Saturday, July 21, 2018

For the Record: Pushback

Image by PhotoAtelier (I think).

There's a set of talking points floating around the rightosphere about how Emperor Trump can't possibly be Putin's puppet because look at all the ways he's shown his indepedence and pushed back against the Russian strongman's desires; I heard it on the radio yesterday, and again today from a Twitter wingnut with whom I have one of those civility relationships. So I prepared a response, as follows:

(These last two links should have come in the opposite order, Congressional sanctions first and Nikki Haley proposals second.)

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Got paranoia?

From a 1948 Republic movie serial, via Wikipedia.
So I'm watching MSNBC, and no, I'm not apologizing, it's something that happens, and Ali Velshi is asking the FBI counterintelligence veteran Frank Figliuzzi for a little color commentary—where is that tape, of the conversation on the subject of Playmate payoffs between Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, physically located? And he says, oh, all those tapes are part of the Southern District US attorney investigation, they're in the New York FBI field office, and a penny drops, like this:
  • The Michael Cohen tapes are in the New York FBI field office;
  • Rudolf Giuliani, who has replaced Cohen as the president's "lawyer" (meaning that's his title but he's not doing any legal work to justify it, he's mostly going on TV spouting gibberish at certain key moments), is on TV all day talking up this particular tape of the Karen MacDougal conversation as offering "powerful exculpatory evidence" for his imperial highness, which I won't bother to try refuting because "I really don't care do u?";
  • the lead story on TV would otherwise certainly be how DNI Dan Coats broke up into appalled laughter when informed in real time that Trump had invited President Putin to the White House for more of the summitry that went so well for him on Monday.
When I first started hearing the story of the MacDougal tape around midday, my immediate response was to fire off a reproach to a wingnut darkly talking about leaks from the Mueller inquiry:
I wanted to delete that, because it seemed obviously wrong: how could Trump's lawyer or Trump's "lawyer" as the case may be have access to the audio taken by the FBI from Cohen's office and apartment and hotel room?

But it now looks as if there's a very simple answer to that question, and one that involves the same guys as the ones who trapped James Comey into revealing the "investigation" of the Huma Abedin laptop for Halloween 2016, still collaborating with Rudy. Those boys are up to their old tricks again! Working the refs, and making the conversation about something other than Putin while waiting for that conversation to subside. You read it here first.

Oh, and I could have been right the first time, because per #Maddow this tape is one of the 3 out of a million documents in the Cohen collection that actually was considered protected as a matter of attorney-client privilege, and the president's lawyers received it directly from Cohen's.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Mr. Sandman

Photo by Walker Evans for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941, of folks being taken care of by the intimate, affectionate local authorities, free from the burdens of one-size-fits-all federal regulations.

Meanwhile, breaking news from Dreamland, where David F. "Sandman" Brooks has come into a fresh supply of that classic Russell Kirk sand to sprinkle into our stinging eyes ("The Localist Revolution"):
Localism is the belief that power should be wielded as much as possible at the neighborhood, city and state levels. Localism is thriving — as a philosophy and a way of doing things — because the national government is dysfunctional while many towns are reviving. Politicians in Washington are miserable, hurling ideological abstractions at one another, but mayors and governors are fulfilled, producing tangible results.
Bill de Blasio says thanks for the endorsement, but are you sure that's what you meant? There's no question but that the federal government is dysfunctional and has been since the 2010 midterm election gave the House of Representatives to the Republicans and reduced the Democrats' majority in the Senate from an almost-functioning 57 to a wholly impotent 51, and the conservatives began to use their renewed power, as they always will, to demonstrate the hypothesis that government can't do anything. And no question but that in some localities people are coping with losses in federal funding in creative ways. Good for them! But there are other localities where they aren't, lots of them, as always, where local elites refuse to help, because they want to hang on to their money. A lot of them are in what they call "Trump country".
Since it will probably be the coming wave, I thought it might be useful to make a few notes on localism...
The Brooksian "probably". The coming wave will be what it always has been, I trust, in which people start to realize that many state and local governments are unable or unwilling to do their jobs and suffering of one kind or another—poor health care, underemployment and lack of child care, environmental destruction, etc.—is getting worse and worse, we'll see exposés and scandalous photographs of the Let Us Now Praise Famous Men type, and "how can this be happening in the richest country on earth?", and we'll remember, as in the 1890s and the 1930s and the 1960s, that most localities are exclusively run by people who don't need public services and don't want to pay for them, and it's only through a large-scale redistribution and re-regulation effort at the federal level that we can take care of them, and we'll set about repairing some of the damage that has been done by the tax-cutting neglect of the past 40 years.
Localism is not federal power wielded on a smaller scale. It’s a different kind of power. The first difference is epistemological. The federal policymaker asks, “What can we do about homelessness?” The local person asks Fred or Mary what they need in order to have a home. These different questions yield different results.
I.e., it takes care of the two people it knows about and ignores the 20 it doesn't.
The second difference is relational. Federal power is impersonal, uniform, abstract and rule-oriented. Local power is personalistic, relational, affectionate, irregular and based on a shared history of reciprocity and trust. A national system rewards rational intelligence. A local system requires emotional intelligence, too.
You don't need rules to run a social safety net because Almira Gulch runs the county and comes from a very distinguished family, so she'll always do the right thing.
Change in a localist world often looks like a renewal of old forms, which were often more intimate and personalistic than the technocratic structures of the past 50 years.
It's reactionary. It's the Tory dream, where everybody lives in a village where the squire and his lady, the vicar and his curate bring soup to the sick, justice to poachers, spiritual consolation to the troubled, and there's no need for a hospital or a library or a public school or an old folks' home. Go back to sleep, David!

