Monday, December 31, 2018


The president of the United States tweeted this yesterday:

As The Washington Post informs us, he's wrong:
Trump’s assertion came as a surprise to two of the Obamas' neighbors Monday, who told The Washington Post that there is no such wall. The 8,200-square-foot structure, despite several security features, is completely visible from the street....

“There’s a fence that goes along the front of the house, but it’s the same as the other neighbors have,” [one] neighbor said. “It’s tastefully done.” ...

Another neighbor said the Obamas' home is “100 percent visible from the street.”

“There is no 10-foot wall in the front, back or sides of the house — and no wall is going up,” the person said.

But it's not true that Trump "completely invented" this claim. It comes from the Trump-friendly media.

In January 2017, the pro-Trump gossip site TMZ reported:
President Obama is taking a cue from Donald Trump ... he's building himself a wall.

We got photos of construction at Obama's soon-to-be D.C. rental....

We broke the story ... the rental will be home until Sasha graduates so the Obamas needed the property outfitted for the Secret Service and ... it needed more fortification.
At the time, the story was picked up by some right-wing sites: Breitbart ("President Barack Obama will reportedly have a big, beautiful wall around his new home in Washington DC"), the American Mirror ("As Barack Obama waxes eloquent about the supposed negative impact of walls on humanity, crews have completed the wall surrounding his Washington, DC home"), David Horowitz's Truth Revolt ("Leftists always lecture people on the need to be building bridges, not walls. Obama doesn't seem to live by that message, as reports and photos show him to be building a "great wall" around his multi-million dollar property in Washington D.C."), Milo Yiannopoulos's site ("Report: Crews Finish Building The Wall ... Around Obama’s D.C. Home").

And then the story was forgotten -- except, probably, by whatever Trump staffer or ally brought it to the president's attention this week. And now Fox News, the New York Post, and other right-wing sites are reporting the tweet as factual. Headline at Ben Shapiro's Daily Wire: "MASTER TROLL: Trump Points Out The Obamas Have A 10-Foot Wall Around Their House."

Of course, Trump "pointed out" no such thing, because it's simply not true. (I can't find any pre-Trump story that gives a height for the wall, but that's standard operating procedure for Trump when he's lying -- he likes to attach a very specific-sounding bogus number to whatever nonsense he's peddling in order to persuade his audience that he's telling the truth.)

In the 1990s, James Carville talked about the "puke funnel" -- a process by which right-wing think tanks planted stories at fringe websites that then wormed their way into the mainstream. A Clinton White House memo described the process:

News doesn't really work that way anymore -- there's hardly any difference between the "mainstream" right-wing media and the conservative fringe.

On this story, Trump has been a new-style puke funnel -- he's taken an old right-wing meme and re-memified it. He's recycling the puke -- which seems like the one thing he's good at.


This article at Raw Story inspired a lot of schadenfreude over the weekend:
Sarah Sanders has ‘struggled’ to find a new job as the White House press office becomes ‘Night of the living dead’: report
Back in June, CBS reported that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and her deputy Raj Shah were already planning to leave the administration by the end of the year. Sanders never denied the report. But with January just around the corner, no official announcements of their departures have been made, even as other top officials are shown the door or scramble for the exits of their own accord.

So why are they hanging on? According to Yahoo News, Sanders and Shah are struggling to find work elsewhere.
Here's the problem: The linked Yahoo News story doesn't say that Sanders is struggling to find work. It says the process of finding replacements for Sanders and Shah has been difficult because no one wants their jobs, but there's nothing about Sanders personally struggling.

But a note now appended to the Raw Story report says this:
UPDATE: Since this piece was published, the Yahoo News story it referenced has been changed to remove some of the details cited below. An earlier version of the Yahoo News story can be found here containing the original claims.
That earlier version, published by MSN, says:
According to [a] former member of the transition team, Shah is “still on payroll” at the White House, “but he doesn’t have an office, he doesn’t have a phone.” The source said Sanders and Shah are both actively trying to leave the White House and have struggled to find new jobs.
Did Yahoo edit the story because it lost faith in the source? Or is Sanders working her media connections to kill bad news about herself -- and manufacture good news?

I say "manufacture good news" because this was the lead story at Breitbart late yesterday afternoon:

When it comes to astute and quick-witted individuals within the Trump administration, one name appears in the minds of millions of Americans: Sarah Huckabee Sanders....

After facing immense criticism from several within the media, Sanders has remained a strong voice for the many who admire her courage and unwavering ability to stand up for the administration’s values and agenda.
And this was the top story at FrontPage Magazine for quite a while last week:

The struggle for the future of this country is being fought in the hearts and minds of its citizens. The media is the enemy and Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the warrior who takes them on day after day....

For a year and a half, Sanders has been reporting for duty as the White House Press Secretary. She’s been shouted at, called names, had her appearance demeaned, and was kicked out of a restaurant. Mainstream media White House correspondents, invariably male, try to talk over her and shout her down. But she’s been so effective that there have been calls by the media to boycott her press briefings....

