Saturday, December 31, 2016

Team Optimist

Image via
On behalf of Steve's holiday relief squad, and seeing as how Steve is a world-class pessimist, one of the things I try to bring here is a touch of sunny idiocy, as contrast, especially appropriate for the season of fresh starts and resolutions. And pretty challenging this time around, if we're talking politics, as we lurch into what seems certain to be the worst US presidential administration at least since Buchanan's, probably ever, led by a walking personality disorder in an impasto of pumpkin-colored pancake makeup.

And that's just for starters.

Is it possible that anything good can happen in 2017, or anything bad be forestalled? Not, surely, by the conscious intention of our president-elect or his Cabinet of Deplorables or the dreadful Republican leadership of the Congress. Maybe in states like California, where Governor Jerry Brown has already announced his determination to fight any Trumpian assault on environmental research and regulation:
"If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite," roared Brown to the crowd.
And referring to Rick Perry, the former Texas governor Trump has selected to lead the Dept. of Energy, Brown reminded everyone of California's advantages over Texas when it comes to renewable energy.
"We've got more sun than you've got oil," he quipped.
State governments can certainly play a role in combating efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which threaten them whether they're Democratic or Republican:
governors and state legislatures are voicing concerns that repealing the ACA may leave millions of people uninsured, as well as take away some of the mechanisms that helped their states drastically slash their uninsured rates.
At the top of their list of concerns is the fact that the most likely blueprint in Congress for repeal, a 2015 bill that President Barack Obama vetoed, would also repeal federal funding for Medicaid expansion, which was estimated to have helped cover 11 million adults across the country in 2015. Ten Republican governors have taken advantage of the expansion, which was so successful in some places like Kentucky that, even though Gov. Matt Bevin (R) campaigned on scrapping the ACA, he simply made some tweaks to the program once he took office.
The Congressional repeal plan from 2015 would also repeal tax increases that were part of the ACA, likely shifting the burden for paying for health care from the federal government to individual states.
I'm more and more convinced, now that it's not just me saying it, that the ACA is likely to survive: the repeal is going to be postdated, to 2019 or 2020, and the drawing up of a plan to replace it is going to be postponed for later. Actually never, because the Republicans will never succeed in devising a replacement that works to achieve what the public wants (an Affordable Care Act that isn't Obamacare)  other than by repassing the original ACA under a different name.

And on environmental issues I can't help feeling somewhat optimistic, not only because of Governor Brown (and other governors including my own, that weasel Cuomo, who is going to be OK on this, I think), but particularly because of the work Obama is doing in these last weeks to broaden and protect his accomplishments of the last eight years so that it would take years for Trump and accomplices to undo it, hopefully more years than they'll have; and because of the economics of energy, in which cleaner forms are becoming cheaper as dirtier forms (coal, oil, and fracked gas) are becoming less profitable. Even if Trump manages to repudiate the Paris agreement, American industry is going to find it better, at least in the near term, to follow it.

Beyond that it looks pretty dark, though, doesn't it. The one really good thing would be for the Democrats to take over Congress in 2018, and we're as likely to get that, I guess, as I am to get my pet unicorn.

I can imagine Congressional Republicans encountering some Tea Party–type rage at town meetings when they propose to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits, that's not a liberal-conservative issue for voters, whatever people like Ryan may think, and the political media may, for a change, be prepared to notice it before it's too late (then again, as the Crank was warning us just a couple of days ago, the Times is offering them plans on Social Security insidious enough to get by—on the other hand Trump has advisers who might tell him not to sign such a thing). I can imagine the first round of Trump-Ryan tax cuts turning pretty sour pretty quickly, since the House will never in fact make spending cuts adequate to covering them (they'd have to be in the military budget and Medicare, nothing else is expensive enough) and deficits will balloon. It will be hard to restore taxes without enough Democrats in the legislature, but the need for taxes will be clearer by 2020, which is obviously going to be a better year for Democrats in any event. Not that we shouldn't be working on 2018, as hard as we can, if only for the practice.

The odds of Trump himself not surviving for the full four years are clearly pretty good, given his lack of social self-control, his activities already under investigation (the self-dealing Foundation) and soon to be so (receipt of foreign emoluments, egregious nepotism, suspicion of bribery, his morbid obesity, and personal finances, which are a kind of one-man Ponzi scheme that has to grow continually if it's to avoid collapse. Mike Pence, in the event, is going to be as lousy a president as he has been Indiana governor (with approval ratings to match)—he'll never convince the public that Ryan's vile program is any sort of Morning in America—and that looks good for 2020 as well. If Trump's breakdown or explosion were to occur soon enough, it could even be good for 2018.

Then there's the possibility of a coup. I'm almost serious. It's the extraordinary disrespect Trump's shown to the armed services and the intelligence community, so far, in claiming to "know more about ISIS than the generals", in rejecting so dismissively the intelligence views on the Russian hacking of our political organizations, and in staffing his cabinet with all those renegade generals. And the extraordinary collection of Russia connections! He must be making the Joint Chiefs and the heads of the 16 agencies pretty nervous, and perhaps angry too.

In this picture, the military and intelligence establishment essentially take over, not necessarily in an overt coup d'état, but in blackmail mode, and they tell Trump what to do, in security and foreign policy. The members of the security cabinet so far seem weak and ignorant enough that they couldn't do much about it. It's not something you want, really, to have a military government, but it's a hope for some kind of interim stability, and something we might be able as a nation to react against in a positive way.

Let 2017 be different, and let it be in a way we can sort of stand! Happy New Year, everybody!

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Dog paddling, footnote

Jaffa, 19th century, print by A. Kohl., via National Maritime Museum, Haifa.
Comment on a comment that grew too long.

