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Hullabaloo


Monday, April 30, 2018

 
QOTD: Li'l Marco

by digby





“There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,” the Florida senator told the Economist in a recent interview. “In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.”

Maybe he wants to run as Bernie Sanders running mate in 2020? If so, he should have thought about not voting for that insane tax bill then.

He also said he thinks we need more programs to help people, which is really sweet of him. I suspect he'll want to cut social security and health care to pay for them. Because we don't have money due to that grotesque tax bill he voted for.

.


 
Rand Paul thinks we were all born yesterday

by digby




The good news for all of us is that the president says what he means and he means what he says. So this is very reassuring:

In the days leading up to a key vote last week over the fate of his nominee for secretary of state, President Trump found a way to win over one of the biggest skeptics in the Senate.

Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), a rare isolationist Republican, was signaling that he would oppose Trump’s pick, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a hawkish former congressman who had backed the Iraq War.

But the more Trump and Paul spoke, including three calls last Monday, the more assured Paul became that the president was moving back toward the non-interventionist world view that Trump had championed on the campaign trail. The conversations left Paul with a particularly enticing notion: that Trump was prepared to end the war in Afghanistan.

“The president told me over and over again in general we’re getting the hell out of there,” Paul said in an interview Thursday in his Senate office. “I think the president’s instincts and inclination are to resolve the Afghan conflict.”

Sure, right. And his word is like oak.

Count on it.

But look at this inane headline:



Uhm no. He told Rand what he needed to hear so that he would have something to say when he voted for Pompeo. He knows that they are all a bunch of warmongers slavering for the chance to bomb the shit out of someone.

I'm sure Rand will be very disappointed when Trump doesn't actually withdraw from Afghanistn which has never been his plan. He wasn't to "win" in Afghanistan which means "taking the oil" or in this case minerals. To the victor belongs the spoils. And Rand knows that very well. It's just that his "brand" is being the libertarian isolationist hero so everyone has to do this dance to allow him some way to be an unreconstructed wingnut while still collecting all that cash.


.




 
Another worry for the future

by digby





The online survey of more than 16,000 registered voters ages 18 to 34 shows their support for Democrats over Republicans for Congress slipped by about 9 percentage points over the past two years, to 46 percent overall. And they increasingly say the Republican Party is a better steward of the economy.

Although nearly two of three young voters polled said they do not like Republican President Donald Trump, their distaste for him does not necessarily extend to all Republicans or translate directly into votes for Democratic congressional candidates.

That presents a potential problem for Democrats who have come to count on millennials as a core constituency - and will need all the loyalty they can get to achieve a net gain of 23 seats to capture control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November.

They know nothing about the economy other than that Donald fucking Trump is allowed to take credit for the recovery from the deepest recession in decades that happened under George fucking Bush.

Someone could teach them this is school but then they'd be fired for being partisan.

I really hope this is wrong but it's probably right. Trump himself is a toxic mess. But GOPers who adopt his brash, reality show style without the overt racism could probably find some success with young people who are positive about the economy under Republican rule. It happened in the 80s.

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Yes,the autobahn was awesome. But there was a hell of a flip side.

by digby




Via Wikipedia:

The Reichsautobahn system was the beginning of the German autobahns under the Third Reich. There had been previous plans for controlled-access highways in Germany under the Weimar Republic, and two had been built, but long-distance highways had not been successfully built. After previously opposing plans for a highway network, the Nazis embraced them after coming to power and presented the project as Hitler's own idea. They were termed "Adolf Hitler's roads" (German: die Straßen Adolf Hitlers) and presented as a major contribution to the reduction of unemployment. Other reasons for the project included: enabling Germans to explore and appreciate their country, and there was a strong aesthetic element to the execution of the project under the Third Reich; military applications, although to a lesser extent than has often been thought; a permanent monument to the Third Reich, often compared to the pyramids; and general promotion of motoring as a modernization that in itself had military applications.

I'd just like everyone to think about that as you read this story about whether or not to give Trump credit for things like the possible North and South Korean diplomatic thaw and low unemployment, which the author calls "quiet achievements"

:

The yin of Donald Trump is the one he presents publicly: The president who is routinely dishonest, dishonorable, immature, erratic, reckless, spoiled and threatening to our legal and governmental institutions and norms. The yin is what his fiercest critics point to and say, “I was right all along.”

The yang of Donald Trump gets less attention, mostly for no one’s fault other than his own. It is the president who seems to get just enough policy victories and international leverage to keep his fiercest supporters crowing that, in fact, they were the ones who were right. “Take that Never Trumpers.”

Both his critics and supporters don’t like accepting that the flip side to Trump exists. But the duality is real and it’s important that each side acknowledge its existence.

[...]
So, is the yang worth the yin?

Is the tradeoff worth the damage he may cause long term to our politics or our institutions? Is the exhaustion of following his Fox & Friends-induced stream of consciousness for three more years… or seven… worth some quieter results? His supporters, or those who have simply accepted the situation for what it is, said yes a long time ago. There are moments like the Korea summit where his harshest critics should wrestle with the question again.

In the meantime, partisans are constantly harping about wishing a president to succeed even when they disagree with them. Perhaps we just need to wish for Donald Trump to succeed where he can, hope to be surprised more often, and give him credit when it is deserved.

But don’t forget the yin either.

It's true that autobahn was a wonderful, job creating monument to Germany's greatness so let's give Hitler credit when it's deserved.

But don't forget about the holocaust either.

.


 
Good work press corps

by digby




All of their stupid handwringing over the Michelle Wolf routine on Saturday in order to "uphold standards" is just sickening sycophancy for a depraved political faction.

These people are working on a different dimension:
In April 2018, Comedian Michelle Wolf became the target of a smear campaign after she offered numerous pointed jabs at members of the Trump administration, news media figures, and politicians at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner.

Fake news articles were published falsely claiming that Wolf had been fired from her job at Comedy Central and that her stand-up special had been cancelled by Hulu. We also came across an image of purported newspaper clipping from July 2015 reported that Wolf had pled guilty to bestiality charges.



It is from a clip generating app (which you can see at the Snopes site) and is being shared widely on right wing social media.

Seriously, these people are grotesque monsters. That the press corps believes Wolf's comedy is out of line just shows that they are still missing the story.

Still.

After all these years.

.




 
Trump's savvy playground negotiating style

by digby




I guess the Trump administration thinks Kim Jong Un is as dumb as Trump because they are "negotiating" with him to give up his nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions at the same time that they are swaggering around insisting they are going to tear up the Iran deal that was based on exactly those terms. And they must think he's unaware of US past behavior when we deposed Iraq's leader after he had given up his weapons and attacked Libya's leader after he gave up his. There were different reasons for both of those attacks but the pattern must look pretty obvious to Kim.

Still he's never dealt with a man with hands the size of Trump's so all bets are off.

I guess.

Here's Axios on Trump's masterful negotiating "style." It's lucky he was born with money or he would have been nothing more than a cheap street hustler selling stolen watches on a street corner:
President Trump tells people he keeps the world guessing with his wild unpredictability. But those who work most closely with him say he's a one-trick pony in negotiations.

The trick: Threaten the outrageous, ratchet up the tension, amplify it with tweets and taunts, and then compromise on fairly conventional middle ground.