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

You can't always get what you want, but if you try some time you just might find you get what you pay for

Drawing by Mark Taylor, 1 February 2018, via The Commoner Call.
I was complaining the other day about newspaper pandits being unable to speak clearly or think clearly abut the current emergency because, since they can't permit themselves to imagine whether Trump is guilty or innocent, they can't imagine what the crime he might be guilty of could have been—clothed in the opacity of the virtually meaningless "collusion" (I can't locate it any more, but I ran into a rightwing debate among people who suspected that "collusion" and "meddling" mean about the same thing, only one sounds more illegal than the other, and couldn't even begin to understand that the journalists are applying one of them to Trump and the other one to Putin and the two men aren't suspected of doing the same thing).

So who should come along to illustrate this but our friend Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, apparently sensing the approach of an epistemological change of some sort over the past ten days or so and readying himself for the possibility that Trump could turn out to be guilty after all, trying to seize that thing, but shrinking from the question of what the thing is ("Trump and Russia: One Mystery, Three Theories—An agnostic's guide to our president's strange conduct"). Instead, falling into the default position of political journalists everywhere, he tries to handicap it: what are the chances that Trump is guilty of whatever it might be? And comes up with a model, with
  • a 65% percent probability that it's just Donald being Donald who litters the field with all these signs of criminality, an inevitable consequence of his peculiar personality that he always looks as if he's committing a crime, but no chargeable criminality on Donald's part at all; 
  • a 25% chance that it's "Watergate, with Russian burglars", that he's a kind of outsourcing version of Nixon in other words, in a universe where the Plumbers have their own, Russian, boss, but if the Americans have any use for their product ("Russians have great product!") they would cheerfully share for some reason—Ross chooses the campaign analytics stolen by the GRU from Democratic National Committee computers; and finally
  • a 10% chance that he was a Manchurian or "Muscovite" candidate who had been cultivated since 1987 by Soviet, then Russian Federation intelligence, to be an American president under Russian puppet direction.
The point I want to focus on in the first place is the huge failure of imagination in which it never occurs to Douthat to wonder what, in particular, Donald can do for Vladimir, other than maybe assassinate people on a pre-programmed oral signal from Angela Lansbury. Nobody seems even somewhat willing to imagine a realistic situation in which the Russians say, "We will do this for your goal, and what will you do in return?" and the Trumpies reply, "We will do that thing you want."

Maybe this is really a vice of the word "collusion", that it tempts people to think more about doing things together than about doing them mutually, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours—a scenario where the Trump campaign was really enjoying a pleasant, collegial situation in which his people and their people passed stuff back and forth—"Oh, Mariya, you'll like this bit!" as opposed to one in which the Russians made a proffer and the Americans an offer, or the other way around, as if all the workers on both sides had been to the same Montessori school and were anxious that everything should be seen as a group project. I really can't see this.