Philo, I think international law is on the side of decolonization everywhere it can be practiced, with the principles of self-determination and peaceful resolution (1919 and 1928) applying retroactively from the UN's Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples of 1960. So it took a long time between 1945 and 1960 to get there, especially for the French in North Africa and Indochina and the Dutch in Indonesia, but everybody would ultimately recognize that it followed from the 1928 agreement that decolonization would ultimately have to take place.

Moral right to me is obviously on Ten Bears' side, especially in cases like North America and Australia where the colonization was really genocidal, but I think the argument against literal decolonization for these cases is just that it can't be done, it's been too late for decades or centuries. Throw the Normans out of Britain, oh wait the Saxons conquered it before that.  I do believe, though, that in the US, for example, we will never be whole until serious restitution/reparations have been paid and forgiveness asked. I really mean that, TB, for what it's worth, though I don't have a clue how to make it happen.

Israel is a kind of weird case even if you try hard to not be emotional about it (which I really appreciate you doing, Philo), if only because the original Jewish settlers—especially before the Ottoman Empire collapsed—had no reason to think they were doing anything wrong, for one thing.

There's no point in discussing the biblical right of Jews to any of the territory (I love to point out that under Greek or Christian rule Jews were always barred from Jerusalem, and whenever Arabs or Muslims took over Jews were welcomed). In Polynesian mythology, ancestors are often seen as coming from a paradise known as "Savaiki" or "Hawai'i",  and it seems really likely that the future Marquesans, Tongans, Hawai'ians, and Māori would have passed through Savaiki in the Samoan archipelago on their way out 3000 years ago, but I don't think that means the New Zealand Māori should sail north or the US Hawaiians southwest to retake Samoa. In modern Russia it is well understood that the origins of Russia as an idea, as the Orthodox Christian Rus', are in Kiyiv, but that doesn't mean the Russian people have an inalienable right to live in Ukraine (the Russians can argue that the Tatar homeland of Crimea was only in Ukraine because Khrushschev thought that would be fun in 1954; to me that doesn't justify the annexation, Crimea really should be independent of Russia and Ukraine alike, but at least they have a legalistic argument).

But in the mostly secular and socialist Zionist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, which clearly had little interest in biblical claims, I think they were paying fair price for land, and that kind of thing, and before Woodrow Wilson and Versailles and the creation of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and so on, this idea of ethnic nations didn't really exist officially (when Golda Meir said there was never any such thing as the Palestinian people she was forgetting that around a century ago there wasn't any such thing as the Ukrainian people either, or Slovak people, or even Norwegian (before 1905) and Finnish people, or all kinds of people that came into recognition as "nationalities" at that time, let alone what we have now with Bosniaks and Catalans etc. etc.).

In this way it was possible in 1917 for the framers of the Balfour Declaration to propose a "national home for the Jewish people" that wouldn't amount to a country, without saying whether it would have a territory or not, and not straining themselves too much over the ambiguity. I think there was always a mostly unexpressed idea for a "binational state" of the kind proposed by the International Jewish Labor Bund in 1948 "that would guarantee equal national rights for Jews and Arabs and would be under the control of superpowers and the UN." But in 1919-20 it was really hard for those in authority after the Versailles conference to read it that way. Thus Wilson, Churchill, and Teddy Roosevelt all spoke at the time of the establishment of a Jewish state.

But whatever the Powers may have meant by the Balfour Declaration, we can now understand that it wasn't any of their fucking business. It wasn't Balfour's land to offer, even if he had solid legal reasons for thinking it was at a time when the sun never set on Britain's territory. The legal principle now is that it's up to the people there to work out what country they want to live in, and they need to do it by peaceful means, period.

Then there's the whole shameful question of the treatment of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and after World War II, which has some analogies with the way refugees from Syria are treated today. There's no reason why Arabs should have to pay for that, and indeed the British authorities in Palestine were determined that Jewish refugees shouldn't go there, but they did anyway, as we know. We could wish they had all gone to Alaska instead, as in Michael Chabon's wonderful novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union, where they do, and the Jewish state ends up speaking Yiddish instead of Hebrew and being far sadder and more beautiful than the one we have, but they didn't.

It's at this point in the history, with the founding of the state in 1948, that I start asking myself if I even care. Everybody has been very naughty, why should I have to agree with anybody that one side or the other is to blame?

In fact it's for very Jewish reasons that I tend to prefer the Palestinians, because of the endlessly repeated command of the Tanakh to love and care for the stranger and the thunderous demands for justice from the prophets (Jewish law doesn't say you can't cheat people if they're nice, it just says you can't cheat them), because it calls for dialectical logic like Karl Marx and a sense of the absurd like Groucho, because the Israelis have all the power, with their money, their special police riot gear and helmets, and their endless argumentation.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dog paddling in the Rubicon