In a hateful environment of utter indecency, she stands for the simple decency of defying the tide of hatred that washes ashore at every gathering in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. And she does it with admirable dignity and fortitude.

Media portrayals often depict Sanders as a bully, humiliating and embarrassing the media. The opposite is true. Her stolid dignity and unmovable insistence on telling the truth embarrass the media. Every time Sanders takes on the press corps, they come away looking like deranged, egotistical activists throwing a tantrum. The media, which is built on spinning reality, has smeared her, but it’s never been able to change her. That’s why it’s pondering the idea of just giving up and running away from a 5’6 woman.

And that’s why Sarah Huckabee Sanders is FrontPage Magazine’s Warrior Person of the Year.
Wow. What brought this on? In the Trump era, it's rare for right-wing media flacks to gush this way about anyone except him. And while that FrontPage piece implies that Sanders is this year's winner of an annual award, I've found no evidence of any previous FrontPage "Warrior Persons of the Year."

I think Sanders is working the refs, in the mainstream and on the right. I think FrontPage made up a whole new award just to help her find a job.

Sunday, December 30, 2018


In The New York Times, Arlie and David Hochschild tell us that most Republicans believe climate change is real, which means there's reason to hope for bipartisan agreement on climate solutions. They're right about the former, but almost certainly wrong about the latter.
In March, ... the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication polled 1,067 registered voters on climate change. The study ... asked whether the United States should “set strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public heath,” even if “the cost of electricity to consumers and companies would likely increase.” Eighty-seven percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans said yes.

Should the United States require fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax and use the money to reduce other taxes (such as income tax) by an equal amount? Eighty-four percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans said yes.

Asked, “When there’s a conflict between environmental protection and economic growth, which do you think is more important?” 85 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans said that environmental protection should come first.

The survey also found that majorities in both parties think the government should fund research into solar and wind energy, offer tax rebates to those buying energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels, and encourage schools to teach children about the causes and consequences of global warming, and potential solutions. A majority of Democrats and Republicans believe the United States should participate in the Paris climate accord and reduce greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.

A study conducted in June by Stanford, ABC News and Resources for the Future uncovered a similar trend. It found that 66 percent of Republicans believe the increase in temperature is “mostly or partly caused by humans.” Another poll, released last month by Monmouth University in New Jersey, found that most Republicans now support action on climate change.
That's good to know -- but it means that we're in the same place with regard to climate change that we are on the gun issue. In October, Pew told us this:
Overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic leaners (89% each) say mentally ill people should be barred from buying guns. Nearly as many in both parties (86% of Democrats, 83% of Republicans) favor barring gun purchases by people on federal watch lists. And sizable majorities also favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks (91% of Democrats, 79% of Republicans).
But it doesn't matter. Pew also notes that there are big differences betweren the two parties on other gun proposals, therefore nearly every gun proposal is dead on arrival in red and purple states, and in Washington.

The Hochschilds understand the problem:
Studies by a University of Colorado psychologist, Leaf Van Boven, and two colleagues points to a “party over policy” effect, in which people’s views on a carbon tax depend less on the content of the proposal than on the party they believe proposed it.
But they're naive about what might solve the problem.
So maybe Republicans just need to hear from messengers they trust.

A talk by an evangelical climate scientist, one study shows, altered the views of climate skeptics studying at evangelical colleges. Similarly, we need to find ways of showing science-doubting Republican oil workers that the leaders of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP have acknowledged the risk of climate change and that steps must be taken to address it. Republicans who greatly admire the military could learn about the ways the Pentagon has already acknowledged the risk of climate change as a security issue and has quietly set about installing renewable energy projects on bases across the country.
But we've seen how well the "messengers they trust" strategy has worked in the Trump era. Many respected conservatives denounced Trump from the moment he announced his candidacy in 2015 -- but because Trump strokes Republican voters' rage receptors more pleasurably than anyone else in America, those voters now regard the critics as pariahs. Similarly, "law and order" Republican voters used to respect the FBI, but now they've been told that the FBI is part of the evil Deep State, so they hate the Bureau now.

Republican politicians will always say that real action on climate change, like the enactment of gun regulations (even those that have bipartisan support), makes liberals happy. That's all it takes -- the GOP voting bloc will back candidates who maintain a hard line on guns or climate denialism, even if those candidates oppose policies the voters favor.

I don't see a way out of this except outvoting Republicans and electing more progressive candidates. I'd like to think it's possible to reach a bipartisan consensus on climate, but I can't imagine it.

Saturday, December 29, 2018


In a opinion piece published early December, Mark Penn urged congressional Democrats to forget impeachment and turn instead to censure:
... come January, the Democrats in the House will have a choice. They can accept the Mueller report and move on. Or, they can hold endless hearings all over again run by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who is expected to chair the House Judiciary Committee, and then vote to impeach the president or censure him for the actions described in the Mueller report.

The smartest move Democrats could make would likely be to approve some kind of censure motion against President Trump after a few hearings and then say the American people will decide in the 2020 election who should be president for another four years.

