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

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“All I Can Say Is ‘Did You?'”–It’s Not Like I’m Leader Of The Free World, Ya Know!

Trump today, channeling Emily Dickinson, apparently: hey, I’m nobody, who are you?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/07/12/in-a-deeply-revealing-news-conference-trump-tips-his-hand-on-his-thinking-about-putin/?utm_term=.576d1690b6e4

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.

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

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.

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.

 

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”

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)

 

 

 

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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Will Kim Jong Un Succeed In Legitimizing The President?

“Why would the US president ever want to legitimize a brutal dictator” is, in all seriousness, no longer the question on the table.  Maybe W was a bonehead to say he had “looked into Putin’s eyes” and gotten a sense of his soul.  Maybe Obama should have been less eager to press “reset” with Russia, and more willing to walk away from the Iran deal.  And Trump is unlikely to know as much as he thinks he does about Kim Jong Un and North Korea.  Do we even have an ambassador to South Korea in place?  Has Trump learned anything at all about Korea that he wasn’t spoonfed by Xi Jinping when they met in Beijing last year?

Trump’s rush to announce a meeting with Kim may yet be countermanded or undermined or sabotaged by the “Deep State.”  And I don’t blame the Deep Staters.  They are concerned, perhaps beside themselves, for good reason.  At this point, sad and almost unthinkable to say, Trump looks more desperate to meet with Kim than Kim is to meet with Trump.  Is it too much to ask an American president to stop trying to prove that he is bigger and better than all other presidents?

Of Course The President Doesn’t Believe In Free Trade–He Doesn’t Believe In Freedom, Period.

Wake up, Paul Ryan!  Of course Trump doesn’t believe in free trade.  Can you imagine?  In fact he doesn’t believe in freedom at all.  Except for himself, to be president-for-life like Mr. Xi.

Ever since grade-school-Trump was reportedly caught throwing rocks into the crib of a toddler next door in Queens, he has been, shall we see, less than fully committed to freedom in any sense normal people can recognize.  Paul Ryan, meanwhile, has not troubled himself to condemn Trump’s many other assaults on American freedom and rule of law, but is suddenly horrified that the president shows no respect for free trade.  Really?  Will Paul Ryan sit Trump down and read aloud to him from David Ricardo’s writings on “comparative advantage”?  Will Paul Ryan persuade our president that global trade is a win-win proposition in which voluntary mutually beneficial transactions shine the light of freedom into every corner of America (and the rest of the world)?

No, he won’t, because Donald J. Trump understands better than Paul Ryan that what America great in the first place was not the fantasy spontaneous-order world of Hayek and Mises.  Nope, it was the zero-sum world of baksheesh and Ndrangheta and omerta and Maskirovka and grease.  The whole point of the art of the deal is to fool and screw somebody else, not to find mutually beneficial transactions.  (The complex truth is other than either of these simple options; another post another day).

And if Trump appointed a “religious freedom” ambassador, that was for the “evangelical” suckers.  If he speaks of “God,” it is a God of wrath and vengeance, not the God who promises and brings good news of Christian freedom.  If he ever butters up members of the press in private, it’s only so as to catch them off guard when he calls them “enemies of the people” in public and tweets violent anti-CNN images to rile up his loyalists.

Paul, admit it: your president and ours doesn’t give a fig for “freedom.”  You at least make a big show out of promoting “freedom,” even if it is, IMO, a dystopian kind of freedom disconnected from the actual experiences of millions of hard-working and economically and otherwise not-completely-secure Americans–Americans who might want to look into FDR’s Second Bill of Rights to discover a version of freedom that might make a positive difference. If you want to know what the president really thinks of freedom, just look at his envious praise of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte and Erdogan and–you get the idea, Paul.

Imputable Me? No, Imputable You!

Why am I not surprised that “due process” was never a priority for this president?  I am a little sad for the sad trombone snowflakes commenting on Breitbart.com that their Trump votes are now hanging by a thread!  A thread having nothing whatsoever to do with due process, of course, but everything to do with happiness always being a warm gun.

Under no circumstances, in his own mind, will the president ever be blamed for anything.  He is not a puppet of the NRA–but you are, even if you are a Republican Senator who stuck your neck out to challenge the NRA.  He does not have conflicts of interest.  He cannot be bought.  Correction: he won’t stay bought.  Further update: we’re not quite sure if he can stay bought, stay tuned.

But by all means he will never be the subject of imputation.  There may or may not be collusion.  In fact collusion might turn out to be awesome.  But imputability, that’s never ever gonna happen.

Should Our Least Racist President Have Admitted That The Second Amendment Had A Lot To Do With Slave Patrols?

If our president were really the biggest, best supporter of the 2nd Amendment, would he really have mentioned at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Maryland today that, even for Give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death-Patrick-Henry, the militias referenced in the 2nd Amendment were often engaged in slave patrols?  Could it be that the president did not actually get into such nitty-gritty historical details because he is utterly innocent of any knowledge of American history?  He might not know the details, but he and his good buddy Wayne LaPierre know full well that Philando Castile did not have full 2nd Amendment privileges.

 

https://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/31/2/Articles/DavisVol31No2_Bogus.pdf

 

 

 

“I Like Students Who Don’t Get Shot…Just Like I Like Soldiers Who Don’t Get Captured”

The President did not “order [a] ban on bump stocks” today (Washington Examiner).  He did not “move to ban ‘bump stocks'” (CNN Politics).  Nor did he “take executive action to ban bump stocks” (USA Today).  He did not “say he signed [a] memo to ban bump stocks” (Bloomberg).  In fact he directed Attorney General Sessions to propose regulations on bump stocks, in other words he ordered up a commission to study the issue, with no deadline for action.  Maybe it will come to something, but very likely not.  For some reason, headline writers from CNN to Bloomberg to USA Today–as mainstream as it gets–are still giving President Trump more than the benefit of the doubt.  They are jumping far beyond what he actually announced, which is not helpful to anyone hoping for actual changes in laws.  The misleading headlines might even be unfair to NRA executives hoping for a good night’s sleep, because the president, as far as I can tell, gave them no real reason to toss and turn.

 

Update: Shame on the NY Times, which now has this as their top website headline: “Trump Calls For Ban on Bump Stocks.”  The news story itself makes clear that he did not do that.

An Update On Opacity And Inauthenticity At Facebook

Rob Goldman, VP for ads @ Facebook, has weighed in on the Mueller indictments, media coverage thereof, and Facebook’s glorious “No Collusion! No Puppet!” role before, during, and after our 2016 election.  Rob, you protest too much.  Facebook is not the only bad actor and guilty party, no doubt.  I am sure you are right that plenty of media coverage of Facebook’s role in the last election was less than 100% accurate.  But did Facebook really share proprietary information on Russian ads with Mueller’s investigators out of a pure-hearted desire to “help the public understand how the Russians abused our system”?  Your company is in large part the social media system.  Mark Zuckerberg said after the election that the accusations against Facebook were all “crazy talk.”  Are you old enough to remember that?  You can say all you want that “swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal” of Russia, but sorry to say your words are far from “definitive.”  Your point is apparently that disrupting and weakening our democracy was their main goal, thus the election was just a little detail.  That’s a truly silly argument.  Of course the cultivation of Trump, and Jill Stein, were means to an end, not ends in themselves.  But if you think that excuses Facebook’s inattention and laxity, you are way off the mark.

P.S. Mr. Goldman does have a point that Finland, Sweden et al work hard at promoting a well-informed citizenry to keep Russian disinformation at bay.  In the US we reacted to the breakup of the USSR by exhaling and fooling ourselves that Russia was a far-off problem we didn’t have to worry about anymore.  Unless we lived in Alaska, we couldn’t see Russia from our window.  Facebook or no Facebook, maybe we have learned better now.  But critical thinking might still not be one of our national strong points, alas.  Mr. Goldman writes “there are easy ways to fight [Russian trolls and bots].  Disinformation is ineffective against a well educated citizenry.”  Education is “easy”?  Really?  Facebook and other Silicon Valley titans do promote better education in some ways, but are Facebook and Apple and Google willing to pay more taxes to support better education for all young people?  Mr. Goldman links to an article referencing Finland’s “strong public education system.”  Does Facebook support strong public education in the USA?

Sessions Praises “Anglo-American Heritage” Of Policing, Trump Fires Back

President Trump immediately fired back today at Attorney General Sessions, who praised sheriffs this morning for upholding the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”  The president, walking toward his Official Presidential Limousine en route to give a lecture at the failing Newseum on “Macht, Herrschaft, and the Greatness of The Rule of Trump,”  demanded that General Sessions apologize for his comments and acknowledge the greatness of his favorite traditions of sheriffing and policing, namely the Germanic and Prussian.  At first blush the president’s rebuke of Sessions seemed to contradict his tweet over the weekend in support of “due process.”  Trump derided that objection as picayune and also treasonous, saying “I don’t need no stinking Magna Carta.”  At last check CNN, the AP, and the failing NY Times and fake-Amazon-Washington Post were all seeking writs of habeas corpus for their imprisoned reporters.

Remind Us Again How The Irish Became White, John Kelly

John Kelly, like all of us, is descended from some people who were “too afraid” and others who were “too lazy to get off their asses” to get their paperwork in order.  And I am sure he and we are also descended from some kings and queens and lords and ladies.

But tell us again, Kelly, in light of your insulting remarks about DACA people now wondering what’s next: how exactly did the Irish become white?  Did some Irish-Americans “become white” by adopting the anti-black racism of white American Protestants?  Noel Ignatiev’s book, How The Irish Became White, quotes Frederick Douglass, who said in 1853, “The Irish, who, at home, readily sympathize with the oppressed everywhere, are instantly taught when they step upon our soil to hate and despise the Negro….the Irish-American will one day find out his mistake.”  The becoming-white of the Irish in the United States of America is a long, complex story, which John Kelly and Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly and all of us would do well to study today,  with a more empathetic eye than I can detect from them so far.  If Democrats don’t want to take the deal that John Kelly says is so incredibly generous, so be it, maybe they are fools–but it sure seems like Kelly’s trash talk and Trump’s trash talk is designed more to avoid blame than to find a deal that can get through Congress.  Is that leadership?  We have a president who says he would “love a [government] shutdown” over the Dreamer/immigration issue: is that leadership, or passing the buck and trying to shift the blame?  It is probably going to be up to McConnell and Ryan and Democratic leadership to work out some kind of deal, probably temporary, and hope for better days down the road.  Dreamers will be left in more or less the same uncertainty they’re in now.  Kelly is truly out of line to question the motivations or reasoning or actions of people in a situation he can’t seem to imagine himself facing.  I do not want to become the victim of anybody, legal resident or illegal immigrant, and I expect my government to make some effort to preserve public order and keep me safe from evildoers, but none of that means I have any right to heap gratuitous insults on young people whose only real home is the US but who are still in legal limbo.

John Kelly and Donald Trump are just “joking” and “negotiating” toward a deal, some say.  Negotiating is great, and a sense of humor is a worth a lot (as Joe Biden said today, the president sure is a joke, all right).  And I say a president whose mother and father got here by way of chain migration, whose mother did not speak English as her first language and who arrived in the US with no skills, whose grandfather got here by evading the German draft and who got five draft deferments himself–a guy like that who talks the way he does about immigrants is a vicious little man who has no memory of where he came from or who he really is.  His chief of staff, John Kelly, ought to know better too, but it seems he’s too lazy to study it.  (Speaking of lazy, Kelly was asked if Trump had read the Schiff memo, which is about 10 pages: “no, no, it’s quite lengthy.”)  And when Kelly talks smack about Dreamers because maybe they don’t trust Donald Trump is dealing with them in good faith, he’s really lost it.

P.S. Meanwhile the annual trade deficit with China: $370 billion–is that still a problem now that Trump is our president?  And the annual US government budget deficit is headed toward a trillion dollars–problem or no problem?

If Paul Ryan And Mitch McConnell Really Cared About Civil Liberties And Didn’t Want To Become The Franz von Papens Of The USA…

Re what Paul Ryan had to say in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia today: if the GOP really wants to seize the high ground on civil liberties, how about defending “one person, one vote” by defending America against partisan gerrymandering?  How about defending America against vote suppression?  How about defending America against the carnage happening every day by appropriating some real money to reduce opioid addiction and deaths–and pass some laws that regulate the ability of drug companies to push crazy amounts of opiates into little towns all over Appalachia and California and Florida and New Hampshire?  How about defending the respect for rule of law that was a big part of what actually made the United States of America as great as it is?

Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell: have you read the memoirs of Franz von Papen lately?  Do you care at all about defending our liberal democracy (small “l” and small “d”) from illiberal would-be tyrants?  Yes you do know exactly what I am talking about.  Franz von Papen and his fellow “conservative” aristocrats enabled extreme radicalism in Germany by convincing themselves that they could easily manipulate the vulgar and clownish Hitler.  Yes, Nazi analogies are alarmist and hazardous, but you, Ryan and McConnell, know very well what you’re up to, you know you’re enabling Trump when you tolerate and tacitly encourage people like Devin Nunes.  You know that when Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, is not allowed to look at the Nunes memo, something rotten is going on.  You don’t want to be lumped in with Breitbart and Alex Jones, but that’s where you are now.

57 Gorilla Channels And Nothing On

I admit that I found the “gorilla channel” parody of Michael Wolff’s Fire And Fury book plausible for a brief shining moment.  Seventeen hours a day seemed a bit much, but who am I to judge a man with the single-minded focus of our president?

Does the Wolff book tell us anything we didn’t already know or suspect? Not really.  Do we need any more incriminating stories from the Washington Post or New York Times or Buzzfeed or (credit where due, despite their editorial stance, which is pure flying-monkey style agitprop) Wall Street Journal?  I imagine Robert Mueller’s team, if not removed by agents of the Trump regime, will disclose a lot more detail, but we have been able to read enough already about meetings with Russians and alleged money laundering, not to mention the obvious Emoluments Clause violations, to judge for ourselves that the current executive in Washington is utterly corrupt and unfit.  Josh Marshall is right to call what we are seeing an “active crime scene.”  There is plenty of evidence of turpitude, for those with ears to hear and eyes to read.

We the people–preferably in the person of our elected representatives, but also in the form of First Amendment-authorized peaceable assembly–just need to move from the “distention” of 2017 (I felt stretched out of shape, anyway) to the “intention” of 2018.  The next election is now in sight.  Even though this president, like any president, has plenty of power to initiate events and cause unnecessary trouble, we Americans have the capacity now to focus our energy on checking his power in just a few months’ time.

Not To Worry About A ‘Coup’ In America–After All, Case Officer Putin Has Trump Under Control

If there is a “coup” going on in America, from what direction is it coming?  Is Robert Mueller, long-time Republican and Marine veteran, leading a leftist coup to oust Trump?  Or is Fox News colluding with Vladimir Putin to destabilize our American democracy?  Much closer to door #2, I would say.  I am not sure exactly who is calling the tune, but Trump, Fox News, and most Republicans (or, as some say, Republirussians) are sure singing from the same nasty hymnbook.  The rightwing noise machine is a feedback loop of attacks on Robert Mueller these days.

If Trump’s lawyers really think emails from the transition period between November 9, 2016 and January 20, 2017 were seized illegally by Mueller’s team, they have a remedy: file a motion with a Federal judge in DC.  If they had any kind of valid legal case, they would have done that already.

If Robert Mueller were really trying to engineer a coup by relying on a team of corrupt pro-Hillary partisans, why did he get rid of the FBI agent who wrote those 2 am texts?  Mueller got rid of the indiscreet and dubious agent.  So what exactly is the problem?  Senator Cornyn of Texas had no good answer when asked that question yesterday, though he did clear his throat and harrumph a while.

Republicans tried and pretty much succeeded in delegitimizing Lawrence Walsh’s investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal in the late nineteen-eighties (hat tip Charlie Pierce).  Will Trump succeed in delegitimizing Mueller?  Trump has something Reagan didn’t: Fox.  He also has majorities in both houses of Congress, for now.  Will Mueller turn out to have more conclusive evidence (and time to present it) than Walsh did?  I think yes and who knows.  Three days from now, if the tax bill passes, as seems likely, and Congress and the country get ready for Christmas and New Year’s, the situation becomes more volatile between Mueller and Trump.  I would be very surprised if Trump went away quietly, but I also think Republicans in Congress would much rather have Pence as president.

When Putin calls Trump, does he give direct marching orders?  Or is it more subtle and refined?  What are the safe words?  The safe words that may have been worked out in their hourlong meeting with no US translator or official present, in Europe, a few months ago, that was not disclosed by any US official but by Buzzfeed?  And do they talk every few days?  We have heard more about their phone calls from the Kremlin than from the State Department.  Is Fox News looking into this?  Putin is mighty white, which appeals to some people, but do the patriots who voted for Trump believe that our constitutional republic is in good hands with Putin as Trump’s case officer (as James Clapper said recently, and I don’t trust Clapper a whole lot, but he seems to have assessed Putin-Trump accurately)?  Trump’s “national security strategy,” which he just presented on TV, does call out Russia and China to some extent, but Trump read those sections of the strategy report like a zombie, skipped some parts critical of Russia altogether, and only became animated when he spoke of collaboration with Putin.  Collaboration is not necessarily collusion or criminal conspiracy, but sometimes smelling a whole lot of smoke ought to be enough evidence to flee the crime scene, eh?

Breaking News Via Revelation Chapter 9: The Oval Office Is A Bottomless Pit

If you were thinking that the president bottomed out today with his sexual innuendo about Democratic US Senator Gillibrand, think again.  As First Lady Michelle Obama said last year, the presidency does not change who you are, it reveals who you are.  For this president, there is not likely to be any soundable bottom.  We could look more closely at the paradoxical geometry of bottomless pits in a finite universe.  We could ask whether a rock dropped in the Oval Office would ever bounce off the bottom, but why not look instead to the Scriptures.  As the book of Revelation predicted, the president is the “king of the bottomless pit.”  That’s from Revelation chapter 9, “then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit….from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened….then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth….they have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails.  They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit.  His name in Hebrew is Abaddon.”  Or, in Old High German, “Trump.”  At least many people say so.  Also, I regret to report, and even though it may hurt the feelings of those who believe Scripture is without error, the scorpions have been stinging us for more than five months.

Update December 13: USA Today’s editorial today, “Will Trump’s Lows Ever Hit Rock Bottom?” says, shockingly but fairly, that Trump is unfit to clean the toilets of Obama’s presidential library or to shine George W. Bush’s shoes!

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/12/12/trump-lows-ever-hit-rock-bottom-editorials-debates/945947001/

Trump Fixin’ Up His Hair Real Pretty So He Can Meet Forgotten Men And Women Tonight In Atlantic City

Honey last night I met this guy named Trump and I’m gonna do a little favor for him, OK?  He is doing a victory dance with the donor class today in New York City, but I know he cares a whole lot about us forgotten men and women here in Atlantic City.  I know my Trump will come down to Atlantic City tonight, after he fixes up his hair real pretty.  I know they lie when they say he has debts no honest man can pay.  I know the gamblin’ commission (head man in charge Mitch McConnell down in the Swampland) is holdin’ on by the skin of its teeth, but I know Trump will never leave us on the wrong side of the line (he’s so fine, do-lang, do-lang…).

How Did Trump Become The Radical Extremist Who Says “I Alone Can Stir Every Pot”?

Not sure it matters when or how the leader of the radical extremist US regime came to be radicalized, the fact is he did.  Maybe since age 4 or 5, maybe by Roy Cohn, but it happened.  Many TV talking heads are still not speaking as if Trump is a radical extremist troll.  They cast about for other explanations: he’s “not normal,” he’s “disconnected from reality,” and so son.  Some in the media say they are “news” people rather than “opinion” people, so they couldn’t possibly impute malignant motives to a person holding the “office of the presidency.”  They are no more fair or objective than I am when I call the US government a radical extremist “regime.”  They speak with forked tongues, that is their hesitation is surely caused by motivated reasoning–or else they are more gullible than I think (why do I think their tax bracket and that of their bosses has anything to do with anything?).  Their reluctance is unscientific and not objective at all: a true empiricist approach would be to sift through interpretations for Trump’s behavior and then broadcast the most plausible, whatever they are.  Reporters of all people ought to mistrust and verify always and everywhere–if your mother says x, check it out!  It is long past time to pretend that we should give Trump the benefit of the doubt because surely he’s going to “pivot.”

Trump’s radical extremist trolling has now flapped the hard to flap British by retweeting far-right fake news from Britain First, and then had the nerve to tell Theresa May to mind her own business!  “I alone can stir any and all pots.”  And Sarah Sanders’ stated position is pure big lie: who cares if the videos are real, what matters is ein volk, ein reich, ein Trump.  How we got here, whether it was was race or class or economic anxiety or Comey or Vlad or YOLO attitude, now how do we dig out?  At least I hope there’s a way to dig out.

I Can Live Without Seeing Al Franken (And Charlie Rose) On PBS, And Without Ever Seeing Trump On Any Channel Ever Again

In the spirit of fairness, bipartisanship, and anti-moral-relativism, I am very ready to give up watching Al Franken in the upcoming PBS TV tribute to David Letterman.  By the way, PBS, have you googled “David Letterman women” lately?  I am also willing to do without Charlie Rose.  And I can live without seeing Bill Clinton on TV again.

But what about the president?  I feel I ought to be fair to both sides here and adopt a posture of bipartisan civility.  And so I can reveal that I am absolutely willing to never see any trace of our 45th president on television ever again.  Is that too much winning to ask?  I admit that if Trump doesn’t kill us all, it might even be best for the long-term health of our democratic republic, and would probably serve us right, for all of us to have to get ourselves together to vote his enablers out next year and then vote him out in 2020.  That is the least we can do.  But if the president decides that we are unworthy of all the winning he is bringing, and wants to spare us his showers of blessings deliverance shtick, I’ll go along to get along.

Should We Leave The President In His (Mental) Jail? Should We Pardon Him? Has He Ever Asked For Forgiveness?

The father of one of the three UCLA basketball players arrested for shoplifting in China did something dumb.  He questioned whether Trump did anything to get his son out of a Chinese jail.  LaVar Ball is a nitwit, and has been for quite a while.  All three of the players thanked the president when they apologized on TV the other day.

Meanwhile, the president of our whole country, Donald J. Trump, responded to LaVar Ball today by saying “I should have left them in jail.”  No, you shouldn’t have done that.  And you shouldn’t stoop to the level you did, but you apparently can’t help yourself.

The bigger issue is that we have a president who can be played by foreign adversaries.  Maybe that is not completely new.  Maybe previous presidents were also taken advantage of.  But this one is so transparently hungering for flattery all day every day that he makes China’s job and Russia’s job and Iran’s job and pretty much every foreign leader’s job much too easy.  They ought to at least have to work a little in order to manipulate the United States government.  Well, actually Russia seems to have done just that, over years if not decades, with Trump.  And if and when Donald Trump and/or his family members are incarcerated, should we leave them in jail?  Should we forgive and pardon them?  Will they ever ask for our forgiveness?

 

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/trump-says-he-should-have-left-ucla-players-in-jail

 

 

 

 

G-d Updates Odds On Trump Getting Into Heaven

As you know, Donald Trump acknowledged on August 11, 2016, that getting into the White House was “probably the only way I’m going to get into heaven.”  So he thinks he has a shot.  But according to sources close to G-d, his odds have fallen to 7,000,000,000 to 1.  From 6,999,997,000 to 1, informed sources tell us.  Not a big change, you may think, but eternal salvation and election and (so-called) predestination may be less immutable than heathens like Trump believe.  He ought to think twice and three times before tweeting things that make his index finger fall off and his mouth fill up with lice and his nose with flies.  It is unfortunate that we elected a president so morally (and probably financially) compromised) that he has absolutely no moral authority to say anything about anything.  I suppose he tweeted an attack on Al Franken because if he couldn’t he would be implicitly admitting that stuff he’s done leaves him “jammed.”  Trump does not like to feel jammed.  Doesn’t mind jamming others, but just isn’t able to control himself when his own unsavory past really ought to make him stay quiet for a change.

I sure hope Trump’s past, and the many ways he is indebted and compromised, and the way he feels jammed, and his lack of impulse control, and his need to attack, won’t have any bad consequences for the United States and the world.  Oops.