Image via tenor.
Thomas P. Friedman, better known as Thomas L. Friedman, Mystax Cabalisticus, is so adorable sometimes. He really is the reasonable, kind-hearted liberal Zionist he'd like everybody else to be, as when he generously characterizes the Israeli prime minister:
Netanyahu is a leader who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never ready to cross it. He is unwilling to make any big, hard decision to advance or preserve a two-state solution if that decision in any way risks his leadership of Israel’s right-wing coalition or forces him to confront the Jewish settlers, who relentlessly push Israel deeper and deeper into the West Bank.
Oh, please, Tom. Netanyahu is forever sending you selfies where he's posing on a diving board on the opposite bank and you're thinking, "Well, he must have jumped in by now." He hasn't. He never will. He has no interest in your two-state solution, and he never has had. He used to make these vague gestures toward it, to gratify his American patrons, but now he hardly bothers, because he knows the money will never stop flowing no matter what he does. He is stonewalling for the moment when the two-state solution will no longer be possible, some think that moment came quite a while ago, and the Americans will leave him alone, except for the cash.
right now Obama and Kerry rightly believe that Israel is driving drunk toward annexing the West Bank and becoming either a bi-national Arab-Jewish state or some Middle Eastern version of 1960s South Africa, where Israel has to systematically deprive large elements of its population of democratic rights to preserve the state’s Jewish character.
That's more like it. Except just because you're drunk doesn't mean you don't have a plan. That's what the plan is. Stay drunk, on racism and self-pity, as long as you can, until it's too late to do anything about it.
My criticism of Netanyahu is not that he won’t simply quit all the West Bank; it is that he refuses to show any imagination or desire to build workable alternatives that would create greater separation and win Israel global support, such as radical political and economic autonomy for Palestinians in the majority of the West Bank, free of settlements, while Israel still controls the borders and the settlements close to it.
For heaven's sake, he has no desire. It's not that he refuses to show it, it's that it doesn't exist.
More worrisome is the fact that President-elect Donald Trump — who could be a fresh change agent — is letting himself get totally manipulated by right-wing extremists, and I mean extreme. 
Stop it, Tom, you're killing me! "Fresh change agent"! Maybe he could be fresh mozzarella, then you could use him for pizza.

I love how the fact that what now seems to be the permanent Israeli government is committed to never making peace with Palestinians is worrisome, but the fact that this loathsome lump of psychopathic cheese might not turn out to be a "fresh change agent" is more worrisome still. If you have any expectations that President Trump's behavior can be anything other than Republican convention (where by "Republican convention" I mean the view on a given issue adopted by the billionaire donor who cares about that issue the most, in this case casino magnate Sheldon Adelson) plus random error, you really need to discard them.

Trump's evolving views over the past year show his predictable progress from utter ignoramus bringing nothing to the issue but his Art-of-the-Deal self-confidence to totally manipulated tool indistinguishable from any of his 16 Republican rivals.

December 3, 2015:
"A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel's willing to sacrifice certain things," Trump said. "They may not be, and I understand that, and I'm OK with that. But then you're just not going to have a deal.".... "I have my feelings on it, but I'm just not going to discuss it now, because if I end up in the midst of a negotiation, I don't want people saying, 'Well, you can't do it, you're not going to be good, you're biased,' " Trump said. "I want to be very neutral and see if I can get both sides together."
March 10, 2016:
"If I go in, I’ll say I’m pro-Israel and I’ve told that to everybody and anybody that would listen. But I would like to at least have the other side think I’m somewhat neutral as to them, so that we can maybe get a deal done. Maybe we can get a deal. I think it’s probably the toughest negotiation of all time. But maybe we can get a deal done."
May 3, 2016:
Asked whether there should be a pause in new construction – which the Obama administration has pressured Netanyahu's government to observe in order to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table – Trump responded: 'No, I don't think it is, because I think Israel should have – they really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward.' 
'No, I don't think there should be a pause,' Trump said. 'Look: Missiles were launched into Israel, and Israel, I think, never was properly treated by our country. I mean, do you know what that is, how devastating that is?'
Improperly treated to $4 billion a year? It's really interesting he seems to think Israel is obliged to build illegal housing for its Jewish citizens on stolen land because "missiles were launched"; he may have some fantastical idea that they aren't settlements at all but some kind of military defense installation, and no concept of the geography at all. (H/t Ashley Feinberg.) Or maybe he thinks settlements are lawsuit-resolving deals waiting for him to come in and arbitrate.

December 29, 2016:
“I’m very very strong on Israel. I think that Israel has been treated very very unfairly by a lot of different people. If you look at resolutions in the United Nations … they are up for 20 reprimands and other nations that are horrible places, horrible places that treat people horribly haven’t even been reprimanded. So there is something going on and I think it is very unfair to Israel.”
There is something going on!

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Thanks, New York Times, for compromising away seniors’ Social Security income

For many American senior 
citizens, this could be the
big meal of the day, if the New
York Times and the Trump
Administration have their way.
I should have come across this sooner. Perhaps it was the Ghost of Christmas Past, trying to postpone my un-holiday-like outrage for a while, that caused me to overlook it.

I refer to a piece by the Times Editorial Board offering to bargain away part of the Social Security benefits that seniors currently receive. 

The Times began by pretending to oppose benefits cuts that Republicans are proposing to “save” Social Security. Never mind that the whole shebang can be saved for the foreseeable future simply by raising the cap on deductions.

The cap — the point at which the government stops deducting Social Security taxes from your pay check — is currently at $110,000 a year. And even the Times article agrees that “the wage cap has not kept pace with the income gains of high earners; if it had, it would be about $250,000 a year.

So just restore the wage cap to its inflation-adjusted level and everybody’s happy. Well, maybe the million-bucks-a-year corporate C-Suite inhabitant gets irked because it takes a few months longer before the withholding from his pay check is reduced. But nearly everybody lives happily ever after, right?

Not the New York Times. 

The Times instead generously offers to chip away at the already cheesy safety net, helping to lower the bar for Tom Price, the incoming head of Health and Human Services, to initiate the benefit cuts he has in mind.

Price, admits the Times, “ has been a champion of cuts to all three of the nation’s large social programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. When discussing reforms to Social Security, he has ignored ways to bring new revenue into the system while emphasizing possible benefit cuts through means-testing, private accounts and raising the retirement age.”

