely to do anything radically disruptive.  It’s up to the president to become presidential, if he is able.  Shouldn’t we expect our president to be not a toddler?  Not an enabler of Russian disinformation?  Not a thug but rather a president for all Americans?  So if 2019 is an even wilder ride than the last two years, it probably won’t be because “both sides” are lacking in civility.  A few Democrats can and will act foolish, but the leadership in the House of Representatives has an opportunity to pass bills that–if the president and the Senate cooperate–make America a better and greater place.  Will Senator McConnell and President Trump persist in serving the interests of the 1% of the 1%? Will they persist in overfilling the swamp with even more special-interest lobbyists in charge of our health care and our environment and our public lands and our military?

This year does not need to be a wild ride at all.  It can be a year of draining the swamp of self-dealing politicians, starting at the top.  The president is perfectly capable of respecting the rule of law and going quietly. If he is rude and corrupt and unhinged, we need not make a big drama out of marginalizing him and, if warranted, removing him. Democrats have the opportunity to do the people’s work calmly and professionally.  They can legislate and investigate, no need to choose.  They can pass a minimum wage increase, and fixes for the Affordable Care Act, voting rights legislation, clean air laws to counteract the EPA’s disgraceful abdications to polluters, renew the Violence Against Women Act (which Paul Ryan allowed to lapse), and much more–and if the Republican Senate and the president refuse to make these bills into law, so much the worse for them in November 2020.

In Re Roberts v Trump, Now It’s Up To The Chief Justice Of The United States To Prove The President Wrong

The president, as usual, was ignorant and inaccurate and probably a willful liar in several ways in his attacks on Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday and today.  But it’s up to John Roberts to prove the president wrong.  Many of us have already bought into (for good reasons or bad or some mixture) the essence of the president’s attack on the legitimacy of the American judiciary.  Roberts’ job, as Chief Justice of the United States (not only of the Supreme Court) is in large part to preserve, protect, and defend the impartiality of American judges and courts and the perception of that impartiality.  That’s why Roberts claimed, in response to a query from the AP, that there are “no Obama judges or Trump judges, or Bush judges or Clinton judges.”  Public approval of the Supreme Court has held up better than the favorability ratings of Congress, but it’s shaky, Trump knows it, and he is trying to delegitimize the federal courts as much as he can before he and his family and his business interests are put through the legal wringer, as seems very likely in the near future.

Trump claimed today that he is demanding adherence to the “Constitution as written.”  If he took the trouble to study just the Emoluments Clause, he might realize that if he is actually held to the standards of the words of the Constitution then he is the one in for “bedlam” and “chaos.”  Even so, the burden in this dispute is probably heavier on Chief Justice Roberts.  He has the opportunity, as the likely new swing justice, to uphold the principle of doing “equal right,” as he put it, to everyone who comes before the Supreme Court.  Roberts has been eager to dismantle campaign finance laws and gun regulations and the Voting Rights Act, all of which amounted to radically reactionary judicial activism in my judgment.  He has also rescued the Affordable Care Act twice (while adding the poison pill re Medicaid expansion, to be sure), thereby arousing hot anger from the right.  How will he steer the high court through the rest of the treacherous shoals of the Trump presidency? He is a very sharp fellow, he can plan several steps ahead, and he’s put the president and the country on notice that he does not believe Trump is “telling it like it is” when the president trash talks federal judges.  But Trump’s most loyal followers are not inclined to pay much attention or give much credence to Roberts.  Neither are  progressives–nor likewise many of the moderate Republicans who just voted for Democratic candidates a couple of weeks ago.   Roberts has a real task on his hands.

While many–some years about half–of Supreme Court decisions are decided either unanimously or nearly so, Justice Roberts as well as all other federal judges have a challenge in front of them: how to deal firmly, fairly, and consistently with a president who is not likely  to go down politely or quietly, not going to stop exploiting the Department of Justice for personal vendettas, and worst of all, is apparently figuring out new ways to do wrong (nightmare scenario: Trump with a learning curve!).  Adult supervision from the House of Representatives (in particular the Oversight, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees, not to forget Ways and Means if it obtains the president’s tax returns) is on the near horizon, and I don’t see how the president and the administration avoid getting burned by it.  Mueller and Whitaker and Rosenstein are, as of today, major wild cards.  And it is not necessarily a sign of presidential strength when you feel you need to attack the guy who could preside over your trial in the Senate.  All that said, the ways things could get more troubling and messy are multitudinous, aren’t they?  I hope Roberts and the Court are ready for whatever’s coming, since they are very likely to have to act as the umpires quite soon.

Adult Supervision Is On The Ballot

If ever adult supervision–the need for grownup oversight of the president, that is–were on the ballot, this is the day.  Even those who feel, who still in spite of everything feel, that the president is entertaining–even most such people would have to acknowledge, if answering honestly, that we have a president desperately in need of supervision by people not beholden to him for their jobs.  That excludes the White House staff, who have evidently failed to restrain this president.  Looking at you, John Kelly and John Bolton and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Bill Shine and Don McGahn.  Whatever you saved us from, it hasn’t been good enough.  And the Republican Party has failed to restrain the president in any meaningful way.  That goes for Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, John Cornyn, Ben Sasse, Lindsay Graham, Rand Paul, and so many others.  Your mournful tweets and occasional tut-tutting? It’s all pretty pitiful, as if you didn’t even have a say in the matter.  Just two of you in the Senate could have imposed real, serious, verifiable limitations on a president who has not the least bit of respect for the Constitution or the rule of law or checks and balances.  If he doesn’t have any intention of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution, and you don’t do it, you are no longer worthy of being called adults.  So, in spite of their manifold faults and blind spots and limitations, voters (and especially actual conservative voters) are obliged to toss out as many Republicans as possible today.  There is no better way to promote prudence, restraint, and our constitutional republic.  The Constitution is not a machine that runs all by itself.  It does not have magical powers.  Some maintenance is required.  We can go back to arguing over the proper size and shape of government, and everything else, soon enough.

 

P.S. 11/7/18  It looks as though voters gave a thumbs up to “adult supervision of the president,” at least at the level of the people’s house.  Democrats received as big a popular vote mandate as Tea Party Republicans did in 2010, or bigger.  And in the states, Democrats gained six or seven state legislatures and governorships that had been in R hands.  The Attorney General has already been fired by tweet, so it looks as if oversight and supervision and upholding rule of law will be an urgent matter the moment the House of Representatives flips to Democratic control in early January 2019.

Did Cesar Sayoc Misunderstand The President’s Message To Supporters In Any Way?

Cesar Sayoc, 56 years old, is responsible for his own actions, whatever they were.  But I am curious, is there any sense in which he misinterpreted or misunderstood the president’s basic message to his supporters?  The message that is repeated at rally after rally, on twitter, on TV, day after day?  Or did Mr. Sayoc understand the message and the permission structure perfectly well?  Did the president radicalize Mr. Sayoc?  Maybe not, the man seems (judging from his tweets and his van and initial reports of his arrest record and work history) to have been quite unstable long before the president came on the national political scene.  Maybe it would be just as accurate to say that Cesar Sayoc and many like him helped radicalize the president, peculiar as that sounds.  However the causes and effects may have worked, the president in his many-splendored bubble and Sayoc in his many-stickered van share more than I am comfortable thinking about.

President Won’t Go Along With Politically Correct Anti-Nationalism, Says It’s Not Too Late To Seize Canada

The president today effortlessly rebuffed feckless attempts by failing cable news to pin him down on his use of the forbidden word “nationalism.”  He did make a bit of news, however, when he (if I read Toronto’s own Daniel Dale correctly, which I may not have) claimed that it is “definitely not too late” for the great United States of America to seize and defenestrate both Upper and Lower Canada.  The president challenged Canadians to accept their impending absorption by asserting “What the hell do you have to lose? I’m going to raise your average temperatures in your frozen hellhole by six degrees.”  Asked whether that meant Centigrade or Fahrenheit, the president–invoking lese majeste–ordering Secret Service agents to arrest the impertinent reporter.

Had Enough Of This President Stomping On The Constitution With His Interpretive Dance?

Had enough? I mean, had enough of a president who refuses to just do his consitutional duties and follow his constitutional oath of office? Had enough of a president who insists on an interpretive dance that stomps all over the Constitution every day, instead of following the truly conservative path of doing the job the Constitution prescribes: “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution”?

So-called “conservatives” who are jubilant about a so-called “conservative” Supreme Court, might do better to stop and think about the very unconservative president we now have.  The Framers did not put the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution for no reason.  They were very afraid of exactly the kind of corruption that our president is guilty of every single day, enriching himself by selling his brand to Russians, Saudis, and other foreigners who pay to stay at his hotels and play golf at his courses.  The Framers were afraid of a president who would sell himself to the highest foreign bidders, and that is exactly what we have right now.  How is it “conservative” to tolerate that?

It’s not a light tap dance he’s doing either, it’s a heavy-footed stomping.  But there is a way citizens can respond.  The Constitution is not a machine that will run smoothly all by itself, but voters can take this president down a peg and restore some actual oversight.  Last call, though.

P.S. Also, how is it “conservative” for the Supreme Court to jump at opportunities to forget judicial modesty and overrule laws passed by our elected representatives in Congress and signed by the head of our executive branch? I refer to Citizens United. I refer to Shelby County v. Holder–which overruled major parts of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965 and repeatedly reaffirmed by Congresses and Presidents on a bipartisan basis over several decades.  That was not good enough for this activist, immodest, out-of-control Supreme Court.  How was it “conservative” for four justices to try to overrule the Affordable Care Act via a strained and dubious reading of one sentence in the law?  A law passed by substantial majorities in both houses of Congress and signed by a president?  This Supreme Court is conservative if and only if “conservative” means pro-corporate-person and indifferent to actual human persons.  There was nothing in the words or meaning of Madison or Hamilton or Washington or Franklin that supports the stretching of the First Amendment to accommodate the vast expansion of corporate “rights” put forward by the current majority of the Court.

 

Did President Trump Say It’s “Unfortunate” That Anyone Cares About The Murder Of A Journalist?

The president of the United States said today (in an interview with the NY Times, according to an article posted today by Haberman, Landler, and Schmidt) that “this one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately.”  He did say that “this is bad, bad stuff and the consequences should be severe.”  But the use of the word “unfortunately” seems to me to indicate Mr. Trump’s true feeling that the real shame about the apparent murder of Khashoggi is simply that it may mess up the flow of Saudi dollars into Trump’s own properties.  And that it’s a real shame that Trump has been obliged to cover for the Saudis.  He probably figured that they would keep laundering their money through his condos and other real estate holdings, and pay top dollar for rooms at his hotels, and everything would be cool.  The orb thing was cool.  It’s unfortunate that anything would ever get in the way of the cash flow, the president seems to be saying.  Is that harsh?  Too cynical?  Is there any bottom to the Trump presidency?

The Times story sums up: “Mr. Trump was uncharacteristically guarded and disciplined during the brief conversation with The Times, declining repeated requests to discuss the chain of events that led to Mr. Khashogggi’s disappearance or the crown prince’s role.  In part, the president acknowledged, that reflected his recognition that the Khashoggi case now posed a bigger challenge to him than other issues ‘because it’s taken on a bigger life than it would normally take on.'”  “Normally”?  What would be a normal scenario, in Mr. Trump’s mind.  He may have been unusually “disciplined” while speaking to the Times, but the words “normally” and “unfortunately” give all of us yet another window into the dictator-friendly worldview of our president.

Good Morning Originalists, Remember The Emoluments Clause–It Wasn’t Just An Afterthought, Don’t You Know That?

