Tuesday, May 23, 2017

BLOCK CALLISTA. BOYCOTT HANNITY. WALK OUT ON INFOWARS.

Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post's media columnist, is right to upset about these developments:
Infowars, that cesspool of destructive conspiracy theories, on Monday received a temporary credential to attend White House press briefings....

In the past, please recall, what constituted “news” at Infowars included the following: that 9/11 was planned and executed by the U.S. government; that President Obama was not an American citizen; and that the massacre of small children at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax carried out by actors.

Infowars’ inclusion (even if only temporarily) in the White House press corps is disgusting.

But no more disgusting than the lies that Fox News continues to spread about Seth Rich, a 27-year-old man who was shot dead last summer in Washington.

To hear Fox’s Sean Hannity tell it, this was an inside job by the Democratic National Committee, where Rich worked: retribution by the Hillary Clinton camp for his sharing insider emails with WikiLeaks.

The theory has been thoroughly debunked by Oliver Darcy at CNN among others, and Rich’s family has demanded that Fox retract and apologize. To the reported embarrassment of its own staff, Fox hasn’t done the right thing.

Quite the opposite, in fact: Former House speaker and Trump insider Newt Gingrich used Fox’s national platform Sunday to spread the lies further....

Decent people should shun both Hannity and Gingrich.
Decent people should do more than that. In the case of InfoWars, the rest of the White House press corps should simply walk out of any press briefing attended by the organization's correspondent -- who, I gather, is this guy:



You remember Jerome Corsi, right? His books include Where's the Birth Certificate? and the John Kerry Swift Boat hit job Unfit for Command -- and he's also told readers of World Net Daily that Barack Obama had a secret gay life in Chicago and wears a wedding ring that bears the inscription "There is no God except Allah" in Arabic. Seriously, White House correspondents: If he's in the briefing room, you should leave -- and if the boycott has to last weeks or months, so be it.

Which probably should have been the reaction to Fox News sometime in the past twenty years, but that ship has sailed. For now, it's time for a Sleeping Giants-style boycott targeting Hannity's advertisers. And if some Bernie-or-Busters don't want to participate, well, this one is open to anyone in the center or right who's disgusted by Hannity's conspiracy-mongering. (Some of you conservatives are disgusted ... aren't you?)

As for Gingrich: His wife is the president's nominee to be ambassador to the Vatican. If (as I assume) no Republican senator is willing to vote against her confirmation, then some Democratic senator should put a hold on her nomination.

I got pushback when I said this on Twitter over the weekend:



I understand the argument. But Newt and Callista are not merely spouses -- they're professional collaborators. From the website of Gingrich Productions:
Together, Newt and Callista host and produce historical and public policy documentaries, write books and newsletters, give speeches, record audio books, produce photographic essays, and make television and radio appearances. Gingrich Productions also offers strategic planning, consulting, and training for organizations seeking to solve public policy concerns. We have unique strengths and experience in health, learning, national security, and politics. We also help develop messaging with an emphasis on earned and social media.
In the dissemination of political messages, they're partners. If they disagree on any issue, they've never said so. So unless Callista specifically denounces her husband's baseless and cynical conspiracy-mongering, she doesn't deserve a full Senate vote, much less an ambassadorship.

OUR LIFE WITH THE THRILL KILL CULT

I'm horrified by the Manchester attack, for which ISIS is now claiming responsibility.

For a while, I thought I understood the logic of this strategy: Use spectacularly successful acts of violence to inspire young, alienated Muslims so they'll sign up to join the fight to sustain the caliphate, and hope that the attacks motivate non-Muslim nations to crack down on Muslim residents, in order to eliminate a "grayzone" of peaceful coexistence and inspire even more recruits.

But ISIS has been losing territory in Iraq and Syria, and we've been hearing that an increase in terrorist attacks is a strategy shift in response to failures on the battlefield. In other words, terrorism isn't helping to staff a successful army -- it's a distraction from that army's failings. And this is happening even as there appear to be limits to the Western backlash against Muslims: white nationalists have fallen short in elections in France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, while even Donald Trump has tempered his language on Islam.

So I don't see the logic anymore. At this point, it seems as if terrorist attacks attacks in the West aren't part of a grand strategy to advance ISIS's brand of Islam -- they're an end in themselves. The point of the terrorism seems to be ... just to kill people. The aftermath is always the same: Communities come together; there's anger at Muslims, but there are also kind words:





So what's being accomplished? Either ISIS and its acolytes still believe that the strategy is working, despite evidence to the contrary, or ... they're just angry young men who revel in the idea of doing harm to other people, especially when they're being told that what's being done is virtuous. It seems to me that the terrorism is now the point. The perpetrators (and cheering fans, some of whom will be future perpetrators) may talk of the attacks as steps on the path to a grand utopia, but I think they're just getting off on the violence.