There is no reason why America’s citizens — even the richest of us — should accept any of these cuts, nor the one the Times proposes. Social Security isn’t simply a program for the hard up. It’s an insurance program, a retirement annuity, into which every American who has ever worked for a living — and the companies that employed them — paid  regularly by payroll deduction.

Imagine if you had a private retirement annuity and the insurance company came to you and said, “Hey, we’ve decided that, despite what the contract we signed with you says, that we’re going to delay three years before beginning to pay you the money we owe you.”

Or imagine they came to you and said, “Hey, we've just decided that you’ve got plenty of money. So we think you don’t need the benefits you paid for. Thanks, we’ll keep ‘em instead.”

Or even, “You’ve still got some money. Only a dollar? Well, cat food’s plenty nutritious. And if that doesn’t fill you up, eat the cat.”

You’d be enraged. You’d be livid. Your head would be exploding. You’d demand the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of the crooks who perpetrated that ripoff. 

So start getting livid now, not only at The New York Times, but also at the mere notion of raising the retirement age again — it was 65 only a few years ago — or reducing benefits. Evidently, both are on every Republican agenda, starting the millisecond Trump stumbles into the Oval Office.

As for privatization, that’s just an opportunity for the wonderful folks who brought you the Mortgage Meltdown to reach into your pocket and grab a big handful of your money for themselves.

It’s time to make an issue of this. Not a little issue. A huge, cage-rattling, booming issue. 

Seniors, sharpen your pitch forks and light your torches!

Seriously, literally, and bullshit

Image from an article of last June in Pulpit&Pen, "NAR Prophet, Steve Cioccolanti: Donald Trump is the 'Last Trump' Before The Rapture".
Something in that Salena Zito article, from back in late September, kept sticking in my craw:
The best way [to prevent inner-city "explosions", says Trump], is to provide good education and good jobs in these areas. “Fifty-eight percent of black youth cannot get a job, cannot work,” he says. “Fifty-eight percent. If you are not going to bring jobs back, it is just going to continue to get worse and worse.”
That's pretty insightful there; if it doesn't get better, it's likely to get worse, whatever it is.
It’s a claim that drives fact-checkers to distraction. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the unemployment rate for blacks between the ages of 16 and 24 at 20.6 percent. Trump prefers to use its employment-population ratio, a figure that shows only 41.5 percent of blacks in that age bracket are working. But that means he includes full time high-school and college students among the jobless.
My bold.
It’s a familiar split. When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
But you just took him seriously and literally, identifying the statistic you think he was using as if it could be completely appropriate, although it's apparently not, since it's unreasonable to expect full-time students to take jobs if they can avoid it.
When I presented that thought to him, he paused again, “Now that’s interesting.”
I'll be he did. It takes a bullshit artist to recognize superior bullshit.

What does she mean, he "prefers"? Are you saying he sat down with his economic advisors, supposing he has some, and said, "You know, folks, I think that traditional U-3 number for unemployment gives a distorted picture—why don't we start using the employment-population ration instead?" Does he use it? And then, if he does use this alternative statistic, what does Zito mean by saying one can not take it literally?

To the first question, not exactly. For example, in February:
During his victory speech after the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump repeated a claim he’d made several times before.
"Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment," Trump said. "The number's probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent."
At that point, the unemployment-to-population ratio for the general US population 16 years old and up was, in fact, 40.2%. If he "preferred" to use that statistic, why didn't he use it? If the standard U3 numbers of 4.9 and 5% were just statistics he didn't "prefer", why did he call them "phony"? Why does he refer to "the number" as if there were only one correct answer, as opposed to the large number of possible answers economists use, of which you might "prefer" one or another for some particular purpose?

The 42% is in fact a figure cooked up by David Stockman, according to Politifact, to represent the unemployed population ages 16 to 68 if all the workers were full-time, as they weren't, how much joblessness there would be if nobody had a part-time job, as a way of creating a picture in which all those people who can't find full-time work and just do what they can simply disappear, replaced by hordes of imaginary layabouts and idlers:
"Yes [, Stockman said], we have to allow for non-working wives, students, the disabled, early retirees and coupon clippers," he wrote. "We also have drifters, grifters, welfare cheats, bums and people between jobs, enrolled in training programs, on sabbaticals and much else."
Pure statistical fiction, in other words, while for the "28, 29, 35" Politifact found no source at all. Trump was pulling those numbers right out of his ass, for rhetorical purposes, to build up to his climactic number, whose meaning ("I heard recently") he has no clue about or interest in.

To say his audience doesn't take it "literally" is to say they take it as a figure of speech, which isn't wrong, but is a sort of long way around of approaching the fact that it's simply bullshit. The worst thing about Zito is the way she uses that formulation of "literally" and "seriously" to suggest that Trump deserves to be taken seriously—that he has an actual idea, and not just shtik.

Incidentally, this trick of Trump's, of employing the pandit language of statistics and trends to describe an emotion while giving the impression of talking about empirical reality, is not just him, but generally Republican. For the past eight years, as 95% of the population sees its tax burden diminishing, they've been telling us our taxes are going up; as the annual budget deficit falls to ridiculous lows (it's not even safe, with the economic recovery so shaky, to have them this low) they tell us the deficit is going up; they tell us we taxpayers gave up our money to rescue the banks when the banks have paid all the money back, they tell us Obamacare is failing as it grows, and so on. What's unique about Trump is that he does it so shamelessly and transparently, without even bothering to hide.