What do the Russia/Trump story and the coddling of and bowing before Saudi murderers have in common?  I would say it’s the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.  I do not believe that the president of the United States cares about human rights or democracy or rule of law one little bit.  I do not believe he believes the ludicrous denials by Saudi royals that they are guilty of murdering a US green card holder in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.  (What did Melania Trump’s parents and Jamal Khasoggi have in contribution as recently as six months ago? They were all green card holders.)  I do believe that all, literally all, the president cares about is the Saudi (and Russian) contribution to his personal wealth, and official American policy flows directly from that.  The so-called “originalists” who have blathered in bad faith for decades about following the written text of the Constitution, rather than interpreting a “living Constitution,” are now mostly silent about the abuses of the Constitution by this president. Why are they silent? I suppose because their supposed fidelity to the Constitution’s text was always and everywhere a selective and fraudulent faith.  This president has violated the Emoluments Clause openly and blatantly every single day of his presidency, as far as I can tell.  Why the soft bigotry of low expectations for this particular rogue president?

I Double Dog Dare The President To Admit He Likes Sex With Animals

I would say that the president went to great lengths to have sex with a woman he now calls Horseface–except the woman has now called him Tiny.  I do hope that this distraction can distract us from some of the other distractions.  Is it too much to hope that, at least until the midterms, Democratic politicians will not dredge up any more psychodramas from the last century, or feel compelled to respond to lowball insults by taking DNA tests? And could cable news stand it to focus on real issues that affect tens of millions of people, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and pre-existing conditions? For three weeks?

What’s not too much to hope is that, regardless of superficial news coverage, a majority of voters appear very likely to take this president down a peg–in the hope that he might pipe down a little–and so that he will also be subjected to some real oversight.  Believe me, oversight is something this one cannot withstand.  And yes, I am prepared for President Pence, for a short period of time..

Hurricane Michael Comes Ashore Near Refuge For Escaped Slaves

Hurricane Michael came ashore today very near an area of Spanish West Florida that was a refuge in the early 19th century for both escaped slaves and “Red Stick” native Americans.  As historian Steven Hahn tells it in A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910 (Penguin, 2016), “the defeat of the Red Sticks and the British in the South during the War of 1812 reconfigured the borderlands of West and East Florida and southern Alabama and Georgia, as both Red Sticks and fugitive slaves looked to regroup.  They collected, together with Seminoles, around a makeshift British post at the mouth of the Apalachicola River in Florida’s northwestern corner.  And once the British evacuated, the blacks remained behind in what became known as Negro Fort, drawing more fugitive slaves from near and far who settled along the river’s banks” (p. 28). Enter General Andrew Jackson, fresh off his January 1815 victory in New Orleans, and now commander of the US regular army’s southern division.  On Jackson’s orders, Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Clinch attacked Negro Fort in the summer of 1816, setting off an explosion that killed most inside. Some survivors retreated toward the Suwannee River and reorganized with aid from Seminole Chief Bowlegs.  In early 1818, Jackson–“with a force of army regulars, Tennessee militiamen, and Lower Creek warriors (bitter enemies of the Upper Creek and Seminoles) totaling thirty-five hundred–move to ‘chastise a savage foe, who, combined with a lawless band of Negro brigands, have—been carrying on a cruel and unprovoked war against the citizens of the United States’….the blacks were heavily outnumbered and only had muskets to fight off long rifles…Jackson occupied the Indian towns, and his troops laid waste to what had been a ‘fertile country.'”

Jackson referred to the army campaign as a “savage and negro war.”  Then as now, who gets labelled “savage” or “not civil” or “a mob” is tied to issues of privilege and power and whose lives matter.  Andrew Jackson’s face looks down on the people in today’s Oval Office.  How much of this history is known to the current occupant?  The elective affinity is clear enough, though.

 

Judge Kavanaugh Assassinated His Very Own Character And Torched His Own Reputation, Senator McConnell, So Stop Whining

President Trump, if I am parsing his remarks today accurately, realizes that his nominee to the Supreme Court is damaged goods.  Trump is not ready to let go quite yet–he would prefer that McConnell or Grassley or Kavanaugh himself do the dirty work and pull the plug–but his admission the other day that Blasey Ford was credible, and today’s remark that Brett had a serious drinking problem (though Kavanaugh himself did not acknowledge as much as Trump claims Kavanaugh acknowledged) tells me that Trump realizes he is being soiled by the media coverage of Kavanaugh and would likely be stained further if and when Democrats take hold of subpoena power in one or both Houses of Congress.

Senator Mitch McConnell promised today that he would force a Senate vote this week, and attacked Democrats for their supposed “character assassination” of the judge.  Hey Mitch, we didn’t need to watch Saturday Night Live to know that you are only gaslighting yourself.  Mitch, would you feel safe sitting down for a few pints with either the young Brett or the angry judge we saw last Thursday? Right, I didn’t think so.

By the way, all the talk about “no corroboration” is bull.  Corroboration is pertinent information and testimony that confirms or support the testimony of a witness. There is plenty of corroboration for what Dr. Blasey Ford said: her therapy sessions several years ago and her friend’s account of what Ford said at a local restaurant in 2013–that’s all corroboration.  Not proof, but it is corroboration.  The many accounts of classmates of Judge Kavanaugh that he was an out-of-control belligerent drunk in college as well as high school (including Mark Judge’s memoir references to “Bart O’Kavanaugh”)–those accounts all impeach and “assassinate,” so to speak, Judge Kavanaugh’s portrait of his youthful self in his Fox TV interview as well as his Senate Judiciary Committee testimony.  So let’s not get taken in by any talking heads claiming that Blasey Ford’s testimony lacks corroboration.  Furthermore, her credibility was enhanced, in my opinion, by her unwillingness to “force” her memory by claiming things she was no longer able to recall.  The same cannot be said for Kavanaugh’s incredible and unbelievable claim that he suffered no memory loss from alcohol.  He may well be confirmed, and if so it is up to voters to do the most important sorting and sifting and judging.

McConnell and Trump, Speaking From 8th Circle Of Hell, Assail “Uncorroborated And Unsubstantiated” Accusations

President Donald Trump was offered–and accepted–a temporary upgrade from his usual dwelling in the 9th and lowest circle of Hell to join Senator Mitch McConnell in the 8th circle.  Both gave speeches attacking the credibility of women.  After the speeches McConnell stayed amongst the “barrators” (corrupt politicians) in the 8th circle of Dante’s Inferno, while Trump was remanded downward to the bottom basement reserved for the treacherous.  Mark Judge had no comment as he read Superman comics in the back seat of his car in Bethany Beach, Delaware

Lay Off The Cocaine Mitch! (Or At Least Put Him On A Zero-Hour Contract)

Why was Senator “Cocaine Mitch” McConnell (as Don Blankenship called him) lying about the Constitution–on Constitution Day?  What was he thinking when he made up the utterly fake news that the sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh was put forward at the “11th hour” in an “irregular manner”?  The Constitution, I can assure the Senator, says nothing about any deadline or 11th hour or timeline of any kind for considering Supreme Court nominees.  Also, Merrick Garland, but I digress.  Article 2, section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution gives the president of the United States the responsibility of appointing people (not necessarily judges or even lawyers) to become “Judges of the Supreme Court,” and also gives the Senate the power to “advise and consent” on nominations.  There is nothing in article 2 or anywhere else in the Constitution about an “11th hour.”  Of course the Republican-controlled Senate is eager to confirm this nominee, and to attack the credibility of anyone standing in the way of their project to reshape the high court.  But they are hesitating, for good political reasons, to go forward with a vote on Kavanaugh.  And it has nothing at all to do with respect for the text or the original public meaning of the United States Constitution.

The midterm elections are so close now that as far as I am concerned, Mitch McConnell can do whatever he sees fit, and reap the benefit or pay the price.  He has no good choices, and he knows it.  When McConnell starts making process arguments, and dishonest ones at that, he’s losing.

Just A Day Of Ecumenical Outreach To The English Goths. No Poisoning, None At All, Why Would You Even Ask?

Salisbury Cathedral was marvelous, especially the 123-meter spire–no I did not just look that up on Wikipedia, I always wanted to see a spire of exactly 123 meters, in order to promote interfaith cooperation between the great Orthodox Christian white Russians and the antifascist English Gothics.  Poison? Why do you even bring that up, we were not in Ukraine or Moldova, we were in the land of the second homes of our best oligarchs, why would we risk poisoning one of their serfs?  The Czar would not ask us to do such a thing.

Putin’s trolling of the Anglo-Americans may have hit a peak of cynicism with the interview on Russian TV of the two alleged poisoners.  They say they were just visiting Salisbury Cathedral because they appreciate Gothic architecture, and the clock. Uh-huh.  Did they also enjoy Salisbury Cathedral’s (said to be the best preserved of the original 1215 documents) Magna Carta?  Maybe next time, eh?

https://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/magna-carta/what-magna-carta

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/we-were-just-visiting-the-cathedral-say-poison-suspects-8kwg225mg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Russian_Orthodox_Church

Google Pretends To Testify Before Congress Today, Raising The Question: Evil Or Stupid?

An official statement from Google’s public policy blog yesterday announced “Our Testimony to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”  But it wasn’t actually testimony, or even prepared remarks to kick off a day of actual testimony by a living human being.  It was merely a series of bullet points purporting, absurdly, to be “testimony.”  Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, bless their living beating hearts, actually showed up and testified this morning–perhaps evasively and self-servingly, but they testified.

Should we conclude that Google’s pretend testimony is the first fruit of their quiet abandonment of “don’t be evil” as company motto?  Or that Alphabet’s AI engines have malfunctioned and cannot comprehend the plain meaning of the word “testimony”?  In other words, “evil” or “stupid”?  I am agnostic on this question.

https://www.blog.google/outreach-initiatives/public-policy/our-testimony-us-senate-select-committee-intelligence/

https://gizmodo.com/google-removes-nearly-all-mentions-of-dont-be-evil-from-1826153393

Why Do We Perpetuate The Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations For Republicans In Congress?

It was nice to see yesterday that Republican Senator Ben Sasse recognizes that the United States is in danger of becoming a banana republic (in his statement criticizing President Trump’s tweet attacking the Attorney General for not blocking indictments of Republican Congressmen).  It was nice to see that Senator Jeff Flake also realizes that Trump’s open assault on the rule of law is problematic.  What’s more problematic, though, is that neither Sasse nor Flake seem to feel obliged to do anything about the threat of Trump’s subversion of justice.  I expect they want to run for president, and what senator doesn’t?  But they do not seem to see far enough out ahead to imagine that they have responsibilities, so long as they are in the Senate, to preserve and protect the Constitution.  If they want to be remembered well in the end, they and other Republicans in Congress would do well to realize that the crisis is upon them, and upon us.  Not that they should become Democrats, if they believe that the Republican Party can still be a vehicle for positive things.  But they can and should put sand in the gears of Trump’s attacks on the Department of Justice and the legitimate and necessary checks and balances on an obviously out-of-control president.  If they think that their actions and inactions are not being watched, they are fooling themselves.  They are in a pickle, all right.  I am honestly not sure what I would do in their position.  But if they want to be American heroes, this is their moment, now and for the rest of this Congressional session. Same goes for the rest of the GOP, including Speaker Ryan and Senator Collins and even Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley.  Even Dana Rohrabacher and Louie Gohmert.  Why let them be judged by the soft bigotry of low expectations?

If Rudy Giuliani Won’t Pontificate On Moral Theology, Who Will?–Or, “On The Splendor Of Rudolph Giuliani’s Moral Theology Of Truth”

It is a sad day when Rudy Giuliani crushes our spirits by asserting that he will not “pontificate” on moral theology.  This comes after he appeared to do a full “final, essential command” straight outta 1984 by saying that “truth is not truth.”  Let me be perfectly clear that I do not wish to entrap Rudy in a moral theological perjury trap. He did it all by his very own faux-thug self.