To my mind, you won't understand anything about this unless you understand that the Russians and the Trumpies had something to exchange: on the Russian side possibly all sorts of things, from real estate opportunities to a complex mix of election-altering techniques, on the Trumpist side work to get rid of economic sanctions on Russia and normalize Russia's diplomatic situation. It's really kind of embarrassing to spell this out, once again,  as if I thought it was something incredibly clever, but there it is. If there was a conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, it involved the Russian government agreeing to do something in return for something the Russian government would do for them.

If you don't get that, as Ross apparently doesn't, you're not going to get anywhere with this story, and posting your odds in the form of percentages isn;'t going to make any difference to that basic point.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

New York Note

Our very good blogfriend Jim Tarrant asked, in a comment on yesterday's post,
Sorry, not from NY. What’s the WFP? (White Freedom Party?)
I thought I'd share the response up front here, for the instruction of all you out-of-staters:

Sorry about that! It's the Working Families Party, a hopefully leftist NYS group (to which I've contributed, full disclosure) whose strategy is to offer ballot endorsements in return for policy endorsements from the candidate. It's worth talking about because it's generally been a good example of what a third party in the American system can do to exert progressive pressure on the election process. Generally they endorse the Democrat after the primary, and it's nice to vote on their line instead of the Democrats' to let the latter know you're not pleased with them at the national level.

They need to be very careful about endorsing candidates at the primary level, because they'll make somebody angry, and in 2014 they did this in a huge way, allowing themselves to be pressured into endorsing Andrew Cuomo over progressive hero Zephyr Teachout and enraging about three quarters of their voters and a hell of a lot of their contributors (I wrote it up here). This year they did the same thing, endorsing the Democrats' machine candidate, Joe Crowley of Queens, over the wonderful progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx, only worse, because she won.

Now Crowley—

who has handled this with absolutely admirable class, I should say, a true Democrat in spite of all the bad things we've been saying about him, giving the winner his very warm backing and being in every way totally different from Joe Lieberman that time he lost a Senate primary, started his own skunk "Connecticut for Lieberman" party (showing his own priorities weren't Lieberman for Connecticut), and won in the damn general election basically by getting virtually all the Republican vote (the official Republican got less than 10% of the total)

—is going to be on the ballot in November as the Working Families candidate while AOC is the official Democrat—lunatic New York State rules mean he can't simply take himself off the ballot. It looks incredibly stupid for WFP to be in this position, and there was no need for them to endorse anybody at all. A ridiculous own goal, I said, all het up from the World Cup.

So in today's Wall Street Journal who should show up on the Op-Ed page but the very same Joe Lieberman who helped George W. Bush win in 2000 by being such a terrible candidate (rather than resigning from the Senate to run for the vice presidency, he ran harder for the Connecticut seat than the national ticket), urging New Yorkers to vote for Joe Crowley, even though Crowley has made it very clear that he's not running. (I won't link WSJ, but here's Ed Kilgore's report). The aim is clearly not to elect Crowley but to contribute to the phony "war" that is said to be dividing the Democrats.

Lieberman's an irremediable asshole, as ever, but the WFP is to blame for the injudicious move that allowed it to happen.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Identity politics with David Brooks: The wolves are in the henhouse

National Geographic lightweight house via Daily Mail.
David Brooks's hot take on the Trump-Putin summit ("The Murder-Suicide of the West", taking off from Jonah Goldberg's new title but adding the murder part for added drama, apparently)  was that it was like when C.S. Lewis's mother died, not that he was there, it was in 1908, but he's read about it, and it's pretty sad, she had cancer and the kid was only ten, and they shipped him off to a boarding school with a psychotic headmaster afterwards, so that it may not sound exactly like the Trump-Putin summit to you, but the thing is Trump has broken up with Europe, and Europe is our mother, as Americans, the source of democracy, universities, good manners, luxury hotels, and public parks! Trump is taking our Mom away! He's stuck her in an assisted-living facility and he's dating that trampy little Russia!