​“His ultimate gamble is: 'You don’t have as big of stones as I do,'" a source close to Trump told me. "'You’re going to feel too uncomfortable where I go. The stakes are too high. This is too far outside your comfort zone.'"

Consider these threats: To withdraw from Syria (he reengaged with missile strikes), withdraw from Afghanistan (he settled on the more-of-the-same strategy recommended by his generals), withdraw from the U.S.-Korean trade deal (Trump's team negotiated with the Koreans and announced modest changes to the deal), veto the government spending bill (he signed it), and impose severe worldwide tariffs on steel and aluminum (he offered a bunch of exemptions).

Sources who've been in the room with Trump for negotiations over NATO and various trade deals tell me they've at times felt "awkward" watching Trump go in hard against foreign leaders. 
They say Trump seems immune to awkwardness — but then rarely follows through on his most extreme rhetoric.

The next few weeks promise three more Trump tricks: 
After sending financial markets into a mass freakout over a trade war with China — which culminated in Trump's threatening China with $100 billion in tariffs — some senior officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are cautiously optimistic they'll find a compromise with Beijing. On Tuesday night, Mnuchin leads a delegation to China to try to negotiate a way out of the trade war.

Senior White House officials tell me a NAFTA deal could be "imminent" — meaning, an announcement could come in the next few days. Trump's team is still negotiating and views Canada as a major problem, but we're a far cry from a year ago when Trump's aides were telling us he was hellbent on terminating NAFTA. 
Last August, the world braced for nuclear apocalypse as Trump threatened "fire and fury" against North Korea. And less than four months ago, Trump tweeted that his nuclear button is "much bigger & more powerful" than Kim Jong-un's. Now, we're anticipating peace talks on the Korean Peninsula.
He's so dreamy. He talks tough and gets results and nobody needs to worry that it's going to get out of control. He's got this.

Can you feel the Villagers getting excited?




 
The WHCD Kabuki theater should end its run

by digby



My Salon column this morning:

The annual "nerd prom," otherwise known as the White House Correspondents' Dinner (WHCD), was Saturday night. If we are lucky, it will be the last one. The entire event is inappropriate, and it has nothing to do with comedians being rude to the people in the audience or on the dais. After all, they are hired to do that. The whole tired ritual is based on the old tradition of the comedy "roast," where people get up and insult the guest of honor, which in the case of the correspondents' dinner, is the president and the D.C. establishment, including the press.

No, the event is inappropriate because it's an obnoxious suck-up to power, no matter who the president is or how edgy the comedian. The press and the politicians lining up on red carpets with Hollywood celebrities and yukking it up together, as if politics and government were just one big performance and this was their awards show, has always been an excellent illustration of everything that's wrong with our civic life. But in the age of Trump it's become downright decadent and disturbing.

This year's dinner seems to have hit quite a nerve. Comedian Michelle Wolf's comedy stylings were not appreciated by the press corps or the administration. She called the president and the White House staff liars, which is true, and pointed out that the media benefits from this surreal circus, which is also true. This bound both together in a way that clearly made everyone extremely uncomfortable, as it was meant to.

So now we have much clutching of pearls and rending of garments among members of the press, demanding apologies from Wolf for allegedly insulting Sarah Huckabee Sanders' looks (which Wolf did not do) and for comparing her to Aunt Lydia in "The Handmaid's Tale," which is as spot-on as you can get. (As New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum pointed out on Twitter, "her job is *exactly* like Aunt Lydia: she is the frowning female enforcer for a fascist patriarchal society, punishing those who resist her lies.")

Anyway, Sanders has no right to be upset by any rude insults when she serves as an apologist for this man:





Wolf's jokes were sharp, to be sure, but they were nothing like that. I'm sure no one needs to be reminded of the president's daily assaults on the press and his political rivals, or anyone else who angers him. So the Trump administration calling for smelling salts over this routine is the biggest laugh line of the night.

Here's a typical example of the Beltway handwringing on Sunday morning.

This is also part of the tiresome ritual, which seems to work itself into a full blown hissy-fit every few years. Mitchell is referring to the Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner in 1996 where the comedian for the night was radio personality Don Imus, who rudely referenced the president's infidelities in front of Hillary Clinton and said that the Clinton administration's diverse cabinet looked like "the scene out of Star Wars." Hillary glared and Bill covered his face and everyone was very upset. The correspondents' association even sent the president and first lady an apology.

But here's the thing. Clinton regularly appeared with Imus during his campaigns, and the longtime shock jock was even credited with putting Clinton on the map back in 1992. Imus' show featured a regular parody song about Hillary Clinton with lyrics about how she "fornicates," "menstruates" and "urinates," with the refrain: "That's why the First Lady is a tramp." He called the president a "fat pantload" and a "lying weasel." It didn't stop Bill from calling in and kibitzing with the guy.

Don Imus was a reprehensible racist and misogynist. Yet politicians of both parties lined up to be on his show. And it wasn't just them. For years after his allegedly despicable performance at that dinner, members of the political press corps kept on appearing with him. It wasn't until 2007, when Imus described the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hoes," that he was finally forced off the air, if only temporarily. (Which made many of his media pals very sad.)

The last time the D.C. establishment had a full WHCD meltdown, it was over the appearance of Stephen Colbert in 2006, who performed as his Bill O'Reilly-esque character from Comedy Central and skewered the attendees to the bone over the sycophantic relationship between the media and the George W. Bush administration. That performance is legendary today, but at the time ,everyone in Washington was appalled. Again.

As Wikipedia reminds me, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen called Colbert "rude" and a "bully." Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Democratic whip at the time, told the Hill that Bush was "the President of the United States, and he deserves some respect." Right-wing operative Mary Matalin called Colbert's performance a "predictable, Bush-bashing kind of humor" and columnist Ana Marie Cox said that Colbert was no hero and sagely observed that "comedy can have a political point but it is not political action."

Colbert's routine was savage toward the press, but in subsequent years they all couldn't wait to get booked for interviews on his show.

Now we have the press corps calling for the fainting couch over Michelle Wolf's comedy act in what appears to be a once-a-decade bonding exercise between the media and the administration. Journalists are defending the White House against the rude depredations of Big Comedy, while the Trump administration pretends that it and the Washington press corps are victims of the coarsening of our patriotic institutions.

Needless to say, this has never been more fatuous than it is right now. While journalists, celebrities and politicians all preened on the red carpet, President Trump was in Michigan calling the press fake, dishonest and despicable, as usual. His worked-up followers stood in front of the media and also preened for the cameras, calling them "degenerate filth."


If anyone thinks that comedians pulling their punches at black-tie Washington events will do anything to change this dynamic, they are fooling themselves.

The White House Correspondents' Dinner is a kabuki dance performed by people who want to pretend that sharing one night where they can all dress up in fancy clothes and enjoy their mutual fame is desirable and useful to the government and the system. Every decade or so they also need to pretend to be offended on each others' part when the comedian they hire to roast themselves "takes it too far" by pointing out what a farce it all is:




If Donald Trump does one good thing during his misbegotten presidency, perhaps it will be to put an end to this charade once and for all.

.
 