Why don’t we leave aside the evident falsity of Mr. Giuliani’s assertions that nobody knew nothing about any Russian government involvement in the June 9, 2016 meeting; and moreover, let’s ignore the does-not-pass-laugh-test claim that the colluding colluders did not even know that “Natalia Veselnitskaya” was a Russian.  The cardinal point Rudy both fails to enunciate explicitly–and yet paradoxically embodies–is the urgency, in our current predicament, of an accurate interpretation of the moral theological principle St. Thomas elaborates in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Book Seven.  I refer of course to “Continence and Incontinence.”  (Certain chapters in Book Six, which explicates the intellectual virtues, are certainly relevant here, e.g. the chapters on “eubulia” (excellence in deliberating) and “moral virtue and prudence,”  but tant pis, tempus fugit, so on we go to continence and incontinence.  This is the elephant in the room, really: we have an incontinent president–seriously, if not literally.  There’s no getting around it and there’s no easy way of hiding from the stench.  Thomas Aquinas, as ever, is expert at sorting out the subcategories and distinctions.  Are we dealing with partial or unqualified incontinence? What is the relation of continence to pleasure-seeking?  Is all pleasure-seeking “softness”?  In what circumstances are incontinent persons reduced to bestiality?  Are the intemperate worse than the incontinent?  How is obstinacy related to continence and incontinence?  I refer readers to the print version of Thomas’s Commentary, available in English translation by C.I. Litzinger, published by Dumb Ox Books (1993). Or to the online link via DHSPriory.org (won’t copy and paste for some reason).

As Mr. Giuliani said in his “pontification” tweet this morning, “sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth other times it doesn’t.”  I say we must have a thorough investigation into the following question: in what ways is our president continent or incontinent? I am confident that a fair and rigorous, though not obstinate, inquiry will be a balm for our country.  Our country has a habit of turning all political questions into legal questions (as de Tocqueville wrote almost 200 years ago).  This has had some good consequences, and limited some bad effects of our often intemperate habits.  But along with the urgent legal questions we are now marinated in, let us raise our sights–not in a pontificating way, but in an inquiring way, and see where the inquiry takes us.  And let’s not let anyone short-circuit either the legal inquiry or the moral inquiry.

 

P.S. A reading suggesion for co-religionists of Mr. Giuliani, and perhaps others–a papal encyclical on the splendor of truth, “Veritatis Splendor.”

 

 

 

 

 

Are 13 Angry Democrats Enough? 17? How About 535?

At first there were, in the president’s deceitful tweets, a mere 13 “angry Democrats” after him.  Now, I guess in homage to Q or Qanon or whatever, the number has increased to 17 supposedly “angry Democrats” from the purported “criminal deep state” who are hell-bent on colluding to take down this amazingly patriotic president.

If there really was a deep state intent on stopping Donald Trump, he would be in prison right now (h/t Howard Fineman twitter).  He would have been exposed during the 2016 election, if not before.  He would be doing hard time for any number of financial crimes, not to mention witness tampering, obstruction of justice, tax fraud, and on and on.  I suppose it’s a good thing that the country is not what Trump says it is.  That said, I don’t think 13 or even 17 angry Democrats is nearly enough, not this year.  This country needs 535 Democrats (or close to it) elected to Congress this November 6, because the entire Republican Party–from Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan on down to bozos and Russian puppets like Dana Rohrabacher, Steve King, Rand Paul, Louie Gohmert, and Jim Jordan–have shown themselves almost completely incapable of any oversight of the corrupt executive branch and the apparent foreign asset in the White House.  The Republican Party agenda has devolved into nothing more helpful to the “forgotten men and women” than tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Rather than protecting Americans against evildoers, they have either accepted or insisted on the dismantling of regulations that protect clean air, clean water, collective bargaining, and safe food and drugs.  The Republican Party does not deserve the benefit of the doubt when it fails to protect Americans against the tyrannical impulses of our toddler-in-chief.  I am all for voting for the best candidate in local and even state-level elections, and ordinarily for the best available candidate in federal elections.  But this year, to preserve and protect the Constitution and to protect the greatness of this country, Republicans must be sent packing.  Let them regroup and rethink what they’re doing for at least a couple of years. We had best not miss this chance to put a check on a president who has no feel for freedom, or separation of powers, or checks and balances, or much of anything that has made this country great.

P.S. Of course the 535 do not all need to be angry all the time–but they should be capable of outrage at what is outrageous.

Lowlife Says What?

Why on earth is President Trump bothering to tell us that he condemns “all types of racism”?  Why is signifying worse than lying? Why doesn’t he just admit that Christmas this year is going to be whiter than ever in his White House? Why, that is, is he insisting on being so pseudo-correct?  We know that he is pretending to believe that discrimination against forgotten white people is a greater threat than any other form of discrimination.  We do not need Omarosa telling tales about the bad words he supposedly spews to know that he is playing his base of the “poorly educated” (his words) white non-college graduates for fools.  Why do I say “for fools”? Because he is trying to sell them junk streetsurance, trying to get them to accept the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act by insinuating that it benefits the wrong people, trying to distract them with trash-talking black athletes, trying to bamboozle them with tough talk about brown people in Iran and Chicago and on the border and in the bushes of their neighborhoods, that’s why.  Trump is trying to get his base riled up so they put aside his attacks on collective bargaining and safety net programs and environmental laws (that hurt the “forgotten men and women” sooner and more than they do the wealthy).

But I believe that the mask has slipped a little when the president of the US is calling a woman he knew for many years before his election, and hired for a White House job–which cost taxpayers like you and me hundreds of thousands of dollars–when he calls her names like “lowlife,” you have to wonder, who is really the lowlife?  You have to wonder whether and hope that voters will take the time to show up in November and put a check on the power of our lowlife president.  Sorry if that’s not politically correct, but let’s call it what it obviously is.  Let the president whistle his fake-PC condemnation of “all types of racism,” and let voters condemn all types of Trumpism.

At Least He Didn’t Chew The Incriminating Paper While Wearing A Tan Suit

Who among us is surprised to hear (from possibly unreliable witness Omarosa!) that President Donald J. Trump chews and eats paper in the Oval Office? Not you and not me. Especially if it was a piece of incriminating paper given to him by Michael Cohen, as reports today indicate.  But, to be fair, the president of the “forgotten man” was at least not wearing a tan suit, so we’re good.  Unless we hear next that there was collusion involving illegal insider trading and newsprint tariffs.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/03/paper-paging-through-history-review-mark-kurlansky-rembrandt-gutenberg-picasso-apple-pencil

New York Times and Times of London Appear, Sadly, To Have Run Out Of Ink To Write Headlines

Today brought almost identical headlines from the NYT (“President Admits Focus of Trump Tower Meeting Was Getting Dirt on Clinton”) and the Times of London (“Trump admits son was getting dirt on Clinton”).  What set me off was not the difference in capitalized vs. non-capitalized words.  Nor was it that one paper may have copied from the other.  What got to me was the sad feeling that they had both clearly run out of digital ink.  Did they not have enough to inform readers? To say clearly what the real headline ought to have been?

Real headline from a hypothetical real paper: “President Trump Admits Campaign Meeting Was Getting Dirt On Clinton From Foreign Nationals, Which Is A Felony–And By The Way Throwing Son Under Bus By Claiming He, Trump Sr., Knew Nothing, Which Is Both Terribly Implausible And Utterly Dishonorable.” There, fixed it, you’re welcome, Timeses.

Could This Q Person Be That Nasty Queen Who Kept Our Great President Waiting?

Cannot believe the nerve of that old woman Queen Elizabeth 2, keeping our wonderful president waiting for several agonizing minutes at Windsor the other day.  That is, I literally cannot believe the story, because I literally saw the queen of England standing in the heat and looking at her watch at 4:57 or so.  The American president did show up at 5 or 5:01, so he perhaps did not break protocol, strictly, but come on, Trump–she kept you waiting? Please, your emperorship, stand down for once in your life.

Re this whole Q thing, since O Anon seems to be taken, which I would otherwise have used (Occamites Anonymous), I am going to have to settle for a counter-protest group that I will call P Anon, for Parsimonious Anonymous.  PP Anon (for Parsimonious People Anonymous), alas, is already taken up by the “dodgy dossier” conspiracists.  Speaking of unbelievable, it is beyond obvious that the president of the United States is acting as if he’s guilty of something really bad.  That’s good enough for me to vote for Democratic candidates across the board, even if they may not have always blown their noses into silk hankerchiefs with the utmost discreetness at all times.

From Gaslighting To Shovelware: A Brief History Of The Propaganda Techniques of Our President

First off, I am tired of hearing the word “meddling.”  Russian military intelligence officers and Internet Research Agency trolls did not merely “meddle” in the 2016 election.  Those who repeat this minimizing term are doing our democratic republic no favors.

Second, it is past time to give this president the benefit of the doubt about anything he says.  I get that many of us have a deep desire to believe that our authority figures are protecting us, or are at least on our side, or failing that at least somewhat reliable witnesses.  I like presidents who haven’t been captured as much as the next person, but this president is compromised.  We need to deal with it.

My best hope is that enough eligible voters will be motivated to show up November 6 and put Trump in check, the way the framers of our Constitution hoped would happen when despotic political leaders took office.  Alexander Hamilton would be surprised by the election of someone like Trump (see Federalist #68), but he would be truly appalled if the people failed, at their next biennial opportunity, to use the checks and balances written into the Constitution to limit the power of somebody like our 45th president.  My best hope, in other words, is that enough voters have enough sense to see Trump’s gaslighting (impressively diligent though it is) for what it really is–just shovelware.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=shovelware

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shovelware

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-12-02-0184-0002–See Objection XIV

Al Sharpton To Michael Cohen: “What The Hell Do You Have To Lose?”

And still Donald Trump continues to insist that “karma is not a bitch,” even as Michael Cohen realizes that, as Al Sharpton told him, “what the hell do you have to lose?”  I am thinking, maybe there’s something going on.

New Presidential Clarification: I Meant To Say Karma Is Not, Repeat Not, A Bitch

Responding to the revelation that (hallelujah) there is a tape (how many?) of Mr. Trump talking hush hush with Cohen, Donald J. Trump has announced that all these years he has really been saying “karma is not a bitch.”  And we were mistaken, Trump added, to think that when he said “lock her up, lock her up” that he meant those words to be taken literally or seriously.  In related news, Vladimir Putin denied that he was not thinking about flipping his support to the Democrats for the midterms.

New York Times And Washington Post Struggling To Stop Giving Trump The Benefit Of The Doubt Today

Today’s top headlines are still Trump-indulgent, for shame.  NY Times: “Trump Says He Misspoke On Russian Role; Under Fire, He Says He Accepts U.S. Reports On Meddling.”  Yes those things happens, but in the very same breath, President Trump said “could be other people also. A lot of other people out there.”  He did not say “what about the 400-pound guy on the sofa in Jersey,” but Trump followers got the message, which is, yeah he said thing A because the lugenpresse and Soros and the Left made him but he also said thing B (the 400-pound guy) to own the libs, and we get it and the elites don’t.

The Washington Post fell into the same trap of indulging the rightwing strategy of getting-dotard-off-the-hook-and-pass-more-tax-cuts-quick.  Their story quoted the “could be other people” message in the first paragraph, but the headline was just as off base as the NYT’s: “Under fire, Trump says he accepts intelligence on Russian interference.”  True as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.  What part of their own columnist Margaret Sullivan’s advice about giving readers a “truth sandwich” do the Post headline writers still fail to grasp?

P.S. To its credit, CNN (both Brooke Baldwin and Jake Tapper) have dealt skeptically today with Trump’s message, dealing precisely with the issues above.  Note to Marty Baron: I know you are busy, but headlines are very important. To Dean Baquet: it’s not a “great f—ing story” anymore if you eff it up.

Trump (On Hannity’s Show) Confirms “President Putin Is Living Rent-Free In My Head”

In case it wasn’t absolutely clear from the Helsinki press conference, Donald J. Trump has officially confirmed in a TV interview aired on the Hannity show yesterday that Vladimir Putin is giving him direction on how to respond to Robert Mueller’s investigation. Also, in 2013, many many years ago, as President Putin said, I Donald Trump was just one more wannabe pimp. And “he also says there is absolutely no collusion, which you know, and Tucker standing over there definitely knows, because he gets it.  He’s one of the people that get it.”  Now I’m wondering whether Putin gets it, or Tucker gets it, or both.  I think they both get it, it being the absolute lack of collusion.  OK settled that.  Four hours ago, everything changed at the end of a very very long period of time when we came to a lot of really good conclusions. And “foreign relations, I’m going to have a great story.”  A story of me bowing low.  “I did say, you have to pay up.”  And President Putin, he told me to tell everybody that the Mueller witch hunt is a real shame and Russia might have to attack us if we don’t get rid of the Mueller shame. He, Putin, felt is was very hard for me, Donald Trump, to make a deal because of, you know, all of this nonsense and much of the muchness of the case.