I'm barely kidding:
When C.S. Lewis was a boy, his mother died. “With my mother’s death,” he wrote, “all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life....” It may seem melodramatic, but that passage comes to mind when I think of the death of America’s relationship with Europe, and Donald Trump’s betrayal Monday of the democratic values.... Europe is America’s mother continent. Our foundational institutions were inherited from Europe. Our democracy is Greek and British. Our universities are German. The etiquette book George Washington read to improve himself was translated from French... The luxury hotel is a European palace turned into a commercial enterprise. Frederick Law Olmsted visited England in 1850, marveled at the gardens of the aristocracy, came back to America and turned what he saw into great public parks... Then as a mature nation, we became our parent’s partner.
Well, I made up the assisted-living facility.

But then it turns out it wasn't even Trump's fault. It's the liberals who did it, starting out by referring to Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Mozart as dead white males, and ultimately, under Obama, pivoting, which I think means Obama noticed that the Pacific Ocean and its farther shores from New Zealand and Japan to Malaysia and Indonesia had real places with people in them, and culture, parks, luxury hotels, the whole lot, and before you knew it we'd completely lost track with Europe. Also George W. Bush who got pissed off with Europe for some reason during the Iraq War, proving that both sides do it, except for the UK, I guess, which did whatever W wanted.

And Europe itself is to blame, come to think of it, with its post-nationalist top-down technocratic administration (it's fun to realize that Brooks was in Brussels working for the Wall Street Journal at the same time as young Boris Johnson was covering it for The Telegraph, and may have gotten all his clichés about the sclerotic European Union from the famously mendacious stories Boris wrote about the horrors of EU regulation, not that Brooks would have been comfortable in the kind of upper class bars Boris would have spent most of his working day in—I doubt they knew each other).

Piss off, Mom, you filthy socialist, in fact, I've changed my mind! Not really,  Brooks doesn't even notice what he did, but gets back to the lament:
His embrace of Putin Monday was a victory dance on the Euro-American tomb.... We’ve lost the bonds that might enable us to fight them together. Worse, the wolves are not only in the henhouse; they are in the Executive Mansion.
It's foxes that move into henhouses, you know. I don't know about executive mansions. Hope the wolves don't eat Jared! At least not before he testifies.

What is really intriguing here is the spectacle of David Brooks practicing some of that identity politics. We are America because we come from approximately three countries. Britain, Germany, and France. With a bit of Italy and Greece but that was a very long time ago. If you call attention to the fact that our culture heroes are all dead white males, you will destroy us. Do not look at Asia and Africa as treacherous Obama did. Even Russia worries him a bit, maybe just because it has Putin in it, but I think he may be wondering if it's really in Europe? And he keeps taxing us with tribalism.

Oh, also I learned that Jonah Goldberg occupies the Asness Chair of Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute. I wonder what you apply it to.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

What Happened

Emperor Napoleon welomes Tsar Alexander to the floating pavilion on the Neman near Tilsit, 25 June 1807. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Interpreting what happened yesterday in Helsinki is handicapped by the news media's reluctance to consider whether Donald Trump is guilty of something or not. Which is totally understandable! They're not supposed to judge! But they can't even allow themselves to consider what kind of crime we'd be talking about with any specificity, and this leads to a kind of sentimental muddling of the story, as in this report from The Times:
“You have been watching,” said the disembodied voice of Anderson Cooper, “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader that I’ve ever seen.”
Perhaps Mr. Cooper had briefly forgotten the mores of his profession — stolidity and a Cronkite-ian cool — in the heat of a surreal live event: a public pas de deux on Monday between President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in which the president criticized United States intelligence agencies and declined multiple opportunities to blame Mr. Putin for interfering in American elections.
Disrespect for the intelligence community? Failure to blame? Is it having inappropriate beliefs, that Putin knows more than the IC or is more reliable? Is it disgraceful to have those beliefs, or is it stupid? Or is it disgraceful or stupid to express them, would a decent president keep his weird beliefs silent?

Or couldn't we just say he's lying, and doesn't actually entertain these beliefs at all, knows more or less that the IC is right and Putin is a liar? I mean, it's not as if he hasn't ever told a lie in public himself.

It's not even the first time he's said these things; he's been saying them consistently for nearly two years now. He first refused to accept the idea of Russian rigging efforts in the election in the campaign debates of 26 September 2016 and 19 October ("No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet!"), and he's refused to accept the US intelligence assessments since the Washington Post reported CIA views on 9 December 2016, and his first official briefing on the Feast of the Epiphany January 2017 didn't shake him at all. I have no idea why Anderson Cooper would be so shocked. Where's he been?