Monday, May 22, 2017

WHAT YOUR RIGHT-WING UNCLE BELIEVES ABOUT THE DEMOCRATS AND TRUMP IS AS CRAZY AS BIRTHERISM

Every so often I read a transcript of a Rush Limbaugh radio monologue, because Limbaugh is still, to much of heartland of America, a source of truth and a purveyor of wisdom. Today I read one titled "Democrats Walk Back Impeachment Talk Because They’re Scared to Death of What They’ve Created." What I've learned from it is that the Dittoheads, if they accept what Limbaugh's saying at face value, believe in a conspiracy so vast, and so bizarre, that it rivals birtherism, 9/11 trutherism, or the notion that the victims of Sandy Hook were "crisis actors."

Here's the gist of what Limbaugh said:
Last week — late last week, Thursday and Friday — there appears in various media stories about how one, two, and then three prominent Democrats expressed the need for the Democrat Party to start walking back all this talk of impeachment.

... There are people who have, over the course of the last three weeks, on the Democrat side, tiptoed into the water and said, “We haven’t any evidence.” Dianne Feinstein to Wolf Blitzer twice, for example. There was another Democrat on Grassley’s committee that said, “Yeah, no, we don’t have any evidence. We haven’t seen any evidence yet.” Former CIA director for Obama, Michael Morell, about two weeks ago was on MSNBC.

He said there isn’t any evidence of any collusion.

So they’ve been tiptoeing around this. You put that together with the talk by the Democrats that they need to walk back impeachment, and what do you have? You have, I think, a potentially explosive and destructive thing awaiting the Democrats. What have they done? ...

They’ve lied repeatedly over who was going to win the election, and then when the election didn’t go the way they said it was gonna go, they’re now lying about the election being stolen by Trump and the Russians. They have compounded the lie and they have ostensibly supplied evidence when there isn’t any. And they have created a tremendous number of genuinely enraged, seriously unbalanced mentally people that make up the Democrat voter base who are convinced — they’re expecting Trump to be impeached....

They’re expecting Trump to go down this week. They were expecting Trump to go down last week. They’re expecting Trump to go down next week. They’re expecting somebody’s gonna come along here and drop the bomb of evidence because they’ve been told it’s there.
And here's the conspiracy:
But the Democrats know there’s no evidence. They know they’ve been lying to their people. The media knows it. So it’s walk-back time. That’s why all this gotta be careful, gotta walk back this talk of impeachment because there isn’t, there is not a crime that has been committed.

So there is real fear of what these people are gonna do when that fateful day comes that everybody has to say no evidence and no impeachment and no collusion. They just can’t come out and say that, or they’re gonna have nation — you think they were rioting now, we don’t have any idea what’s gonna happen when these people once again realize they’ve been lied to and misled. The election was the first, and now this?

Democrats and the media are genuinely concerned, because they’ve created this insanity.
This is what your right-wing uncle believes: not that some people in the Democratic Party and elsewhere on the left are overselling the inevitability of Trump's downfall; not that Democrats might be assuming a smoking gun will be found when one might not exist, might exist but never be unearthed, or might not seem like one to a sufficient number of voters or Republicans in Congress ... no, your right-wing uncle thinks Democrats know there's nothing to be found and have just invented the entire scandal out of whole cloth, a deception party leaders and the media have all colluded on knowingly, just to bring this president down out of sheer orneriness. The FBI and congressional committees are in on the plot, too. Mike Flynn is refusing a subpoena, even though there's no crime he might be compelled to reveal. An entire generation of Washington insiders, in other words, have staked their careers on a deception based in literally nothing, one that, if exposed, could at minimum destroy every conspirator's reputation for honesty forever and in all likelihood have far worse consequences for the conspirators.

They've set this massive conspiracy in motion ... and now they're getting cold feet and want to do a complete 180. They built this enormous edifice of disinformation, because the Deep State finds the Trump presidency intolerable -- yet now they're saying, "Let's call the whole thing off!"

I'm not sure why they want to call it off -- you'd think people who could construct a web of deceit this vast would be pretty damn powerful -- but I suppose it's because, despite their vast power, they've created a deception so flimsy it can be exposed by, I guess, a few randos on Twitter and Reddit who have Sean Hannity's ear.

Really, this is what your uncle thinks.

A HOLLYWOOD ELITIST SCRIPTED ROGER AILES'S EULOGY

Roger Ailes got quite a sendoff from his only child over the weekend:
Friends and family of former Fox News chairman and founding CEO Roger Ailes gathered together and mourned his death Saturday during an intimate service at the St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in Palm Beach, Florida....

“I loved my father,” Ailes’ 17-year-old son, Zachary, told LifeZette. “He considered how much certain people hated him as a measure of success.”

Zachary pledged to fight to clear his father’s name after a series of sexual harassment allegations led to his ultimate ouster from Fox News.

“I want all the people who betrayed my father to know that I’m coming after them,” Zachary Ailes said during a speech at the ceremony, “and hell is coming with me.”
Wow, that's a tough, take-no-prisoners line. Where did it come from? Did a famous soldier say it? Maybe a fearless member of law enforcement?