Lots Of Low Energy Learned Helplessness From Republicans Today, Wonder Why?

Donald Trump is very strong. He tells it like it is. The world is very dangerous, but Mr. Trump is the one, the only one, who can keep us safe.

That was before yesterday.  Now what?  Many Republicans are now in hiding.  A few (many of whom are retiring) have made critical statements referencing “Russia” as a problem, but not “Trump,” as if “Trump” had little or nothing to do with “Russia.”  Funny, my lying eyes just witnessed President Trump bowing down low, sucking up, accepting a large ball as a gift, and disrespecting American law enforcement and intelligence agencies while standing right next to the former KGB agent who has been the dictator of Russia since before Trump even made it onto reality TV.  Maybe I’ll forget all about that quickly.

As far as I can tell, the Republican appeasement-of-the-appeaser strategy is going as follows: yeah, it wasn’t a good moment, but her emails, but dangerous gangs of Central American brown people, but it’s really all under control, but your tax cuts and Supreme Court.  Maybe it’ll work.  But the “Democrats are talking crazy talk about Russia” thing is not going to fly so well anymore.  The “witch hunt” thing isn’t looking so good anymore (Ryan even said explicitly today that Mueller’s investigation should continue).  Most of all, the “Republican presidents are strong and tough” thing has been pretty well punctured.  Some people on Fox will say Trump can “correct his mistake.”  It’s not so easy, we saw what we saw, the nonverbal messages are not so easy to erase with a tweet or with blathering words.

The learned Republican helplessness won’t help them much either–at least if Democrats continue to pound them every day with the things that Congress actually can and should do: pass a law to protect Mueller.  The Senate Judiciary Committee already passed such a bill 14-7 out of committee, but McConnell refuses to put it on the Senate floor, because of course it would pass. It would not be law unless the House passed it, which is unlikely, but it would be some deterrent to Trump.  Congress could subpoena Trump’s tax returns and business records as part of an investigation into what he owes to Russia.  The House Intelligence Committee could reopen its investigation into Russia-Trump ties, without Devin Nunes on the committee.  All of this might or might not result in impeachment–which is fine, because what is most urgently needed right now is not immediate impeachment, but actual oversight.  The media should not excuse Republicans for their learned helplessness–that would be the soft bigotry of low expectations, wouldn’t it?

Spare Us The “I’m Shocked, Shocked” Reactions To The Helsinki Press Conference

Yes, Trump did go overboard in blowing any remaining cover.  In fact Putin may have tried to dial it down a couple of times (along with dunking on Trump a couple of times, e.g. “are you kidding, of course I wanted this puppet Trump to become president”).  But some of the hot takes from reporters that they are “shocked” makes me wonder: have you considered reassessing your assumptions? your reflexive “bothsidesism”? what news sources have you been reading and watching for the past three years?

Rootless Cosmopolitan President Loses The Run Of Himself In England

Between “I miss the name ‘England’ and insulting the Prime Minister in a tabloid interview and making Queen Elizabeth II wait ten minutes for his arrival while she stood out in the hot sun, the President of the United States lost the run of himself this week.  I agree with the notion that it’s not enough to say that he is a moron–it’s more complicated.  I’m sure that along with the buffoonish commentary about “the name ‘England'” that he intended to bully Prime Minister May by touting Boris Johnson and insinuating that he had a secret sauce for negotiating Brexit and that May has foolishly failed to heed his (so far and probably forever unspecified, like his taxes) brilliantly “brutal” advice.  The purpose of all that was to weaken the existing government, making the “Leavers” feel Trump will surely give them a deal that is the “highest level of special,” all for the sake of making Trump look like he alone can solve the UK’s problems.

He, Trump, may or may not be consciously following a playbook that Putin or his minions have laid out explicitly.  Trump has, though, had contacts with Russians going back over thirty years, long before Putin became czar.  Nevertheless, the Soviets of the 1980s had and Putin today has a consistent purpose: attack the main enemy, the US, via maskirovka aimed at sowing internal divisions.  With Trump they managed to hit the jackpot.  Bullying and autocratic rule and thuggishness have been in Trump’s head (and heart, to speak loosely) for his whole life.  When Trump warned the other day that Europeans had “better watch themselves” lest they lose their “culture,” he was parroting straight-up white nationalist rhetoric, rhetoric that many in Congress, Republican as well as Democrat, have denounced for decades.  But the Republican Party leadership, Senate and House, is now going almost completely silent as Trump becomes ever more open in his alliance with voices that until very recently were completely off-limits for their openly racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim abuse.  Sam Brownback, Trump’s “ambassador for international religious freedom,” has apparently threatened British officials with reprisals if they do not release Tommie Robinson–that is way out of the bounds of how the US and UK have dealt with one another.  It is apparently not enough for the president to issue pardons to wingnut “sovereign citizens” and arsonists, now they want to meddle in British justice on behalf of the so-called English Defence League.

Who is really the “rootless cosmopolitan” in 2018?  That phrase was used to target Jews in the 20th century. Trump has his own version of racial dog whistling and targeting.  His rhetoric is approaching klaxon horn volume–but he is dangerous precisely because, as so often, he is projecting onto others his own weaknesses.  If there was ever a truly and pitifully rootless wannabe cosmopolitan in our time, he’s it.

https://thinkprogress.org/trump-people-dont-talk-about-england-d3924f0b548b/

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jul/14/trump-may-and-fake-schmooze-todays-front-pages

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-britain-robinson/trumps-ambassador-lobbied-britain-on-behalf-of-jailed-right-wing-activist-tommy-robinson-idUSKBN1K331J

Mueller Removed Agent Strzok From The Trump-Russia Investigation A Year Ago So He’s Old News–But Today’s Hearing Is Still Quite A Show

Robert Mueller removed Peter Strzok from the Russia case about a year ago.  Strzok exercised poor judgment on several fronts. I do not have great faith in Strzok’s assertions that his official actions were not affected by his personal opinions–though it’s worth saying that Strzok, unlike the NY FBI office, does not seem to have threatened to leak or have leaked for political purposes any damaging information about FBI investigations I think Mueller did the right thing sending him packing.   I am thus not sure what point Republicans thought they would be making today, other than to air out Strzok’s embarrassingly dirty laundry, which at this point has little to do with Mueller if one is actually following facts rather than titillating insinuations.  Though I don’t trust Strzok much, the behavior today of Congressmen Goodlatte and Gowdy is at least as tawdry.  Goodlatte has little clue about parliamentary procedure, which may have led him into a Democratic trap.  It is pretty rich that Goodlatte would threaten Strzok with contempt citations (for following FBI legal instructions to refrain from answering any questions bearing on an ongoing investigation) when Steve Bannon faced no such similar compulsion.  Goodlatte’s refusal to let Strzok consult an FBI lawyer this morning would be laughably corrupt if it weren’t such an ominous sign.  Republican refusal to conduct impartial oversight–or much oversight of Trump at all–was never on clearer display than today.  Congressional hectoring of witnesses looks unseemly, but that’s not new.  What’s dangerous is Republican political sabotage of an investigation into Russian political sabotage of our elections.

 

P.S. Further evidence of meddling:

https://mobile.twitter.com/KBAndersen/status/1017459271821381634

The President Doesn’t Need To Read The Black Book Of Communism, Putin Will Read It Aloud For Him

 

The Crimes, the Terror, and the Repression that the Black Book of Communism (1997) describe are likely to fascinate Donald Trump as Vladimir Putin–who speaks pretty good English, I have heard–reads the black book lullaby aloud during their summit meeting.  I expect Putin to lull Trump into a dreamlike fugue state as Trump imagines how beautiful it would be to wield dictatorial power that so far he has just glimpsed longingly from afar.

By the way, what the hell were 7 Republicans from the US Senate doing in Russia on the 4th of July? Where, in particular, do Senator Ron Johnson’s loyalties lie?

If Donald Trump is not following Putin’s script in Europe this week, how would we know the difference? Yes, some NATO countries have not yet reached the 2% of GDP military spending target yet, but the agreed deadline is 2024. Yes, Germany’s dependence on Russian pipelines is troubling (at least to some Eastern Europeans, whom Russia could cut off more easily if Germany increases capacity on a route that bypasses East Europe; also US natural gas producers don’t like it), but Trump gave a wildly exaggerated picture.  Germany gets less than 10% of its energy from Russia.  Trump may have been accurate when he threw out “60-70% of gas,” but natural gas is just a small part of Germany’s energy use. Trump probably knew he was spreading lies when he said Germany is “totally captive to Russia,” and he has already moved on to spread other lies in Brussels and London.  Europeans would do well to increase military spending–for their own reasons–but Trump forgets to mention that NATO’s Article 5 clause of mutual self-defense has been triggered just once–in the fall of 2001, after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.  NATO soldiers from several countries have died in Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere in support of policies driven by American presidents. Trump does have at least half a point in pushing NATO nations to increase their spending (the “half against” argument might be that the US spends far less than 2% of its GDP on military efforts related to NATO countries, though some military assets are mobile enough to reach Europe fairly quickly), but his careening from one extreme position to another is not encouraging me that we have a very stable genius as president.

 

P.S. The latest revelations from the Financial Times about Russian money in Trump’s Toronto project are looking unclean:

http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674076082

Are You Being Groomed To Love The New Name Of Our National Capital?

“Chinese government bans media criticism of President Trump”–today’s Washington Post.  And why not, in spite of the tariffs thing, dictators gonna dictate it comes to suppressing free speech and showing that they’re “strong leaders.”  Speaking of which, the summit is going to be so easy for our Trump because he has a special gift for Putin, even better than a Rocket Man CD.  Trump will be announcing that our national capital will be renamed in October (to commemorate the October Revolution, naturally) as “Putingrad,” which may not roll off the tongue quite yet.  But after a few years of mandatory Russian in mandatory Christian academy white nationalist charter schools, it’ll go down easy.

Trump Announces That Merkel Is The Puppet Not Him–And That Next War Will Be Fought On Rockaway Beach And Virginia Beach, Not (As We Had Figured) In Latvia And Estonia

If President Trump had called out German Chancellor Angela Merkel to her face for Germany’s supposed “captivity” to Russia, instead of yammering at a Norwegian (Stoltenberg) about Germany’s pipeline, I would be ready to say he might have half a point.  But as it is, he smiled in the photo shoot with Merkel, and so I have to keep it 100 and call our US president the cowardly weasel he is.  It was embarrassing and sickening to see Trump try his “no puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet” routine on Merkel.  She had a firm yet courteous response to Trump: I grew up in Russian-controlled East Germany, and am happy to live in a unified and free Germany where we make our own decisions. Other European leaders will, I hope, learn from Merkel’s response to Trump.  Trump’s cult followers may be willing to have Trump groom them to see Putin as an ally in the white nationalist cause, but I expect a wave of anti-Trump revulsion this November.  European leaders and others will, I hope, hang in there until Trump is cut down to size by actual constitutionally-based oversight from the next House of Representatives.