I imagine the shock is partly from the context of Trump's antics in Europe last week, his public dismissal of NATO as a bad deal for the US in the terms he uses to complain about a trade pact, his public dismissal of the EU as a "foe" (while Putin is a personal "competitor"), his condemnation of Theresa May in The Sun for not being aggressive enough in Britain's divorce from the EU (in private he was perfectly polite by his limited standards, of course—these emotional displays are just as bogus as anything else he does). Following all this aggression up with the formal dignity (he read the summary "remarks" Stephen Miller must have written for him before the meeting took place without any of his customary interpolations and ornaments) and displays of mutual esteem in Helsinki seemed like a real transition (David Brooks's take, which I may not get to at all, is a bit on these lines) from an old network of alliances to a new one. People were talking, as they do, about Chamberlain at Munich, but I was thinking of Tsar Alexander I at Tilsit in 1807, after his horrible defeat at Friedland, trying to reassume his imperial dignity by graciously welcoming Napoleon as a fellow emperor, as the two of them happily threw the King of Prussia under the bus.

Spoiling the majesty of the occasion, as Trump always will in the end, by the irreparable gaffe of that wink—

Monday, July 16, 2018

What idiot says I have to like you to prosecute you?

Total canard? The whole “biased investigators/biased prosecution” claim is a 
giant Trump canard. By an interesting coincidence, Trump is already showing
 up in rubber duck stores in Amsterdam. The sticker on the cap he’s holding says, 
“TAKE QUACK AMERICA.” — Photo by The New York Crank
The snowflake-y wining by Donald Trump and his apologists that some of the investigators looking into his case are “prejudiced and biased,” is a load of superfluous baloney.

I won’t get into whether a few of the investigators slightly dislike, intensely dislike, or utterly loathe Trump. It doesn’t matter. 

Imagine what it would do to American jurisprudence if grounds for dismissal of a prosecution — or of a conviction — were, “Your honor, both the police and the prosecutor are biased against my client because their evidence makes him look like a murderer. The prosecutor clearly said — and you heard him say it — that murder is a despicable crime. And you further heard him say that he hates murderers. Hate, hate, hate! The prosecution is so biased and corrupt that it's practically guilty of a hate crime against my client.”

So what’s a poor judge to do? Throw out the case because somebody in the process that led to the conviction was biased against crooks and murderers? Or that they didn't like a specific crook and murderer?

Juries need to be impartial. Judges need to be impartial. Investigators need only to produce honest evidence, and prosecutors need only to honestly present it to the jury. So long as the evidence is real and not — dare I say it? — trumped up, the accused has no grounds for complaint.

Little wonder that a former Watergate prosecutor, now a judge, trashed a claim by the Trump camp that the poor little snowflakes had their case damaged because the investigators looking into their behavior don’t like it or them. Said the judge, Jill Wine-Banks:
The fact that people have opinions does not make them biased. It’s like being a juror. You can have an opinion. You just have to be willing to set it aside and to follow the evidence wherever it takes you.
And here’s Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor, on the same topic:
For example, I prosecuted the Klan. I don’t like the Klan. I never say anything nice about the Klan. And if you looked probably at my emails you would find that I’m very open about that. But when the time comes to make a decision about whether or not the Klan burned a cross in somebody’s yard , that’s a decision that’s straight facts. Either the guys were there and burned the cross or they didn’t.
So there! And either Donald Trump is a colluding puppet of Vladimir Putin or I’m the Emperor of Mexico, you sniveling White House snowflake.

Mr. Trump is Not Authorized to Speak For the Trump Administration, part 42

Art by Jim Cooke via the late lamented Gawker, March 2016, from a lovely and prophetic Ashley Feinberg piece.

Kenneth Adelman, of all people, Ronald Reagan's UN ambassador and lead arms control negotiator and, as I just learned, author of Shakespeare in Charge: The Bard's Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage—but also a Republican who managed to denounce the Iraq invasion by 2006 and vote for Obama in 2008—showed up on both NPR and BBC this morning to provide some advance panditry on the Trump-Putin summit or whatever it is.