But the pressure from the Democratic base to impeach Trump will be enormous. So House Democrats are more likely to go down the impeachment road that – without significant Republican support – will come off as partisan overreach.
The polling firm Penn runs -- the Harris Poll -- just asked Americans what they think of censure as an alternative punishment for President Trump. They're not interested.
Nearly 60 percent of U.S. voters surveyed say President Trump should be either impeached and removed from office or formally censured, according to a new Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released exclusively to The Hill....

Asked whether Trump should be impeached and removed from office for his actions, censured by Congress or whether Congress should take no action, 39 percent of respondents said Trump should be impeached and removed from office....

Twenty percent of poll respondents said lawmakers should vote to formally censure the president.

Forty-one percent of respondents said Congress should take no action against the president, according to the survey of 1,473 registered voters.
About one in five Americans support censure, but far larger groups of Americans believe that Trump deserves either removal from office or no punishment at all. The country feels as if it's divided between the latter two groups, and this poll confirms that perception.

Public opinion was very different in 1998. Back then, on the eve of a House impeachment vote, Americans wanted censure.
Americans favor censure over impeachment as the House Judiciary Committee prepares to debate four proposed articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll showed Wednesday.

The survey, conducted between 6 and 9 p.m. ET after the House Judiciary Committee finished hearing Clinton's defense, showed 61 percent of the public opposed to impeachment, while 55 percent said they were in favor of censure.
You'll recall that MoveOn was formed specifically to encourage censure of President Clinton as an alternative to both impeachment and no rebuke at all. Many liberals agreed with conservatives that Clinton had done something wrong, but not something so terrible that he deserved to be removed from office. Swing voters generally agreed with those liberals. Now the right believes that Trump is essentially blameless.

But I think we'll hear a lot of talk about censure as we learn more about Trump and his circle from Robert Mueller and House committees. If the revelations are troubling and impeachment seems inevitable, centrists will try to suggest that impeachment is radical and divisive.

Censure, of course, doesn't preclude impeachment. We could have censured the president for his bigoted remarks in the wake of Charlottesville, for instance -- Jonathan Alter recommended that and a House resolution was introduced, though it of course went nowhere. Alter also recommended censure in response to Trump's "craven performance opposite Vladimir Putin in Helsinki," but that never happened either.

I don't believe we'll ever get twenty Senate Republicans to vote to convict after an impeachment, though I suppose it's possible. I even have my doubts that four Senate Republicans would vote to censure Trump, no matter what we learn about him. (Censure would require only a simple majority in both houses.)

In any case, we'll be talking about censure more in the next year or so. It's not enough. But it will be discussed as if it's the reasonable response.

Friday, December 28, 2018


Vanity Fair's David Drucker says that Republicans would love to run against Elizabeth Warren:
Without naming names, I asked several senior Republican insiders which Democrat, or Democrats, at the top of the opposition ticket would most reassure them about 2020. Without exception, Elizabeth Warren, the 69-year-old progressive senator from Massachusetts, topped every wish list. “There’s a lot of Hillary Clinton in her,” said a veteran Republican operative in D.C. who hails from the Midwest and keeps a close eye on the heartland. “She’s elitist and doesn’t appear very nimble. It would be hard for her to expand her base or reach directly into Trump’s base.”
Why is Elizabeth Warren too "elitist" to beat Trump? She's from humble Oklahoma roots. She's professorial at times, but so was Barack Obama, who convincingly beat the Republicans twice. Why does she seem beatable to them?

These insiders also named Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders as beatable. Drucker says that their reasoning is that America is "a center-right country." But Sanders demonstrated a lot of appeal in 2016, though he may not be able to sustain it in 2020 if he runs (and might not have been able to sustain it in a 2016 general election). Why did polls show him doing better than Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump throughout the spring of 2016? Sometimes I think it's because his accent makes him sound uneducated, and, thus, "regular," as my late mother might have put it. But that still doesn't explain why Obama broke through.

Now, who are these Republican insiders claiming to fear?
... if there’s a key aspect to the fear Beto O’Rourke inspires in some Republicans, it’s the outgoing Texas congressman’s combination of sunny disposition and 21st-century social media agility. Sure, he’s unabashedly progressive, but to borrow a phrase from Vice President Mike Pence: He’s not angry about it. Nor, as it happens, does O’Rourke look down upon so-called heretics, or, if you prefer, “deplorables.”
... former Vice President Joe Biden was cited as among the few Democrats who many Republicans believe might dispatch the incumbent with relative ease. Is Biden progressive? Absolutely. Gaffe-prone? Duh. But he is the antithesis of Trump, with the added benefit that he’s been vetted before, and passed muster. “He wreaks calmness and normalcy, which I feel like people crave over the chaos of the Trump administration,” a Republican strategist headquartered in the Southwest said.
Biden exudes calmness? Seriously? And he's not really normal -- but he is, again, "regular." He seems to have a rapport with "ordinary" (read: older white) people.

O'Rourke too? I guess so, despite the fact that he comes off as someone who might easily be painted as an elitist. I spotted this quote in a Jonathan Chait piece about the Bernie-Beto wars.
“Reading Karl Marx is cool,” said Nomiki Konst, a Sanders loyalist and candidate for New York City public advocate, to NBC. “Doing a livestream while you’re doing your laundry is a gimmick.”
But apparently people like O'Rourke because he livestreams his laundry, or his steering-wheel drumming while listening to "Baba O'Reilly."