And the pig likes it

by Tom Sullivan

Can you say self-absorbed? Michelle Wolf's White House Correspondents’ Association dinner act Saturday night stuck a pin in the press corps' self-importance. Rather than a loud pop, the result has been a long, high-pitched whine as the air escapes. Worse, Wolf upstaged Trump's Saturday night performance outside Detroit, as did the Trumper shouting "degenerate filth" at the press pen. While the WHCA sucked up to the White House, Wolf put them down. The Beltway has a sad.

"In a normal environment," writes E.J. Dionne, "the Republican Congress’s assault on food-stamp recipients, the administration’s waivers allowing states to erode Medicaid coverage, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s proposed rent increases for some of the country’s poorest people would be front and center in the news."

Wolf pointedly observed the press is part of why they are not. So the press had a fit over jokes about Sarah Huckabee Sanders, demonstrating how Trump's talent for diversion is rubbing off. It's what comes from becoming too chummy. As the adage says, "... and the pig likes it." (Though probably not.)

Dionne continues:

Nothing is significant for long, everything is episodic, and old scandals are regularly knocked out of the headlines by new ones. It’s a truly novel approach to damage control.
Dionne is not addressing the national press, but speaking about how the "profound swampiness" of the current administration is eroding confidence in liberal democracy. The self-absorption of a national media with the Trump reality show and its being coopted as extras is not helping.

A weekend news program guest observed that politicians talk more than they do something about problems their constituents face. Mental health care was the topic, but the criticism applies to a host of issues more important than hurt feelings and civility debates inside the Beltway. To put a punctuation mark to that point, Axios quotes Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker:
“We need some more wins, first of all because that’s the right thing to do, second of all, because it’s politically expedient to our base to turn out in the fall, to make sure they see us being active and following through on this stuff.”
They need accomplishments to talk about on the campaign trail, but cannot agree on what they should be.
“People want to know what you will do; they don't want you constantly saying ‘You're welcome’ for being functional long enough to pass tax reform. Especially when tax reform isn't overwhelmingly popular,” a senior GOP House aide told me.
Neither is much else in D.C. Peering over the perimeter of I-495, it's easy to see why.

* * * * * * * *

For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

 
Russians, Russians everywhere ...

by digby




Not that there's anything wrong with that generally, just that when it comes to Donald Trump and his associates it takes on a bit of a different hue.

I have no idea what this means, but it's interesting. Apparently, Cohen's businesses are all mixed up with Russians of various types. It's unknown if this has anything to do with the Russia investigation, but it's yet another dot to be connected....

A Russian mixed martial arts fighter who has connections with President Donald Trump, the president’s personal attorney Michael Cohen and Russian President Vladimir Putin was questioned this week by the FBI, his manager confirmed Saturday.

Fedor Emelianenko was questioned by agents who met him in his hotel room on Tuesday, manager Jerry Millen said before Emelianenko’s Bellator MMA heavyweight fight against Frank Mir. Millen declined to detail his client’s conversations with the agents.

“The FBI came to the hotel looking to talk to Fedor and they were very nice, came in to speak with Fedor for a few minutes, spoke to me, very cool guys, and that’s all I can really say about it. Again, the FBI did come to the hotel, they found us, knocked on the door,” Millen said.

“Hundred percent, kind of surprised,” Millen added. “They were very nice, very professional.”

The agents were in attendance at Saturday’s fight, Millen said.

Putin has attended Emelianenko’s fights, and the 41-year-old fighter has been photographed with the Russian president. His connection with Trump dates back to 2008, when he was signed by Affliction Entertainment, a fight league in which Trump had an ownership stake. Trump announced a joint venture involving MMA and Emelianenko at a news conference on June 5, 2008.

Affliction ended up folding for financial reasons after two events, both headlined by Emelianenko.

Cohen was the league’s chief operating officer. Two weeks ago, the FBI raided Cohen’s New York offices, hotel and home, seeking information about a nondisclosure agreement he brokered with porn star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she had an affair with Trump in 2006.

That whole thing seems weird even for Trump. Two headline events only? I know he's the world's worst business man, but that seems bad, even for him.

.
 
Veiled threats from Trump? That would be so unlike him.

by digby



Trump said this last night as his Nuremberg rally:

“Tester started throwing out things that he’s heard. Well I know things about Tester that I could say too. And if I said them, he’d never be elected again.”

Or this from just the other day:

“The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup. It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”


This piece by Ryan Goodman in Just Security about evidence of obstruction of justice that came out of the House Intelligence Committee's minority report is  worth reading. He issues all the important disclaimers and caveats about what we know and don't know and the partisanship of the exercise yadda, yadda yadda.

And then:

The Minority report contains information that adds to the substantive allegations of obstruction, and also to the range of corroborating evidence.

One of the most important revelations is that the FBI General Counsel and FBI Director’s chief of staff listened in on James Comey’s side of at least some phone conversations with the president, in which Mr. Trump reportedly engaged in efforts to alter the course of the Russia investigation. As the Minority report states, “(Jim) Rybicki and Baker also heard Comey’s side of phone conversations with the President, in real time.” It is, however, not clear which particular phone conversations with the president they were able to hear in this manner. Comey testified to Congress that he had six separate phone conversations with Trump.

Both the FBI Director and Deputy Director interpreted one of the president’s phone calls as threatening Comey if he did not lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. In a phone conversation on April 11, Trump said he wanted Comey to lift the cloud, “because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know,” according to Comey’s written testimony and contemporaneous memo. But why would the president refer to his loyalty to Comey rather than Comey’s “honest loyalty” to the president?

McCabe testified that the FBI Director and he “weren’t 100 percent sure what that was” but interpreted it as “a veiled threat.” Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif) asked McCabe to clarify:
SCHIFF: And in this case the veiled threat would be against Director Comey?

MCCABE: That’s correct.

SCHIFF: Along the lines of, I the President have been very loyal to you. I want you to lift the cloud.  Otherwise I might be less loyal to you.  Is that the—

MCCABE: That’s correct.

SCHIFF: That was the impression of Director Comey?

MCCABE: It was his and my impression
.

Second, the FBI Director and Deputy Director were also concerned that the president was threatening to take action against McCabe if the FBI Director did not lift the cloud of the Russia investigation. According to Comey’s testimony and contemporaneous memos, Mr. Trump repeatedly brought up McCabe in these conversations about the Russia investigation. McCabe testified that he and Comey were concerned that the president “was bringing it up as some sort of an almost a veiled threat.”

Rep. Schiff once again asked McCabe to clarify:
SCHIFF: That if the Director didn’t lift the cloud of the Russian investigation, that he would take action against you?

MCCABE: That’s correct. That was my concern, and as I understand it, that was Director Comey’s concern as well. 

Other observations in the Minority report and in McCabe’s testimony are perhaps less significant on their own, but also add to the case of obstruction and abuse of power. It is readily apparent that McCabe’s testimony very closely tracks Comey’s congressional testimony. McCabe testified, for example, that the FBI Director debriefed senior FBI leadership following encounters with the president and that McCabe and others shared Comey’s views of the inappropriateness of the president’s actions. McCabe corroborated that in February 2017 Comey, following his meeting with the president in the Oval Office, informed his senior FBI leadership that “the President was asking him to end an investigative matter.” The president’s subsequent phone calls to the FBI Director were even broader. “Comey’s impression was that the President was still quite frustrated with the fact that we were continuing our investigative efforts into the — into the campaign and Russia issues,” he told the Committee.