The other thing I want to note is where that phrase comes from, which is modern Christianity, as represented for instance by Marcus J. Borg's 2001 Reading the Bible Again For the First Time:Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally. Zito is effectively asking us to read Trump the way believing Christians take the Word of God.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Jon Swift Memorial

Tom Ellar as Harlequin with his wooden batocchio or slapstick, early 19th century. Via Museum of London.
The 2016 edition of the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup, the Salon des Indépendents of online political writing, an annual tribute to the late and great blogger Jon Swift/Al Weisel in which some dozens of mostly small bloggers select a favorite post of the past year for the delectation of a wider public, is up at Batocchio's Vagabond Scholar site. You'll see some familiar names and a lot of less familiar ones you might want to know better. It's one of the sweetest institutions of the year, and I hope you'll check it out.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Monday, December 26, 2016

I saw Mommy kissing the continuing resolution

Drawing by Thomas Nast, 1881, via Wikipedia.
Our beloved absent host surfaced on the Twitter to react to a piece of sublime idiocy from the tax crusader Grover Norquist:

It struck me that there's actually something to that; not, I mean, that government is a bishop from Anatolia who's been dead for 16 centuries so we're foolish to believe it exists. Or that we should leave a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for the OSHA inspector because he's our dad. What Grover said, as opposed to what The Hill reported, is a little more sophisticated.

Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that Frédéric Bastiat called the state the "dangerous fiction by which everyone hopes to live off others' work?

Answer: In principle, yes. But, first of all, he called it a "great fiction", not a "dangerous" one; second of all, he was talking about how everyone made an effort to live, not how they "hoped"; third of all, everybody was seen as attempting to live off everybody (WikiQuotes translates "everyone else", but there's no justification in the original), not "others"; and fourth of all, they were attempting to live at everybody's expense, not everybody's "work":
L'Etat c'est la grande fiction à travers laquelle tout le monde s'efforce de vivre aux dépens de tout le monde./ The State is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at everybody's expense.
He does talk about enjoying the fruits of others' labor, "jouir du travail d'autrui", elsewhere in the essay the quote is taken from, but that's how the quote itself goes, and there's no reason to imagine Grover might have looked at the whole thing in any case. What a tool.

Obama, Netanyahu, the West Bank, Iran, and the sweet taste of settling the score

Just because I’m pro-American doesn’t mean I have to be pro-Trump. And just because I’m an enthusiastic Zionist — a believer that Israel has a right not only to exist, but to do so as a specifically Jewish state —doesn’t mean I have to have anything except utter contempt for Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

That said, let me change the subject for just a moment and recall a column written many years ago by Jimmy Breslin for a wonderful and now defunct newspaper called The New York Herald-Tribune, may it rest in peace. 

Breslin told a story about a character named Marvin the Torch, who commits arson for money and makes his fires  look accidental.  This is regarded in some circles as a socially beneficial service, because it enables debt-saddled owners of failing businesses to collect insurance money and recover once the business is reduced to ashes.

In Breslin’s story, Marvin got stiffed by one of his clients after Marvin burned down — on commission — one of the client’s businesses. So Marvin, feeling righteously aggrieved, then went and burned down another of his now-former-client’s businesses, one that was making money. And, if I recall this correctly, Marvin made this second arson appear like the arson it was, leaving his former client in deep.…well, you know what.

Then came the money quote from Marvin: “Professionals don’t get mad, they get even.”

Okay, Back to Obama and Netanyahu and Israel. Bear with me, because like all real-life problems in international relations, this one’s complicated and involves a lot of wheels and gears turning in different direction, some at the same time, some at different times.

In 1967, Israel found itself in a war with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The war lasted six days. At the end of it, Israel found itself victoriously occupying, among other things, the Sinai (which was Egyptian) and f the West Bank.

Not terribly long after, Egypt and Israel settled the dispute and Israel returned the Sinai. The West Bank, however, has been an Israeli-occupied bone of contention ever since. I’m not going to wade too deeply into the thicket of weeds concerning this dispute, other than to point out that there’s no international law that says the winners in a war have to give back the territory they’ve captured. If such as rule did exist, California, Arizona,  Colorado, New Mexico and Texas would be Mexican states, and Donald Trump would be building his wall in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

However, the West Bank is a useful bargaining chip that might eventually lead to a peaceful agreement and a “two state solution.” By building a rapid metastasis of settlements — and pretty big ones — in the West Bank, Netanyahu is pissing away that chance, while inflaming the very people he eventually needs to make peace with.

That’s one bone of contention between Netanyahu and President Obama. The other occurred in March of 2015, when Netanyahu, contrary to the wishes of the President, gave a speech to Congress knocking the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration had set up.

The timing of this unfortunate speech had the effect of favoring one party over another while the  nation was warming up for the unfortunate presidential election we’ve just experienced.  It so infuriated Democrats that 58 members, including Joe Biden, who supposedly presides as Vice-President over all Senate meetings, boycotted the speech

There’s nothing wrong with a foreign state advocating for its position with the State Department or the President. But by bringing the dispute before a highly publicized meeting of Congress, Netanyahu interfered in the American election process as much as the Russians did by hacking the Democratic National Committee.

The sheer chutzpah of Netanyahu! He expected the American President whose party Netanyahu helped sink to continue supporting Israel in every way possible. Finally, Netanyahu got the answer he deserved.

That answer was the United States simply sitting on its hands while a pro-Palestinian resolution sailed through the United Nations Security Council.

Now Netanyahu is in it up to his neck. Serves him right, as well as the radicals among my fellow Zionists. You not only bit the hand that’s been feeding you, you also crapped all over the wound. Es zol shtinken fun deyn cupf. 

Or to put it another way, President Obama, unlike the thin-skinned hothead who will take possession of the White House in January, knows the philosophy of Marvin the Torch. Professionals don’t get mad, they get even.

Now the question is, will Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whose people hacked the Democratic National Committee also get the message? I wonder if President Obama will have time to do a bit of torching in the Kremlin before he leaves office.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Outmatch them at every pass

Merry Christmas, Steve, and Happy Hollandaise as Digby says! Just finished this somewhat long piece on Trumpian semiotics, so here it is.