But why do no women make the cut? I think a surprising percentage of our fellow citizens like Homer Simpson-y qualities in men -- Biden's gaffes, O'Rourke's boy-man skater affect. They want men to be serious when necessary, but this stuff makes them seem relatable.

I don't think women get cut any slack in that way. They can't be gaffe-prone or shambolic or immature -- and yet when they seem too much like the grownups in the room (Warren, Gillibrand, Hillary Clinton), they're punished for it.

Or who knows? Maybe the public will surprise us and rally around a candidate whose appeal the experts can't grasp. I'd like that.


I'm back. Thank you again, Yastreblyansky, Crank, and Tom, for some great posts while I was away.

Elizabeth Drew is asserting in The New York Times that impeachment is inevitable:
An impeachment process against President Trump now seems inescapable. Unless the president resigns, the pressure by the public on the Democratic leaders to begin an impeachment process next year will only increase.
It's true that Trump seems weakened:
The midterms were followed by new revelations in criminal investigations of once-close advisers as well as new scandals involving Mr. Trump himself. The odor of personal corruption on the president’s part — perhaps affecting his foreign policy — grew stronger. Then the events of the past several days — the president’s precipitous decision to pull American troops out of Syria, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s abrupt resignation, the swoon in the stock market, the pointless shutdown of parts of the government — instilled a new sense of alarm among many Republicans.
According to Drew, Trump's time in the dock is coming because ... well, it just is.
Too many people think in terms of stasis: How things are is how they will remain. They don’t take into account that opinion moves with events.
But the only opinion that matters to Republican officeholders is the opinion of the GOP voting bloc, and that isn't moving.

In Trumpistan, opinion doesn't move with events because Trumpistan and the rest of America don't agree on the meaning of events. In Trumpistan, everything Trump does is good (or, at worst, forgivable -- tweeting rudely, momentarily threatening not to shut down the government to get a border wall), and everything bad is the fault of Democrats, the non-conservative media, and Hollywood. Anything that looks bad for Trump is fake news. You know all this.

Drew is a veteran journalist who covered Watergate and the Clinton presidency. I read her opinion piece looking for hard evidence that impeachment and Trump's premature departure from office are likely, but the best she can come up with is gut instinct.
It always seemed to me that Mr. Trump’s turbulent presidency was unsustainable and that key Republicans would eventually decide that he had become too great a burden to the party or too great a danger to the country. That time may have arrived.
But why should we believe that? If Republicans in Congress were ready to make a break with Trump, the unpopular shutdown is a golden opportunity -- and yet they're doing nothing to bring it to a close.

Martin Longman (BooMan) thinks the latest Michael Cohen revelations, if proved correct, signal the end of the Trump presidency. Why? Again, simply because.
On Sunday, April 15, 2018, I wrote, “If Michael Cohen went to Prague, then Donald Trump will be impeached, convicted, and removed from office, assuming he doesn’t resign.” The piece was in response to a Thursday evening article Peter Stone and Greg Gordon had written for McClatchy that claimed that the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) had evidence that, contrary to his repeated denials, Michael Cohen actually had traveled to Prague in the late summer of 2016 just as he was alleged to have done in the Steele Dossier.
Now those same McClatchy authors write that there's technical evidence Cohen was in the area of Prague in 2016:
A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.
That's game over, Longman writes:
That there are reportedly intercepts that independently confirm his presence there is the exact kind of corroboration that is required to lock down that there has been a gigantic coverup.

This is why I wrote back in April that “if Michael Cohen went to Prague, then Donald Trump will be impeached, convicted, and removed from office, assuming he doesn’t resign.”
Really? That's it? The Trumpers won't continue to haggle, distract, and dispute the evidence all to the bitter end, with the backing of nearly every Republican in Congress?

I see nothing to indicate that Republicans will turn against Trump even if every allegation linked to the collusion and coverup story is proved true -- yes, including the pee tape. There was an exchange in comments yesterday:
Trump could rape and strangle an entire daycare center live on “Fox and Friends” while simultaneously setting alight a basket a basket of kittens, and his base would cling to him like grim death.

That would be firm and manly in their view. They would not only not mind it, they'd applaud. Getting peed on might be another matter.
But Trumpism is theology. If Trump did it, it's justifiable. If it's impossible to justify, then he didn't do it -- the tape is doctored. Also, what about Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein and Ted Kennedy and...

Collusion is the same. Yes, Cohen says he was in Prague, but he's lying because he's a Democrat now, or because he wants to be treated better by the Deep State. All hard evidence against Trump is manufactured by spooks, who concocted it while destroying evidence of the real crimes of the Obama administration, the Clintons, and Trump-haters in the FBI.

Nothing's changed. Trump's base of support is as solid as ever. Change is not inevitable.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Vicinity of Prague

Bohemian forest retreat, by Uhlik Architekti.