The Minority report ends with a remarkable statement: it ties the specific timing of McCabe’s testimony to Mr. Trump’s going after not only McCabe but also the FBI’s General Counsel. Recall that the General Counsel was present during McCabe’s testimony, was cited as a witness by McCabe for important events, and he was also then told by the Committee that he may be called as a witness. Mr. Trump’s tweets followed within days. The report states:

Only three days after McCabe’s testimony before the Committee, for which then-FBI General Counsel James Baker was present and during which the Majority indicated that they might also call him in as a witness, the President tweeted: “Wow, ‘FBI lawyer James Baker reassigned,’ according to @FoxNews”.  Trump turned his sights on McCabe later the same afternoon.

Whether such efforts by the president could be a form of witness tampering is a matter that has been discussed before at Just Security and elsewhere. If what inspired Trump was that he had been specifically informed of McCabe’s congressional testimony and the connection to the FBI General Counsel as a potential witness, it would be alarming. That said, there are other plausible explanations for the timing of Trump’s tweets that Saturday. Also within days before the president’s tweets, news outlets had raised different questions about the FBI General Counsel that could have inspired the president as well. Still, this all leaves obvious questions to be asked about the Committee’s possible communications with the White House and about Trump’s motivations. The Minority report appropriately points in the direction of those questions.

Destroying the credibility of these top DOJ officials looks very important in light of this.

I'm cynical about our institution's ability to deal with people who are this boldly corrupt, but I guess we'll see. I certainly have heard no innocent explanations for this behavior that make any sense.

.




 
Politics and Reality Radio: Study: Trump Has Made White People More Hateful | Digby on the Conservative Cult of Victimhood

with Joshua Holland



The spike in hate crimes and everyday harrassment of people of color since Trump announced his candidacy has been referred to as "The Trump Effect." Thus far, it's largely been based on anecdotal evidence. But that's no longer the case. This week, we speak with Brian Schaffner, a political scientist at Umass Amherst, about his new study which lends empirical support to the claim.

Then we're joined by Heather "Digby" Parton to talk about Kevin Williamson's incessant whining about censorship, a ludicrous Congressional hearing on Diamond and Silk and a conspiracy theory about Facebook suppressing conservative voices and the right's embrace of a powerful victimhood narrative.





Playlist:
Superorganism: "Everybody Wants to Be Famous"
General Trees: "Raggamuffin"


As always, you can also subscribe to the show on iTunes, Soundcloud or Podbean.

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Give us an inch and we'll take the entire world

by digby



Can someone explain to me what the strategy for "denuclearization"  of North Korea is in light of this?
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on a hastily-arranged visit to the Middle East as the United States aims to muster support for new sanctions against Iran. 
The visit to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Amman just two days after Pompeo was sworn-in comes as President Donald Trump is set to decide whether to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that is still supported by European powers. 
“We are urging nations around the world to sanction any individuals and entities associated with Iran’s missile program, and it has also been a big part of discussions with Europeans,” Brian Hook, a senior policy advisor traveling with Pompeo, told reporters. 
Hook said a salvo of ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi movement that killed a man earlier on Saturday had been provided by Tehran.
“Iran’s missiles prolong war and suffering in the Middle East, they threaten our security and economic interests and they especially threaten Saudi Arabia and Israel,” he said.
The 2015 deal that limits Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief does not cover its missile program.
Why would you push more sanctions on Iran when it's complying with the deal it made to stop its nuclear program? What kind of message is that sending, exactly? Do what we want and we'll just keep demanding more and hitting you harder economically?

But hey, Donald Trump is the greatest negotiator in the world, already being feted as the new Gandhi by people in the media so what do I know? Maybe logic has been overrated this whole time.



 
‘We're respected again around the world,’ Trump tells Michigan crowd

by digby

Yet another lie:




Actually, no:
Although he has only been in office a few months, Donald Trump’s presidency has had a major impact on how the world sees the United States. Trump and many of his key policies are broadly unpopular around the globe, and ratings for the U.S. have declined steeply in many nations. According to a new Pew Research Center survey spanning 37 nations, a median of just 22% has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. This stands in contrast to the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump’s predecessor to direct America’s role in the world.
I can't imagine why.

.
 
Smelling salts futures are going through the roof!

by digby





Watching these sanctimonious phonies in the press and the GOP wring their hands over Michelle Wolff's performance at the White House Correspondence Dinner because she allegedly coarsened the culture and insulted that fine Sarah Huckabee Sanders who is honest as the day is long is just ... please.

Here's an example of a nice Trump voter at Trump's Nuremberg Rally last night:



That's fine. He's just got a lot of economic anxiety.

The good news is that our president restored the honor and dignity of our government so thank goodness for that:

“These are very dishonest people, many of them. They are very, very dishonest people,” Trump said at a boisterous event in Washington, Mich., speaking in front of a blue banner emblazoned with the president’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

“Fake news. Very dishonest,” he added. “They don't have sources. The sources don’t exist in many cases.”

There was little doubt Trump would again assail members of the media after his performance at last year’s rally in Harrisburg, Pa., where the new president denigrated the “Hollywood actors and Washington media” who were “consoling each other" at the concurrent White House Correspondents’ Association’s dinner.

“Is this better than that phony Washington White House correspondents thing? Is this more fun?” Trump said to resounding applause.

“I could be up there tonight smiling like I love when they’re hitting you, shot after shot. These people, they hate your guts,” he added. “And you know, you got to smile. And if you don't smile, they say, ‘He was terrible. He couldn’t take it.’ And if you do smile, they'll say, ‘What was he smiling about?’ You know, there’s no win.”

Trump’s roughly 90-minute speech in Michigan — peppered with red meat and reliable targets including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and California sanctuary cities — capped a week of outbursts from the president over a series of scandals involving his Cabinet and an intensifying federal investigation into his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The president also wrote online that “Tester’s statements on Admiral Jackson” were as baseless as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election — a probe he derided as “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!” earlier this month.

“A horrible thing that we in D.C. must live with, just like phony Russian Collusion,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “Tester should lose race in Montana. Very dishonest and sick!”

In his speech Saturday night, Trump compared Tester's actions to those of the media: "We have to be very careful with the press, because they do the same damn thing."

Trump claimed Secret Service officials had already discredited the "vicious rumors" Tester spread about Jackson.

“Tester started throwing out things that he’s heard. Well I know things about Tester that I could say too, and if I said them, he’d never be elected again," Trump said, adding that he had narrowed his list of potential nominees to become Veterans Affairs secretary to five candidates.

The president also disparaged Mueller's probe at the rally and suggested the American intelligence community was steeped in corruption.

“Look at how these politicians have fallen for this junk — Russian collusion, give me a break," Trump said. “The only collusion is the Democrats colluded with the Russians, and the Democrats colluded with a lot of other people. Look at the intelligence agencies.”

He added: “It’s a disgrace what's going on in our country.”


Railing against the "fake news" and their "fake sources" elicited a huge "boo" from the rowdy crowd, as did mentioning former FBI Director James Comey.