 

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-winning-white-house-probably-only-way-ill-get-into-heaven/

Trump Hits The Mute Button, Why Oh Why Could That Be?

Why has our president suddenly gone silent?  What topic could possibly have gotten him to be discreet and quiet for a change?  OK, I give up, I just hope he goes quiet all the time on every topic and doesn’t sign any bills or issue any more threats or executive orders or anything troublesome at all.  Remember, Mr. Trump, Matthew 15:11–it ain’t what goeth into the mouth that defileth thee, it’s the stuff that comes out of the mouth that does the damage.

Loving The Tiny Postcard Tax Form, And I Know Paul Ryan Will Let All Of Us Send In Teeny Tiny Checks To The IRS

That postcard tax form that President Trump kissed the other day is so cute.  I am so confident that all the haters and fools will be proven wrong when the glorious freedom-loving Republicans pass their Tax Cuts And Jobs Act and I get to send the IRS a teeny tiny check next spring.  I know Paul will be happy to take cute emojis on the endorsement line in lieu of more money because he loves my freedom even more than I love it myself.  And Speaker Ryan doesn’t care about anybody except regular forgotten hard-working men and women, like the ones driving those autonomous vehicles into the new Foxconn factory in southeast Wisconsin where Speaker Ryan lives.  Oh?  There aren’t any truck drivers driving those autonomous vehicles?  And Foxconn isn’t paying taxes?  But who is going to pay for my Medicare and my cousin’s VA bills and my uncle’s disability?  Well, I am sure a smart young fellow like Paul Ryan will figure it out, those charts sure looked very convincing and his eyes are very blue.

“A Form Of Chaos Every Day From Day One”: We Knew That, JeffBo, Just Tell Us When It Ends!

Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions spoke some truth yesterday in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.  He remarked that while the Trump campaign was sometimes “brilliant,” it was also “a form of chaos every day from day one.”  He did not say and hardly needed to say that the chaos has not yet stopped and is unlikely to stop so long as Trump is president.  The chaos has taken a particularly ominous form: judicial integrity and independence are clearly unacceptable to our president.  Corollary to that: Trump seems unable to either imagine or accept that we Americans are citizens, not his vassals or supplicants.  The Fourteenth Amendment spoke of the “privileges and immunities” that everyone born in the United States possesses, but Trump has apparently either not heard of this part of the US Constitution or not accepted that it is more than “flotsam” (as Scalia flippantly and disgracefully claimed).  Will the “system” work, that is, will legitimate moral and political authority be able to reestablish itself?  That depends on hard choices being made by members of the legislative and judicial branches to check Trump’s abuses, and also on the capacity of principal players within the executive branch (Rod Rosenstein comes to mind) to act with integrity and compel Trump to acquiesce to their integrity or else fire them.  And then the survival of our republic will depend on Congress and the people, very likely in public protests, to denounce and oppose Trump with enough force to restore just order from chaos.

One reality of chaos in 2017 America is that we all risk whiplash from Trump’s daily assertion that his personal will and whim must be obeyed.  Our duty as citizens is to do our part to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitutional democracy and our republican, little r, form of government.  Trump’s agenda is personal arbitrary rule.  He claimed that he would put his business expertise and dealmaking excellence to work on behalf of the “forgotten men and women.”  Well, the stock market is certainly up, so some have benefited (so far) but Trump’s focus and happiness and glee seems mostly about being head of a crime family, as far as I can tell.  If I get arrested for shoplifting in China and he personally intervenes on my behalf (see the UCLA team members who returned to California today) I would owe him a personal thank you.  Otherwise, I owe him no special loyalty and no thanks until he actually does his job as a public servant.  My debt, like his, is to the principles and ideals of our “lively experiment,” as historian Sidney Mead put it.  And as M.L. King wrote in his last book, “where do we go from here: chaos or community?”  We are capable of better, capable of moving toward community, and there are some reasons for hope, but I expect our president (and his enablers, including foreign bots) will exploit every last opportunity to increase grievances and rub salt in wounds.  It will be up to us to keep our sense of proportion and good will towards one another, and resist the false choices and poison chalices Trump will surely place before us.

We Laughed It Off…They Weren’t Blonde Enough…Actually, A Couple Of Them Were Massively Blonde Enough…He Only Grabbed Three Of Them

President Trump’s former personal aide and bodyguard, Keith Schiller, is reported to have acknowledged that Trump was offered five Russian women in his Moscow hotel suite in 2013.  But no collusion!  Not today, anyway.  Tomorrow, who knows where the story will go.  Could Putin’s agents have failed to send blondes?  Seems quite unlikely.  Could Trump have been smart enough to tell Schiller, “they probably have cameras, I better take a hard pass?”  Perhaps not in those exact words, but…

Did Mitch McConnell Really Just Call For Donald Trump To “Step Aside”?

Oops, it’s actually Roy Moore who’s being asked to “step aside” if allegations in the Washington Post that he had a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl are “found to be true.”  OK, then.  Just wondering though if President Trump still presumed innocent of the allegations of twenty women?  Trump: can’t live with him but hard to live without him, it seems.

Update: Trump’s former (long-time) bodyguard Keith Schiller has apparently testified that Russians offered to send women to Trump’s Moscow hotel in 2013, but that the offer was refused.  Pardon me, could we replay the pussy-grabber video again.  How different could 2013 Trump have been from 2005 Trump, really?

Are “Consumers” Really “Defying” President By Signing Up For ACA Coverage? Think Again, NYT

Today’s NY Times includes a story by Robert Pear, “Pace of Sign-Ups Under Affordable Care Act Blows Past Prior Years.”  So far so good.  But the first paragraph imputes motives that may not exist: “More than 600,000 people signed up last week for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, significantly beating the pace of prior years as consumers defied President Trump’s assertion that the marketplace was collapsing.”

Begging your pardon, but I did not sign up for ACA coverage this year (or ever) in order to defy the president.  I am simply hoping to get the best healthcare coverage I can afford.  I can’t speak for the other six hundred thousand plus people, but I suspect that many if not most are just doing what needs to be done.

I am happy to disagree with Trump, protest against Trump, maybe even agree with something he says or does, but “defy”?  Does this mean that Trump is the royal and we “consumers” are the subjects?  The last king my people defied was King George III.  Does the NY Times have any better idea than President Trump that the national executive is a public servant and that our national greatness, such as it is, does not depend on royal prerogative?  And furthermore, that dissent and disagreement are prerogatives of citizens in a constitutional democratic republic?  And by the way, do we speak of giant corporations and billionaires as “defying” the president when they clamor for more loopholes, lower tax rates, more squiggly wriggly “pass-throughs”?

No Foolproof Solution Expected

Senator McConnell, as always, is correct when he says there is no “foolproof” solution for massacres like the one in Texas yesterday.  But he is old enough to know that legislation is not an exact science.  His commentary is true as far as it goes, but that’s not far at all.  Fox News is emphasizing the message that “there are no answers, only lots of questions.”  Is that really the kind of attitude that made our country as great as it is?  Such a no-can-do-spirit.

President Trump says this was a mental health issue, “not a gun situation.”  Could have fooled me.  Sure the shooter was very disturbed and troubled.  But are Americans really ten times or fifty times crazier that citizens of other countries?  No, though some days it might seem that way.  We are making choices.  None foolproof, but some choices are more self-destructive than others.

Do “Conservatives” Care About Separation Of Powers Anymore?

Anyone who deserves to call themselves conservative cannot happy hearing a president stomp all over the separation of powers.  If a president grasps at judicial power as well as executive power, and “conservatives” are silent, we are in trouble.  We are in trouble.

There is nothing conservative about an American president calling for the death penalty against someone not yet convicted of a crime.  If the legislative branch, out of a mix of cowardice, an overwhelming desire to please donors, and felt need to kowtow to a rabid base, does nothing to safeguard the “least dangerous” judicial branch, our constitutional republic will be badly wounded.  If the president is allowed to derail Mueller’s investigation we do not have separation of powers anymore (of course I know Mueller is operating under Justice Department regulations, but there is no real separation, no check, no balance left, if he is removed and Congress doesn’t immediately restore him as independent counsel or equivalent).  If we don’t have three branches of government we have lost the constitutional republic that “conservatives” claim to defend.  If we do not preserve, protect, and defend our constitutional republic, it’s gone and not easily restored.  There won’t be a gated community with gates strong enough to keep anybody safe.

John Kelly: Lack Of Compromise Caused Irish Potato Famine. Or The Civil War. History’s What I Say It Is.

Greg Sargent is right that the whole point of what Trump and now John Kelly say about Mueller and the Confederate statues and black Congresswomen is the power to define truth aside from or over against any and all verifiable fact or reality.  

https://mobile.twitter.com/ThePlumLineGS/status/925341656785801216

Trump says he cannot be tied down to “political correctness” because he is on a mission to MAGA.  But sometimes, just sometimes, there’s no daylight between political correctness and simple politeness and decency.

If I said lack of compromise is what caused the Irish potato famine, John Kelly might (rightly take) offense.  He might feel I was disrespecting his ancestors and making apologies for the genocidal actions of powerful English overlords.  He would probably be right.  But Kelly shows little understanding of or care for how or why his assaults on historical reality vis-a-vis the Civil War might outrage anybody who matters. (BTW Mr. Kelly there were more than “two sides,” there were also freed slaves–did you forget about them?)  Kelly did not display much conservative virtue on Fox TV last night.  Neither is he the adult in the Oval Office, unfortunately.  Conservatism in the USA, real conservatism worthy of the name, is about protecting liberty and keeping government within limits, not about enabling authoritarianism.  Real conservatives are suspicious of sweeping change, but not addicted to sentimentalizing past injustices.  (Kelly made apologies last night for Chinese authoritarian rule, too.)  John Kelly is not a conservative in my book, he is just an abusive reactionary.

Just A Teeny Tiny Collusion, Believe Me, And It Feels Like It Was Years Ago (But Wasn’t)

Really, sir, no collusion?  I believe you don’t recall much at all about it, last year was busy busy for all of us, but did you read the charging document for flippin’ Papadopoulos?  And how about “the Professor?” (Nice touch of classiness there, bet he might have gone to an Ivy League college too, even if Russian).

It’s all very complicated, of course.  Am hoping Putin will make bail for Manafort and Gates, and then explain everything to us with a press conference right quick.  Or if he would just tell us what his Twitter bot number really is, I would be satisfied with that.  Teeny tiny collusion, believe me.

We Might Or Might Not Need More Special Counsels, We Certainly Don’t Need Fewer

The mighty rightwing Wurlitzer is cranked up on high.  Presidential twitter is even more snowflake/hysterical than usual.   Hillary needs to be locked up; the only debate on Fox is how punishment should be administered.

I do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hillary Clinton is innocent of every crime in the U.S. Code.  I do know that Donald Trump and his associates are panicking.  I do know that when a president tweets “DO SOMETHING!” on a weekend morning he is trying to incite civil unrest.  Whether or not we the people elected a president who combines the worst traits of crime family head and mean girl–OK, it’s not “not,” that is what we did–now what?

We might need more investigations.  Some Democrats, maybe some Hollywood wrongdoers too, may need to suffer some consequences.  But Hillary’s not our real problem because she doesn’t have the nuclear codes.  She has no power to pardon people to cover her tracks and obstruct justice.  That is, she’s not president, in spite of Corey Lewandowski’s critique of the “Clinton administration.”

We do not need fewer investigators.  Of course Trump and his goodfellas would love to see Robert Mueller out of the picture.  It’s probably going to be up to the Republican Congress and maybe the federal courts to restrain Trump.  If they don’t, it will be up to the people to repel threats to our constitutional republic.

P.S. Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1792: “the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their prejudices and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion.”  In 2017 the enablers of the president are in danger of becoming what Hamilton called “Artificers of monarchy.” (H/T to Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare)

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Hamilton/01-12-02-0184-0002

Very Smart Man Trump Delaying Release Of JFK Files…Did Trump Collude With #&@$%?