Very startled by this story from McClatchy that seems to corroborate one of the key details of the Steele memos, according to which
A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.
During the same period of late August or early September, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague, two people familiar with the incident said.
Which is consistent with two of Steele's most startling reports, in BooMan's paraphrase, placing Cohen somewhere around Prague at that point
The language is very similar to the October 19, 2016 dispatch in the Steele Dossier. At that time, Steele’s source (“a Kremlin insider”) knew only that Cohen “had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016.” But that insider could not establish the county, the precise dates or the identities of Cohen’s Russian interlocutors.
Some of those details were provided in Steele’s post-election missive on December 13, 2016, which clarified that the meeting may have actually occurred in early September, that it had taken place in the vicinity of Prague in the Czech Republic, and that the deputy chief of Rossotrudnichestvo’s operation in the Czech Republic, Oleg Solodudkhin, was one of his main contacts.
to discuss in particular
how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.
which sounds like something right up the alley of the Michael Cohen we've come to know and love.

Marcy hates this story, for quite reasonable reasons, because she thinks it's ridiculous to treat the Steele dossier as some kind of Golden Tablets of truth, as opposed to the materials the Mueller team has gathered and studied over the past nearly two years and the FBI gathered before that, because it's only Steele's raw intelligence collection, and it's likely he was given at least some disinformation (word invented in Russia, dezinformatsiya), and we have no simple way of knowing what is and isn't true, although I would come back saying it really does look better and better all the time, as we acquire more bits of certified information from the Mueller court filings, the public testimony of various actors, and leaks from lawyers and others, see Sarah Grant and Chuck Rosenberg for a brilliant summary. She's right to insist Mueller doesn't need it, but I think it's just mean on her part to tell us we can't think about it, as we game out the narratology.

Cohen has consistently publicly denied the story since it came out, memorably showing reporters his passport cover as proof that he had never been to Czechia, and the inside of the passport (seen by Buzzfeed) doesn't show any travel inside the EU at the right period, though a visit to Italy in 9-17 July is awfully close. He denied it before he flipped on Trump, and he continues to deny it after, in increasingly cutesy terms:

The phone evidence doesn't say he was in Prague, just in the vicinity. Is that a non-denial denial? I dunno, I kind of wish it was true in any case. The more stuff from Steele comes true, the more likely there's a pee tape, and while that's not even slightly important to me in my idea of Trump's criminality, it's maybe the one thing that would make his base throw up and sadly walk away.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Jon Swift Roundup

Batocchio piccolo rosso, a Venetian carnival mask for a pretty small face, via Maskworld.

For in those days it is written that the late and great journalist Al Weisel, who used to blog snark as Modest Jon Swift, did wish to encourage the humble bloggers throughout the land and even outside of it and to make their work known far and wide, and each year somewhat after the winter solstice did assemble a metapost to which every blogger no matter how small might link her or his favorite post of the year, which tradition is maintained and curated by our friend Batocchio, this year's edition of the Jon Swift Roundup #jonswift2018 is online, and if you want something to read there's tons of great stuff from many friends old and new, funny, thoughtful, sweet, and terrifying as your mood requires.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

House of Cards

From Veep, I guess 3rd season, via.

I don't know if I've made a point of how deprived I've been, in recent years, of contact with popular entertainment culture, as the old lady has dropped herself into an insane work routine and the kids have gotten old and don't need to be monitored any more and I'm left to live the non-work half of my life in the blog world and not getting much conventional entertainment of any kind, and, long story short, one of the things in contemporary cultural life I'm most ignorant of is the artistically ambitious TV series from The Sopranos and Game of Thrones onward, but yesterday we wound up watching the first episodes of House of Cards, so that I got to notice something for the first time two years after the election that everybody else saw three years before, with the effect that I saw it, I think, in a quite different way.

Namely, the story of the Conservative politician Francis and his lady Claire Urquhart, originally written by Michael Dobbs, now Lord Dobbs of Wylye, translated to some kind of America where the protagonists are Frank and Claire Underwood, vaguely evokes Bill and Hillary Clinton, as everybody must know: he's a politician from the South, with a very shallowly liberal kind of perspective, and she has short blonde hair, and their connection seems not sexual, or with a sexiness that's not based on sex but the deployment of power, or mind-fucking, like the relationship between the ex-lovers Valmont and Mme de Merteuil as they seduce other victims and brag to each other in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. And I have to say we all thought it was kind of crude, at least at the beginning, with the characters' villainy being so undisguised in the Dallas-style dialogue, though also very exciting and dramaturgically effective, I'm not gonna lie.

Also its British origins didn't seem very well concealed. Frank being a member of the House who wants to push through a massive education bill in the hope of becoming Secretary of State is an inconceivably roundabout route to power in the US, whereas a British MP working diligently on education because he wants to be Foreign Minister wouldn't be at all improbable (British ministers remain MPs and shuffle around all the time and are not necessarily specialists in any particular issue); and it may be that a UK reporter could get a scandalous story front-paged in a prestigious paper with a single anonymous source she's refused to name to her editor, but when Zoe Barnes achieves this early in the US show in Washington, it's not really believable, though other details are unpleasantly plausible—especially when George Stephanopoulos cheerfully lends himself in a cameo to a depiction of how TV journalists like him let themselves be used by unscrupulous politicians in spinning the public.