"He's a liar and a leaker. I did you a great favor when I fired this guy," Trump said of Comey, calling the leadership and "corruption" at the FBI a "disgrace."

Trump also thanked House Republicans for releasing the House Intelligence Committee's final report on the Russia investigation, which concluded there was "no collusion" between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. House Democrats disagree with that assessment.

When Trump brought up German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited the White House on Friday, the crowd started to boo.

"No, don't blame them," Trump said. "It'll all be fine. ... Blame your American presidents, and your American representatives."

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is up for reelection this year, and Trump mentioned her by name as someone he thinks should shoulder part of the blame for "failed" and "unfair" trade deals.

At one point, when mentioning the black unemployment rate — which has been falling since 2010— Trump brought up his back-and-forth with rapper Kanye West this week.


"Any Hispanics in the room?" Trump asked, to tepid applause. "Not too many? Eh, that's all right. ... In all fairness, Kanye West gets it."

Thank goodness the Republicans are there to defend us against all that coarseness and meanness at the White House Correspondence Dinner.
 

Those overlooked places

by Tom Sullivan


Montage of images from Columbus, MS. Images by Shayanasadi / Shayan Asadi Images, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The United States does indeed have a future, James Fallows writes in The Atlantic. The hopeful signs he's seen in his travels to non-marquee places do not make the national news, however:

Serious as the era’s problems are, more people, in more places, told us they felt hopeful about their ability to move circumstances the right way than you would ever guess from national news coverage of most political discourse. Pollsters have reported this disparity for a long time. For instance, a national poll that The Atlantic commissioned with the Aspen Institute at the start of the 2016 primaries found that only 36 percent of Americans thought the country as a whole was headed in the right direction. But in the same poll, two-thirds of Americans said they were satisfied with their own financial situation, and 85 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with their general position in life and their ability to pursue the American dream. Other polls in the past half-dozen years have found that most Americans believe the country to be on the wrong course—but that their own communities are improving.
What Fallows and his wife Deb found is that following economic displacements, cities often experience a revitalizing resurgence of civic engagement. Following the municipal corruption scandals in Bell, CA — and after arrests, trials and convictions — Pete Peterson, the dean of Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, told Fallows, “That city has seen nothing less than a civic renaissance, with new leadership and a public much more involved in the future of the city ... It’s an amazing before-and-after illustration of what happens when people get engaged.”

Immigration "rarely made the top five" in polls for the five years leading up to the election of Donald Trump. Even afterwards, Fallows writes, "nearly two-thirds of Americans felt the level of immigration should either stay the same or go up." The greatest fears appear in areas with the fewest immigrants, as they did in England prior to the Brexit vote.
Whereas immigrants congregate in big cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, many refugees are sent to medium-size communities that have specialized in assimilating them, a process we saw in, for instance, South Dakota, Vermont, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, among other states. Midwestern industrial cities that have lost some of their home-born population have pushed hard for outsiders to revitalize them. Erie was a magnet for eastern-European and other immigrants during its manufacturing heyday, from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries. Now refugees, including recent arrivals from Syria, make up fully 10 percent of its population, and they supply much of its entrepreneurial energy. In 2006 a group called Welcoming Tennessee began celebrating the importance of immigrants and refugees to Nashville’s economy. It has spread to become Welcoming America, supporting immigrant and refugee settlement in more than 50 cities.
Fallows finds hopeful signs in places that get little attention unless there is a mass shooting or natural disaster. Perhaps as news consumers our views of "how bad things are" are as skewed by the information to which we are exposed as xenopohobes' views are by lack of exposure to actual immigrants.

Fallows offers:
Suppose you are skeptical of this fundamental claim, about the ongoing health of local American society. I suggest the following test, and mean it seriously rather than just as a thought experiment: Through the next year, go to half a dozen places that are new to you, and that are not usually covered in the mainstream press. When you get there, don’t ask people about national politics. Trump, Hillary Clinton, the Russians, the Mueller investigation—if it’s on cable news, don’t ask about it. Instead ask about what is happening right now in these places. The schools, the businesses, the downtown, the kind of people moving out and the kind moving in, and how all of this compares with the situation 10 years ago. This process, repeated again and again, led us to the perspective I am presenting here.
When Danica Roem won her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates last November, she ran on easing traffic congestion in the district, not on her identity as a transgender candidate. All politics is not national.

Fallows' view is upbeat, but his report on positive economic developments outside Washington, D.C. elides some darker political developments. Voters and Wisconsin and North Carolina have seen the consequences of allowing the extremist right to win control of the state legislature. So while the press focuses on the impact of this fall's horse races in the U.S. House and Senate, winning control of state capitols and county-level government is no less important. With the 2020 census arriving soon, winning back control of state legislatures and the next redistricting is more important both for national representation, for the competitiveness of federal elections that follow, and for ending the kind of reign of insanity that made Republicans' tax-cutting experiment in Kansas, for example, "a cautionary tale." For Democrats in the minority in Raleigh, NC, it's trench warfare.

Speaking of trenches, NC Reps. Mark Meadows and Patrick McHenry are entrenched in districts virtually unassailable as drawn. Extracting them will require control of redistricting first, a situation that will require local solutions in a lot of different states as well.

* * * * * * * *

For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

 
Saturday Night at the Movies

All in the family: Love After Love (***) & The Endless (**½)

By Dennis Hartley



Aldous Huxley once wrote:

“Too much consistency is as bad for the mind as it is for the body. Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead”.


There is certainly no consistency in how people react to the death of a loved one. Some keen and wail and then peacefully move on. Some remain stoic and grow a tumor. Some sublimate grief by acting out over a period. And the dead, as usual, retain their even keel.

In his feature film debut Love After Love, writer-director Russell Harbaugh examines the effects of a death in the family on a freshly-widowed mother and her two adult sons. In an audacious opening scene, a beautiful middle-aged woman (Andie MacDowell) and a young man (Chris O’Dowd) engage in an almost uncomfortably intimate conversation about love and happiness (after all, we’ve just met these two people). Imagine our surprise when we find out that they are not lovers, but mother and son. Not a shy family.

They are, in fact, a family in crisis. The woman, Suzanne, her son Nicholas, and his younger brother Chris (James Adomian) are bracing for the imminent passing of husband and father Glenn (Gareth Williams). Nicholas, his girlfriend Rebecca (Juliet Rhylance) and Chris have come in from New York City to attend a gathering at their parents’ upstate country spread (Suzanne and Glenn, both theater professors, have obviously done well financially). We see Glenn up and around, enjoying himself with friends and family.

However, once the party is over and Chris, Nicholas and Rebecca drive off, it becomes apparent that Glenn is receiving in-home hospice care and is clearly near the end. When the inevitable occurs, Harbaugh depicts Glenn’s death in a stark, unblinking manner; maintaining that tone of seat-squirming intimacy that he establishes in his opening scene.

From this point forward, there are time jumps showing how mother and sons are coping. Suzanne pursues half-hearted relationships (“I still feel like I’m being unfaithful,” she blurts out to one lover, while in a post-coital funk). Nicholas cheats on Rebecca; after she dumps him he impulsively asks his clandestine girlfriend (Dree Hemingway) to marry him. Chris flounders; frequently embarrassing himself and his family due to a drinking problem. Long-suppressed resentments between Suzanne and Nicholas come to a head. There are many accusations and recriminations. What family doesn’t have its problems?