Julian Assange blames US deep state for delay.  Of course he would say that.  Ted Cruz’s father is no longer with us, unfortunately.  Trump is the master of distraction.  Some people say King Xi of China pulling strings.  Putin called Xi “odin boyets,” i.e. “lone warrior.”  Is Trump really going to Asia next week?  Many people say he is going to settle up with whoever is holding his markers–who could that possibly be?  Is Russia in Asia?  Meanwhile don’t sign any mandatory arbitration clauses for anything no matter how much the sales people bamboozle you.  Obamacare is not dead yet, it’s just pining for the fjords.

Shame On Me For Not Realizing That Donald Trump Cannot Possibly Be A Flaming Ass Because He Went To An Ivy League School

I feel so very ignorant and trifling.  Little did I realize that people who went to Ivy League schools (even U. of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Finance? Is that Ivy League really and truly?) are automatically not-flaming-jackasses.  I must have misunderstood and misunderestimated the many such flaming individuals I encountered in eastern and western Massachusetts over the last forty-some years.  Silly me.

I Did Not “Specifically Authorize” Donald Trump To Be My Commander-In-Chief, And Yet…

So Trump says he did not “specifically authorize” the mission in Niger in which four U.S. soldiers were recently killed.

That’s swell.  Our dear leader will not be questioned, or blamed, for anything.  He will receive a standing ovation, and a perfect 10 out of 10.  In case something goes wrong, in case of SNAFU, the buck stops somewhere else.  Our new situation normal not normal at all.

And as a civilian U.S. citizen, I do not have a commander-in-chief.  I do not have a commanding general.  I retain the right–so far–and have the duty to question and evaluate and criticize or praise what they say and do.

GOP Says, “How Dare Democrats Pay Anybody To Investigate Our Stars, Putin And Trump?”

The “pee tape” is back in the news.  I’m being asked to believe that opposition research against Trump is a scandal?  Opposition research first paid for by Republicans?  Not sure why CNN and MSNBC and the NYT think it’s big news that Democrats would pay for opposition research targeting Donald Trump last year.  Trump and Breitbart and Fox are counting on their audience’s confirmation bias to gin up outrage once again.  But David Corn of Mother Jones reported the basic facts of the Steele dossier-Fusion GPS story twelve months ago, around Halloween 2016, and the FBI found Christopher Steele believable enough to follow up on his leads (if Trump has evidence that the FBI paid Steele, a) bring it forth–Trump is head of the executive branch of the U.S. government; he oversees and is responsible for the FBI, and b) so what? Steele was not acting as the agent of a foreign government, let alone a hostile or adversarial foreign government).  Fusion GPS has apparently worked for both political parties, and may have Kremlin connections too.  I wonder which wealthy GOP donor or candidate first employed Fusion to do opposition research on Trump.

If Trump really wants us to look into the “fake dossier,” I’m with him.  It’s available online.    https://themoscowproject.org/

Meanwhile, what’s this about Trump’s data people trying to collude with Julian Assange?   That’s one more piece of evidence, along with Manafort’s ties to Russian oligarchs and the eagerness of Trump Jr. to meet with Russians, that Donald Trump’s campaign was more than willing to accept any help it could get from Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Trump himself, on live TV in the summer of 2016, begged Putin to release stolen emails.

I don’t know how much of the Steele dossier is real news, and how much is fake.  I hope Robert Mueller and the Congress are willing and able to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, because our constitutional republic seems to me to be  hanging in the balance.

 

Fake Spartacus John Kelly Ends Up In Same Empty Barrel As Trump

John Kelly called Congresswoman Frederica Wilson an “empty barrel” and I was almost willing to believe that his memory of 2015 was accurate even as I rejected much of what he said as bitter nostalgia for a golden age of “sacredness” that excluded women and black and brown people from equal opportunity in pursuit of America’s bounty.  We now have video of Congresswoman Wilson at the ribbon-cutting event in 2015.  And who is the emptiest barrel now?  The Congresswoman may wear flashy flamboyant hats, but her memory looks more truthful than Kelly’s.  I am waiting for Kelly himself to come forward, man up, and apologize for his mistaken accusation.  (I am not expecting Sarah Sanders to apologize for envisioning the United States as a banana republic in which public questioning of the generals is verboten.)  I am not saying Kelly lied intentionally, but he is a grown man, responsible for his misstatements.  This is a separate issue from whether Trump was respectful or disrespectful toward La David Johnson’s widow and family.  That I don’t know for sure one way or the other and don’t need to know.  This is about John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, retired general, and his pseudo-Spartan attitude.  He served, his son died, and now he is a civilian and a political appointee of a civilian president.  All of us have a right and a duty to ask questions of Kelly and of Trump, and if we ask them sincerely we deserve respectful answers.  No member of the press–whose job is represent citizens by asking questions that hold government accountable–should accept Kelly’s dangerous limit on who can question him.  The press cannot control Kelly’s behavior much less Trump’s, but they might skip the “semper fi”  shout-out when Kelly refuses to take questions from anyone not personally connected with Gold Star families.  Kelly did nothing to bridge the very real gap between the military’s world and the civilian’s world.  He served, honorably so far as I know, but the last thing our country needs is any White House employee playing fake Spartacus in order to avoid answering questions.  A real Spartacus would not play such a dishonest game.

Kelly Said “I Appeal To America”; I Appeal To Chief Of Staff John Kelly

Mr. Kelly, if you want to keep the sacrifices of American soldiers “sacred,” you could reflect on who first made a public spectacle out of your own son’s death.  It wasn’t a Democratic Congresswoman listening to a speakerphone, it was our president and your boss.  He wasn’t counterpunching, he made this into a contentious issue all by himself.  Others, including media and politicians, may have all kinds of motives, and maybe some people are “empty barrels,” but if you think Trump was not gratuitously trashing President Obama to deflect blame from himself, you are deluding yourself.  If you think Trump ever allows the buck to stop with him, you are not paying close attention, and the country needs you to pay closer attention if you are going to stay in your job.  If the mother of Sgt. Johnson backed up Congresswoman Wilson’s account, which she did, what exactly stunned you?  She was traveling with the Johnson family when the call came; that’s between them, none of your concern.  If it is the violation of sacred sacrifices that stuns or offends you (and you do have a real point there, sadly) that ship sailed when Trump chose of his own free will to make an issue of Presidents Obama and Bush and how they responded to soldiers’ deaths.  Not to forget Trump’s unpardonable attack on John McCain for getting himself captured in Vietnam.

Soldiers on active duty may or may not the finest 1% of our country, but you are no longer among them.  You are a retired general, and you are now serving your country in a political role.  I cannot as a citizen let myself be swayed by deference to your past military service, because everything you do affects politics and policy.  Precisely because you are a civilian, it is vulgar and vicious of you to pull rank on the rest of us by claiming that non-military just don’t get what soldiers go through.  There are all kinds of ways to suffer, and you ought to know that at your age (which is about the same as mine).  You said today “there’s no reason to enlist.”  I’m not sure what you meant, unless it’s that there’s no draft and military service is entirely voluntary.  If you have such bitterness about the way our society is organized, and believe that there should be a military draft or some compulsory service, go on and say so.  Don’t be brittle, be constructive.  You lament the loss of sacredness: women aren’t held sacred anymore, you say, nor is religion.   Is that so?  The Constitution does not mention the word “God.”  That was not an accident or oversight by the Founders, and I do not need to hear you, a civil servant, tell me and my fellow citizens how or what or how much we should believe or practice our faith or not.  As for women, they know better than I the cost in lost opportunity of being held “sacred,” and have you watched any tapes of your boss talking about Megyn Kelly, or beauty pageants, or–really, sir, you might give the critiques of our culture’s coarseness a rest so long as you serve Trump.

I appeal to you as “Mr. Kelly” because you in 2017 are a political appointee of a (relentlessly political) president.  That president is not my commander-in-chief, not because of his own shirking of service, but because I am a civilian.  I have a president, I have representatives in Congress, I live in the midst of police officers and firefighters, but I do not live under the authority of any military commanders.  Your military identity is clearly central to you, and you showed today how grieved you are that the sacrifices of soldiers are not, in your eyes, held sacred.  You are on to something very real.  I would feel you were keeping perspective if you also acknowledged the dangerous ways that we have also become a society in which (as Rosa Brooks writes) “everything is war and the military is everything.”  You showed so much grievance and bitterness today that I wonder if you can even remember that you are serving in a political role in the White House–and it is not cool, not kosher at all for you in your current job to pull rank on and disparage civilian American life.  You are a civilian too now, and along with every other American, I have the right and in fact duty to exercise my best political judgment about you and your boss without being obstructed by the bad faith of your Spartanism.  I mean a bad faith that draws sharp lines between civilian and military when it suits one purpose but blurs the lines when that suits another purpose.   When you said today you would take questions only from those who are personally connected to a Gold Star family you lost touch with the greatness of our free press tradition.  Does your personal suffering insulate you from questioning from those you deem unworthy?  It takes all kinds to ask and to answer questions in a democratic nation, Mr. Kelly, and you head down a dangerous path when you forget that.

Finally, you chose to not answer the question, “what are doing in Niger anyway?”  You are not the only one to evade that question lately, but if our public officials can’t or won’t explain what our “warfighters” are fighting for, what kind of democratic constitutional republic do we have left?  I am sad to hear of American military deaths anywhere, but I also wonder, what the heck is going on?

“Memory Abusively Summoned” Once Again By President

Our president falsely claimed today that his predecessor Barack Obama “and other presidents” failed to call the families of U.S. soldiers killed in action.  Trump has apparently not yet called family members of the Green Berets killed in Niger.  Perhaps that is why he deflected and lied.  By the way, I don’t believe he has a record of military service that I could thank him for, does he?  So maybe he ought to lay low when it comes to who might or might not have shown disrespect for the military.  It takes some kind of nerve for him to claim that football players are disrespecting the flag when they protest against patterns of police violence against blacks by kneeling peacefully–and then make jokes about the flag and about prayer (according to reports about the so-called Values Voters Summit this past weekend, and a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer about Pence).  I’m not quite sure what it means when Jerry Jones takes a knee, or what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s message is, or what exactly the motives of Colin Kaepernick or other football players really are, but I do know that Trump is up to no good and is mainly rubbing salt on wounds to get people spun up and distracted from the damage he is doing to our whole health care system, not just the folks on Obamacare (which I believe is not dead, nor is it just “resting,” nor is it “pining for the fjords,” but I digress).

Trump has an acute feel for wounds and sore points in American memory.  He says that he wants nothing so much as American unity, but the catch is that the unity must involve subservience to and glorification of Trump.  He summons Americans to remember the past in a way that he says will make America great again, but he says little about “freedom” or “liberty,” and that’s no accident.  He has a sharp feeling for what divides us, and an acute sense for when and how to stir up feelings of grievance and victimhood.  But he has little feel for how to bind up wounds, how to encourage pluralism and a healthy diversity of opinion, and how to promote real social and political and economic reconciliation.

Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005), World War II POW, philosopher in France and at the University of Chicago, wrote in Memory, History, Forgetting how memories can be manipulated, blocked, and abused, as well as how commemoration is used by political elites to impose a particular version of collective memory so as to consolidate their power.  Trump’s version of “memory abusively summoned” (p. 57 in Ricoeur, MHF) is not new (and certainly not new for him!), but it is too insidious and pernicious to let pass.  Trump has low approval ratings and very low trust ratings right now, but even so it seems to take much effort of will for many in the media to report what is right in front of them: Trump is lying about Obama when he accuses Obama of disrespectful amnesia about dead soldiers.  Trump is summoning a First Amendment-free zone of anti-consitutional patriotism when he attacks football players and others who question police shootings.  Trump is summoning a false unity based on his authoritarian claim that “I alone,” (Trump the “charismatic chief sent from above,” in Max Weber’s terms) can solve America’s problems.  We as a country have a chance to put Trump in the rear-view mirror, so long as we don’t let him suppress our memories of what really made America as good and great as it is.  Every day with Trump is a day that will live in infamy, the infamy of memory manipulated and abused in service of one man’s narrowly bounded desires, not our country’s needs.