He said something I thought was kind of interesting: NPR's interviewer, Noel King, was confronting him with the line that the Trump administration had after all been very tough on the Putin regime, sanctioning them in various ways, and Adelman just said no; the US government did that stuff—I guess he meant primarily Secretary Mattis and the Congressional leadership—and he welcomed it, but Trump himself wasn't working in the interests of the US government, but his own, the political interest of satisfying his base. He could have gone further, I think, and said that Trump has worked consistently against the US government on the Russia issue, trying to stop the sanctions or counter them in any way he can, and he could have suggested that Trump works in his financial interests too, funneling taxpayer money into his businesses and continuing to look for opportunities: I'm absolutely convinced he hasn't given up on the idea of that Trump Tower Moscow. What else could he have meant in that bizarre pair of tweets?

He wasn't suggesting the "great city of Moscow" could be presented to the US as some kind of colony, he was suggesting it might be turned over directly to him, and while it was what he calls "joking", even a Trumpian joke has to sit in some view of reality. What else could he have been imagining "giving him Moscow" would entail other than a hotel-and-condo license? You might think he wouldn't dare to say such a thing in public, but I think it wouldn't bother his base at all—they'd congratulate him! What a dealmaker! And when the media complains, you see, he can't follow the ethical arguments; he hasn't got any room in his brain for somebody thinking "Trump is corrupt" (fake news!). The only criticism he can directly imagine in advance is somebody belittling the size of his hands or of one of his deals.

But the point I thought Adelman was hinting at was something I've long thought myself; that Trump isn't, in a sense, even in the government, or at least really doesn't think of himself that way. That explains another strange tweet:

Writers have generally interpreted this as a dig at Obama, which it is, but it's also aimed at right now, at the people in Congress and the defense and intelligence agencies who are doing more or less what Obama would wish them to do, and the Department of Justice pursuing the investigation of the Russian cyberattack on the US election process. Trump may be the president of the United States, but he regards the government as his enemy, like Mao Zedong on the verge of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. He may well be right, in a sense; slavish as his government generally seems, Mao's was even more slavish than that, and yet he worked to destroy it for ten years.

Trump certainly can't command the kind of backing Mao had, but our government isn't very well equipped to withstand him. Let's see if we can't give him a real enemy in November.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Specific Chemical Materials

Is David Sanger of the New York Times playing a Michael Gordon/Judith Miller role in building up a case for hostility to Iran? Massive story in which Sanger shares a byline with the Yedioth Ahronoth analyst Ronen Bergman, reporting Israel's raid last January of an Iranian storage facility stealing documents from 2003, which Prime Minister Netanyahu himself reported last April as part of his personal effort to push Emperor Trump into abandoning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran's nuclear activities, which paid off a few days later when Trump indeed left. The documents reveal that the Iran nuclear weapons program was more advanced in 2003 than somebody or other thought it was, though it's also clear that Iran totally dismantled it that year, as they claimed.

Why is The Times reporting it now, six months after the raid and three months after the news? Because the Israeli government invited them over for a junket, pumped up with thrilling detail about the bravura of Mossad in the break-in:
TEL AVIV — The Mossad agents moving in on a warehouse in a drab commercial district of Tehran knew exactly how much time they had to disable the alarms, break through two doors, cut through dozens of giant safes and get out of the city with a half-ton of secret materials: six hours and 29 minutes.
The morning shift of Iranian guards would arrive around 7 a.m., a year of surveillance of the warehouse by the Israeli spy agency had revealed, and the agents were under orders to leave before 5 a.m. to have enough time to escape. Once the Iranian custodians arrived, it would be instantly clear that someone had stolen much of the country’s clandestine nuclear archive, documenting years of work on atomic weapons, warhead designs and production plans.
The agents arrived that night, Jan. 31, with torches that burned at least 3,600 degrees, hot enough, as they knew from intelligence collected during the planning of the operation, to cut through the 32 Iranian-made safes. But they left many untouched, going first for the ones containing the black binders, which contained the most critical designs.
Photo credited to Mossad, via New York Times. Actually Mossad didn't take the picture, they merely pulled it out of a safe they cracked.
It was the breathlessness of that "at least 3,600 degrees" that caught me up. Under the picture of a monstrous gray vat of some kind fed by yellow pipes at the Parchin military site, for a second I thought it was the temperature of something that might have been going on in there (it wasn't—the thing was for "neutron experiments", Sanger explains, helpfully noting that "Nuclear explosions start when fast-moving particles known as neutrons split atoms of nuclear fuel in two, producing chain reactions that release more neutrons and enormous bursts of energy").