To Win Midterms, Democrats Need To Reset Their Heuristics About Other People’s Availability Heuristics

Fancy words, I know.  I just mean that leading Democrats–from Schumer and Pelosi on down–ought to get more realistic about what their likely voters are really like.  Their likely voters, contrary to some Democrats’ pleasantly self-flattering availability heuristics, are not necessarily very well-informed about the details of government policy, or federal agency regulations, or the subtleties of Chevron deference.  Also, Trump lies, but not as many people care about that as Democrats would like to think.  Democrats, to win the midterms, must transmit cues to voters that are easily understandable and emotionally compelling–healthcare sabotage by Trump; the threat to pre-existing conditions coverage; the threat to women’s access to birth control as well as abortion; the crushing burdens of our new Gilded Age, especially the social insecurity.  Trump boosters love to say “promises kept,” but Democrats need to counter that by saying over and over that wage growth is stagnant, that regular people are bearing heavier burdens while the 1% and fake corporate people are living high on the hog, and most of all, that Republican cruelty and harshness is not a natural law but a deliberate choice Trump’s party has made because Trump could not care less about working Americans.  Seventy-eight foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago is not America first. Tolerating Wilbur Ross’s insider trading is not draining the swamp. The swamp creatures in Trump’s cabinet.  The see-no-evil denials of sexual abuse by people like Jim Jordan.  And the danger of an out-of-control president who has no clue about what has made America great and no respect or feeling for freedom.  Democrats must not assume that people have leisure time to keep up with complicated story lines.  Motivating those who already despise Trump and will crawl over glass to vote Democratic this November–that’s already baked in, but it’s not enough to win.  Democratic politicians who really want to put a check on Trump’s power must stop flattering themselves that “their” voters are more informed and can’t be fooled by Trump.  The millions of disaffected, jaded, harried, troubled, people who may or may not bother to vote need to hear short and sweet messages, over and over.  They need to hear that Republicans are not doing squat to protect the forgotten men and women, and on the positive side that Democrats will defend economic opportunities for young people, healthcare security for everyone, and American freedoms against anybody who thinks that they are king.

Zero Tolerance For Noncompliance With Federal Court Orders–Looking At You, ICE And Jeff Sessions

It would be sad and low energy for the bureaucrats at ICE and the Justice Department to fail to comply with federal court orders regarding their abusive, inhumane, and illegal treatment of asylum seekers.  Maybe the judges should issue contempt citations and lock up a few of the recalcitrant bureaucrats to focus their minds.  I am not saying that any particular asylum seeker is entitled in any way to refuge in the United States.  I am not saying that everyone seeking entry into the US has a valid claim.  I am not in favor of open borders. I am in favor of zero tolerance for felonies.  For example, securities fraud and insider trading. If, and only if, Wilbur Ross has committed crimes, he should be locked up.  If, and only if, Jeff Sessions has committed perjury, he should be locked up.  Same goes for Donald Trump Jr.  Money laundering, zero tolerance. Perjury, zero tolerance. Tax evasion, zero tolerance.

P.S. I think “abolish ICE” is a dopey approach from a political standpoint for many if not most Democratic politicians, who should join together to push for better health care for all Americans and better educational opportunities–starting with early education.  And do attack Republican corruption and child abuse, the more vividly the better.  Do not assume that any potential voter has time to pay attention to the NYT or the Washington Post or even CNN, because many are too busy getting by. Re the Supreme Court, yes Roe is important, but so is the way the Supreme Court has made life more and more difficult for working people, in or out of unions.

Theresa May And Her Cabinet Play “Let’s Keep Pretending A Little Longer”

UK Prime Minister Theresa May kidnapped her Cabinet, brought them to Chequers in Buckinghamshire, and emerged triumphantly with promises of “Deal for Britain” and “Brexit Clarity.”  One can imagine that her ministers did not want to resign now, if only to avoid the mile walk down the Chequers driveway during a heat wave–but the clock continues ticking toward March 2019.  There is no way the EU is going to go along with the UK renouncing free movement and “taking back control” of borders; and avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland as well as Northern Ireland and Great Britain; and enjoying a UK-EU free trade area for agricultural products and industrial goods; and the UK renouncing ECJ jurisdiction and common fisheries policy.  She might convince many Leavers that the EU is rude and treacherous when they refuse to go along with this; she might even snap and start mouthing lines like Boris’s “F— Business” herself.  Maybe the UK will be in a stronger bargaining position next winter and May will get everything she is promising, but it’s hard to see how that’ s plausible.  It’s not easy to accept being a former empire in continuing (relative) decline.

https://twitter.com/hashtag/DealForBritain?src=hash

When President Trump’s Older Sister Was Two Years Old, The Soviets Bombed Helsinki

Does President Trump know that Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union during his sister’s lifetime? Or that Finland was part of the Russian Empire during his father and mother’s lifetime? History sometimes seems to have begun fresh every morning for the president of the United States.  If only someone suspicious of the Russians and Chinese and North Koreans–John Bolton comes to mind–were keeping an eye on this, and giving the president good advice, and not buying into the talking points of Putin and Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping.  If only two or three Republicans in the US Senate cared enough about “country over party” to say out loud that the Russians and the North Koreans and the Chinese might not actually follow up on their very beautiful handshakes with our stable genius president.  If only…

 

Update: and now we learn that US Secretary of State Pompeo delivered a Trump-signed CD of Elton John’s Rocket Man to Kim Jong Un the other day.  There is no bottom.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Finnish_wars

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_War

On Civility: Democrats Should Be Wise As Serpents And Innocent As Doves–Absolutely, Be Civil, But That Is Not The Same As Being Deferential Or Patient

David Gergen, among others, was dragged a lot recently for saying that the civil rights movement (and antiwar movement) was very civil in tone when compared with today’s protesters.  He seems to have had a memory lapse about the antiwar movement, but he did have a point about the civil rights movement, up to and including the events in Selma of 1965.  Of course the police were not very civil (with the notable exception of Laurie Pritchett of Albany, Georgia, which progressive activists should study), and King wrote a searing critique of white moderates in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” but King and other leaders of the freedom movement preached and practiced nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as both strategy and way of life.  The attacks on the freedom riders and voting rights organizers were not civil at all, but the ideology of the freedom struggle itself was focused on resistance that respected the humanity and dignity of everyone, including and especially the oppressors.

Today’s protesters, if they really want to advance the cause of refugees, people of color, poor white people, and alienated white working-class (and relatively wealthy but anti-cosmopolitan) Trump supporters who knew he was a horrible human being but figured what the hell let’s roll the dice–winning the votes of enough people to grab some levers of power and oversight to put a check on the abuses of Trump is going to take some self-discipline and focus.  Restraint and civility and decency are not for suckers, they are virtues for serious people determined to make a change for the better.  Civil resistance to Trump is not at all about placating or deferring to Trump or his sometimes vicious cult followers.  It’s about regaining our democratic republic and our Constitution and our freedoms.  Civil resistance to Trump is not accepting mental Finlandization, it’s the best way to keep our whole country from being Finlandized by a rogue president.

 

https://newrepublic.com/minutes/149387/civility-debate-forgetting-70s

https://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/B-0027/menu.html

https://books.google.com/books?id=OtlLAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA29&lpg=PA29&dq=sheriff+laurie+pritchett+will+campbell&source=bl&ots=cuK0GSmynr&sig=zdU3Z8-jrJYjjJVai-_ksuprNbA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjku7fo0_7bAhX4HTQIHcofCsAQ6AEINDAC#v=onepage&q=sheriff%20laurie%20pritchett%20will%20campbell&f=false

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/trump-is-pushing-the-atlantic-alliance-to-the-breaking-point/2018/06/30/c054f0dc-7c8e-11e8-80be-6d32e182a3bc_story.html?utm_term=.2a7f7baac6b6

https://www.aeinstein.org/nonviolentaction/198-methods-of-nonviolent-action/

Will Senator Susan Collins Apply Strict Scrutiny To The Next Supreme Court Nominee?

Three of the five Republican women in the US Senate are ostensibly pro-Roe.  Of those three, Murkowski and Capito have kept, as best I can tell, a prudent public silence about the impending Supreme Court nomination. Susan Collins of Maine, however, has been eager to let us all know that she has red lines.  She has said she cannot support a nominee who shows “hostility” to the Roe precedent.  If she actually applies “strict scrutiny” to the statements the president and the nominee make in coming weeks, good for her.  But she has a history of gaslighting her own constituents (the ACA repeal vote was an exception, to be fair) and I suspect she will find a way to apply “pretend-basis scrutiny” and be “shocked, shocked” when she runs for re-election in 2020.  Or, if the Court does not officially overrule Roe but merely narrows it to the width of the “eye of a needle,” Collins will say with a cheerful smile that there really isn’t any problem.

P.S. Of course the president says he has told not to ask potential nominees about Roe.  As John Poindexter said, it’s all about plausible deniability.

The “Cut Flower Culture” Of Rootless Anti-Cosmopolitan Republicans In The Time Of Trump

Will Herberg, Jewish Marxist-turned-National Review conservative, coined the phrase “cut flower culture” to criticize the rootless modernity he saw as destined to wither and die.  Today’s Trump cult followers may believe they are in glorious full flower.  Do they have any sense of what they have abandoned?  I would think it take some fancy mental footwork to toss aside so many purportedly deep convictions: judicial restraint, respect for precedent, hatred of tyrannical government, devotion to states’ rights, resistance to overbearing executive power, antipathy toward any politician who shows disrespect for veterans and women and POWs and free speech and who says “I alone can fix it”–I could swear that all of that would matter to anyone who is actually attached to small-c conservatism and our constitutional republic.  But the Trump cult shows up how shallow the roots of Republican principles really are.  Selective memory understates the problem.  The followers of Trump have shown themselves to be rootless anti-cosmopolitans.  Their inevitable withering will not be pretty to see.

Yes You Will Keep “Funding This Tripe”

Following the Brexit bickering in UK papers, I see quite a few Leavers intoning that they will “no longer fund this tripe,” meaning they want to stop paying into the bank accounts of bothersome bureaucrats in Brussels. But do these leavers know from whence their tripe soup cometh?  Yeah, Eastern Europe, very likely.  I’m betting that the anti-tripe-funders are going to find themselves paying even more for their beloved tripe next spring, unless they can boost UK tripe production numbers in a big way–which actually seems probable, judging from the comical to-and-fro of blame-shifting that will only intensify between now and next March

My Not-Flashy-Slogan Is “Restructure ICE,” and Why “Abolish ICE” Is Not And Should Not Be The Same As “Open Borders”

“Restructure ICE” is not exactly a sexy clickbait slogan, but it is a better slogan, tactically and strategically, than Abolish ICE.  The government employees who work for ICE are a mixed multitude, I imagine.  Some may have joined for better reasons than others.  Some, I suppose, were working for a different agency and got folded into ICE.  Any political slogan that fails to recognize the humanity and the need for a paycheck of ICE employees is not based on sound strategic thought.  That said, calls by Senators Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley, and Kirsten Gillibrand are worth looking at for what they actually propose.  If ICE is not fulfilling a mission that we the people are happy with, we need–via our elected representatives–to alter (or, if necessary, abolish) it.  The thread below by Moira Whelan explains the issues very well, in my opinion.  “Open Borders” is never going to be a popular proposal, by the way.  Democratic politicians should make that clear yesterday–do not let Trump lie about you without hitting him back ten times as hard with tireless repetition of your actual positions, and then (and only then) by pointing out his deceptions and deflections and lies.  Customs agents have been around for centuries, and they will, and should, continue to be there for border control.  But if ICE is not protecting us from terrorists and gangs and drugs, and if the president’s policies are giving us less protection against gangs and drugs, we ought to know that–and Democrats as well as conscientious reporters should emphasize it.

https://mobile.twitter.com/moira/status/1012882770207571968

Charting The President’s Complete Disregard For The “Forgotten American Men And American Women”

The chart below, from the St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve, shows the dramatic shift in who’s carrying the burden of funding the US government.  No wonder the corks popped in the boardrooms and the third homes of the super-rich!  There are minor shifts and there is one huge drop-off–that would be corporate tax payments to the Treasury.  No problem? Not unless you were expecting that you, a living, breathing person, wouldn’t be stuck paying for the two big-ticket items, that is the military and the social safety net.  If corporations don’t pay nearly as much, guess what? You and I, natural persons, we pay.  If your income is mainly from investments, you are probably in luck, though–the class war has gone your way.