The emotional centerpiece is an astounding 10-minute monolog about death and grieving from Chris, who is doing an open mic set at a comedy club (Adomian is a stand-up in real life). Harbaugh holds Chris’ face in close-up for most of the scene, which also serves as a Greek Chorus that contextualizes everything we’ve observed in the film up to that point.

Harbaugh (along with co-writer Eric Mendelsohn) has delivered a tautly-scripted 90-minute film about a difficult subject that is brutally honest, yet genuinely resonant. There are strong echoes of John Cassavetes. I’m sure Harbaugh has studied his work; I sensed this from the naturalistic tone, and in the comfortable manner the actors inhabit their characters, without coming off as “actor-ly”. Not always easy to watch…kind of like life.





Solaris meets Wild Wild Country (my review) in , a new indie horror-sci fi-thriller from co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Benson and Moorhead cast themselves as (wait for it) “Justin” and “Aaron”, two 30-ish brothers who managed to escape from a UFO death cult in their early 20s. One day they receive an enigmatic message via VHS tape. Something really “big” might be going on back at Crazy Town Ranch; something tangibly intangible. Intrigued (if wary), they decide to hit the open road and head back to the camp, hoping to gain a sense of closure about their experience.

Yes, of course it’s a dumb decision on their part…but then again, if they laughed off the tape and moved on with their lives, you wouldn’t have much of a film, would you? Predictably, their old “friends” are overjoyed to see them again back at the oenclave (located somewhere in the scrubby wilds of Southern California’s rugged back country). The brothers make it clear this is only a visit. The cult members smile. They understand.

That’s how it always starts, doesn’t it?

I won’t risk spoilers, suffice it to say if Justin and Aaron were hoping to discover there really is “something out there”, they get all that and a large orange soda. For me, the “twist” ending demoted all that precedes it into a glorified Twilight Zone episode, but hardcore genre fans should appreciate the genuine sense of dread, and what the filmmakers lack in budget is effectively compensated by their imaginative workarounds.

More reviews at Den of Cinema
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--Dennis Hartley
 
Surprising Pecker would (do such a thing)

by digby



Trump and the publisher of the National Inquirer are very close. So this week's cover says that Trump is giving Cohen the old heave ho:


The New York Times featured this article about their relationship not long ago:

President Trump and his old friend David J. Pecker, whose company owns The National Enquirer, have long had a mutually beneficial relationship. Now that Mr. Trump is president, Mr. Pecker has showcased his access to him, including when he recently sought to do business with people in Saudi Arabia.

Here are five times that Mr. Pecker and his company, American Media Inc., protected, defended or championed Mr. Trump.

Killing a model’s story about an affair with Trump
Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, recently filed a lawsuit against American Media, saying she wants to be free to speak about an affair she says she had with Mr. Trump over a decade ago. She said she signed a legal agreement with the company in 2016 that prevented her from talking about her alleged relationship with Mr. Trump.

In her lawsuit, Ms. McDougal alleged that Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, was secretly involved when Mr. Pecker’s company sought to silence her by buying the rights to her story in August 2016 for $150,000 but never publishing it. In the tabloid industry, that move is known as a “catch and kill.”

Mr. Cohen and American Media have denied the allegations. Mr. Trump’s representatives deny that the affair happened.

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Trump was one of 17 candidates who vied to be the Republican candidate, and none of his opponents were safe from ridicule in The Enquirer.

In October 2015, a headline called Ben Carson a “bungling surgeon.” The article said he had potentially “butchered one patient’s brain.” A month later, an article called him a “disgraced doctor” with a “violent past.”

In June of that year, an article claimed that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, had cheated on his wife, citing unnamed reports that linked Mr. Bush to a “Playboy bunny-turned-lawyer.”

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee and a favorite target of Mr. Trump, took the brunt of the scorn. A September 2015 article, using information from “sources,” said the “desperate and deteriorating 67-year-old won’t make it to the White House — because she’ll be dead in six months.”

In August 2016, she fired back at Mr. Trump and what she called “fringe media.” Mrs. Clinton said, “This is what happens when you treat The National Enquirer like gospel.”

The 2016 election is over, but the criticism of Mrs. Clinton has continued. In February 2018, an Enquirer cover story claimed she was part of a conspiracy: “Obama & Hillary Ordered F.B.I. to Spy on Trump!”

A shared foe: Obama
For years, Mr. Trump has relentlessly attacked his predecessor, Barack Obama, and The Enquirer is no different.

In January, an Enquirer headline read, “Barack Obama’s Russian Spy Inside the White House.”

In February 2017, days after Michael T. Flynn resigned as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, the tabloid claimed that Mr. Obama had a secret plot to impeach Mr. Trump. And as recently as March 2017 the tabloid continued to claim that Mr. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, was foreign born, even though Mr. Trump had since let go of the false birther theory that he long promoted.

For the love, and defense, of Trump
The National Enquirer and its parent company have not only helped the president by denigrating others, but also repeatedly praised Mr. Trump, his decisions and his character.

In March 2016, for the first time in its 90 years, The Enquirer endorsed a candidate for president — Donald J. Trump.

While Ms. McDougal and a pornographic-film star, Stephanie Clifford, who is known professionally as Stormy Daniels, have come forward and said they have had affairs with the president, The Enquirer recently ran a favorable cover that blared: “Donald & Melania Fight Back! Exposing the Lies, Leaks & Intimidation. How They’ll Crush Their Enemies!”

Mr. Pecker visited the White House in July 2017 and took along with him a special guest, a French businessman who advises one of Saudi Arabia’s richest men. Through an Oval Office visit and at dinner with Mr. Trump, Mr. Pecker showcased his access to the president — and word got back to Saudi Arabia.

Several months later, Mr. Pecker traveled to Saudi Arabia. In January, he sought Saudi investors to help bankroll a possible acquisition of Time magazine, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. American Media disputed that. As Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, arrived this month for a tour of the United States, Mr. Pecker’s company published a 97-page magazine about Saudi Arabia that glosses over troubling details about the kingdom.

There is no mention of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, human rights concerns or the crown prince’s arrest last fall of many extended royals.



 
Donald Trump, prince of peace

by digby


Sure, of course. Makes perfect sense:

The campaign to award a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize to the current president — regularly criticized for delivering personal attacks on Twitter — is heating up, following news of this week’s historic summit between North and South Korea that could mark the first step toward denuclearizing the peninsula.

Thanks to the tentative progress being made on the Korean peninsula, at least one British bookie has predicted that Trump has favorable odds of winning a Nobel this year — and some of Trump’s top defenders are falling in line.

“After North Korea triumph Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, not Obama,” declared a Fox News op-ed published on Friday.

Some of Trump’s aides told reporters they think the thaw between North and South Korean leaders should put the president in the running for the top peace prize. At least a few members of Congress agree: Lindsey Graham (R-SC) hasn’t ruled out the possibility, and Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) is renewing his effort to convince his colleagues to support nominating Trump for a Nobel Prize, a cause Messer has championed since March.