Nahh. It comes from evil Left Coast communist metrosexual Hollywood. As the right-wing site BizPac Review acknowledges, it's a line from the 1993 film Tombstone -- a threat made by Wyatt Earp (played by Ken Kurt Russell) to a member of an outlaw gang called the Cowboys:



On the one hand, we now see that the Ailes family regards the women who have accused Ailes of sexual harassment as the moral equivalent of a murdering Wild West gang. On the other hand ... Hollywood? I thought conservatives hated Hollywood. Never mind that their favorite president was a Hollywood actor and their second-favorite president, the current one, was a TV star. Never mind that Roger Ailes's longtime boss runs a Hollywood movie studio. Never mind that Ailes worked in TV and theater before becoming a right-wing hit man. Hollywood is supposed to be anathema to right-wingers -- and yet that's where Zachary Ailes, a rich, private-school-educated scion, gets his idea of courage.

Though I wonder if using the line was really Zachary's idea. We know that Roger Ailes, a lifelong hemophiliac, had long thought about his own death. As his biographer Gabriel Sherman reported, "A couple of weeks before his thirtieth birthday, [Ailes] told a reporter, 'Most people think I'll be dead before I'm 35.'"

We know that having a young son made Ailes focus even more on his own mortality:
Due in part to the large age gap between father and son – 60 years – Ailes had compiled a memory book so that his son could remember his life when he was gone, according to Vanity Fair.

Since Zac was four, Vanity Fair reported in an excerpt from Zac Chafets’ book, Roger Ailes: Off Camera, “Ailes has been putting things away for him in memory boxes; there are now nine, stuffed with mementos, personal notes, photos, and messages from Ailes to his son. They are meant to be opened when Ailes is gone.”

He showed the author one box, a plastic container “stuffed with what appeared to be a random assortment of memorabilia. There was a pocket-size copy of the U.S. Constitution in which Ailes had written, ‘The founders believed it and so should you'” and photos of Zac and Beth Ailes on vacations, according to the magazine.

In one note, Roger Ailes had written his son, “Avoid war if at all possible but never give up your freedom—or your honor. Always stand for what is right. If absolutely forced to fight, then fight with courage and win. Don’t try to win ... win! Love, Dad,” reported Chafets.
Did the elder Ailes ask his son to use that line in his eulogy? That's my guess. I can easily imagine Papa Roger in his last year telling young Zachary that he wanted him to threaten Dad's enemies at his funeral, in those carefully selected words.

Roger Ailes was never really a tough guy. He lived a life of fear. His had bombproof windows installed in his Fox News office, where he also kept two handguns. He maintained a bunker underneath his house with half a year's worth of supplies, in anticipation of a terrorist attack, and, as a neighbor recounted, he "was said to have ordered the removal of all trees around his house so that he … had a 360-degree view of any leftist assault teams preparing to rush the house." He hired private investigators to "discredit anyone perceived as a threat to the channel or Ailes himself," as The Hill noted. He order Fox public relations employees to create dummy accounts so that undetectable Ailes trolls could rebut Fox critics online, even at obscure blogs.

And he was a creature of the elite coastal media, regardless of his self-image. So of course the tough-guy words that saw him off were Hollywood-fake.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

"HE CHOKED!" REDUX

I'm amused by this story on the reaction to the president's Saudi Arabia speech:
... President Donald Trump is ... taking heat from his avid supporters....

His crime?

Calling Islam “one of the world’s great faiths.”

That double hit — ducking [the phrase] “[radical] Islamic terrorism” while praising the religion — was not received very well on Twitter....



....


I'm reminded of Joe Scarborough's reaction to Trump's meeting with Mexico's president back in September:
On "Morning Joe," the host said Trump's refusal to press [President Enrique] Peña Nieto in person about funding a border wall between the US and Mexico demonstrated Trump's lack of confidence as a leader.

"If that's the center of your campaign, how do you not get the job done when you're there?" Scarborough said.

He added: "He had the guy in front of him and he choked. He choked! I can't stand people who choke under pressure."



What happened to the tough guy all these Trump voters thought they were electing? The two-fisted, doesn't-back-down "blue-collar billionaire"?

But it occurs to me that one of the best-known songs about standing up to an adversary -- a classic to many people in Trump Country -- is actually about not having the nerve to stand up.



I'd give the shirt right off of my back
If I had the guts to say

Take this job and shove it
I ain't working here no more....
That's Trump -- he acts as if he's ready to tell his enemies where to get off and his fans don't even realize that as soon as they're face to face, he'll back down.

*****

UPDATE I cut the tweet from Vic Berger IV. I'm informed that he's an anti-Trump mocker.

DON'T BE SO SURE THAT SHERIFF DAVID CLARKE IS GOING DOWN

I can't deny that this looks bad for David Clarke, full-time loudmouth and -- in whatever time he has left between gun-nut speeches and Fox TV appearances -- sheriff of Milwaukee County:
Controversial Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who this week announced he will be joining Donald Trump's administration as assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, plagiarized sections of his 2013 master's thesis on US security, a CNN KFile review has found.

Clarke, a visible surrogate for Trump during the campaign known for his incendiary rhetoric, earned a master's degree in security studies at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. In his thesis, "Making U.S. security and privacy rights compatible," Clarke failed to properly attribute his sources at least 47 times.