It's just amazing, really, how willing people are to try to make an interpretation of the daily Trumpism, as if it were an oracle from the lips of the Pythoness high on laurel fumes or the Cumaean Sibyl, how they keep guessing how you could translate his gnomic utterance into their own technical language, looking for a clue as to what he might have in mind to do as president:

John R. Harvey, who from 1995 to 2013 held senior positions overseeing nuclear weapons programs in the energy and defense departments, said Mr. Trump’s Twitter post on Thursday had several possible meanings, ranging from the routine to actions that could exceed current treaty limits.
For example, Mr. Harvey said, Mr. Trump could have simply been voicing support for continuing the “nuclear modernization” program. But Mr. Trump might also have been suggesting that he wants to substantially increase the number of bombers, missiles and submarines.
I can't imagine how anybody could expect him to know that the "modernization" program exists, given that jut a few short months ago he made it clear that he'd never heard of the "triad" of bomber, ICBMs, and submarines, and he hasn't provided any evidence yet that he's learned anything about that either. It's certain that he has no idea that the US is committed by the 2010 New START treaty with the Russian Federation to reduce its store of nuclear weapons.

People need to start understanding that what Trump says, pace Selena Zito, is to be taken neither literally nor seriously; you should assume that whatever he says is meant not to convey a denotative meaning but a picture of how he'd like to be regarded; he's trying to give you his impression of what a Real Leader looks and sounds like, and as with Sid Caesar's bogus German, the meaning, if there is any, is just for laughs.


Well, I've got to be traveling on -- family to see, airports to endure. I'll be gone for the rest of the month, so let me wish you happy holidays and a more tolerable new year than I'm sure you're expecting. As usual, you'll be in good hands with the relief while I'm away. See you on January 1.

Friday, December 23, 2016


Expect to see a lot of this sort of thing in the next few years:
Anthea Butler thought she’d heard it all before.

A religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a black woman who teaches a class about the religious right in America and has a fiery liberal persona on social media, Butler’s been ridiculed in recent years on primetime TV by the right’s Sean Hannity and called out on AM radio by Rush Limbaugh....

But when a fellow professor contacted her a few weeks ago and told her she’d been placed on a brand new nationwide “professor watch list” intended to help conservatives identify faculty liberals, Butler felt like rising McCarthyism on America’s campuses just surged to a new high water mark.

The watch list [was] created and promulgated by a nationwide youth-oriented conservative group called Turning Point USA....
It's quite possible that Turning Point USA would have compiled this list no matter how the election turned out -- but during the Trump years I think we're going to see a lot more scapegoating of college professors and other left-leaners who are outside of politics.

I say this because I remember the George W. Bush era. For most of Bush's presidency, Republicans had all the power in Washington. Bush was popular for many of those years. He and his fellow Republicans had a free hand.

But the right never wants the public to believe that Republicans are responsible for what's going on in government, even when they are responsible. So conservatives look for scapegoats in and out of politics, and they talk about them as if they have tremendous power. Recall the amount of effort the right invested in denouncing Ward Churchill, a professor who wrote an inflammatory essay in the wake of 9/11. If you paid attention to the right back then, you might have thought Churchill was the most important academic in America.

But what was the right supposed to do? There was no Democratic president. Democrats didn't run the House or Senate. So Churchill had to be portrayed as a national menace. The same with liberal-leaning celebrities such as Barbra Streisand and the Dixie Chicks.

It's going to be hard for the right to blame Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer for the state of America when Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell are running everything. So expect a lot of anger to be directed at academics and entertainers. Hey, when things go wrong, you can't expect Republicans to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, can you?


Carl Paladino, who was the Republican candidate for governor of New York in 2010 and a co-chair of Donald Trump's campaign in the state this year, is at it again:
The Buffalo real estate developer who served as New York co-chair for Donald Trump’s campaign said his greatest hopes for 2017 are that President Barack Obama “dies” and that his wife Michelle is “set loose in the outback of Zimbabwe.”

... Paladino’s original comments to Artvoice are posted below:
Artvoice: What would you most like to happen in 2017?

Paladino: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady [sic] cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.
Artvoice: What would you most like to see go in 2017?

Paladino: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.
Paladino verified to The Buffalo News that he did make the comments, while at the same time slamming News editors for inquiring.

"Of course I did," he said Friday morning. "Tell them all to go f--- themselves."

"Tell that Rod Watson I made that comment just for him," he continued, referencing one of the News' black editors who is also a columnist.
This is just another day at the office for Paladino, who told The New York Observer in August that " there is no doubt [President Obama] is a Muslim, he is not a Christian," and said later in the month that Khizr Khan "doesn't deserve the title" of Gold Star parent. And, of course, Paladino is the guy who, during his 2020 campaign for governor, was revealed as a serial forwarder of pornographic and racist emails, including such gems as this:

as well as a video of dancing monkeys captioned "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal."

After that revelation, Paladino still won thirteen New York counties and more than 1.5 million votes -- 33.5% of the total vote. He was elected to the Buffalo school board this year.

And he's an occasional commenter on Fox -- in fact, he is sometimes a moral scold. Here he is on Fox denouncing Hillary Clinton aide Jennifer Palmieri and another Clinton ally for remarks made about high-profile right-wing Catholic converts in emails published by Wikileaks:

Short of appearing in public wearing full Klan regalia or a swastika armband, there's literally nothing a conservative can say or do that will lead to banishment from the right-wing pundit class. Paladino will remain in good standing on the right after the latest remarks. There are no consequences. Maybe Paladino will be forced to step down from the school board (though you'll notice that his Maine doppelganger, Paul Le Page, who actually got himself elected governor, is still in office after many offensive words and deeds). And maybe Paladino will lose again if he runs for governor in 2018, as he's threatening to do. But he'll always have a home on Fox.