 

From Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, Chicago, 2004: “the abuses of natural memory….will be divided into three levels: on the pathological, therapeutic level, the disturbances of blocked memory will emerge; on the properly practical level, those of manipulated memory; and on the ethico-political level, those of a memory abusively summoned, where commemoration rhymes with rememoration.  These multiple forms of abuse expose the fundamental vulnerability of memory (57)….What we celebrate under the title of founding events are, essentially, acts of violence legitimated after the fact by a precarious state of right.  What was glory for some was humiliation for others….In this way, symbolic wounds calling for healing are stored in the archives of the collective memory (79)….It is…the selective function of the narrative that opens to manipulation the opportunity and the means of a clever strategy, consisting from the outset in a strategy of forgetting as much as in a strategy of remembering….where ideology operates as a discourse justifying power [and] domination…the resources of manipulation provided by narrative are mobilized….Even the tyrant needs a rhetorician, a sophist, to broadcast his enterprise of seduction and intimidation in the form of words….stories of founding events, of glory and humiliation, feed the discourse of flattery or of fear….imposed memory is armed with a history that is itself ‘authorized,’ the official history, the history publicly learned and celebrated….The circumscription of the narrative is thus placed in the service of the circumscription of the identity defining the community….To this forced memorization are added the customary commemorations.  A formidable pact is concluded in this way between remembrance, memorization, and commemoration (85)….It is useful, as it was in the time of the Greeks and the Romans, to reaffirm national unity by a liturgy of language, extended by the ceremonies of hymns and public celebrations.  But is it not a defect in this imaginary unity that it erases from the official memory the examples of crimes likely to protect the future from the errors of the past and, by depriving public opinion of the benefits of dissensus, of condemning competing memories to an unhealthy underground existence? (455).”

 

http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/bo3613761.html

 

Americans To Thug President Trump: Drop Dead, We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists Like You

Even if we are in pretty good health and have some money saved up, Trump acts as if he can take our friends, cousins, and our children hostage to his whims, and then we’ll give him what he wants.  What he wants is always the same: we bow down to his royal self and praise his wisdom and benevolence.

We really can’t afford to do what he wants, or treat him as if he is a serious person, let alone an honorable and authoritative figure.  I don’t expect him to be an expert on health care policy, but is it too much to ask that a president not act first and foremost out of obvious malice?  I don’t expect him to know that there is no president of the Virgin Islands other than him, but it would be great if he didn’t treat American citizens as disposable losers less than a month after they got flattened by two hurricanes.  But it looks like anything that gets in the way of Trump indulging himself in the pleasures of the thug life is going to fall by the wayside.

I Can Handle A Moron President, It’s The Psychopathic Vengeance Part That Gets Me “Concerned”

“Moron” isn’t the first word I would use to describe Trump.  It’s the vindictive, destructive, sociopathic, me-first, divide-to-conquer, scorched-earth narcissism that gets me.  I read that Trump is capable of listening to and in fact encourages diverse viewpoints and opinions.  (In other words, maybe Trump would win an IQ face-off with Tillerson; Corker’s critique of Trump are closer to the mark.)  He has acute sensitivity to the sore spots in our culture.  It’s what he does with his acuity that really worries me.

Could We Agree That Senator Corker Is “Simul Justus Et Peccator”: Justified And Sinner At The Same Time

Senator Bob Corker spoke obvious but taboo (for most Republican politicians) truths yesterday about President Trump.  If Trump is not a clear and present danger to our country and the world, I don’t know who or what would be.  This is not the time for progressives or liberals or “leftists” to dwell on Corker’s past sins, which I believe are multiple.  But all of us are, as Martin Luther said almost five hundred years ago, simultaneously sinners and justified.  I am not a Lutheran, but I have to agree that Luther’s formula captures a reality about people, even if I don’t want to accept the Smalcald Articles, or the Synod of Dort, or other confessions and creeds.  Corker did the United States a service by saying what he did, and it is up to the Republican majority in Congress, and the Cabinet secretaries, and the rest of us, to do what we can to preserve and protect our constitutional republic and make our country as great as it can possibly be.  Corker, for the moment, has done his part.

I Defend The President’s First Amendment Right To Speak In Favor Of The False And Vicious Binary Choices He Loves So Much

The President has every right to say what he likes, even and maybe especially when he defaults to the false and nasty binary choices he loves to use so he can pretend to be a uniter instead of what and who he really is.

And of course it’s not at all about race and the president, of course, has said nothing about race.  And I have such a bad case of historical amnesia that I can barely tell that he’s BSing us when he isn’t flat-out lying.  I can barely tell that it’s really all about the dog whistles.

New Lane Change Departure Warning Systems Not Yet Good Enough To Control President Trump

First, I defend President Trump’s First Amendment right to say whatever sick, twisted, ugly ideas pop into his head.  Maybe our country will ultimately turn out better off for having to deal with his wretched, heathen, malicious words and actions.  I also support the right of Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, LeBron James, and all other athletes and non-athletes to express their political and social opinions, in any setting they choose.  I also reserve the right to turn off the TV, unplug the device, block (or try to) the targeted ads, and go out for a walk while the sun shines.

Maybe pro athletes would be better off “staying in their own lane,” but that is a trivial debate compared with the problem of Trump staying in his own proper sphere.  Of course he isn’t really up to it, which explains the unending sideshows.  He is doing very few of us any good by refusing to pay attention to actually improving people’s lives.   If President Trump would stay in his own governance lane (which should not be “playing the fool” but here we are) and focus on improving the opportunities open to the American people, he might achieve some actual success.  He could focus on the help people in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands need.  He could focus on rebuilding our worn-out infrastructure.  He could admit that his cabinet secretaries have abused their position to rip off taxpayers by taking private jets for no good reason, and fire them.

All that might be harder work than deflecting and distracting us, and I am not at all sure he is up to studying the actual details of, say, a health care proposal for more than 30 seconds.  He promised all kinds of great improvements to the supposedly abominable Affordable Care Act, yet he has harmed millions of his own supporters by sabotaging the law that is still “on the books,” while denying that any bad outcomes could ever be his fault–as if the glory of being president brings no corresponding accountability.  If he would pay any attention at all to specifics he would know that the latest Graham-Cassidy plan falls way short of his promises.  His fellow Republicans have given up pretending that they have a plan that will cover everybody, or even the same number of people now covered.  Paul Ryan and other Republicans have attacked the idea that healthy people should have to pay for sick people getting care–that’s the way most insurance works, guys.  We all hope we stay well and our cars don’t get rear-ended and our homes don’t get hit by an asteroid.  In the meantime, we pay for insurance.  We will be better off the sooner we get to a universal risk pool.  Attention definitely needs to be paid to free-rider problems and to setting incentives and nudges and limits, but we can do all that and move much nearer to universal coverage.

Steve Bannon Denies Trump “Literally” Belongs In Ninth Circle Of Dante’s Hell (Hint: 8th)

Steve Bannon, in his interview with Charlie Rose of CBS, claimed that the Access Hollywood (“grab them”) tape had no lasting impact on last year’s campaign “yet, if you see the mainstream media that day, it was, literally, he was falling into Dante’s inferno.”  Let’s fact-check that statement.

The first circle of hell isn’t really hell proper but limbo, for virtuous pagans, and Trump does not qualify because he is a baptized Christian, sorry bad luck Mr. President, better luck in some other universe.  The second circle of Dante’s hell is reserved for the lustful.  Enough said.  Circle #3 is for gluttons, little doubt there (two scoops!).  Circle four is for the greedy, whom Trump literally tried to shove out of his way in a futile effort to get back to circle 2, but he fell back downward instead and encountered a few more of his fellow hoarders and spendthrifts (did I mention that Trump Dubai is using a Chinese-government-owned contractor, contrary to one of Trump’s campaign promises?) before descending to the lowest circle of upper hell, the one occupied by the wrathful (“lock her up”; “I’m the fucking president”).

And now unbar the gates of Dis and welcome to Nether Hell.  The River Styx will soon be the happiest memory you have left, Donald, as we cross from passive sin to active sin, starting with heresy and idolatry.  Trump might at first seem innocent of heretical ideas, but if we scratch just a little we remember his denial that ever needs to repent for anything.  If that is not heresy and idolatry, what is?  Trump is guilty of obdurate refusal to ever acknowledge humbleness.  And this is not yet the worst of the active sins.  Next is the seventh circle of Dante’s inferno, home to the violent: the war-makers, tyrants, plunderers, blasphemers, sodomites, the violent against art, and usurers.  Perhaps Mr. Trump has not yet committed all of these horrible sins, but we haven’t seen all the tapes yet either, have we?

Over the waterfall we go, over the great cliff, down to the eighth circle, where we are met by Geryon, the Monster of Fraud.  A truly Trumpian circle, containing the malicious, the panderers, the seducers, the flatterers, the falsifiers, the sowers of discord, the grafters, the barrators (think “emoluments clause”!), and the simoniacs (not sure about this, but Mueller ought to look into it too IMHO).  And finally, the ninth circle of hell, in which the traitors dwell.  Not that I feel any great sympathy for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but do you think in their hearts they harbor any doubt at all that Donald J. Trump belongs right here?  Anyone think they would lend him a hand or a rope?  Let’s leave Mr. Trump here where he belongs, bearing in mind of course that Dante wrote two more books.  And that Trump himself admitted that becoming president was probably his last best shot at getting into heaven–yes, he did really say that!

 

An Update On Disinformation Operations On Facebook

To the best of my knowledge I have never promised Facebook anything or accepted any of Facebook’s Terms of Service or acknowledged Facebook’s “Rights and Responsibilities.”  But just because I have been uninterested in belonging to Facebook doesn’t mean Facebook has been uninterested in subsuming me (and all other humans on our planet) in its grand social project.  (See Pericles of Athens: “just because you are not interested in politics does not mean politics is not interested in you.”)

Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, posted an “update on information operations on Facebook” yesterday.  Stamos acknowledges that Russian interference in last year’s election included about $100,000 worth of Facebook ads (which I assume is the tip of the iceberg).  He also acknowledges that “we know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform,” but he does not yield the high ground, asserting that “we believe in protecting the integrity of civic discourse, and require advertisers on our platform to follow both our policies and all applicable laws.”  OK, Mr. Stamos, let’s back it up a bit.  You “require”?  I think you didn’t.  I think you and Mark Zuckerberg did not make that “requirement” a high enough priority.  I am glad to hear that Facebook is “exploring several new improvement to [y]our systems for keeping inauthentic accounts and activity off” Facebook.  If you are serious about spending some real money to keep Russian troll farms away from our next election, that’s great.  I suspect that you and Mr. Zuckerberg did not do enough to protect our election last year because of a particular blind spot: you feel overregulated.  You are mistaken.  We can and should debate how to implement net neutrality and how to keep the internet and social media from becoming even more dystopian than current trends portend.  But the bias of Silicon Valley that “we are a whole lot smarter than government, let alone the masses, and the world is best off when we pay minimal taxes because we will choose philanthropic projects that are far better than what government would come up with.”  Maybe that’s partly true, but Silicon Valley’s success in evading regulations (and Congressional paralysis and tech illiteracy, to be fair) led to a disastrous outcome last year.  I am not referring to the victory of Trump so much as the grossly suboptimal investment in real time in technologies and human-engineer-power that could have kept trolls, bots, and other “inauthentic” activity at bay.  Does your “suboptimalness” bother you yet, Mr. Zuckerberg?  Do you have the “bandwidth” to deal with the serious problem on your hands?  Are you willing, despite continuing underregulation of your remarkably profitable enterprise, to look at a picture that is possibly even bigger than the glorious philanthropic initiatives you have doubtless planned?  Do you actually have enough social imagination to lead Facebook where it needs to go?

 

An Update On Information Operations On Facebook

VP Pence Turns Heathen: This Catastrophe Of Nature Must Be Made Into A Catastrophe Of Future Debt

After Hurricane Katrina, Mike Pence, then an Indiana Congressman, said on the House floor that “as we begin to rebuild…let’s figure out how we’re going to pay for it.  Congress must ensure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren.”  That was then. Today Pence said in Rockport, Texas, that Houston is going to be rebuilt “bigger and better.”  Pious hypocrisy at the expense of poor people and non-Republican people comes naturally to the Vice President.  But Pence leaped beyond hypocrisy today into heathenism.