In all instances reviewed by CNN's KFile, Clarke lifts language from sources and credits them with a footnote, but does not indicate with quotation marks that he is taking the words verbatim.
Last night on Twitter, I questioned whether plagiarism would compel Clarke to withdraw. I was reminded of this:



Yes, but Crowley didn't lash out at her attackers. When she was accused of plagiarizing parts of her Ph.D. dissertations and parts of one of her books, she "declined to comment." She treated the revelations the way you'd treat them if you were the appointee of a normal president. She didn't understand that Donald Trump is not normal. He doesn't expect his underlings to maintain a dignified silence or issue carefully worded responses when facing accusations.

Trump likes people who fight back, however ill-advisedly. Immediately after Trump's inauguration, he put pressure on press secretary Sean Spicer to defend Trump's ridiculous assertion that he'd hard a larger inaugural crowd than Barack Obama in 2009. Later, Trump was angry when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in matters pertaining to Russiagate.

So far, Clarke isn't making that mistake:









There's also a lot of higher-profile news happening now -- Trump's overseas trip, the series of wild news stories of the past couple of weeks. The Crowley revelations happened before the inaugural, when the major Trump-related stories were about personnel matters.

But the main reason Clarke might very well survive is that he spends his entire waking life in attack mode. Crowley, even though she's done her share of attacking as a Fox pundit and right-wing hack, isn't a rage generator by nature. Clarke does it as naturally as breathing. I'm betting Trump will have his back.

We already know that presiding over a court system jail where a prisoner died of dehydration after being denied water for a week hasn't prevented Clarke from being appointed. I think he could survive this, too.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

ROGER AILES AND CONSERVATISM'S PERMANENT WAR

Jon Klein, the former head of CNN's U.S. division, argues in The Washington Post that the Internet didn't divide the American media into warring tribal fiefdoms -- it was Roger Ailes:
When the network launched in 1996, few realized that Ailes had hatched the prototype news organization of the 21st century: information with attitude; facts yoked to a point of view, the more provocative the better; a tribal vibe, outsiders unwelcome and openly scorned. The Internet did not, as is so often alleged, usher in the siloed media environment in which we find ourselves today and likely forever. Ailes did that — by proving that there is money, influence and power to be found in serving well-defined interest groups instead of trying to please the widest possible audience.
I don't agree with Klein that the "siloing" is across the board -- Pew found in 2014 that liberals were getting their news from a number of sources, while conservatives loved Fox. What he's describing is happening to some extent on the left, but it's pervasive on the right.

Klein continues:
What’s more, by unreservedly infusing news with a right-of-center agenda, Ailes popularized the notion that all journalists are biased. “At least we’re honest about who is offering opinion, unlike CNN,” Ailes would often say.
I don't think that's correct. The message of Fox is: All journalists except ours are biased. Bret Stephens, in a New York Times op-ed, writes, "In moments of candor, Ailes would admit that his network’s real motto, as he saw it, was to be 'fair and balancing.'" But it's clear that his audience didn't believe that. Other news sources aren't skewed or biased -- they're lying, according to loyal Fox fans. Fox tells the whole truth (except when traitors like Megyn Kelly do the bidding of the Establishment).

Klein writes:
Of course, keeping an audience of millions on a footing of constant alert for many years has the effect of stoking anxiety on a national scale. Solutions are rarely forthcoming; problems are never solved; few officials or institutions can be trusted.
The Fox message is that victories generally aren't even victories, because what really matters is the war against conservatives' enemies, which is never-ending. Recall Fox in George W. Bush's first term -- even when he could be portrayed as a triumphant war president, Fox was still watching the horizon for signs of domestic dissent, and if it wasn't coming from Democrats, then it was time to turn Dan Rather or Barbra Streisand or some college professor into the enemy of the day.

And as Klein notes, that was Roger Ailes expressing his own sense of unrelieved -- and unrelievable -- grievance:
... [We were] at Michael’s, the restaurant of choice for Manhattan’s media elite....

We were at Roger’s table, No. 4 — the best one in the house, a corner with a commanding view of the entire room.... he was trotting out his standard case about the lack of respect he received in New York, despite his immense professional accomplishments. “They think I’m this rube from Ohio,” he said. “They all look down their noses at me.” Roger was having trouble making his point, though, because of the parade of well-wishers who kept interrupting to shake his hand, kibitz and flatter. Eventually, I couldn’t resist stating the obvious: “Kind of undermines your point, doesn’t it? Half this restaurant is kissing your ring.” “Yeah,” he replied without irony. “But they hate doing it.”
Ailes's audience eventually voted for a president who can never be satisfied with the amount of adulation he receives, and who's in a state of permanent war with his enemies. In that way, Trump is just like Ailes.

Bret Stephens, in his column on Ailes, blames Fox for harming conservatism:
What Fox is mainly in the business of doing is hating the left. In the manner of Ailes himself, its convictions stem from its resentments — and shift accordingly. It is sympathetic to military intervention when the left is against it (Iraq) and hostile when the left is for it (Libya); anti-Russia when President Obama was reaching out to Russia, pro-Russia when Obama started getting tough on the Kremlin.

More recently it has discovered the virtues of economic nationalism and the evils of “globalism” in the service of the Trump electorate.