Are we all going to die in a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia? I don't think so, alarming as this seems:
President-elect Donald Trump signaled Thursday that he will look to "strengthen and expand" the US's nuclear capability hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to enhance his country's nuclear forces....

Trump weighed in with a tweet just hours after Putin spoke following a meeting with his military advisers to review the activity of the past year.

"The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes," Trump wrote....
Here's what Putin said:
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called for the country to reinforce its military nuclear potential....

"We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems," the Kremlin strongman said.
Does Trump want to arm us in anticipation of possible war with Russia? Hard to believe, consider how fond Trump is of Putin. Putin, for his part, continues trying to sweet-talk Trump -- earlier today he was trolling the Democratic Party:
Russia’s President Vladi­mir Putin has a message for the White House and Democratic leaders who accuse him of stealing their victory: Don’t be sore losers.

That was how Putin answered a question Friday about whether Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election in favor of Donald Trump at the Russian leader’s nationally televised annual press conference

“Democrats are losing on every front and looking for people to blame everywhere,” Putin said in answer to a Russian TV host, one of 1,400 journalists accredited to the marathon session. “They need to learn to lose with dignity.”

The Kremlin leader pointed out Republicans had won the House and Senate, remarking “Did we do that, too?”

“Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him,” Putin said, adding with a grin. “Except for you and me.”
Trump won't nuke Russia. He loves that guy.

Sarah Kendzior thinks Trump's vision, if we can call it that, is of the U.S. cooperating with Russia to prevent nuclear proliferation elsewhere (and possibly nuking some of those other countries). She notes that he's talked about this in interviews going back to the Soviet years. One of those interviews was published by Ron Rosenbaum in 1987 and republished by Slate earlier this year. Here's how Rosenbaum summed up what Trump told him:
So what is the deal Trump thinks can be done? What is the Trump Plan?

It’s a deal with the Soviets. We approach them on this basis: We both recognize the nonproliferation treaty’s not working, that half a dozen countries are on the brink of getting a bomb. Which can only cause trouble for the two of us. The deterrence of mutual assured destruction that prevents the United States and the USSR from nuking each other won’t work on the level of an India-Pakistan nuclear exchange. Or a madman dictator with a briefcase-bomb team. The only answer is for the Big Two to make a deal now to step in and prevent the next generation of nations about to go nuclear from doing so. By whatever means necessary.
I'm sure Putin loves Trump's deep, abiding faith in Russians' goodwill.

The other issue here is that Trump is parroting a call from groups such as the Heritage Foundation for significantly renewed nuclear arms spending. I'm not sure that's about pushing us to the brink of Armageddon so much as it's about lining the pockets of arms contractors. Yes, we see Trump questioning the costs of certain weapons programs. But that raises a question:

Well, for Trump it's win-win. Trump challenges the cost of military contracts and heartland America thinks he's draining the swamp. Trump gets us into an arms race and it's the classic right-wing move of distracting the public with fear of a foreign enemy while the government enriches the rich. Oh, and once he's driven up the debt with military spending, the only possible way to get our fiscal house in order will be cuts in social programs, right? That's the cycle we're entering, I think.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Another key Trump appointment, another victory for Reince Priebus:
President-elect Donald Trump named Republican National Committee official Sean Spicer as White House press secretary....

Spicer, the RNC’s communications director since 2011 and chief strategist since 2015, has become an increasingly visible presence on Trump’s team since the GOP nominee won the election on Nov. 8. Noted for his combative television interviews, he helps to lead daily transition news media calls and has a close relationship with RNC chairman Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff.
I said earlier this month that Reince Priebus was eating Steve Bannon's lunch in the battle to staff the Trump administration. This is yet another win. As New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman wrote on December 8:
Trump campaign staffers are also angry that Priebus is attempting to staff the West Wing with mainstream GOP officials rather than Trump loyalists. According to sources, Priebus wants Trump to appoint RNC chief strategist Sean Spicer to serve as White House press secretary.... “If Priebus controls the schedule and the message, what does Bannon actually control?” one Bannon loyalist asked.
Trump loyalists from the campaign were also rewarded today -- Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, and Jason Miller got jobs -- but Spicer is getting a bigger job.

But it's not just Bannon vs. Priebus. As Sherman tells us today, another Bannon antagonist, former Goldman Sachs chief operating officer Gary Cohn, who'll be the head of the National Economic Council, has become a Trump confidante:
Several sources connected to the Trump transition team describe Cohn as an influential voice inside the emerging administration. Cohn, one source said, has “walk-in” privileges that allow him to pop into Trump’s office whenever he wants. “Gary is brash; he has no trouble interrupting Trump,” the source, who has attended meetings with both men, explained. Trump has tasked Cohn with a wide array of responsibilities, including recommending candidates to head the Securities [and] Exchange Commission, developing a strategy to repeal Obamacare, and crafting plans for new infrastructure spending and tax reform, sources say.

... “Trump loves having Goldman guys around. The bank wouldn’t touch Trump, and now they’re working for him,” one Republican close to the transition told me, referring to the bank’s unwillingness to lend to Trump businesses.
As Sherman notes, Cohn is close to Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. He's also said to be working to prevent the appointment of Larry Kudlow as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, in the belief that Kudlow is too right-wing.