If Pence actually cared about not creating a catastrophe of future debt, rebuilding Houston even bigger is wrong and stupid.  Paving over what’s left of the prairies that used to soak up rainwater, and loosening lax building codes even further, is not going to reduce future government debt unless the federal government treats Texans as if they had truly seceded and excludes them from disaster relief.  President Trump signed an executive order just ten days before Hurricane Harvey hit that revoked prudent regulations set in 2015 but not yet put into force.  The Obama-era rules, according to Business Insider, “would have required the federal government to take into account the risk of flooding and sea-level rise as a result of climate change when constructing new infrastructure and rebuilding after disasters.”  That kind of basic stewardship of resources and that kind of cautiousness are apparently foreign to the Trump-Pence administration.  In fact, Pence’s “bigger and better” promise today goes beyond hypocrisy and amounts to false piety.  How so?  What Pence’s embrace of Osteen-style prosperity gospel doesn’t get about Christian faith is something John Calvin grasped quite clearly: the doctrine of God’s providence does not authorize or empower us to stop paying prudential attention to the “secondary causes” we find in the visible world.  Believing in God’s providence does not allow, much less require, us to rebuild “bigger” in a subtropical coastal plain that has become a toxic swamp of hazardous and explosive chemicals.  Faithful Christian stewardship (and Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or pagan stewardship, for that matter) of our only planet is a far cry from the heathenish YOLO attitude we hear from Trump and Pence whenever it suits their political purposes.

Paul Ryan, by the way, has attacked Obamacare because it crushes “freedom” and forces healthy people to pay for sick people.  How does Speaker Ryan feel about forcing dry people to pay for flooded people?  That is how risk pools work, Paul.  I do feel that if the federal government makes sensible regulatory restrictions on rebuilding after disasters difficult or impossible, we are in for an even faster race to the bottom, and an ugly future in which an universal American risk pool for health care or disaster relief recedes onto an even more distant horizon.

The Sovereign Prerogative Of Pardon Can And Should Be Majestic

Immanuel Kant, writing less than a decade after the U.S. Constitution gave our president an almost unlimited power to grant pardons, wrote that “of all the rights of a sovereign, the right to grant clemency to a criminal…is the slipperiest one for him to exercise; for it must be exercised in such a way as to show the splendor of his majesty, although he is thereby doing injustice in the highest degree–with regard to crimes of subjects against one another it is absolutely not for him to exercise it; for here failure to punish is the greatest wrong against his subjects.  He can make use of it, therefore, only in case of a wrong done to himself…This right is the only one that deserves to be called the right of majesty” (Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Right, Part II, #49).

Our current president has just exercised his pardon prerogative for the first time by commanding amnesty for former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt earlier this summer for ignoring a federal court order to cease arrests based on racial profiling.  Arpaio had not yet been sentenced, so the pardon short-circuited both the juridical process and the work of the Justice Department pardon attorney. The pardon is irreversible from a legal point of view, but our First Amendment also permits me to give my opinion that the president’s action was the opposite of majestic and has irreversibly dimmed the splendor that could have belonged to him.  Instead of displaying the splendor of his majesty, he slipped and fell into an underworld of shadows.   He confirmed the fears of the founders who feared during the debates of 1787 and 1788 that the executive pardon power could be abused in just the way we saw yesterday.

From Kant’s ethically rigorous vantage point, Trump’s pardon of a political ally was utterly knavish, not at all kingly (or “very presidential”).  The concerns of founders (some of whom were antifederalists) such as “Centinel” (Samuel Bryan of Pennsylvania) and Luther Martin of Maryland regarding the pardon power were rigorous in a different sense.  Their rigorous thoughts were in the domain of prudential politics.  They were worried about the dangers to civil society of unchecked presidential pardon power.  “Centinel” proposed in the Philadelphia Freeman’s Journal of October 24, 1787,  a “small council” without which the “chief magistrate could abuse his authority, “for as it is placed [solely in the president] he may shelter the traitors whom he himself or his coadjutors…have excited to plot against the liberties of the nation.”  Is it hyperbolic to worry that our president might “shelter traitors” he himself has riled up in order to weaken our constitutional liberties?  How many of us are unwilling to give our president yet another benefit of the doubt, when he seems to enjoy unchecked powers a whole lot more than working with anyone in Congress on actual nitty-gritty and possibly unpopular details of any issue at all?  Here’s what Luther Martin worried about in “The Genuine Information” (Not Fake News, that is), published in the Maryland Gazette, January 29, 1788: “the power given to the president of granting reprieves and pardons, was also thought extremely dangerous, and as such opposed–The president thereby has the power of pardoning those who are guilty of treason…it was said that no treason was so likely to take place as that in which the president himself might be engaged–the attempt to assume to himself powers not given by the constitution, and establish himself in regal authority–in which attempt a provision is made for him to secure from punishment the creatures of his ambition, the associates and abettors of his treasonable practices, by granting them pardons should they be defeated in their attempts to subvert the constitution.”  Did Luther Martin foresee what happened in last year’s election?  Did he know the names of Paul Manafort and Felix Sater and Kislyak and Putin?  Of course not–but I can imagine he knew people like them.  The Arpaio pardon, legal but knavish, is not the big problem; the big problem is what might come next.

Federalist par excellence Alexander Hamilton saw (Federalist paper #74) reasons for and against the exclusively presidential pardon power.  For: “it is not to be doubted that a single man of prudence and good sense, is better fitted, in delicate conjunctures, to balance the motives, which may plead for and against the remission of the punishment, than any numerous body whatever.”  But also against: “the supposition of the connivance of the Chief Magistrate [in crimes of treason] ought not to be entirely excluded.”  Hamilton in his wisdom is telling us, I think, that no formula or text or even “norm” is guaranteed to give us good outcomes or to protect us against a corrupt executive devoid of conscience.  Are we there yet?

Thomas Browne Wants A Word With Our President

“To ruminate upon evils, to make critical notes upon injuries, and to be too acute in their apprehensions, is to add unto our own tortures, to feather the arrows of our enemies, to lash ourselves with the scorpions of our foes, and to resolve to sleep no more.”  Thomas Browne wrote that in the 17th century, but it does seem to explain some of the wee wee hours tweets.  I thought that eight years of President Obama was probably enough, but does #45 realize that if he eclipsed Obama that that makes Trump the moon and Obama will re-emerge as the sun does after eclipses?  Is Trump playing some extradimensional chess invisible to me?  I hope not.

“You Can’t Change History”? Really? What About Airing It Out A Little Bit?

Hat tip to Charles P. Pierce for his comment the other day that while he doesn’t want to sanitize history, he would like to fumigate it.  Our Sanitizer-in-Chief, in spite of himself, may help us fumigate our history and reconsider our memories.  He said today it is “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.  You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.  Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson–who’s next, Washington, Jefferson?  So foolish!  The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

The President is not a trained professional historian and should not be judged as such.  He has, however, insisted that he comprehends very well and he is right in this case.  He displayed considerable familiarity with the talking points of 21st-century white nationalism and neo-Confederate ideology.  For example, he repeated their assertion of the moral equivalence of Washington with Lee and Stonewall Jackson at least in part to deflect attention from his indefensible comments Tuesday excusing the neo-Nazi torchbearing marchers.  Trump (perhaps guided by a poll-reading Bannon) attacked those who propose removing monuments to Confederate war heroes.  “Where does it stop?” asks Trump.  I would say that “it” doesn’t stop, if “it” is the struggle over how to remember, venerate, honor, or dishonor leading figures from our past.  Washington, Jefferson, and several other Founders were born into slaveowning societies; some of them eventually freed some of their slaves, while others did not.  Other Founders were not slaveholders, but for the sake of ratifying a national Constitution accommodated the slaveholding societies of the Southern states (not forgetting Northern profiteering off the slave trade, as well as slaveholding in the North itself; Connecticut did not abolish slavery until 1848).  Perhaps all the Founders were hypocrites in La Rochefoucauld’s sense of vice paying tribute to virtue.  We do not, however, have monuments to national traitors such as Benedict Arnold.  Trump equated nation-builders with would-be nation-destroyers.  Maybe Trump’s “where does it stop?” Is an aggressive way of letting his “forgotten men” and “deplorables” know that the respectable elites can’t handle the whole sordid truth, and that if he (Trump) is going down he will take all his complacent enemies with him.

When monuments to Confederate generals were put up, usually by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, decades after the Civil War the intent may well have been, in part, to celebrate Southern “heritage” and history.  But many if not most such memorials, as well as many of the reunions decades after the Civil War between Grey and Blue, were done with the intent of solidifying white supremacy and the same-as-it-ever-was subjugation of black Americans, thereby erasing the abomination of Reconstruction.  Historian Eric Foner described the post-Civil War collision between two ways of remembering that war: the “reconciliationist” memory that “emphasized what the two sides shared in common, particularly the valor of individual soldiers, and suppressed thoughts of the war’s causes and the unfinished legacy of emancipation,” versus the “emancipationist” vision of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, with its “new birth of freedom.”  Within a dozen years after the Civil War, “reconciliation” between North and South meant the end of Reconstruction and the end of restraints on white supremacist terrorism in the South.  Slavery was no longer legal, but the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal citizenship for all had become a dead letter and the Fifteenth Amendment guarantee of the voting rights was ignored in the former Confederate States.  The emancipationist vision waited almost a hundred years for a Second Reconstruction.  Ken Burns’s Civil War TV series, which has become the canonical story for many millions of us in the early 21st century, does not suppress either of these ways of remembering.  (For example, at risk of oversimplifying their views, the final “Was It Not Real” segment includes Barbara Fields as well as Shelby Foote.)  But there was, I feel, a reconciliationist gauziness in the way the reunions of aged Civil War veterans brought the curtain down on the show.  For white Americans north and south in the days of Donald Trump’s–and Hillary Clinton’s–youth, the reconciliationist version of remembering the Civil War dominated.  Some rememberings were gauzier than others and some were indifferent toward black Americans while others were actively hostile.  And in last fall’s presidential campaign, Trump was unfortunately not the only candidate to buy into a version of Reconstruction in which black Southern political participation after the War was marred by “barbarous” freedmen and the end of Northern efforts to impose on white Southerners was thus a blessing  (See Ta-Neheisi Coates’s article in The Atlantic, January 26, 2016 on Hillary Clinton and the Dunning School).

So when Donald Trump says “you can’t change history,” he is right in a narrow sense, but he is perhaps clever enough to know or feel that that is not really what is at stake.  It’s not just a matter of what the traces in archives will disclose to conscientious researchers.  It’s a question of what we the people want and need to remember and memorialize and venerate.  And of whose memories and feelings get to count, and whether we have the gumption to undergo the process of “truth and reconciliation,” as the post-apartheid commission in South Africa put it.  I wonder if President Trump could acknowledge that what he is really saying could be “I am not happy that my childhood prejudices and presumptions are being challenged.  Never mind that I am 71 years old, I demand to hold on to what I learned was true in 1953 or 1954.”  And what Trump, and many of us who get the benefit of the doubt while others don’t, really want to hold onto is the comfort and privilege of willful blindness to the claims of people who have suffered subjugation.

Trump senses the power of monuments and memorials, which are liable to activate our nostalgia and freeze out any critical reassessment of our past.  British historian John Lukacs wrote that the “remembered past is a much larger category than the recorded past.”  We are about to experience a total eclipse next week all across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina.  I hope that we are also in for an experience (that lasts longer than two minutes) of reckoning with the light and shadow of memory and forgetting that does not end in forced amnesia, but with a thorough airing out of our history and culture,  We need to consider changing and enlarging the scope of some of our memories.

Where Does It Stop? Good Question, Trump–Who Knew Truth And Reconciliation Could Be So Complicated?

President Trump did raise a very important question today: where does it stop?  Who and what should be remembered and memorialized and commemorated?  The statues of Confederate leaders, as a rule, did not go up right after the Civil War.  Robert E. Lee himself was opposed to putting up monuments to Confederate generals.  The monuments went up as living memory faded away in the early twentieth century, and especially in the post-World War I backlash against black people, spurred by their fighting and dying in that war and by the unforgivable presumption of surviving black veterans that they ought to get some respect.  Nothing doing, said conventional white American wisdom.  The peak of Confederate commemoration was the heyday of the Klan, the 1920s, and not only in the South.  (As Malcolm X said, if you are south of the Canadian border you are in the South.)