All this makes for a terrific business model — a matter of being attuned to the changing tastes and inclinations of your core audience. But it also means that the network Ailes built was never a vehicle for conservative views.
I'm not going to get into an argument with Stephens about what is and isn't conservative. But I'd say that the attitude at Fox -- and now throughout the right -- is that the primary criterion for judging any political deed is: How much does this piss off liberals? That's true even when the goal seems to be the advancement of conservatism as Stephens would define it. Conservatism doesn't matter as much as winning the battle. (The war, alas, can never be won.)

For all their flag-waving and talk about making America great again, conservatives don't really care about America. They care about fighting with us. Fox helped teach them to think that way. And now they have a president with the same attitude.

Friday, May 19, 2017

JENNIFER RUBIN IS MUCH MORE CERTAIN OF A MASS GOP DIE-OFF THAN I AM

Jennifer Rubin, a right-winger who's always refused the Trump Kool-Aid, thinks the president's scandals are causing "the downfall of a generation of Washington Republicans":
Either during or at the end of his first term, Trump’s presidency will end, voluntarily or not.... When the party — or what remains of it — looks for leadership, where will it turn?

Not to the likes of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who opportunistically backed Trump after declaring his unfitness. Not to the likes of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who became Trump’s palace guard, vouching for Cabinet secretaries and refusing to denounce conflicts of interest and possible violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. Come to think of it, any Republican who failed in his or her constitutional duty of oversight, continuing to turn a blind eye toward wrongdoing and to rationalize Trump’s conduct, should be disqualified from high office, if not shunned by conservatives....

If the GOP is to survive at all after Trump, it most likely will need to turn to governors or ex-lawmakers who did not carry Trump’s water or attempt to defend the indefensible. I raise that now because it will reflect on the actions of Republicans on Capitol Hill for the next couple of years. Keep in mind how self-destructive their behavior is as you wince watching Capitol Hill Republicans flack for Trump.... As painful as it is to watch these performances, some satisfaction can be derived from knowing that these Republicans are doing incalculable damage to their ambition for future leadership in the party.
I don't see it that way at all.

As I said in the previous post, I believe Trump could well be brought down without ever becoming tarnished in the eyes of the 38% of Americans who support him now. Doing deals with the Russians? Hey, so what? He's a businessman -- deals are his specialty. Are we at war with Russia? And can't the president fire an FBI director? He's the president, right? And how do we know the evidence of Russian election interference is legit? What about Seth Rich's death? And what about Hillary's emails? And the Deep State? And Donna Brazile giving Hillary those debate questions? And and and and....

Maybe members of Trump's inner circle will be unelectable in the future, but Republicans outside the inner circle who defended Trump will be fine -- Tom Cotton and Paul Ryan will get do-overs. (We'll be told that Ryan, especially, experienced great pangs of guilt while backing Trump.) If anything, the many Trump diehards in the voter base will probably reject the Rubio and Cruz because they weren't supportive enough of Trump.

I'm certain that future GOP leaders will be those who stayed on Trump's good side but who aren't generally identified with him -- the political establishment will demand the latter, but deplorable voters will insist on the former. Ask yourself: Did Nixon's presidency lead to ""the downfall of a generation of Washington Republicans"? Hell, if Gerald Ford had received 50,000 more votes in Ohio and Wisconsin, he'd have won the Electoral College in 1976.

A former RedState editor, now at Glenn Beck's Blaze, tweeted this today on the subject of the conservative movement:



I responded with a point I've been making on this blog for years:



I was seconded:



That's the truth. It's never doomsday for the GOP.



DON'T DISMISS FEARS OF A PRESIDENT PENCE

I don't think we're going to be rid of President Trump anytime soon. The most promising investigation, that of special counsel Robert Mueller, will probably be slow and deliberate. If crimes are discovered, it's quite possible the culprits will be only the usual suspects -- Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone. Art of the Deal co-author Tony Schwartz may believe that Trump will resign if impeachment seems to be on the horizon, but we expected Trump to quit the presidential campaign on numerous occasions, and it never happened. And it's very hard to imagine Trump being convicted in a Republican-controlled Senate by a two-thirds majority after an impeachment, or having a 25th Amendment removal sustained by a two-thirds majority in both houses, after Trump inevitably exercises his right under the amendment to challenge removal. A two-thirds majority in the Senate means 19 Republicans have to vote against Trump -- can you think of 19 GOP senators who'd ever do that? Or nearly a hundred GOP House members if the 25th Amendment is invoked?

But okay, let's imagine that we do rid ourselves of Trump. Should we worry about Mike Pence as president?