Sherman concludes:
Preventing Cohn from exerting too much influence on Trump seems to have become a goal for Bannon, says a source. “He’s a huge Democrat and knows zero about politics,” a person close to Bannon told me.
I think Trump's dumping Bannon the way he'd dump a soon-to-be ex-wife. Bannon's going to be an ex-White House staffer soon.


Politico reports this, which sounds good to me:
Senate Democrats are approaching the January confirmation battle over Donald Trump’s Cabinet as a chance to launch their political comeback and expose the president-elect as a fraud.

... The goal, according to lawmakers and aides: to depict Trump’s chosen inner circle of billionaires and conservative hard-liners as directly at odds with the working-class Americans he vowed to help.

... Democrats believe they have a target-rich environment ... whether it’s Rex Tillerson’s ties to big oil and Russia, Steven Mnuchin’s Wall Street career, Betsy DeVos’ antipathy toward public schools or Tom Price’s past support for overhauling Medicare.

“You’ve got a woman whose mission in life for the Department of Education is to privatize the public education system. You’ve got this secretary of HHS designee whose mission has been to raise the eligibility age for Medicare,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who will help oversee Ben Carson’s confirmation as housing secretary on the Banking Committee. “You need a scorecard to keep up with the attack on American values.”
Democrats aren't going to have the votes to block these nominees, but it's obvious that they should be put on the spot in front of TV cameras and made to account for their ideas and for relevant aspects of their careers. However, I don't think this will be less successful:
Democrats are also demanding new disclosures of all Cabinet nominees’ tax records, to bolster their case that they and the president-elect are out to enrich themselves. Just three committees generally receive nominees' tax returns.
Would it be good to have this information? Sure. Does the public care? Even when Donald Trump was dropping in the polls during the presidential campaign, it seemed clear that the call for his tax returns wasn't connecting with the public the way stories about his personal attacks and his predatory sexual behavior did. Many Americans, I think, had some sympathy for Trump -- they wouldn't want their own taxes made public. They might have told pollsters that he should release the information, but it wasn't deeply troubling to many of them.

Democrats should insist that nominees provide the same information that their predecessors had to provide, including the traditional financial disclosures. But if some Senate committees have never demanded tax returns, then Democrats shouldn't press for additional disclosures -- Republicans can always move goalposts this way, but when Democrats do it, their demands become the issue. (The reason for this? The so-called liberal media chides Democrats for moves like this. The conservative press never chides Republicans.)

I'd say Democrats should concentrate on what's in plain sight, and not on bigness per se -- after three decades of post-Reagan CEO worship, a lot of Americans don't care that Tillerson is part of "Big Oil" or Mnuchin is a Wall Street Master of the Universe, but they're likely to care about excessive coziness with Putin or foreclosure profiteering. (I know, I know -- to you and me, the sleaze is the inevitable result of the job description. But much of America has a bizarre and self-contradictory view of big business, alternating between populist wariness and Stockholm-syndrome hero worship. Y'know, "No poor man ever gave me a job" and all that.)

Concentrate on possible dire consequences -- an even more emboldened Putin, the end of Medicare as we know it. But don't attack these people purely on their riches. Americans distrust fat cats but aspire to wealth and admire "job creators." Fat bankrolls and even shady tax dodges aren't going to bother most Americans, alas. They'd like to be rich and dodge taxes creatively, too.


Kellyanne Conway just got a job in the Trump administration. Here's how The New York Times reports this news:
Kellyanne Conway, ‘Trump Whisperer,’ Will Be Counselor to President

Kellyanne Conway, the Republican pollster and strategist who helped guide President-elect Donald J. Trump to victory in November, will be appointed counselor to the president, becoming the highest-ranking woman in his White House, the transition team announced early Thursday....

With a soft-spoken approach that appeals to Mr. Trump, Ms. Conway was credited during the campaign, even by Democrats who opposed her, with smoothing out some of Mr. Trump’s most jagged edges in her appearances on television.
Kellyanne Conway is "soft-spoken"? She's a "Trump whisperer" who "smooth[s] out some of Mr. Trump’s most jagged edges" in her media appearances?

The press and I must be watching two different Kellyanne Conways. The one I know is as mean-spirited and vicious as Trump, and as shameless a liar. Just yesterday we were reminded that she's condescending and graceless in victory:
President-elect Donald Trump's campaign manager says Trump unnerved Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by promoting women who have accused her husband of sexual misconduct....

“Listen, this is somebody who’s very scripted,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said of Clinton on Fox News Radio’s “Hemmer Time” Wednesday.

When you’re scripted, and you’re running against the most unscripted, X-factor to ever explode on the political scene -- at least in our lifetimes, Bill -- then you’re going to get ham[mered],” she told host Bill Hemmer. "You know, a robot only has so many microchips in its database and that one wasn’t in there. It’s like, not in the script.”
Hey, Kellyanne, you won. Show a little class. On second thought, why bother? The press thinks she's the nice one.

And remember, she was pushing the "landslide" Big Lie a month ago.

Conway's title, "counselor to the president," suggests deep involvement in policy and statecraft, but really she'll just be a spin doctor:
In a statement, Mr. Trump said Ms. Conway would continue her role as a “close adviser,” responsible for helping to carry out his priorities and deliver his message from inside the White House.

”She is a tireless and tenacious advocate of my agenda and has amazing insights on how to effectively communicate our message,” Mr. Trump said. “I am pleased that she will be part of my senior team in the West Wing.”
Of course, this is a Republican administration, so spin is king, because in any Republican administration the prime policy goal is giving tax and regulatory gifts to the rich, and that can't be accomplished unless heartland white voters are given multiple distractions meant to persuade them that the new president has their best interests at heart.

And, well, we know Conway is a good spinner. She's fooled the media into thinking she's a decent human being, hasn't she?