“Following this historic announcement, President Trump should get the Nobel Peace Prize. Our peace through strength strategy is delivering never before seen results,” Messer said in a statement released Friday.

On the episode of Ingraham’s show that aired Friday night, she amped up the rhetoric even further, saying that Trump “has to be almost a shoo-in for the Nobel” and praising his foreign policy instincts as “phenomenal.”


She added that even Trump’s harshest critics will have to acknowledge the “tough rocket man talk on the sanctions with North Korea made a difference.”


It will probably happen. Why? Because ...


 
The "historic" meeting isn't unprecedented

by digby


South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun shakes hands with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2007


South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il join hands before signing an agreement during a historic summit between the two countries in Pyongyang on June 14, 2000.




Everyone knows this isn't the first meeting between North and South Korean leaders, right?

2000 inter-Korean summit

In 2000, the representatives of the two governments met for the first time since the division of the Korean peninsula. Kim Dae-jung, the president of the Republic of Korea who arrived at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, met Kim Jong-il, head of the North Korean National Defense Commission, directly under the trap of the airport
  • Participants: President Kim Dae-jung of the Republic of Korea and Chairman of the National Defense Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-il
  • Place of meeting: Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Pyongyang
  • Date of the meeting: June 13 - June 15, 2000
  • Results of talks: June 15 joint declaration

2007 inter-Korean summit

The June 2007 summit declaration was adopted, which included the realization of the June 15 Joint Declaration, the promotion of a three-party or four-party summit meeting to resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula, and active promotion of inter-Korean economic cooperation projects.
  • Participants: President Roh Moo-hyun of the Republic of Korea and Chairman of the National Defense Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Kim Jong-il
  • Place of meeting: Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Pyongyang
  • Date of the meeting: October 2 - October 4, 2007
  • Results of talks: 2007 North-South Summit Declaration
2018 inter-Korean summit

The 2018 inter-Korean summit was held on 27 April 2018 in ROK portion of the Joint Security Area, it was the third summit between the South and North Korea, agreed by Moon Jae-in and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un.
  • Participants: President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea and Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un
  • Place of meeting: Republic of Korea, Joint Security Area
  • Date of the meeting: April 27, 2018
  • Results of talks: Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula
The only reason I bring this up is because Trump is saying that nobody ever did what he has done etc, etc as usual and well, it's wrong. There have been other talks and they may end up being seen as the precursors to some kind of rapprochement between the two countries. They did not deter North Korea from pursuing their nuclear weapons program and it's highly unlikely, considering the message America has sent to the world about the consequences of giving them up. (America will invade you and your leaders will be killed.)  

Trump will strut around like a conquering hero and we'll all be forced to kiss his hem as the living God he is, but it won't make it true. If this happens it will be because there has been a very slow, long term thaw and a tremendous amount of pressure coming from all directions over the course of many years.  Trump's tweets will not have been the reason.

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Big cheers for torture

by digby





This is a good piece by Mike Lofgren at the Washington Monthly sorting out the various "deep state" threads as they apply to Gina Haspel, Trump's nominee to head the CIA, who is implicated in the Bush administration's torture regime. An excerpt:

Shortly after inauguration, the president’s supporters, egged on by Steve Bannon and his minions at Breitbart, started to decry how permanent government bureaucrats constituting a deep state were insidiously undercutting poor, put-upon Donald. Another of the president’s acolytes, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been pulling all manner of political stunts during the past year on Trump’s behalf...

A glance at just about any aspect of the Trump administration shows the sketchiness of their theory. As I’ve written, the tell-tale hallmarks of the deep state are the accumulation of personal wealth via the revolving door, influence-peddling, and the more genteel forms of corruption. Ironically, then, Trump’s self-dealing kitchen cabinet pals, the constant revelations of the administration’s ethics problems, and its blatant public-be-damned attitude are indicative of a deep state on steroids.

Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel comes all the while he has incessantly denounced the purported swamp of professionally incestuous career bureaucrats. While there should have been dozens of other qualified candidates for the job, the president went out of his way to select someone who has been implicated not only in torture, but in the destruction of evidence in order to evade constitutional oversight by Congress. It would seem in this case that Trump overcame his preference for nominating grossly unqualified political groupies in favor of a career official in order to dog-whistle to the Republican base that Bush-era torture is back and oversight is extinct.

Haspel’s prospects are complicated, however, by the fact that 109 retired generals and admirals have written a letter in opposition to her confirmation. According to the common belief of many on the right as well as the left, general officers constitute a core constituency of the deep state, the military-industrial complex, or whatever the phrase of the moment is.

It is certainly true that retired generals and admirals are heavily represented on the boards of military contractors, engage in influential lucrative media consultancies, and even hold prestigious positions at elite (and supposedly liberal) institutions like Harvard and Tufts. Alas, the days of generals like George C. Marshall refraining from cashing in on their service have receded into a quasi-mythical past that recalls Cincinnatus returning to his plow.

But there is another side to the story. Conspiracy mongers desperately need a clear-cut narrative consisting of pure heroes and villains when they are talking about the Washington Swamp, but reality has a way of being more ambiguous. These 109 retired officers, like their active-duty counterparts—who are of course obliged to hold their tongues regarding the administration’s political choices—know one thing by heart: torture is proscribed by the Geneva Convention, the U.S. Code, and the military’s own Uniform Code.

Aside from the strictures of law, they have a very pragmatic reason for opposing those who would advocate or practice torture being placed in command positions in our government. An America that tortures its enemies would not have a moral or practical leg to stand on if in the future a hostile nation or group declares U.S. personnel to be “unlawful combatants” and waterboards them. Our outrage would ring rather hollow to the rest of the world.

Haspel’s excuse for recommending the destruction of documentary evidence of torture—that she was just following orders—sounds similarly unconvincing to the officers signing the letter. They know it is just as wrong (and illegal according to the Uniform Code) to follow such orders as it is to issue them.

That's just an excerpt, read the whole thing.

I would just add that organizing the world into pure heroes and pure villains is a really great way to be both totally self-righteous and smug while being wrong at least half the time. The world is complicated. So are people. So are institutions.

In this case, Haspel was directly and personally involved in a despicable act that anyone with a conscience should have walked away from. Something went deeply wrong with all of our institutions after 9/11 and a lot of people failed tests during that period. Some people have learned, others haven't, and many of us on all sides are trying to navigate the world that is now run by a cretinous imbecile and god-knows-what epistemology is at work on any given day. It's exhausting and difficult. But we have to try to see the forest for the trees as best we can.

Nonetheless, among all of the flawed humans on all sides flailing about these days some are worse than others and Haspel is one of them.

I was going to say "if we don't draw the line at torturers, where will we draw the line" and then I remembered that Donald Trump got huge cheers when he said:
Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works. And if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.

60 million people voted for that violent psycho so it's pretty clear there is no line.








.
 
Unpredictability for dummies

by digby





If you're feeling warm and fuzzy about Trump's tweet taunt foreign policy tactics, you might want to think again. This piece by Max Fisher in the NYT explains why this approach is dangerous, even if North Korea is temporarily deterred from pursuing violent action:

To hear President Trump tell it, his approach to North Korea and Iran, marked by unpredictability and opposition to the diplomacy and compromise of his predecessors, will end the nuclear programs of both countries once and for all.