What struck me is that from the point of view of the time the series launched, in 2013, Frank's and Claire's Bill-and-Hillary attributes are assigned in a somewhat strange way, in that Frank situationally resembles Hillary—she was a former legislator who'd just finished a term as Secretary of State, he's a current legislator who wants to be Secretary of State; and Claire situationally resembles Bill—he was an ex-politician running a nonprofit do-gooding association, the Clinton Foundation, whose activities seemed difficult for the public to understand, and Claire is a sort of not-yet-politician running an NGO whose mission is extremely unspecific, at least to the writers, though its name, the Clean Water Initiative, seems clear enough. And it's Claire who's given a sexual past (with a photographer character at the periphery), like Bill, whereas Frank seems to have no more than a sexual future (with the evil girl reporter).

So that the characters work more like a kind of system with transferable properties than two human beings, like the anti-Hillary posture that always refers to "theclintons" as if she had no autonomous existence, and yet also represented a distinct threat to humanity, and I felt as if I was watching structures inside the ice palace of Maureen Dowd's mind, and this morning I was wondering if the TV show had exercised some kind of influence on the 2016 election, maybe not so much directly on the public (how many of them were watching Netflix serials?) as on the journalists who were making the narrative (probably all of them were watching). I wonder if the ability on the part of 40 or 50% of the public to believe that Hillary Clinton was a murderer and a bribe taker and and inexorable absorber of pure, abstract power with no interest in the sorrows and joys and needs of ordinary humans—so crazy and so at odds with her real-life personal history or any of the things she said—was encouraged by this, through the journalists. Did they soften the public up for the Russian propaganda that presented her as such an extreme (and basically nonsensical) manifestation of evil?

It's not that you shouldn't be cynical, but that this was the wrong kind of cynicism. Nobody's really like Frank Underwood. The most horribly cynical politicians are people like Tony Blair and George W. Bush, self-justifying, weepy sentimentalists. Whereas politicians who want to get real things done may take a jaundiced view of humanity and its manipulability, like Lyndon Johnson, but they do want to get real things done.

The journalists should have been watching Veep instead. Comedy is always truer than melodrama. And of course listening to and reporting the stuff Hillary said, however boring it sounded, instead of focusing on the sex-and-dominance fantasies, so they could understand the difference between her and President Selina Meyer.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

President Humbug

I was raised on Christmas movies--movies where cruel and selfish people were transformed, where lonely people found love and friendship, where communities were moved to extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity, all because of the Christmas Spirit. It's all very corny and naive...but it's also kind of a nice idea.

In word and in deed, Trump embodies the exact opposite of the Christmas Spirit. Right now hundreds of thousands of families are suffering through the holiday season because Trump can't get funding for his racist vanity project. Many more stories like these here. Trump's reaction? And meanwhile, the soldiers Trump deployed to the border for a cheap political stunt are spending the holiday season there.

And today, Christmas Day, we have yet another horrifying reminder of Trump's performative cruelty. Trump is every villain in every Christmas movie rolled into one. He has the callous indifference of Ebenezer Scrooge, the grasping malice of Old Man Potter, the petty spite of the Grinch, the sadistic bullying of Scut Farkus, the vicious insecurity of Granville Sawyer, and the larcenous nature of Randolph & Mortimer Duke. In other words,

An Irony of Unimaginable Proportions

War on Christmas post (with minor edits) from Christmas 2012:
On the conservative Liberty Counsel radio show Faith and Freedom, hosts Mat Staver and Matt Barber discuss the fact that an elementary school in Jackson County, Fla., removed a nativity scene while allowing Santa Clause and Frosty the Snowman to remain. “What an irony at this time of year, where Jesus gets put in the closet, and in California, where we’re litigating out there, where they’re wanting to make homosexuality the preferred method or topic of counseling discussions, but anything contrary to that would be banned,” said Staver.
“This is just an irony of unimaginable proportions,” he went on. “When we say there’s a war on Christmas and somebody says ‘oh,’ mockingly, ‘oh there’s no war on Christmas,’ this is a war on Christmas. This is discrimination, it is viewpoint-based discrimination.” Then Barber argued that as “people who are engaged in all form of aberrant sexual behavior” come out of the closet, “Christians are being forced into the closet, and here literally the baby Jesus is forced and crammed into the closet."
(Via Raw Story)
Houses of Parliament, London, February 2009. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe.
If homosexuality is the method of the counseling discussion then it's not the topic, and if it's the topic then it's not the method, because anything contrary to that is banned, but you don't have to have counseling discussions at all, honestly, and most of us don't. At worst you can just have counseling. Let the record show that.

As to whether it's a war or not, that's a matter of perspective, isn't it? But to my way of thinking, there's something awfully violent about the concept of a war and it doesn't represent the way I feel, which doesn't even have anything directly to do with Christians and Christmasites; it's more about our own traditions and families, and preserving them the way they've always been.