Donald Trump challenged those who, he said, want to “change history” and “change culture.”  I thought he wanted to be a great president.  Doesn’t he want to have a crack at changing history and culture?  Yes, truth and reconciliation are complicated.  No time like the present to get started.  By the way, I accept that the only empirically verifiable doctrine of Christian faith, as Reinhold Niebuhr said, is original sin (and I do not feel any need, in spite of that, to subscribe to the the whole scheme of vicarious atonement).  Because of that, I do not feel any need to prove the moral purity or righteousness of the people who counter-protested against the neo-Nazis, white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Confederates.  Proving or disproving their moral perfection is beside the point.  The family history of the accused murderer in Charlottesville sounds heartbreaking, but that is finally beside the point too.  The point is who do we honor, and where do we want to go next.  If our president does not want to be considered a despicable racist, fine.  Show us a way forward.  Show us who and why and what should be considered memorable and venerable.

BTW Mr. Trump I doubt Rupert Murdoch wants to go down in flames with you.  Watch yourself.

President Snowflake J. Trump Turning Blue In Face Waiting For Merck To Lower “Ripoff Drug Prices”

After the CEO of Merck criticized the president’s response to Charlottesville and resigned yesterday from Trump’s Manufacturing Council, our snowflake-in-chief wasted less than an hour before attacking.  “Now…Ken Frazier…will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

I’m as eager as anyone to see drug prices come down.  But I can’t help thinking that instead of responding like the petulant snowflake he usually presents himself as, our president could do something constructive to help out millions of Americans by taking a couple of steps that would actually lower drug prices.  The head of Merck is in business to make money.  (By the way Frazier, unlike Trump, is not bound by the emoluments clause, which Trump is violating every day.  The Constitution forbids presidents from charging ripoff prices for hotels, restaurants, golf courses, etc. because the Founders feared a corrupt ruler, like Trump, putting the interests of foreigners (such as Russians or Turks, among others) above the interests of U.S. citizens.)  Merck is in no position to lower their prices unilaterally because that would put their shareholders’ investment at risk.  But the American president can do at least two things today that could lower drug prices: 1) tell Congress to revise the Medicare drug benefit law passed in the George W. Bush years, and insist that the federal government have power to negotiate drug prices, which current law forbids.  Current law is a big fat giveaway to drug companies.  The law practically begs drug companies to charge ripoff prices.  Memo to Trump: stop being such a snowflake, pay some attention to details, and become a real hero; 2) use your presidential authority to direct HHS and Healthcare.gov to stabilize the Obamacare exchanges.  Rebrand the exchanges as Trumpcare if that makes you feel better.  Then push for a public option, or a Medicare buy-in for people aged 55 or 60, or even lay out how a single-payer system could lower drug prices.  Get a grip on the oath you took, which was to serve the American people.

Choose Your Babyface

Babyface Kim seems to have long-term strategic goals.  Babyface Trump, well, “long-term” isn’t a word I would associate with him but I hope I’m wrong about that.  In fairness to Babyface #2, he did inherit a problem.  North Korea has been working to become a nuclear-armed state since the 1950s, and tested a nuclear weapon over ten years ago (2006).  Babyface #2 is acting as if Babyface Kim is the one with more to lose.  Does Babyface #1 recognize this as bluster and bluff?  When you have to hope that the leader of North Korea has a better sense of humor than the American president does and a clearer sense of the real incentives in the “game” being played than Trump does, it’s not a happy day.

Newt Gingrich, bless his heart, defended Mitch McConnell vis-a-vis Trump by observing that the president is a player on the field, who ought to be playing with the Republican team, not acting as if he is the owner in a skybox.  Trump will do his very best to stay in the skybox and avoid blame for anything and everything that happens on the field.  Not a great approach if you actually wish to achieve political and domestic policy goals, even misguided and harsh ones.  I think it’s an even worse strategy to climb down out of the “leader of the free world” foreign affairs skybox and recklessly intensifying a mudwrestling match with a truly world-class piglet.  He seems likely to enjoy it more than we will.  Hope I am wrong about that, and that Babyface #2 is making the best of a very tricky situation.

P.S. Maybe a North Korean missile will misfire, come down in Manchurian countryside, and China will decide to put an end to Kim’s regime?

 

https://imgur.com/lIuLT0z

What Excuses Will They Make When Trump Shoots Pepe The Frog On Pennsylvania Avenue?

Well, I am very concerned.  It is a distraction.  The President would probably be well advised to refrain from shooting frogs.  At least in daylight.  But at the end of the day, it is what it is, and it’s just Trump being Trump.  Plus the President said many people told him Pepe was transgender, so there’s that.  And what about the time Obama and Hillary fecklessly…

Will McConnell Be Remembered As The American Version Of Franz Von Papen?

Franz von Papen, through dithering and denial. allowed Hitler to seize power in 1933.  Von Papen did not foresee that norms would be no protection against a tyrant determined to seize all the levers of power.  Does McConnell realize that if he lets the Senate recess, giving Trump the chance to appoint a new attorney general without Senate confirmation, he will have allowed Trump to shut down the rule of law?  And that he, Mitch McConnell, in spite of mainstream media both-sidesism and what=aboutism, will not be remembered as anything but an enabler of dictatorship?  I bet he does have an inkling of all this, but is still pretending to himself that he can somehow “drop Trump like a hot rock,” as he promised his Senate colleagues not too long ago.  Good luck, Mitch.  You will be remembered, one way or the other.

BTW if McConnell really wanted a “robust debate” on our healthcare system, he might try starting with public hearings, a Senate committee process, and “regular order” instead of the extreme secrecy (that Democrats have also used but never on an issue nearly this big).  That is if Sen. McConnell actually cared about a robust debate.

Trump Deploys New Justice Department Forfeiture Policy To Seize Jeff Sessions’ Dignity

Could not have happened to a more deserving, or innocent, victim, depending on your POV.  Just as soon as Attorney General Sessions announced his plan to reinstate civil asset forfeitures on the grand scale he has been dreaming of since he was an Eagle Scout, President Trump turned the tables on Jefferson Beauregard Sessions by seizing his dignity.

It’s nice that Sen. Lindsay Graham has tweeted a persuasive defense of Attorney General Sessions.  But if Sen. McConnell allows the Senate to go into recess, enabling Trump to make a recess appointment who will fire Mueller, McConnell will be remembered for that cowardly act as much or more than anything else in his long Senate career.  And it’s nice that Rush Limbaugh finds the way Trump is treating Sessions to be “discomforting” and “unseemly.”  But Rush, is that all you got?  Are you really “sending your best” against Trump’s attack on our constitutional republic?  Rush, why not man up and call out Trump for the unpresidential and un-American tyrant he is?  Trump is no friend of principled, limited-government conservatism.  Wake up and smell the tyranny, Rush, before it’s too late.  When Trump comes for you, will you have any legs to stand on?  By the way, if this were just about warfare between Democrats and Republicans, enabling Trump would be less odious and cowardly.  But Trump could care less about loyalty to a political party or a governing philosophy or an ideology.  It’s all about him and his money and his glory and his vengeful self.  Enabling a person like that has little upside, to say the least.

Is Trump Articulate Bright And Clean Enough Yet?

Am I disappointed that Anthony Scaramucci is not letting us know anything at all, in his first White House briefing, about what stocks to buy.  Sad, and low energy.  President Trump, on the other hand, is getting brighter, cleaner, and more articulate every week.  His interpretation of the Napoleonic wars, for example.  Long story short, “Napoleon ended up a little bit bad,” or words to that effect, per his New York Times interview this week.  Trump is way too articulate, bright, and clean to end up like Napoleon.  No freezing Russian tundra for him, no way.  Trump will never end up stuck to the seat of a frozen Siberian toilet.  Believe me.   The system works.  Only the very shiniest golden toilet.

Why Did President Trump Just Declare That President George Washington Was A Crazy Loser?

Donald Trump tweeted this morning that “the Senate must go to a 51 vote majority instead of current 60 votes.  Even parts of full Repeal need 60.  8 Dems control Senate.  Crazy!”

He may be right that our system of checks and balances, and our tradition of separation of powers, is crazy.  It is certainly inconvenient right this minute for a Republican president and a Republican House and a Republican Senate.  The Republicans control the Supreme Court too.  But their control is apparently not yet solid enough to erase “Obamacare.”  (Their control over the hearts and minds of Americans is also apparently not solid enough for them to take a real stand against foreign hostile powers such as Russia hacking our next election.)  So Mr. Trump in effect calls George Washington a loser and a fool.  Really, you may say.  Yes, really: according to Moncure Conway, writing in 1872, “there is a tradition that Jefferson, coming home from France (after the Constitution had been drafted), called Washington to account at the breakfast table for having agreed to a second, and, as Jefferson thought, unnecessary legislative chamber.  ‘Why,’ asked Washington, ‘did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer, before drinking?’  ‘To cool it,’ answered Jefferson, ‘my throat is not made of brass.’  ‘Even so,’ rejoined Washington, ‘we pour our legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.'”

The Senate was not designed to achieve the rapid resolution of conflicts possible in a parliamentary system.  Our second legislative chamber’s “cooling saucer” has blockaded and obstructed plenty of social progress (civil rights being Exhibit A) but it has also slowed or stalled plenty of horrible ideas, as 2017 (so far) shows.

If the president is fed up with all the obstacles to absolute rule, and wants to toss the Resolute desk over and go home to Manhattan, I say let him go .  If, however, he can overcome his snowflake personality and offer any ideas whatsoever that would improve upon the many flaws in the delivery of health care in this country,  let him speak now.  Let him spell out in detail just how he proposes to reshape the American healthcare system, or else be judged as the shallow and vindictive blowhard he now appears to be.  George Washington is watching him–and the rest of us too.

P.S. Donald Trump on Twitter, September 26, 2012: “Obama’s complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are BS since he had full control for two years.  He can never take responsibility.”

Too Soon For A National Day Of Fasting And Humiliation?

If the president of the United States is about to go down, I hope that we, the people, do not lose track of our role in enabling him.  The English and New English Puritans may have overdone the hair shirt sometimes, but this is a moment when the Puritan custom of days of fasting, prayer, and humiliation might well be good for us.  Some of us might wish to skip straight to the Day of Rejoicing over the downfall of Trump, but today should not yet be that day.

Maybe a few of us are not to blame for the low-rent mobster government that is now in place.  But many if not most of us did too little to protect American democracy and our constitutional republic.  That goes especially for the Republican Party, which suffered a hostile takeover and an astonishing loss of dignity.  But the Democratic Party and the apathetic nonvoters and the many millions of political independents–can we really say we are not at least partly to blame for the Wrestlemania presidency?  Are we embarrassed?  Do we want to look away?  Yes, but we also need, for our own sake, to reckon with our own failure to do enough to promote and defend civilization and culture and decency.

P.S.  I am not saying that those who voted for Trump are necessarily more blameworthy than those who voted for Clinton or someone else or no one at all.  Trump was garish and bombastic and offensive to many Trump voters, who nevertheless believed him the lesser evil.  That was then, Hillary is not the issue anymore.  She is not next in line if and when Trump goes down.  That would be Pence.  I only hope he turns out to be no worse than a conventional rightist meathead.  And some victims of Trump’s seduction may not yet or ever be penitent.  But we as a people (or we as an electoral college) might all do well to consider ourselves penitent victims of seduction, as we try to rehabilitate our democratic constitutional republic.

Video Of Putin Laughing At Trump Is Not Fun To Watch, But How Else Are We Going To Become Penitent Victims Of Trump’s Seduction

There used to be homes for penitent victims of seduction.  The whole United States is, or probably will soon be, such a home–for just about all of us.  I am not sure what the true story behind Trump’s utter loss of dignity vis-a-vis Vladimir Putin really is.  I do know that Mr. Putin is openly laughing at Trump. H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, and Steve Mnuchin did not deny Putin’s claim that Trump accepted Putin’s denials of election hacking.  Of course Putin is happy to pocket his victories and move on without “relitigating the past,” as Russian award-winner and U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson put it.  And of course no one wants needless confrontation much less war with Russia.  But when the president of Russia treats the president of the USA the same way Trump treats his own “lickspittle toadies” (as Josh Marshall writes) it is not a happy day for any American.  At least not any American not getting lots of Russian cash.