The New Republic's Jeet Heer, acknowledges that Pence, "a creature of the religious right, would be a terrible president, although in ways different than Trump." But he thinks we shouldn't be afraid of a Pence presidency:
It’s possible Pence would enjoy a honeymoon after taking office, with most Democrats and many Republicans grateful to see Trump gone, but it would be only a honeymoon. President Gerald Ford’s brief period of grace after taking over for Richard Nixon in 1974 ended when he pardoned his predecessor. Once Pence tried to implement his agenda, Democrats would remember Pence’s complicity in helping Trump become president. Indeed, Democrats would have readymade 2020 ads showing Pence praising his now-disgraced former boss.
Yes, but a lot of Democratic/liberal energy, among the public and in Congress, is going to dissipate if Trump is ousted. The political Establishment, across the spectrum, will be desperate for a normalization of politics after Trump. The public, alas, will probably be ready to embrace Pence as a healing figure (he's regarded more favorably than unfavorably in every major poll taken since Election Day). And while Richard Nixon was widely regarded as a blight on America by the time of his resignation -- his approval rating was in the twenties -- it's quite possible that Trump's base will never acknowledge that he's done wrong. His approval rating may always remain at 38% or higher -- that seems to be his floor. So a significant percentage of Americans won't see Pence as the head of a party tainted by a reprehensible disgraced president, because they won't believe Trump was disgraced.

But will the GOP be too divided to govern? Heer thinks so:
Nor would there be widespread support for Pence among Republicans. Though he’s a more conventional Republican, he will inherit a party that is even more fractured than it is now. Trump has had a hard time governing not only because of his own ignorance and blundering, but because there’s nothing holding the Republican Party together other than hatred of the Democrats.
Um, that's like saying there was nothing holding Nazi Germany together other than hatred of non-Aryans. For the GOP, hatred of Democrats counts for a lot.

Heer continues:
There is no unity of purpose between the House Freedom Caucus, the House moderates, and GOP senators. As president, Pence will have much in common with mainstream Republicans but he will find, as Obama and Trump did before him, that a small number of far-right congressmen can sabotage legislation.
Um, Pence is a far-right Republican. And the unbridgeable GOP gap Heer is describing really might be limited to health care, because many non-Freedom Caucus Republicans now see the appeal of Obamacare reforms to their own voters. On tax cuts, budgeting, social issues, and defense, I don't think there's nearly as much disagreement.
Trump’s impeachment would indeed create a new faction in the party: the disaffected Trumpists. Consider the Obama-to-Trump voters who made a difference in the 2016 election: white working class people who normally distrust Republicans like Mitt Romney, but took a chance on Trump because of his populist message. How would they feel about a Republican Party that impeaches Trump and gives them Pence instead? They’d think, quite rightly, that they’ve been betrayed. It’s likely they’d sit out the next election or return to the Democrats.
I fear that Pence would be shrewd enough to signal to the Trump base that he's not abandoning the Trump agenda. He'll say he ran in 2016 to create jobs and make the country safe, and he still believes in those goals. He'll talk about securing the border -- maybe he'll still back the wall! -- and he'll talk about an economy that puts American jobs first. If he dog-whistles to Obama-then-Trump voters that he's carrying the flag of Trumpism, they might stick with him -- even as the rest of the political world expresses relief at his good manners, his ability to put together a functioning administration, and his lack of interest in Twitter.

I think he could be like first-term George W. Bush -- acceptable to swing voters (maybe soccer moms will like his marriage) even as he signals to Trump voters and the GOP base that he's their president specifically.

If you're wondering: No, I don't believe Pence will be brought down by Russiagate. The Establishment will want everything to be okay, so claims that he wasn't aware of inappropriate doings will be accepted at face value.

So, yes, be afraid of a possible Pence presidency -- although don't expect one in the near future.

TODAY IN "DONALD TRUMP IS A SLAVE TO HIS EMOTIONS"

I'm back. Thank you again, Yastreblyansky, Crank, and Tom -- great work again while I was away.

Today, as Donald Trump leaves on his first foreign trip as president, we learn from The New York Times that foreign governments consider him very easy to wrap around their fingers:
After four months of interactions between Mr. Trump and his counterparts, foreign officials and their Washington consultants say certain rules have emerged: Keep it short — no 30-minute monologue for a 30-second attention span. Do not assume he knows the history of the country or its major points of contention. Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with President Barack Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign. Stay in regular touch. Do not go in with a shopping list but bring some sort of deal he can call a victory.
In other words, assume he's an ignoramus. Assume he's extraordinarily susceptible to insincere flattery, and to anything that enables him to be flattered by others, particularly his electorate. Attack his enemies. Voila: president successfully manipulated.

Notice what's missing here? Any sense that these officials and consultants fear his expert negotiating skills. That's because he doesn't have those skills.

And:



Yeah, I'm wondering that, too.

In addition to that, we're reading this at the Daily Beast about Trump's relationship with ousted national security advisor Michael Flynn:
... Trump doesn’t just hope that Flynn will beat the rap. Several sources close to Flynn and to the administration tell The Daily Beast that Trump has expressed his hopes that a resolution of the FBI’s investigation in Flynn’s favor might allow Flynn to rejoin the White House in some capacity—a scenario some of Trump’s closest advisers in and outside the West Wing have assured him absolutely should not happen....

“Trump feels really, really, really bad about firing him, and he genuinely thinks if the investigation is over Flynn can come back,” said one White House official.

One former FBI official and a second government official said Trump thought he owed Flynn for how things ended up and was determined to clear Flynn’s name and bring him back to the White House.
Is this just because Trump worries that Flynn could bring him down? That's what a lot of people believe, but BuzzFeed's Ben Smith has an alternate explanation:
... an old book and a new movie hint at something else, that Flynn brought from the military and from Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s band of brothers a trait that Trump, a self-described “loyalty freak,” values above others: personal loyalty.