 

https://fredblog.stlouisfed.org/2018/06/movement-of-the-federal-tax-receipt-front/

(H/T Paul Krugman tweet)

Supporting Seniors! Women’s Rights! The Real Elitists Of Hannityworld Say “Quelle Horreur”

Sean Hannity actually put up the graphic shown below on his TV show the other day.  He apparently thinks it’s a horror story.  Who will let him know that his day has come and gone?  He and Trump may have “nicer boats,” as Trump said in Fargo, but I sure hope they don’t have more votes!

https://mobile.twitter.com/nycsouthpaw/status/1012403674562297856

“One-on-One” Talks In Helsinki? Isn’t There A Third In The Room?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump are planning to meet in Helsinki next month for what will reportedly be “one-on-one” talks.  There is plenty of reason to believe that this is a misnomer.  What worries me most is the “third” lurking in the background.  Putin, you can be sure, does not actually need to bring a literal pee tape into the room.  Putin does not need to place on the table a pile of transcripts of all the kompromat material he has intercepted from Trump Tower and Trump’s Samsung phone.  Putin is already living, as the saying goes, rent-free in our president’s head.  No wonder if Trump agrees to do Putin’s bidding.  Easing off sanctions imposed by the US and EU after the little green Russian men invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, that would be a big plus for Putin.  Russian state TV is already crowing that “Trump is ours.”  Imagine what they will say after this summit–especially if Putin leans on Trump to say negative things about NATO.  I’ll concede that Trump, even leaving aside the likely effect on his brain of Putin’s kompromat and blackmail operation, is temperamentally opposed to alliances of democratic republics, and temperamentally attracted to thuggish rulers.  But what Putin has on Trump sure seems to be pretty heavy.  I do hope that Robert Mueller, the Southern District of NY prosecutors, the NY Attorney General, and the media bring even more unambiguous evidence of Trump’s collusion to light, and soon.  If Manafort really owed Oleg Deripaska ten million bucks, for example, that in itself may not implicate Trump–but it’s just one example of a nefarious web, far worse than Watergate or the Teapot Dome or Iran-Contra, in my opinion.

The one-on-one is bad enough.  It’s the “third” mediating terms that are even more dangerous.

Justice Kennedy Concurring This Morning: “But Don’t Think You Can Turn Up The Temperature Of The Water In This Pot Which Is Already Hot Enough For Me”

Justice Roberts this morning: I am signaling my virtue by issuing the dicta that  Korematsu was a bad decision and totally not relevant to 2018.  Also we are not experiencing anything like the 1930s at all.

Justice Sotomayor: I see your Calvinball game and I am old enough to remember Masterpiece Cakeshop (H/T nycsouthpaw).

Justice Kennedy: This big cast iron pot I am now sitting in seem to be getting warmer.  I am warning you politely in my concurring opinion, do not turn it up any higher or I will become even more uncomfortable (still, money is speech, as I said in 2010).

 

 

Why Did No-Deal Trump Give Harley-Davidson Any Excuse?

Our president-who-will-never-be-blamed-no-matter-what has blamed Harley-Davidson for their plan to move production out of the USA.  “Of all people,” he exclaimed.  They are using my tariffs as an excuse, he moaned.

Wouldn’t it have been smarter and higher-IQ, Mr. Dealmaker President, if you hadn’t given them the perfect excuse to lay off American workers?  Maybe they were looking for an excuse–why the hell did you give it to them?

Update: Trump has freaked out over Harley-Davidson in a series of tweets. Could he be worried that some cult followers might be quite attached to their Harleys, and to the very idea of Harleys, and that he better sic the dogs of tariff (and tax! wow!) war on them before they come out and criticize him directly?  When a guy from Bikers for Trump goes on TV this morning and dares to say he’s not as loyal to his Harley as he is to Trump, you have to think, maybe this Trump thing does have a teeny tiny bit of cultishness going on?

President Trump Ridicules Magna Carta As “Very Weak” And “Very Unfair To The King”

President Trump has reportedly announced his intention to visit the City of London’s Trump Street and Russia Row–which are located right next to each other, but there’s no collusion at all. Then he plans to walk a block to the Guildhall galleries, with their nearly pristine copy of the Magna Carta, where he is said to plan a photo spray while he attacks the document on display as a very bad idea, very weak, and very unfair to the King. He is also said to be interested in learning more about the impure ethnic origins of the “barons.”

The attack on judges, courts, and due process?  The grasping after the “dispensing power” that went out in the 1680s? All that was just a warm-up act.  Now he’s coming after the politically correct 13th century.

Due Process Good For Me But Not For Thee

In February due process was good, it was important, it was under assault by the deep state, it was the foundation of our constitutional republic.  Now, who needs it, it’s a relic of the past, it’s just political correctness, we can’t afford it no more.  Trump and/or whoever is tweeting from his social media account complained loudly in February that due process was dead, alluding to his former aide Rob Porter.  In fact Trump made the choice to ask for or accept Porter’s resignation.  The only “due process” issue was in Trump’s scheming mind.  Porter’s ex accused him of abuse, more accusations followed, and Porter left the White House (how and when he left was obfuscated and muddled, at a minimum, by John Kelly).  Trump could have stood up for Porter and kept him on, but he didn’t.  He is never accountable for anything, but he loves to play the snowflake victim card.  That was February.  Today, President Trump tweeted on his way to the golf course that “we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.”

My takeaway is a) that Trump is not confident that the Supreme Court will back him up this week on the travel band and b) that due process is good for some people but not for “those people,” who not so coincidentally happen to be brown, black, poor, and in general vulnerable.  Trump hosted a TV event with “Angel Families,” whose anguish seemed very real.  I believe their suffering should be taken into account in any consideration of US immigration policy.  So should the needs of job-creating American businesses.  That includes tech companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.  That includes the nail factory hurt by Trump tariffs–tariffs are taxes, btw–and it includes the many businesses who are shorthanded and can’t find enough medium-skilled factory workers or retail workers or bus drivers or restaurant workers or hospital workers or delivery drivers.  It even includes big agribusiness operators in California and Arizona and Texas and the Midwest who need as many harvest hands as they can get.  I also believe that Rupert Murdoch was right when he tweeted on July 12, 2015: “Mexican immigrants, as with all immigrants, have much lower crime rates than native born…Trump wrong.”

Trump’s attacks on Mexicans, immigrants, judges, due process, and political correctness–it’s all of a piece: “I alone can solve it.”  And I alone can protect you forgotten men (women, maybe or maybe not) from the elites who disrespect you (and gave you that horrid Obamacare which we will replace with something beautiful someday).  I alone can protect you from the “American Carnage” caused by mongrelization.

It was possible to vote for Trump, and to vote for Republicans, in 2016 and still believe that he would “pivot” and become more “presidential.”  It is no longer possible to pretend that Trump has any respect or any “feel” for our constitutional democratic republic.  It is not possible to believe that a Republican Congress will do its constitutional duty and give us any oversight of Trump’s assault on our Constitution.  Trump has–or ought to have–forced us to act to preserve and protect our freedoms by tossing Republicans overboard this November, almost regardless of who seems to be the “best candidate” in a particular race.  If our political leaders do not defend due process, we must remove them, via the due process of elections.  Trump may walk back his tweet and say it was sarcasm, and why can’t people take a joke.  He is welcome to tiptoe off the political stage, and that’ll be when I laugh at the joke.  I know, I know, he’s not much of a tiptoeing guy.  Still I’ll humor him for his effort and laugh.

 

I Favor Zero Tolerance For Idiots Who Throw Starburst Candy At The Leader Of The Free World, Angela Merkel

Among the many “no, really, not-the-Onion” and not-funny-either stories these past few days, Donald Trump throwing Starburst candy at German Chancellor Angela Merkel and spewing out “don’t say I never gave you anything” at her–that is about the stupidest and most disgraceful, despite all the competition for “worst.”  Though the Melania Trump jacket that said “I don’t really care, do u” is bad too.  The euphemisms and denials are horrible, too: a person who says “tender age shelters” out loud should have their mouths washed out with soap.  Yes, I am sure that some celebrities and some so-called “leftists” have been vulgar and rude and profane.  I disapprove of their immature behavior.  But it is pretty hard to be disrespectful of the office of the presidency these days.  I favor a new policy: zero tolerance for criminal behavior by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Did you know lying to Congress is a crime, including lying about your contacts with agents of foreign adversaries such as Russia?  I favor zero tolerance for insider trading, which is a felony crime.  Hello there Wilbur Ross–have you no shame?  I favor zero tolerance for money laundering, even if it means a former campaign manager for a president, a man who, as the president pointed out, has served other presidents (and very possibly other criminals, I might add) over several decades–even so, money laundering is a felony, and there should be zero tolerance for money laundering, otherwise we become infested with money launderers.  If a money launderer makes it all the way to the presidency, that person should still face justice, in this life, and with zero tolerance for criminal behavior.  Mercy is important too–all in good biblical time, my pretty little Trump.

This Truth Sandwich Is So Delicious! I Am Feeling Disenthralled Already

Margaret Sullivan is on target again with her June 17 Washington Post column, “Instead of Trump’s propaganda, how about a nice ‘truth sandwich’?”  She amplifies George Lakoff’s framing of how to respond to Trump’s deceitful framing: reporters should “first, get as close to the overall, big-picture truth as possible right away…then report what Trump is claiming about it…And then, in the same story or broadcast, fact-check his claims.  That’s the truth sandwich–reality, spin, reality–all in one tasty, democracy-nourishing meal.  Avoid retelling the lies.  Avoid putting them in headlines, leads or tweets, [Lakoff] says.  Because it is that very amplification that gives them power.  That’s how propaganda works on the brain: through repetition, even when part of that repetition is fact-checking.”

Many good reporters–or previously good reporters who have not yet adjusted to Trump’s relentless gaslighting–were schooled to adopt a fact-based, objective viewpoint, a “view from nowhere,” and to avoid imputing bad-faith motivations to public figures, especially presidents.  Also, many if not most of us would dearly wish to have a president who is a reliable witness and a trustworthy steward.  Our wish to grant legitimacy and respect and dignity to our leaders (whether “biblically” based or not) has been abused by presidents in the past.  I am old enough to remember Lyndon Johnson and the “credibility gap,” and several mendacious presidents since.  But Trump is really different, not in a good way.  His open authoritarianism and disdain for liberty is new and ominous.  Trump has been a deceptive salesman for almost fifty years, and a vicious bully for longer.  He is not going to change–the only issue is how we will respond.  Daniel Dale has wisely advised TV and print reporters that to cover Trump adequately at all, they need to match his energetic and consistent lying with equally energetic and consistent debunking.  That debunking, and the truth-sandwich approach, give busy-yet-concerned voters a fighting chance to absorb what is at stake this November–and perhaps sooner, if the rhetorical attack on Mueller escalates into another Saturday night massacre.

There is no good substitute, painful as it may be, for constant suspicion of this president.  The truth sandwich is not just a technique, it is a survival manual if we really care about preserving, protecting, and defending the freedoms many of us have come to take for granted in our constitutional democratic republic.

For President Donald Trump, lying is an everyday, all day thing; and signifying is sometimes even more fabulous than lying.  Do not get hung up on whether a particular utterance of his is a “demonstrable falsehood” or a bald lie–but do match his energy and consistency, and do not get sucked down the rabbit hole of his mendacious framing.

 

P.S. Some sources on political lying and response thereto:

George Lakoff twitter feed and framelab.us; also his book, Whose Freedom?

Greg Sargent, Plum Line blog, Washington Post–on political persuasion “saturated with bad faith”; also Brian Beutler, Crooked.com and twitter, and Daniel Dale twitter

Augustine, On Lying (De Mendacio)

Hannah Arendt, “Lying in Politics”

It’s Very Biblical To Heed Biblical Warnings About People Like Trump

If we are going to talk about zero tolerance policies, let’s talk about zero tolerance for unbiblical cruelty toward our neighbor.

It may be very Biblical to enforce the law (though Sarah Huckabee Sanders deceitfully implied that the president is simply enforcing a law passed by Democrats requiring separation of families applying for asylum, while in fact he is using his discretion over border policy–Democrats passed no law requiring what Trump is doing; moreover those families are not illegal immigrants, they are doing something perfectly lawful–applying for refuge–though they may or may not win their cases).  And Jeff Sessions may believe that quoting Romans 13:1 settles everything (“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God”).