June 1987: “Tear Down This Wall”; July 2017: “We’re Moving Forward”

What if President Ronald Reagan had gone to Berlin and said “we’re moving forward” instead of “tear down this wall”?  “Not a lot of relitigating of the past,” reports Rex Tillerson about today’s meeting between the leaders of Russia and the United States. It’s hard to be at all sure about what happened today, but President Trump’s idea of how to represent America (and Western civilization?) is very different from that of Reagan and every other president in my lifetime.  Is our president an accessory after the fact (or worse) to Russian espionage and subversion of our constitutional republic?  Matt Yglesias has thoughts on that:

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/7/6/15928782/trump-accessory-after-the-fact

 

Meanwhile the best leader of the free world we have, Angela Merkel, rolls her eyes at Putin and Trump.

 

 

 

Does Western Civilization Have The Will To Suppress The Freedom To Loot Artifacts (Or Tile Samples)?

The president may have a point, asking if Western civilization possesses the will to survive.  But Hobby Lobby reportedly has the will to loot the artifacts appertaining thereto and pass them off as “tile samples.”  So much maskirovka, as the Russians might put it.  This could be a two-Tum day.

Babyface Trump, Meet Babyface Kim

Some people still see a true babyface wrestler when they see President Donald Trump on TV.  Many others see a heel. But let’s assume for the moment that Trump is still a good guy, that is a “babyface.”  How will he get along with Kim Jong-Un, a true babyface.  Trump would like a script in which after some brief preliminary hype and posturing, somebody else (Xi Jinping, for example) does the hard work of negotiating with the young North Korean leader.  Then Babyface Trump gets all the glory, with little to no risk.  But Babyface Trump is not in a great position to leverage the Trump brand in this game the way he did in his previous lives in real estate, reality TV, and pro wrestling.  The kayfabe, the cheap heat, the dusty finish–are we Americans confident that Trump’s undeniable talents as BS artist and ratings machine are going to keep us safe from a North Korean missile?  In fairness, the past several presidents, from both political parties, failed to disarm North Korea.  Maybe Trump will succeed where others have failed.  But he is the first president I have seen actively provoke and insult the North Korean leader, as if it’s all a sporting match in which the outcome has been rigged in Trump’s favor.  I am concerned that Kim Jong-un has even more of a devil-may-care “sucks to be you” attitude than Chris Christie, and that we the people are in a more precarious position because Trump does not seem to realize that his life skills may not have prepared him very well for North Korea.

What Does The Federal Government Need To Know So Badly About States’ Voter Rolls?

So Republicans believe in “sovereign states.”  Right.  Unless Donnie and Kris and Hans want to poke their bloody noses into states’ voting records.  So they can “attaint” and target everybody who is not yet loyal to His Excellency Mr. Trump?  And only 24 states have flipped off the Voter Suppression Commission so far?  Shame on you, states who have not stood up for your voters yet.  If Mississippi can tell Trump and Company to go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, so can you!  If Kris Kobach qua Kansas Secretary of State can flip off Kris Kobach qua Vote-Suppresser-in-Chief, there is still hope.

Would it be too much to ask to look at the president’s 2017 tax returns?  Got something to hide, guy?

Update July 5: over 40 states have now said “hell yes, we have something to hide from the feds.”  President Trump has not yet threatened them with intracontinental ballistic missiles.

Trump Seduced By Youthful Frenchman

Off to gay Paree for Bastille Day, that’s our Trump!  Seduced by that firm shaker of hands Macron, eh?  No shame in leaving the swamp behind for the salons of the City of Light, Mr. President.  You claimed you were the leader of the Country Party, and that you would stomp all over the swamp-dwelling Court Partiers.  But so far it has not worked out so well, has it?  Bon voyage, and please, don’t hurry back, enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells at a really, really leisurely pace.  Go to Versailles, where they actually knew how to set up a royal court and do absolutism properly.  Believe me, you’ll be sorry when you come back.

Move Over, Mr. President! Meet Mitch McConnell, The New King Of Debt

Clever Senator Mitch has front-loaded “all the sweet stuff and delay[ed] all the painful stuff,” says Nicholas Begley in the Washington Post (quoted by Greg Sargent, Plum Line blog).  Tax cuts happen right away, even retroactively, while the deep cuts to Medicaid don’t begin until 2021.  Thanks, Mitch, for all the “Better Care.”  You are piling up debts no honest man could ever pay off.  Whether the harsh Medicaid cuts ever fully go into effect or not, the tax cuts for the rich are designed to be permanent.  You have just made our glaring inequalities even worse.  Do you really believe this bill increases liberty and freedom–of course you don’t.  You know full well from seeing Obamacare work in your own state of Kentucky that, as Josh Marshall summarizes, the ACA “took a pot of money and plugged it into the system to provide secure coverage for a large number of Americans who were neither destitute nor solidly in middle class or who had medical statuses which made it onerous or impossible” to get coverage.  “Take away the money and those people all lose their care.”  Your version of freedom–or the version you cynically pretend to believe, more likely–is a truly sickening fantasy.  Compared with “other” advanced and civilized countries, our taxes are not crushing.  The real snowflakes: your greedy donor class.

And against all kinds of evidence, many people still say “give Trump a chance.”  I get that trolling “snowflakes” and “elites” is a thrill, but if this bill means Trump is delivering for them, our Country is devolving even faster than I thought, and not in a good way.  Trump will not abide blame for any of the carnage and premature death that follows.  I do hope that enough people will be hurt or embarrassed or shocked by GOP rapaciousness to bother to vote next year, when everybody, not just the folks in Georgia or Montana or South Carolina, gets a chance to express buyer’s remorse over our sorry bunch of legislators.

You May Not Be A Snowflake, John Dowd, But How Do You Like Representing One?

I believe John Dowd, 76-year-old lawyer and ex-Marine, when he says in a Reuters interview that he is not a snowflake.

And yet, he is representing a world-class snowflake, our president.  How do you feel about that, Mr. Dowd?  When snowflake Trump yells at you and blames you and tells you to get off his lawn, will you go quietly like the tough guy you say you are?  Good, because I don’t want to hear you or any other servants of Trump whining about how badly he treats you.  And I sure don’t want to hear you covering for Trump when his snowflakeness goes even further over the top than it has already.  You may not think you are a snowflake, but you lie down with one and you are not going to escape waking up covered with icy white Trump poop.

Since Trump Won’t Stump Up He’s Sure To Get Rumped Up

Our U.S. President showed again this week that he refuses to stump up for anything or anyone.  Every problem is someone else’s fault.  His problem isn’t really James Comey.  His problem is that he never acknowledges he owes anybody anything.  That is a big part of why he had, according to some reports, to turn to Russian banks to fund his schemes and/or bail him out–because, reportedly, American banks got tired of his repeated refusals to stump up.  No, we don’t know all, or most, of the details yet.  Maybe we never will.  But we do have the big picture, if we are willing to face up to it.  We have a legitimate but apparently deeply compromised president.  Better to admit that than to wish it away.  Exactly how Trump is going to get rumped up is quite unclear, but best to prepare as best we can by defending the checks and balances that Trump fails to respect–but that have made the US as great as it is.  You want a smoking gun?  Really?  If you cannot smell all the smoke already you might need some nose work.  Furthermore, impeachment is too good for our 45th president.  At this point the 25th Amendment (incapacity) seems more poetically just, no?

hint re rump up: try “rump up cheshire”

The Real Reason Trump Is Visiting Rome–It’s All About The Baths

Popes come and go but Trump is forever.  Of course the imperial visitation on May 24 is all about the great infrastructure project that will be announced upon the return of Air Force Numero Uno.

As you may not know, because very few people know this, the Roman baths were not just waterparks, they had bookstores, barbershops, brothels, nail salons, and lots more.  America will really become great just as soon as Trump the master builder creates millions of great jobs building our very own American “House of Trump” bathhouses.  As a bonus, due to the benevolence of our President, there will be religious freedom around the baths.  Anyone opposed to the construction of these bathhouses on moral or Biblical grounds, and who has not yet been enslaved due to unpaid medical bills, will be humored with meaningless executive orders.  Circus Trumpus Maximus, here we come!

Nobody Knew It Would Be So Hard To Keep Trump Out Of The Uncanny Valley

As day 100 nears, I am doubting the president can maintain the “kayfabe” much longer (h/t to Nick Rogers in NYT).  His affirmations are seeming half-hearted, perfunctory; the “100 percent, believe me” suddenly lacks verisimilitude.  He is also slipping into the “uncanny valley,” that is, we are starting to be able to see him as the almost-but-not-quite-human he really is, and it is an awful shock.  He was, for some of us, just a hideous cartoon villain; then he became, unthinkably, president–still pretty cartoonish, but sometimes seemingly capable of learning.  Now, to me, his appearance is appallingly and sickeningly nearly-human, but even more truly that of a robotic puppet (whether Putin’s puppet or not, I am still not quite sure, which is part of the sickening feeling).  In fairness, it must be very hard work for him, at his age, to keep pretending that he has one fig to give about policy, conservative principles, our constitutional republic, our democratic traditions, in short what actually makes us as great as we are, however great that is.  The strain is showing.  Our job as citizens is to stay watchful, and not let ourselves be gaslit.  That, at least, seems easier than it was in January, as Trump, unwilling to discipline himself, breaks kayfabe more often.  No “march for science” can really touch Trump’s appeal to his base, but if he can’t or won’t work hard enough to keep the kayfabe going, he’s most likely going down.  It is up to the opposition, or resistance, or whatever you want to call it, to take advantage by showing us–especially the persuadable swing voters–the small but scary imperfections in  that are making President Trump ever more repulsive.

Blame Canada! But What Took The President So Long?

Hey Trump, why all the farting and cursing?  Why didn’t you just cut to the chase on day one?  Made us wait almost 99 and one half days before you dropped the big one on Canada.  I coulda told you years ago how rough they are on Americans.  The least you can do, because you made us wait so long, is give your loyal base the “thumbs up, thumbs down” thrill of deciding whether to let Canada survive or not.  After the bears and lions (I mean the milk inspectors and the softwood inspectors) tear them up a little, that is.

BTW do the Canadians have nukes or not?  I think the French do, but not real sure.  Better ask Xi Jinping for the true historical history before you make any sudden moves.

Is 1000 Times No-President Overseeing No-Ship No-Armada From His No-Room?

The U.S.S. No-Ship No-Armada may be headed toward No. Korea, or not.  But our president is most definitely no-madman, he just sits on his golden chair in his no-chamber and, whenever he feels like it, wanders from no-room to no-room, presciently knowing where the no-applause is loudest.  No I have never read any science fiction, this is real news.

Out-Crazying Kim Jong-Un–What Could Go Wrong?

Trump’s apparent use of “madman theory” logic to get his way (whatever that is on any given day) on healthcare probably won’t intimidate Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer.  Will Trump-as-madman succeed any better on the Korean peninsula?  Are we the people ready for an American president who can actually out-crazy Kim Jong-un?  We elected him.  We knew that no-drama-Obama was getting old.  We wanted a little excitement.  How much excitement?  That’s what China is wondering!  Their foreign minister just put our president on the same level as Kim by urging “all parties” to stop “provoking” each other. Should we blush with embarrassment?  Trump, who says he comprehends very well, listened to Xi Jinping explain thousands of years of Korean history in ten minutes (or less, believe me) and now grasps very very well how to put America first by using the craziest words and threatening to use the biggest bombs.  And why worry that Kim might be even more unpredictable than our president?  North Korea has an excellent system of checks and balances, many people say.  Their National Security Council is far more fully staffed than ours, so I hear.  Their family dynasty, as Mr. Xi no doubt explained to his U.S. counterpart, is much more experienced than ours.  So they will surely do the right thing.  Oh right, we still have to worry about Trump–oops.

Unquiet Flow The Policies Of The Don

For example, let us consider the unplanned non-obsolescence of NATO.  In the same breath, the president reminded us that he had said NATO was obsolete and informed us that NATO was no longer obsolete.  Don’t even get me started on trying to figure out where the United States as such stands on Russia, let alone Syria, China, North Korea…  I believe I grasp that the important point to remember is this: my president is the big strong man who tells me what is true and what is fake, and when he decides that there is a new, different, and probably opposite truth it is on me to avoid whiplash.