... [Flynn] rose through the [military] ranks on McChrystal’s coattails, and played a central role in another great public crisis: the 2010 downfall of McChrystal and his loyal men after they were quoted in Rolling Stone trashing their civilian masters.

The new movie War Machine, out on May 26 on Netflix, includes a thinly veiled portrait of Flynn as Gen. Greg Pulver, the top aide to Brad Pitt’s arrogant US general in Afghanistan. As played by Anthony Michael Hall, Pulver makes up for being somewhat dense with awe-inspiring, fierce personal devotion to his boss.

... The writer and director of War Machine, David Michôd, confirmed to me that he had McChrystal’s inner circle in mind in while he was writing the film.

“The loyalty felt like a hugely important part of that bunch of guys,” he said in an email. “A bunch of guys collectively propping up a delusion. And they do this with their unwavering loyalty and admiration for the General. And I know this to be true of these guys in the real world."

The most common mistake in American journalism these days is overthinking Donald Trump — imputing a strategy, or even a plan, to a cipher who operates on impulse and gut. He has always surrounded himself with a certain kind of man — die-hard loyalists, whose loyalty he mostly returns, sometimes after he fires them.

A friend of Flynn, Michael Isikoff reported today, described the general and the president as "brothers in a foxhole."

... Even after he'd forced Flynn out — and on the day he would have his fateful dinner with Comey — Trump was grumbling in public that his former aide-de-camp had been treated “very, very unfairly.”
If Smith is correct, it's not really that Flynn is using emotion in a cynical way to manipulate Trump. It's more that Trump can't put his own self-interest ahead of his desperate craving for loyal hangers-on -- just as he can't resist flattery and ego gratification from people outside his inner circle, and is very malleable when he gets those things.

Sad!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

More Excellent News for John McCain

From Eli Lake, we have The Special Counsel Who Just Might Save Trump's Presidency:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein just did Donald Trump a favor.

It may not look like that from the perspective of the president. His Twitter feed is filled with eruptions about the fraudulence of the Russia investigation. But by appointing the former FBI director Robert Mueller to investigate the matter, Rosenstein has quieted a crisis that was consuming Trump's presidency....

[Long litany of horrible news for Trump over the last couple of weeks]

Now Rosenstein has offered the president a reset. Trump has a chance to try to focus on foreign and domestic policy. And in this respect the timing is fortunate.

Trump will travel to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium on his first foreign trip as president, starting Friday. He plans to press Arab allies to form a new alliance against Iran. He hopes to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He has a chance to lock down greater spending commitments from NATO allies.

On the domestic front, Trump can now focus on getting his health-care legislation and tax cuts through the Senate.
The near-perfection of this asininity is marred only by the omission of the word 'pivot'. Hey, maybe Trump will Become President (again) in Saudi Arabia, or Israel, or the Vatican. Because it worked out so well all the other times he Became President.

Now, I don't think he'll actually be impeached--not before the midterms, anyway. But the appointment of a Special Counsel does guarantee that this will still be a story a year from now, or 18 months from now for that matter. Which I'm sure is Excellent News for Congressional Republicans.

(Incidentally, this is also Bad News for Hillary Clinton.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Crime and Coverup

A Watergate salad, involving, according to RealHousemoms, "sweet pineapple, creamy whipped topping, mini marshmallows, crunchy walnuts and green pistachio flavored pudding! I like to add maraschino cherries to mine too." Speaking of coverups that are crimes.

Can everybody please stop saying "The coverup is worse than the crime because Watergate was a third-rate burglary"?

That characterization, coined by the late Ron Ziegler (he died in 2003, just as the Iraq war was about to begin and Ari "Palm Beach County is a Pat Buchanan stronghold" Fleischer was ready to take over his old title as history's most mendacious press secretary, though he himself only survived in the job a few months after that), became "inoperative", as Ziegler put it, on April 17 1973, when Nixon informed the gasping world that he had personally investigated the Watergate burglary himself, or that poor John Dean had, and concluded that some White House officials might have been involved.

Mr. Ziegler told a puzzled press corps that this was now the ''operative statement,'' repeating the word operative six times. Finally, R. W. Apple Jr. of The New York Times asked, ''Would it be fair for us to infer, since what the president said today is now considered the operative statement, to quote you, that the other statement is no longer operative, that it is now inoperative?''
Eventually Mr. Ziegler replied: ''The president refers to the fact that there is new material; therefore, this is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.'
A third-rate burglary is when somebody breaks into your apartment through the front window and steals your cable box and the fucking Brooklyn cops who futilely dusted the house for fingerprints tell you weeks or months later that there is no such thing as a report you can give to Time Warner to account for the missing box, though it's obvious they're lying, and you end up having to pay the fucking cable company $300. As you can see I know my third-rate burglaries pretty well.

And the Watergate burglary wasn't one of them, however ineptly it may have been carried out.