But it is very biblical, even more biblical, to heed the warnings of scriptural witnesses.  In the book of First Samuel, the people clamor for a king to rule over them.  Samuel the aged judge goes to the Lord, who instructs Samuel to give the people what they want, but to solemnly warn them first about “the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”  Samuel does exactly that (chapter 8): “he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen…he will appoint for himself commanders… and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be performers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers….he will take…the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work…you shall be his slaves.  And in that day you will cry out because of your king, who you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer in that day.  But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, ‘No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”  Battles against the disrespectful elites, no doubt.  So that we also may be like Russia and China and North Korea.  With courtiers like Scott Pruitt and Tom Price and Betsy DeVos.

Scripture also warns us (Proverbs 24): “do not envy the wicked, nor desire to be with them; for their minds devise violence, and their lips talk of mischief.”  Authority is a tricky thing, Mr. Attorney General.  Have you noticed in your study of the scriptures that some rulers are evil, not godly, in the end not legitimate, and come to bad ends?

And Sarah Sanders, have you read Isaiah 10 lately: “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of their right…what will you do on the day of punishment…to whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth?”

And Vice President Pence, have you considered the opening chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah: “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves.  Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts.  They do not defend the orphan and the widow’s cause does not come before them….Therefore says the Lord of hosts…I will turn my hand against you…those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed…you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water.  The strong shall become like tinder, and their work like a spark; they and their work shall burn together with no one to quench them.”

 

Yes, I Am Sitting Up At Attention, Mr. President–From Now Until Election Day Tuesday November 6

I am quite willing to sit up at attention, Mr. Trump sir.  And plan to do so until we voters toss you overboard on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.  Yes, I know that you cannot be tossed literally overboard on November 6, 2018.  But on Tuesday, November 6, 2018, election day, we the people will have our first chance, nationwide–or constitutional-republic-wide, I should say–to restore real oversight by the legislative branch over your many abuses of power, starting with the Emoluments Clause and obstruction of justice but not limited to those low-hanging and obvious high crimes and misdemeanor lying in plain sight.  I place no trust at all in any members of the Republican Party to preserve, protect, or defend our Constitution.  And so, while I would normally like to choose the best possible person for political office without regard to political party affiliation. your abuse of your office obliges me to vote all Democratic all the time until there is a Democratic Congressional majority to oversee you.  I really don’t care if you tell me that you were kidding or that it was just sarcasm and I should be smart enough to not take you literally.  Bye Donald.

When And Why Was “Trump Street” In The City Of London Renamed “Russia Row”? Answer Me That!

Walking near London’s Guildhall the other day, looking for remnants of the London Wall, I expected to see “Trump Street” but was amazed to see a sign for “Russia Row” instead.  What remarkable foresight these Londoners have, thought I.  No wonder they were such a great imperial power.  But when? and how? and why–the renaming, that is.  You’re welcome:

https://theprintnews.co.uk/2017/11/story-behind-trump-street-russia-row/

https://www.london-walking-tours.co.uk/secret-london/trump-street.htm

https://www.citymetric.com/politics/city-london-russia-row-leads-directly-trump-street-2821

 

As Churchill reputedly said, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.  Justin Trudeau, did you know that at the west end of Russia Row/Trump Street it intersects Milk Street?

Are We “Shining In The Space Of Appearances” Yet?

Hannah Arendt said (at a 1972 Toronto conference, published in Thinking Without a Banister, p. 451) that “glory” in the political realm is “shining in the space of appearances.”  W.H. Auden asked (and then answered) “does God ever judge us by appearances? I suspect that he does” (epigraph to chapter 1 of Arendt’s posthumous book, The Life of the Mind).  We in the US have a potentate named Donald Trump who is so consumed by how he appears and is perceived and judged that he seems to have weakened our country by misjudging, or not taking the trouble to study, or not being capable of judging, his counterparts on the world stage–and not only Kim Jong Un or Xi Jinping.  The root of this misjudgment, I suppose, is that Trump is, perhaps seemingly paradoxically, not Machiavellian enough.  As Arendt remarked in Toronto, Machiavelli said, “‘I love my country, Florence, more than I love my eternal salvation.’  That doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe in an afterlife.  But it means that the world as such was of greater interest to him than himself.”  She elaborated: “The moment I act politically I’m not concerned with me, but with the world….whether the criterion is glory–shining in the space of appearances–or whether the criterion is justice…the decisive thing is whether your own motivation is clear: for the world or for yourself.”  Donald Trump actually understands this quite well, in that he pays lip service to the noble motivation of acting on behalf of the world instead of just himself.  But there is quite a lot of reason to doubt that his stated aspirations are stronger than his lifelong habits of venality, cupidity, mendacity, and thuggishness.  He did acknowledge in the campaign that becoming president was his only shot at getting into heaven.  Sadly he seems to forget about that–or else he is even more of a miserable tyrant than I have so far imagined.

P.S. In other breaking news from the works of Hannah Arendt:

“normal men do not know that everything is possible” (quoting David Rousset)

“nothing is more characteristic of the totalitarian movements in general and of the quality of fame of their leaders in particular than the startling swiftness with which they are forgotten and the startling ease with which they can be replaced” (Origins, p. 305)

“only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself; the masses have to be won by propaganda” (Origins, 341)

“the delusion of an already existing Jewish world domination formed the basis for the illusion of future German world domination” (Origins, p. 360)

“it is in the moment of defeat that the inherent weakness of totalitarian propaganda becomes visible….the moment the movement, that is, the fictitious world which sheltered them, is destroyed, the masses revert to their old status as isolated individuals who either happily accept a new function in a changed world or sink back into their old desperate superfluousness…[the former members] will quietly give up the movement as a bad bet and look around for another promising fiction or wait until the former fiction regains enough strength to establish another mass movement” (Origins, 363)

“a mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true….mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.  The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness” (Origins, p. 382)

“we are not in the nursery! Real political action arises as a group act…whatever you do on your own, you do not as an actor but as an anarchist” (Banister, p. 450)

 

 

 

Justice Gorsuch Spikes Football By Adding Middle English Footnote Upholding 1351 Statute Of Laborers Act

As if it wasn’t enough for ruling-class warrior Neil Gorsuch to gut the National Labor Relations Act by placing the supposed intent of the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act over and above the New Deal legislation that addressed obvious asymmetries of bargaining power, Justice Gorsuch spiked the football on workers today in his 5-4 opinion by including a footnote, in Middle English no less, upholding the 1351 Statute of Laborers Act.  Let me explain.  After the Black Death (part one of it, at any rate) the ruling classes had far less bargaining power over the surviving peasants.  All pretense of “voluntary mutual agreements” was abandoned by the ruling class when Parliament passed the 1351 law stipulating that workers were not allowed to leave their employers (the landowners or business owners) to seek better wages.  Neil Gorsuch follows up in his pre-Chaucer footnote when he states (I hereby translate his words into 21st-century idiom) that “all that free market stuff was just a smokescreen, suckers.  Serfs gonna stay serfs, cuz you can’t possibly afford to go to court one by one.  Ain’t gonna happen.  Sit yourselves down or we’ll put you in the private prison and you’ll dream of the good times when you could eat generic hamburger helper.  Same as it was in 1351, same as it’s gonna be from here on out.  Get Congress to change it, bwahahaha.”

Catching Up On “Collusion With The Rest Of The World” Reading

Did Donald Trump just admit that he was ready and willing to conspire in the 2016 election campaign not just with Russians but with “the rest of the world”?  He did not confirm but neither did he deny that his son and others associated with the Trump campaign (such as Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) plotted and took bribes from Gulf Arab countries as well as Israel–during the presidential campaign, quite aside from the reported violations of the Emoluments Clause after Trump became president.

To prepare for Trump’s next political and legal moves, I am thinking about what might be relevant background reading:

Zephyr Teachout, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuffbox to Citizens United, especially chapter 5, “Is Bribery Without a Remedy?”

Maria Konnikova, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time

Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America

Ramsay MacMullen, Corruption And The Decline Of Rome

Seth Hettena, Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

Hannah Arendt, Thinking Without A Banister: Essays in Understanding 1953-1975

Albert O. Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy (also pertinent to the gun debate)

Cass R. Sunstein, Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict, especially chapter 4, “Understanding (and Misunderstanding) the Rule of Law

Peter Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire

Philip Kurland, ed., The Founders’ Constitution

Peter Gay, The Cultivation of Hatred (The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, vol. 3)

Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution

John T. Noonan Jr., Bribes: the intellectual history of a moral idea

 

Provocative? Moi?

Just who does North Korea think they are?  They think that they can accuse the US of “provocation”?  Just because of some military drills?  Kim the Excellent is going to find himself becoming Little Rocket Man again in no time flat.  Doesn’t he know that only people like Jared Kushner have the right to define who is “provocative”?  That only Donald J. Trump has the extraterritorial privilege to say who can laugh, and when, and how loudly?  Trump is not going to apologize to Senator John McCain just because a staffer called McCain a dead man walking, but is he going to kowtow to Mr. Kim?  Trump seems to be powerfully attracted to the notion that he too could get a Nobel Peace Prize, so I wouldn’t want to predict the future at all, except to say Kim is definitely not crazy and his PR team is not leaking.

P.S. NY Times headline: “North Korea Postpones Talks With South Korea; Decision Is Surprise.”  Not really, unless the Times thought that everything was going to go smoothly between Trump and Kim.  They are maneuvering to see who can define the other as unstable and themselves as stable and serious and not “provocative” or “defiant.”

Glad I Didn’t Sell Big Pharma Stocks Short Thinking Trump Was Actually Going To Help Lower Drug Prices (Regulatory Capture Is Alive And Well In DC)

President Trump promised in 2016 that he would do great things to lower drug prices for senior citizens and all Americans.  He promised “on day one,” yadda yadda, my welfare state (for my cult followers, anyway, wink wink) is going to be the greatest welfare state.  Cheaper stuff for everybody wearing a MAGA hat and making the secret handshake.  Sorry, suckers, and in fact everybody on Medicare, whether we supported Trump or not.  Drug company stocks, including Novartis, went down briefly today before the Rose Garden drug price speech, and then, ta-da, up they went during and after the speech. And why wouldn’t drug stocks go up, because Trump did not do the one thing that would most likely push drug prices down, which is to let CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) negotiate prices with drug companies.  CMS isn’t the only buyer of drugs, but they are so huge that they could be the market leader, the quasi-monopsony buyer with power to get prices down across the board.  The current law, signed by George W. Bush, provided a benefit to senior citizens, but at an unnecessarily high cost. I would like to be surprised, but I do not see much yet in what HHS Secretary Azar or Trump said that would actually push drug prices down.  Regulatory capture–aka the Swamp–is alive and well in Trump’s Washington.

Is The Real Dick Cheney Being Displayed In A Human Zoo? If Not, Why Not?

Some version of “Dick Cheney” has popped up and endorsed re-upping on “enhanced interrogation,” AKA torture.  But is this real news?  “Dick Cheney” coming out in favor of torturing suspected terrorists and “enemy combatants” does have the ring of verisimilitude, but in these changing times, I have my suspicions.  Could the real Dick Cheney already be on display–preferably with Mike Pence–in an ethnographic exhibit, AKA a human zoo?  And if not, isn’t it about time?  Human zoos were quite popular in my grandparents’ day, even in my parents’ lifetime, and even continued into my own time, e.g. the Brussels world’s fair of 1958.  It is true that political correctness is sometimes simply courtesy, and yet is it too much to hope that Cheney and others of his ilk, could be properly displayed in a habitat clearly native to them?  Issues of the validity of extraterrritorial jurisdiction, frankly, should not even come into play if the exhibition were done sensitively.  For example, it would be very misguided if Rachel Maddow were allowed to fulfill her longstanding dream by interviewing Mr. Cheney in a zoo.