I've been around Christians all my life, eaten and drunk with them, forged deep friendships. Hell, I've spent unforgettable nights with Christian girls—that was back in the seventies, of course, when the boundaries were a little looser than they are now. When women are Christian, it doesn't feel quite as unnatural, somehow; if I were a woman I might well be a Christian myself, because there really is something attractive about that church-lady combination of sweetness and competence. Sexy, even, as she wrestles you into position in the telephone tree or car pool.

With Christian men, there are the old stereotypes: the furtive, rabbity look, the damp hands and reedy voices, the inexplicable interest in organ music. But it was never more than a caricature. Indeed, nowadays Christian dudes all seem to be gym bunnies, with arms like duct pipe! Star athletes, too, and fighter pilots, and politicians, giving it up for Jesus after making a 70-yard touchdown run or passing a bill to cut off somebody's food stamps. A little intimidating, to tell the truth.

We're a Frosty (or Frostine) family, essentially. I mean like anybody else, we enjoy all the different aspects of the Yuletide, all the way through the Long Advent from Hallows to Isaac Newton's birthday on December 25th; and my mom's a grammarian by profession, so we have a special veneration for Santa Clause (we recognize her as a female in spite of her long white beard, and at Yule we do a wassail procession, chanting the Sanctae Clausulae from house to house). But it's the Snowman that gives the real, deep rhythm to our lives, in the recurring form of his annual sacrifice, from rolling up to melting down, so that his love can explode from the fields in the form of asparagus, and radishes, and lettuce and so forth, all the way until the Frost kisses the season's last pumpkin to sleep.

That's what Brother Martin always said, when he came around for a cup of wassail on Newton's Eve with real-snow Jack wax (what some call maple taffy) and doughnuts for us kids. If there'd been a good snowfall, as there always seemed to be at Yule when I was a kid, we would have rolled a fresh Frosty, and he used a Sharpie to dot its button eyes, bringing the Snowman to life, and he and my parents sat around drinking for a while and telling winter stories, and we'd stay up so late that we never remembered when he left or how we ended up in our pajamas, in bed, the next morning.

Bringing Baby Jesus into it—in his little corncrib, as if he were being fed to the cows—seems so incommensurate with the emotional tone of the whole thing. Happy barn-birth and merry massacre! It ought to be no wonder why we prefer him in the closet. Call it viewpoint-based discrimination if you will, but have a little compassion for a tradition in danger.
Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival, Harbin, China, January 2011. Photo by Sheng Li/Reuters.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings, Merry Christmas

Have yourself a Merry, Merry Christmas
Have yourself a good time
But remember the kids who got nothing
While you're drinking down your wine

Here's hoping all of you have the best holidays you possibly can, under the circumstances.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Trump Doesn't Understand How Anything Works, Part 7,489

Trump has come up with a novel way to fund his precious Wall. And by "novel", I mean "bearing no resemblance to anything connected in any way to reality": "Shutdown money". See, by closing down the government we're saving all this money that we can redirect to the Wall! It's genius, I tells ya, genius!

Or maybe not:
Even though paychecks stop going out to hundreds of thousands of workers, shutting down the federal government actually costs money -- and the longer it goes on, the more it will cost....

After the 16-day shutdown in 2013, Congress authorized an estimated $2.5 billion in back pay and other compensation for as many as 850,000 furloughed workers, according to an Office of Management and Budget report. The event also cost the government $7 million in revenue lost from entrance fees at national parks and a halt to IRS enforcement collections that averaged $1 billion a week.
And, by the way, it's also not great for the economy:
“A week or longer will mean that businesses that depend on these federal employees will start to lose sales,” said Stan Collender, a longtime congressional budget aide who’s now editor-in-chief of thebudgetguy blog in Washington....

S&P Global Ratings said the 2013 shutdown shaved at least 0.6 percent from fourth-quarter 2013 gross domestic product growth, taking some $24 billion out of the economy.
This is the kind of genius it takes to bankrupt a casino, or screw up Obama's economy. I periodically ask myself if there is anything (other than grift) that Trump understands--anything at all. I have yet to come up with a positive answer.

Whaddaya know, I'm with Chomsky

Rebel-held Douma, May 2017, photo by ABD DOUMANY/AFP/Getty Images, via TheOdysseyOnline.

"Let's declare victory and go home." There was a lot of logic to that position in the Vietnam case, as had become clear to everybody by the time the Ford administration got around to it, about seven years too late for the victory-declaration part.

But what was really needed in that case was for the United States to lose the war, as did duly happen, and for somebody to win, namely the Communist Party of Vietnam and its armed wing, the People's Army, which was fully prepared to take power, though its rule would be harsh for the first decades, and a lot of people wouldn't be able to live with it—there was also a broad willingness in the US to take on refugees from Vietnam, which did a lot to alleviate that. It would have been much better if the US had lost a bit more definitively, and begun paying reparations as well, for the terrible environmental and economic damage it had brought about, but that did not happen. (Although the trade embargo ended under the Clinton presidency and economic cooperation became very lively under Obama.)