Its precursor, the Ellsberg burglary of 1971, was an attempt to steal a file from a psychiatrist's office in the hope of obtaining kompromat material! Have you ever asked yourself what they thought they might find, and what use they hoped to make of it? "Do not listen to this so-called expert military analyst Ellsberg when he tells you our war policy is going to fail—we happen to know the man has unresolved Oedipal issues! And has a valium prescription!" The thing in itself was as weird as Dog Day Afternoon, and it was emanating from the executive seat of the most powerful government on earth! How many burglaries do you know of that are even a little bit like that? How is that third-rate, excuse me?

And then Watergate itself, in May 1972, an attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the hope of discovering what kinds of malfeasance? Were they looking for evidence that McGovern had early access to debate questions or was mean to Henry Jackson or Hubert Humphrey, or did they simply genuinely believe that McGovern was a Communist in collusion with the Soviet Union and listening to Lawrence O'Brien's meetings and phone conversations would provide some evidence of that (O'Brien wasn't even working in Washington at the time, he was spending his time in Miami)? And why did they do such a terrible job of the bugging, for that matter? It was botched from beginning to end, whatever its purposes, and to add insult to injury, they got caught.

The Watergate burglary wasn't "the" crime, either. The White House was running a criminal gang including many members with CIA black ops training! They were found guilty of burglary, criminal wiretapping, using the IRS to harass enemies, accepting illegal campaign contributions, laundering money from campaign contributions into funding their activities, spying on and sabotaging the Democrats' political campaign, conspiracy. And the coverup activities of perjury and obstruction of justice as well, because the coverup was part of the crime! It wasn't "worse than the crime".

It was important, as the part of the crime that enabled investigators to put the whole thing together, but you have to understand it was covered up from the start, because that's what criminals do. And the Watergate burglary was important because it was the route through which the larger conspiracy was revealed, of Nixon and his Germans running a secret government within the government—not to run the government (which was mostly being done by the congressional Democrats at this point, not exceptionally well, though I don't fault them for rejecting Nixon's health insurance program, since, though it would have provided government-sponsored health insurance for people who were already reasonably secure, it was also dedicated to taking down Medicare and Medicaid), but to protect Nixon and his friends from the long list of Nixon enemies.

What does this have to do with the present emergency? Clearly the Russian invasion of the DNC computers was a much more successful burglary than when Nixon's plumbers tried to do the same thing with the DNC file folders. There's probably a lot more to say. I think the selection of a special prosecutor, and the particular selection of Robert Mueller, is a nice sign that something could be starting to move. For the time being, over to you.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

You can't make this stuff up

Or if you can, there could be serious money in it.

François Truffaut, via Cinémathèque Française.

Narratology isn't admissible evidence in a criminal court, but there's something in the report of the Comey memo that really makes me believe, the psychological realism of what the Emperor is said to have said, and its tone:
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
It's the sound of a very wealthy father talking to the boarding-school principal after the entitled, psychopathic son has burned down his bedroom knocking over the bong, or assaulted the chambermaid. Or a mafia boss addressing a policeman on behalf of a dumb henchman picked up for cutting somebody with a broken margarita glass in a bar fight. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go—he's a good kid." No, he's not, but that's not even the point.

And only a crude-minded screenwriter would have the father holding out an actual check; there's no need for that, the idea of bribery or extortion is already there. This is a world where Trump is perfectly comfortable and competent. He's done this before, "dealing". (His difficulty is just that he isn't in that world any more and he has no idea who's a crook and who isn't.) You don't say, "I could fire you," he knows that. And we know that, because when he didn't get his way with Comey he did fire him. This really happened.

Cross-posted in The Rectification of Names.

Trigger Warning: Some of the words in this post may have been written by Bret Stephens.

Bret Stephens of the New York Times addressing the graduating class at Hampden-Sydney College (and recycling the speech into a Wednesday column):

I’ve been thinking about safe spaces a lot lately. For those of you with the good fortune never to have heard the term, a “safe space” is not, as you may suppose, a concrete-reinforced room where you can ride out a tornado. It isn’t a bulletproof car, either.
Instead, a “safe space” denotes a place, usually on campus, where like-minded people — often sharing the same race, gender, sexual orientation or political outlook — can spend time together without having to encounter the expression of any ideas or opinions that they do not endorse.
Because the seniors at an all-male Presbyterian college in rural Virginia with an African American student population of 6.8% probably can't even imagine how horrible and soul-killing it is to be in the kind of situation you can wind up in at one of those schools like Brandeis or Wesleyan, voluntarily sequestered into a groupthink environment where like-minded people, often sharing the same race, gender, sexual orientation, or political outlook can spend time together without having to encounter the expression of any ideas or opinions that they do not endorse. Preach it, Brother Bret!

Actually they do have safe spaces at Hampden-Sydney. They just have different terms for them, like "fraternity", or "lacrosse team".

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Better than an insanity defense: a stupidity defense

From the New York Times:

In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president for divulging classified intelligence to the Russians: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of his briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or the knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would harm American allies.
Mr. McMaster all but said that publicly from the briefing room lectern.
In other words, your honor, my client is so lazy, so intellectually thick, so uneducated, so damn downright stupid, he could not possibly have committed the crimes he's charged with. The defense rests.