Not Negative, Not Fake, No Way! Yes Collusion, Yes Puppet, Yes Smoking Gun With Blood Everywhere

OK, maybe just a teeny tiny little bit of collusion might have happened, mistakes were made, and it looks like an open crime scene with so much evidence and blood and hair everywhere that I do not know where to start.  I was worried that Mueller was the whole ball game–but now the SDNY has so much to sort through that I feel there’s more than enough guilt to go around in multiple jurisdictions.  Not to mention the next Attorney General of the great state of New York, the Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton!  Well, maybe that wouldn’t be the best idea.  How about Sally Yates?  Or Zephyr Teachout?  Can Preet Bharara handle the truth?  Probably he could.  And the acting AG, Barbara Underwood, looks just fine, and if NY state can close up the loophole regarding federal/state overlap and pardons, I feel much more confident than I did a week ago that the justice system has a fighting chance to bring the evildoers and crooks to account, whoever they may be.  And glad to read that Robert Mueller was onto the Vekselberg-Michael Cohen payments months ago.

So Long Schneiderman, Hello Sally Yates…Or Zephyr Teachout…Or Hi There Hillary NY Attorney General!

There are some awesomely qualified candidates to serve as the next New York Attorney General.  She or he, especially if New York state law is tightened up to prevent federal evildoers and criminals to escape state-level justice in NY, will have the opportunity and in fact the obligation to enforce state laws against money laundering, financial fraud, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and all the other crimes mob bosses commit.  If those laws happen to apply to public servants, or former public servants, so be it.

The NY State Assembly, from what I read, has the authority to appoint the next AG, and might well choose one of their own.  But if they choose to go with someone who has a higher profile than an assemblyperson, may I suggest Sally Yates, former (ever so briefly) Acting Attorney General; or Zephyr Teachout, former candidate for governor and author of the fine book, Corruption in AmericaFrom Benjamin Franklin’s Snuffbox to Citizens United.

But of course the awesomest choice, a choice that might well send the president even more over the edge than he is already, is staring the Assembly in the face: Hillary.

P.S. Have read mixed reviews on Preet Bharara as a choice for NY AG.  He certainly got lots of good press for going after insider trading, but did he persecute purveyors of financial fraudulence actively and assertively?  I don’t know.  Why not let Chief Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District NY appoint him as US Attorney when the Trump administration lets a deadline for appointing their own candidate slide through negligence?  Yes it could happen.

“Nobody Wants To Speak More Than Me”–Was That a) Vincent ‘The Chin’ Gigante or b) Trump?

Answer: it will not be long before President Donald J. Trump adopts the Gigante defense.  That is, although we may really really want to be able to look at a president as a trustworthy noble heroic leader, we wake up every day with the president we actually have.  Donald Trump will do anything and everything to avoid being blamed or taking the fall under any circumstances.  He is trying to make the web of lies and contradictions re obstruction of justice and collusion and conspiracy with Russians become too complicated for mere mortals to deal with.  He would love for all of us to throw up our hands and say “they all do it” and “we better stay out of this” if not “he is our god-emperor and I love all the trolling of snobby snowflakes.”  But if that doesn’t work, and Trump finds himself becoming a figure of ridicule as the lies become too obvious to ignore, I figure his next move will be to emulate Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, who pretended to be insane and/or infirm–and got away with it for decades.  One can hope that this president does not have decades of that kind of maskirovka left in him–and that we the people will be able to resist the gaslighting better than–fancy that–New York prosecutor Rudy Giuliani (see story and court case below!).

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/rudy-giuliani-and-the-desperate-campaign-to-protect-the-president

https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/996/194/1625500/

Update: The President, many people say, is expected to announce “in a very short period of time” that Rudy Giuliani is an “enemy of the people” and as such will be removed from the White House legal team and reassigned to a labor camp on Long Island.  The “struggle session” will be available on pay-per-view.

NYT: “Trump Assails Justice Dept., Siding With Conservatives”–No, That’s Way Off The Mark

The top story on the NY Times webpage right now is by Eileen Sullivan and Nicholas Fandos, who probably did not write the headline, “Trump Assails Justice Dept., Siding With Conservatives.”  I wish that the Times would stop letting unprincipled, power-mad radicals get the benefit of the respectable label “conservative.”  The point of the “indivisible” resistance to Trumpism is that we can and should have debates on the proper size and shape of government, but we should be united and indivisible when it comes to preserving, protecting, and defending the rule of law as codified in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the habits and practices of free speech and citizenship.  Mr. Trump could give a fig for freedom or the rule of law.

Sullivan and Fandos also have it backwards when they write that Mr. Trump plunged today into a “simmering dispute” between Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and the “small group of House Republicans who are loyal to Mr. Trump” (whatever is meant by that, by the way? are Paul Ryan and most of the Republican House members disloyal to Trump? I wish, but I haven’t seen much but subservience and see-no-evil so far).  I believe the truly important conflict right now is between the president and the regular, drab, workaday state–not the so-called Deep State–that is working diligently in the person of Robert Mueller to ensure that this president is not immune from gross violations of the loyalty oath Trump took on inauguration day to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.  The self-styled “Freedom Caucus,” led by Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, are simply trying to set up Mr. Trump with a spinnable excuse to remove Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Mueller.  Trump is not–contra the NYT–“giving voice to the complaints” of Jordan and Meadows.  Rather, they are in the same club as Fox & Friends and Hannity and the Schlapps–instruments of the president’s will to power.  The NYT story today tells a story that could be true, in some other universe, but I believe their framing gets causes and effects backwards, and in a pernicious way that gives cover to the authoritarian purposes of this president.

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.

 

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.”

 

What If Our Slacker Totalitarian Starts Eating Kale And Exercising?

Theorists of tyranny have compiled taxonomies: aristocracy (and its shadow side, oligarchy), democracy (and ochlocracy, or mob rule), and monarchy (and tyranny).  Plato’s interlocutors in Republic book 8 discuss the various types of regime but Book 9 dives deep into the most dangerous form of government, tyranny.  Aristotle was seemingly more sanguine in his Politics, giving more equal time to each type.  Madison and Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers, defended the possibility of energetic yet non-monarchical and non-tyrannical government via separated powers and checks and balances (see #47 and #51).  Twentieth-century totalitarianism (see Hannah Arendt’s Origins) appeared to be a new type of regime, in its erasure of any boundary between private and public life; also in that, unlike the pairs democracy/mob rule, aristocracy/oligarchy, and monarchy/tyranny, totalitarian rule has no “neutral” or non-abusive twin.

If American voters manage to check Trump’s power while there is still time to limit the damage, it may be because they sense that with his relentless tweeting and headline-grabbing, he is just not going to leave us alone and let us ignore him for awhile while we pursue our own happiness.  If the Republicans, in spite of all their gerrymandering and efforts to suppress voter turnout, do lose control of one or both houses of Congress, it may be because enough of us have gotten irritated and embarrassed enough to bother to vote in a midterm for a change, and limit the damage from the presidential bull-with-his-very-own-china-shop-all-the-time.

So far I believe we have been fairly lucky that our slacker totalitarian president apparently spends a great deal of his time sitting around eating unhealthy food and tweeting at his TV, though he and his minions have made plenty of messes by  sabotaging healthcare, environmental regulation, etc.  But what if he (trigger alert, plug ears, la la la la la) has a learning curve?  What if he actually reads article II of the Constitution and realizes just how much more he can do, and takes Admiral Ronny Jackson’s advice to adopt healthier lifestyle choices?  Where will we be able to hide then?

 

It’s Time For Sumptuary Laws To Regulate Facebook And Make Us Truly Happy And Free

I am old enough to remember the utopian hopes for the internet.  Sadly, the era of friendly little chat rooms (I exaggerate a bit) has given way to the era of dystopian fears: of Big Social Media, of the Deep State, and of our semi-voluntary servitude to the cookies and trackers.

I have a fine solution to all of our problems!  Bring back the sumptuary laws that served for many centuries and on multiple continents to enforce norms and hierarchies and proper social behavior.  If we had held onto rigorous sumptuary laws, Facebook’s motto, “move fast and break things,” would have put Zuckerberg in the stocks years ago.  Would that have been a bad thing?

Do not be fooled by whatever damage control statements Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg put out today and in the coming days.  They can raise the trifling objection that what happened with Cambridge Analytica was not technically a data breach.  They can promise to work closely with regulatory agencies.  They can abase themselves all they like.  Actually, their self-abasement is a sort of voluntary admission that some kind of sumptuary law to control their behavior is needed.

The hard part of this is that we need to regulate not only the destructively transgressive behaviors of Silicon Valley elites.  It’s not just that the people who are indulging themselves by consuming “cartons of multi-colored eggs pooped out of rare, expensive chickens who have been raised on diets of organic watermelon and steak” (according to Willamette Week and Washington Post) need to be shamed and then imprisoned.  The really hard part is that we, the people–we the relatively privileged people–need to accept that we cannot control ourselves.  We must impose binding regulations on ourselves.  This may be particularly difficult with a President who desperately needs and even more desperately resists sumptuary restrictions on his very own self.  Not to mention a Congress in thrall to the fantasy that deregulation always and everywhere means true freedom.  The way forward is clear.  As distasteful as it may be to many, we need a new leader right away.  A leader who understands the true value of sumptuary regulations.  A man who feels deeply the evils of bad habits and the danger of ruffles and silks and extravagance and deviance.  I refer of course to our next president, Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions.  Or Mike Pence, if you like.

Sarah Sanders: “Russia Will Have To Decide Whether To Be A Good Actor Or A Bad Actor”; Russia Clings To Maskirovka, Defying Sanders’ False Binary

Sarah Sanders said yesterday that the US “stands in solidarity with its closest ally, the United Kingdom.”  Today she put on her most resolute voice and stated that Russia will have to decide whether it wants to be a good actor or a bad actor.  Meanwhile, the president has said little to nothing publicly about the Salisbury poisoning, which sickened dozens of British citizens, not just the former Russian spy and his daughter.  (Of course some say you can never quit being a Chekist, just as there are no true ex-Catholics.)

I expect Russians will laugh and think: heck no we are not about to choose between being bad or good; the whole point of maskirovska is to sow FUD.  Meanwhile, Trump boasts of making up trade deficits with Canada.  Justin Trudeau knew Trump was wrong, Trump knew he had no idea whether he was speaking the truth, and Trudeau and every other foreign leader already knew Trump is talking smack 99% of the time.

American presidents have not always told the truth in public or private, but Trump is not the master of maskirovka that Putin is, even though he can still befuddle the mainstream media some of the time.  Most of us here in the US have become embarrassed by our transparently lying leader, discount every word he says as dubious, and I expect it’ll show in the elections coming up soon.

Is Secretary Mattis About To Get His Shot To Protect The Constitution And Our Way Of Life?

Secretary of Defense James Mattis (I don’t say “General” because he has retired from active duty and is a civilian employee of the U.S. government) has done a better job of maintaining his dignity than most other Cabinet officers this past year.  Mattis has said more than once that his job is to “protect the Constitution and our way of life.”  Well, he is likely to get a chance to prove himself soon, if reports that the president is about to get rid of Attorney General Sessions are true.  Trump is apparently starting to realize that he actually can ignore the so-called adults in the room and do all kinds of not-normal and very likely illegal and unconstitutional things that he has been itching to do.  The Constitution, as Trump may be realizing, is a dead letter if it isn’t enforced by Congress or the courts.  And if pushback from free assembly and free speech aren’t enough to convince those other branches to restrain the president, the Constitution won’t save us.

If the president removes Sessions, installs (for example) Scott Pruitt, and Pruitt removes Mueller, then we are on the edge of constitutional crisis (I say “edge” advisedly because I don’t believe a president can succeed in trashing our freedoms unless we acquiesce).  Congress could intervene by passing, with veto-proof majorities, a new independent counsel statute; alternatively, Congressional committees could actually get serious about enforcing subpoenas against Trump and his minions; or, of course, the House could impeach.  What does Mattis have to do with any of this?  If Trump does move to shut down Mueller’s investigation, Mattis’s only honorable move, in my opinion, will be to resign and furthermore tell us why he will not be a party to subversion of our Constitution and our traditions of freedom.  If Mattis can’t move the needle of public opinion among Trump supporters and on-the-fence Americans, we are in trouble.  But he will have done what he can to preserve what he says he cares about most.