Imposing “maximum pressure” on North Korea will persuade it to dismantle its arsenal, Mr. Trump has said. And a decision by the United States to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal will, he said last year, “ensure that Iran never, and I mean never, acquires a nuclear weapon.”

But Mr. Trump’s actions could convey a very different message to the world than the one he may wish to send.

By pledging to break one nuclear deal just as he enters negotiations for another, Mr. Trump risks sending the message that American promises are empty, giving adversaries little reason to make concessions.

By punishing Iran even after it has frozen its nuclear program but agreeing to meet with the leader of North Korea just months after it fulfilled many of its nuclear ambitions, Mr. Trump could inadvertently convey the message that rogue states are best served by defying and threatening the United States.

And by threatening to blow up any deal that does not meet his sometimes inconsistent demands, he may win some concessions at the expense of undermining America’s traditional role as a mediator and convener of negotiations, which Washington has relied on to promote its interests in international forums.

New Narrative About America?
Mr. Trump’s stances on Iran and North Korea appear, at first, difficult to reconcile.

North Korea has barreled ahead with its weapons programs, testing nuclear devices as well as long-range missiles that appear capable of striking major American cities. It has achieved what no country has since China developed its own program a half-century ago: a nuclear deterrent against the United States.

To stall or reverse those gains, Mr. Trump has issued threats and imposed sanctions on North Korea, but for the most part his responses have not been that different from those of previous administrations. His major break with diplomatic orthodoxy was to agree to a direct meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. The North has long sought such a meeting as a way to portray itself as a peer of the great powers.

Among Korea experts, Mr. Trump’s approach has won the greatest support from left-leaning doves.

Iran, meanwhile, has kept its nuclear program frozen and continues to accept international inspections, according to the international watchdogs and American intelligence officials who have repeatedly said that the country is complying with its obligations under the nuclear deal signed in 2015.

But Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened Iran and pledged to withdraw from the agreement or impose sanctions that would abrogate American commitments. He has won cheers from hawks on Iran who oppose the deal.

How to square these inconsistencies? Within the United States, the most common explanations draw on Mr. Trump’s personality or on domestic politics. Perhaps he opposes the Iran deal because he was not the one to close it, for instance, but he can support a North Korea deal that would bear his signature.

But foreign states do not have the luxury of shrugging off the American president’s thinking as an inscrutable mystery. They must stitch together a narrative with which to predict future behavior.


Officials from Iran and six major world powers as they reached a nuclear deal in 2015. Joe Klamar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The clearest narrative may be that the Americans cannot necessarily be trusted to uphold their commitments — Mr. Trump has broken or withdrawn from several other international agreements — but they can be, as Mr. Kim showed, coerced and deterred.

The nuclear lessons may be starker.

Dismantle or freeze your program on assurances from the United States, and those assurances may be broken. Accelerate your program in open defiance of international agreements, and the American president will offer to meet with you.

The Costs of Unpredictability
Mr. Trump said on the campaign trail that his businesses had succeeded in part because, in negotiations, he had relied on bluffing, threats to walk out and ruthless, zero-sum transactionalism.

He had sometimes refused to fully pay contractors, including those working for his campaign. He sued Deutsche Bank in 2008 to escape $40 million in personal loan guarantees. Confronted with a copy of a tax return suggesting that he had not paid federal income tax in some years, Mr. Trump retorted, “That makes me smart.”

He has he said would apply his approach in business to foreign relations, pledging to extract maximum concessions even from allies. Unpredictability and threats would keep other leaders guessing, forcing them to deliver concessions, he said.

Mr. Trump would not have to look long for countries that have deployed this strategy: Iran and North Korea have pursued more extreme versions for years.

Still, this approach comes with costs. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this week of the nuclear agreement with Iran that “it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat.”

The deal, though signed by several world powers, including China and Russia, hands considerable discretion to Washington over when and how to punish any Iranian cheating. In this way, it highlights the difference between how the world treats countries it considers unreliable, like Iran, versus those seen as steady and transparent.

Should talks with North Korea lead to a written agreement, no one expects its text to treat the United States with the distrust that the 2015 agreement treated Iran.

But it is difficult to imagine America’s allies once again investing Washington with the authority they handed it over Iran.

Mr. Trump is asking Washington’s Asian allies to follow his lead on North Korea just as he is defying European allies who are pushing him to stay in the Iran deal. China, which is also a party to the Iran deal, is likely to play a major role in shaping any agreement with North Korea.

Trump administration statements in support of the president’s stance on the Iran deal risk further undermining American efforts with North Korea.

Brian Hook, the State Department policy planning director, told NPR this week that the 2015 agreement signed by Iran and the world powers is “a political commitment by an administration that’s no longer in office.”


The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on Friday. The two leaders agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but President Trump plans to play a role, too. Korea Summit Press
The notion that American commitments made by one administration do not constrain those that follow it implies that any deal Mr. Trump signs with North Korea is good for only three years if he serves one term, seven years if he wins re-election.

Physical constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, by contrast, last for a minimum of 15 years, which critics like Mr. Trump had deemed woefully insufficient.

Leader or Spoiler?
There is a reason that the United States has long sought the role of mediator or overseer whenever there is an international crisis, even under a unilateral-minded president like George W. Bush, who convened six-nation talks over North Korea’s nuclear arms program.

The idea was that the United States would forge a consensus among allies and great powers, then use that consensus as the starting point of talks with whatever rogue state was troubling it.

This put the United States at the center of the process, ensuring that it would always have a say. If France or Russia wanted some concession or course correction, it had to go through the Americans to get it.

This state of affairs has required Washington to make frequent compromises to retain the support of other powers for a system anchored to Washington. The United States had to be the rational referee in negotiations, letting other countries issue demands or threaten to walk out.

Increasingly, the United States is the one issuing demands and threatening to blow up negotiations if they do not satisfy Mr. Trump’s terms.

This approach does win concessions. European leaders are offering new constraints on Iran.

But it also gives allies and adversaries incentives to go around the Americans, rather than put them at the center of everything.

Some analysts expect that if Mr. Trump walks away from the Iran deal, the Europeans and Iranians will find some accommodation that excludes him. Washington would lose its leverage over how Iran is held to account.

This week’s inter-Korean summit meeting also hints at declining American influence over negotiations.

The Trump administration has demanded that North Korea “denuclearize” in the sense that the country would immediately and unilaterally surrender its nuclear program. But this week the two Koreas pledged eventual denuclearization of the entire peninsula. Both North and South Korea seem to have ignored Mr. Trump’s demands.

In the meantime, Mr. Trump shows signs of enjoying his power as international spoiler.

Hours before the inter-Korean agreement was released, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that he might withdraw American support from any country that “were to lobby against” his bid for the 2026 soccer World Cup tournament.

“Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us,” he asked.

I don't think America is "the essential nation" or whatever. There are other ways to organize global security and considering how unstable the US has become, it's obviously not a good idea to depend upon it to be the security guarantor anymore. But just smashing things up and relying on this ignoramus's threats and endless need for flattery to deliver positive results is a very bad plan.

I'm certainly hopeful that North Korea will dial back the provocations and if everyone needs to kiss Trump's ring for that to happen, it's worth it. But it's not a dependable national security strategy.

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