The answer to the rhetorical question is no, Sanger is no Judith Miller. He knows there's no news in the story—Iran had a very thorough research program from the late 1980s which would likely have led to the production of real nuclear weapons if they hadn't given it up 15 years ago—and makes no effort to hide it, although you have to read all the way down to get a clear picture of how trivial it is. There's even a rare reference to the fact that Israel "has its own undeclared nuclear program", though no clarification that that means an arsenal of between 80 and 400 real bombs.

But I can't help being reminded of my days as a magazine editor in Southeast Asia, where some cosmetics company would round up all us "lifestyle journalists" for an occasion in a hotel function room in which some flack in a lab coat would introduce us to a product that would prevent wrinkling around the eyes—"These are specific chemical materials!"—and maybe a glass of  Champagne afterwards and we'd dutifully write up our little paragraphs on it for our next issues in which the company would run an ad (what the hell, they ran an ad in every issue anyway). If you ask why The Times is running the article, the answer is clear that it's because Israel invited them to. There's nothing corrupt about that! Reporting is acquiring information that somebody wants you to have, after all. But at best there's something profoundly lazy about The Times allowing itself to be used this way, not evidently wondering, and at worse, much worse than that.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Literary Corner: England, My England!

Trump's redecoration of Air Force One, as reported by (update: fake, this is a known bad source).

In his interview with the so-called newspaper The Sun (via CNN) the other day, Emperor Trump was musing on how England doesn't seem to be England any more, at least toponymically: "You don't hear the word 'England' as much as you should. I miss the name England. I think England is a beautiful name. And you don't hear it very much anymore. But (the football team at the World Cup is) playing as 'England'. That's very interesting. That's good." Apparently not aware that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland field teams (none of which made it to the Round of 36, like the US, this year) as well. Then, during his exclusive tarmac interview aboard a grounded Air Force One with the hack Piers Morgan for the Daily Mail,
Under the TV are three digital clocks. They permanently display the same three times – Washington DC, local time and time in the next destination [I assume the displays of the local time and next destination are not permanent but change, in fact, as the location and intinerary of the plane change]. To the right of the TV was a brown leather sofa. Two hi-tech phones were behind it.
‘Can I pick one up and call someone?’ I asked, reaching down to phone Lord Sugar and boast about where I was.
‘NO!!!!!’ exclaimed another aide. ‘Do NOT touch those phones… please. Thank you, sir.’
The President’s staff all exude an air of delightfully polite menace. Next to the phones was a black leather bound menu containing that night’s culinary fare [as opposed presumably to the entertainment options and the locations of the emergency exits].
as Trump worked to slide away from revealing that he doesn't have any idea what Britain's industrial products might be, in advance of making a trade agreement with that ancient and distinguished country in which the United States might replace the European Single Market in Britain's economy, he got into toponymy again, but that turned out to be a dangerous subject too:

A Lot of People Don't Know That
by Donald J. Trump
We would make a great deal
with the United Kingdom
because they have product
that we like.
I mean they have a lot of great product.
They make phenomenal things, you know,
and you have different names—
you can say “England”, you can say “UK”,
you can say “United Kingdom”
so many different—
you know you have, you have so many
different names—Great Britain. I always say:
“Which one do you prefer? Great Britain?"
You understand what I’m saying?
You know Great Britain and the United Kingdom
aren’t exactly the same thing?
Right, yeah. You know I know,
but a lot of people don’t know that.
But you have lots of different names.
The fact is you make great product,
you make great things. Even your farm product
is so fantastic.
Note the exquisite job Morgan does of pulling Trump back from suggesting that England and the United Kingdom are the same thing, which Trump in fact believes, and how Trump falls happily into the game: he doesn't even know what Morgan has just saved him from, but he's telling the audience he knows more about it than they do. "A lot of people don't know that." And then it occurs to him that some of the principal products of Britain are probably agricultural in nature—perhaps he noticed some fields, surrounded by hedgerows, as he flew in across the Home Counties—and he gratefully comes to a rhetorical landing.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Nothing is easier than getting an indictment