What I want to say is, when you make a violent assault on a country and recognize that it was the wrong thing to do, it's not enough to dust off your hands and walk away, "Oops, my bad." You need to do something about the horror you've created and to take some punishment. You need to give something back, preferably in a peaceful currency. If World War II was really "the good war", it was less on account of the wickedness of the enemies (nobody prevented the Rape of Nanjing or the Holocaust or gave Jewish refugees a home in North America) as much as the Marshall Plan in Europe and the Japan reconstruction initiatives, which truly did something to atone for the atrocities committed in turn by the Allies.

It would also have been a lot better if the US had definitively lost the war in Iraq, only in this case there wasn't anybody available to lose to—that is, I thought there was somebody (as I started saying four years ago), in the form of the populist-nationalist Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who was almost equally hostile to the US and Iran, and eager for collaboration with Sunni and actual-leftist factions, but I was alone in that view until lo these many years later, after his Sairun party won enough seats in the May elections to become an essential element in any ruling coalition, and some of the wise men started noticing him, like Michael D. Sullivan in Foreign Policy (a post slightly marred by Sullivan's insistent belief that he was just as right when he was anti-Sadr as he is now that he's pro):
I have read the doom and gloom articles. I have received panicked e-mails, Facebook messages, and WhatsApp texts from friends who have served in Iraq. They all ask the same question: “Sadr? Really? Didn’t we fight this guy for years? How can this happen?” They, too, lost loved ones fighting against Sadr’s militias in Najaf, Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood, and along the infamous Route Irish from the Green Zone to the Baghdad airport. I understand their fears because I once shared the same concerns. However, having been in Iraq for multiple combat tours and during last month’s parliamentary election, I now have a much more positive view of the country than I ever would have imagined.
Although at this point, seven months out from the election, they still haven't quite got a government together, and Sadr's own status—he didn't run for a parliamentary seat himself—remains very undefined, so we still can't say what's going to come of it, but it's becoming plausible that we might manage to end up losing well.

I don't see how that happens in Syria, where the US hasn't been directly involved enough to lose properly, and there are not only no "good guys" to win, but no Syrians at this point at all, just ethno-religious factions whose Syrian identity is completely broken and of course refugees busy trying to survive. It's not clear what would constitute "winning" for anybody, or where reparations could be addressed.

The 12 days of Christmas — an updated carol for the Trump era

On the first day of Trump-mas
The Trumpster gave to me
A tape of him taking a pee.

On the second day of Trump-mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Two Mnuchins munching
And a tape of him taking a pee.

On the third day of  Trump-mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Three stock markets crashing
Two Mnuchins munching
And a tape of him taking a pee.

On the fourth day of  Trump-mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Four Flynns pleading guilty
Three stock markets crashing
Two Mnuchins munching
And a tape of him taking a pee.

On the fifth day of Trump-mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Fox and Friends
Four guilty Flynns 
Three markets crashed 
Two Mnuchins
And a tape of him taking a pee

On the sixth day of  Trump-mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Six Sarahs lying 
Fox and friends
Four guilty Flynns 
Three markets crashed
Two Mnuchins
And a tape of him taking a pee

On the seventh day of Trump-mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Seven Cohens a-ratting
Six Sarahs lying 
Fox and friends
Four guilty Flynns 
Three markets crashed
Two Mnuchins
And a tape of him taking a pee

On the eighth day of Trump-mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Eight Bannons barking
Seven Cohens a-ratting
Six Sarahs lying 
Fox and friends
Four guilty Flynns 
Three markets crashed
Two Mnuchins
And a tape of him taking a pee

On the ninth day of Trump-Mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Nine Reinces retching
Eight Bannons barking
Seven Cohens a-ratting
Six Sarahs lying 
Fox and friends
Four guilty Flynns 
Three markets crashed
Two Mnuchins
And a tape of him taking a pee

On the tenth day of Trump-Mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Ten Sessions snarling
Nine Reinces Retching
Eight Bannons barking
Seven Cohens a-ratting
Six Sarahs lying 
Fox and friends
Four guilty Flynns 
Three markets crashed
Two Mnuchins
And a tape of him taking a pee

On the eleventh day of Trump-Mas
The Trumpster gave to me
Eleven Kellys quitting
Ten Sessions snarling
Nine Reinces Retching
Eight Bannons barking
Seven Cohens a-ratting
Six Sarahs lying 
Fox and friends
Four guilty Flynns 
Three markets crashed
Two Mnuchins
And a tape of him taking a pee

On the twelfth day of Trump-Mas
The Trumpster gave to me
12 Mad Dogs resigning
Eleven Kellys quitting
Ten Sessions snarling
Nine Reinces Retching
Eight Bannons barking
Seven Cohens a-ratting
Six Sarahs lying 
Fox and friends
Four guilty Flynns 
Three markets crashed
Two Mnuchins
And a tape of him taking a pee.

Moral: There aren’t enough days of Christmas — or of the year for that matter — to list all of the disasters that Donald Trump has created. So Merry Christmas. With Trump’s finger on the button — and the vastly increased lack of adult supervision — it could quite possibly be your last.