Trying to imagine how an investigation team that had a bunch of flashy assertions with no evidence managed to compose a couple of paragraphs like these from the indictment (from the money laundering count 10):
59. ...To further avoid creating a centralized paper trail of all of their purchases, the Conspirators purchased infrastructure using hundreds of different email accounts, in some cases using a new account for each purchase. The Conspirators used fictitious names and addresses in order to obscure their identities and their links to Russia and the Russian government. For example, the domain was registered and paid for using the fictitious name “Carrie Feehan” and an address in New York. In some cases, as part of the payment process, the Conspirators provided vendors with nonsensical addresses such as “usa Denver AZ,”'“gfhgh ghfhgfh fdgfdg WA,” and “1 2 dwd District of Columbia.” 
60. The Conspirators used several dedicated email accounts to track basic bitcoin transaction information and to facilitate bitcoin payments to vendors. One of these dedicated accounts, registered with the username “gfadel47,” received hundreds of bitcoin payment requests from approximately 100 different email accounts. For example, on or about February 1, 2016, the gfadel47 account received the instruction to “[p]lease send exactly 0.026043 bitcoin to” a certain thirty-four character bitcoin address. Shortly thereafter, a transaction matching those exact instructions was added to the Blockchain.
Like this?
AGENT 1: Say guys, I'll bet those conspirators used bitcoin accounts to pay for their nefarious activities!
AGENT 2: How many?
AGENT 1: Oh, hundreds probably. The more they had the harder it would be to tell they were working for GRU, which they probably were. They'd use fictitious names, like dcleaks could be registered to "Carrie Feehan", and nonsensical addresses such as  “usa Denver AZ”, “gfhgh ghfhgfh fdgfdg WA”, and “1 2 dwd District of Columbia”. Just talking off the top of my head.
AGENT 2: Christ I'm high. That's nuts. Let's tell Mueller to put those in the indictment, because any grand jury would think it's real evidence, although you just made it up.
But I'm finding it a lot easier to imagine the investigators, who are cyber investigators and not authors of technofiction, just had every single one of those bitcoin addresses and the whole account records, and showed them all to the grand jury. And maybe Greenwald hasn't had a chance to look at the indictment yet.

That is, the level of detail in this indictment is such that you can't help feeling they know everything about, at least, what was being done by foreign actors, including but not limited to these 12 GRU officers who masqueraded as "Guccifer 2.0" and "". About Americans, it's not likely they know that much unless they had really credible evidence of criminal activity to take in to the cyber investigation. One of the biggest stories in this whole mess ought to be, in the end, how the safeguards against abuse of American citizens imposed on the NSA after 2006 have really tended to work—the marketing and training materials mostly from before 2006 unearthed by Edward Snowden and endlessly publicized by Glenn Greenwald don't actually make the point Greenwald was trying to make them make. As I was saying almost exactly four years ago, before anybody but a lunatic could have conceived of an actual Trump presidency,
As ever, I think the NSA surveillance is (1) probably unnecessary and would be better dropped, (2) not as harmful to the public as feared, and (3) a very unfortunate distraction from the very serious abuses of the Border Patrol, ICE, FBI, and CIA Ops division, making the dudebros at their keyboards feel like upscale victims while overwhelmingly poor people of color suffer real physical invasions of privacy and unlawful arrest and detention and sometimes torture; and stupidly focusing rage on President Obama, who is (perhaps not very effectively) trying to make things somewhat better.
I was wrong to doubt that the work they could do could be as important as what they've been doing for the past two years.

But finally, the caution issued by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein regarding the actual hacking and money laundering conspiracies stealing computer files from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and delivering them to WikiLeaks
The conspirators corresponded with several Americans during the course of the conspiracy through the internet. There’s no allegation in this indictment that the Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers.... 
and the hacking of state election authorities and personnel in several states which allowed them to obtain complete records for 500,000 voters in one state (I'm guessing Florida)
There’s no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime. There’s no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result.
don't mean Americans beyond Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Gates aren't going to get cited very soon for their work with the conspiracies, in particular those Americans who began to get involved in the scheme around the time of the Trump Tower meeting of 9 June 2016 or the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. Including Paul Manafort, who was at the heart of both of these.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.