Sunday, January 7. 2018
Started collecting the Yglesias links and Taibbi on Wolff last night,
and this is as far as I got today. Of Yglesias' big four stories, I left
oil drilling, anti-pot enforcement, and the Pakistan aid cut on the
floor: mostly didn't run across anything very good on those subjects,
although that's partly because it seems like my source trawling has
taken a big hit (especially since Paul Woodward's
WarInContext went on hiatus).
That leaves a bunch on the Wolff book, the unseemly end of the Kobach
Commission, and some Iran links. Oh, and dumb Trump tricks, but that's
Of the missing stories (and, of course, there are many more than
the "known unknowns"), the break with Pakistan seems likely to be
most fateful. Americans have bitched since 2002 that they're not
getting their money's worth in Pakistan, but Pervez Musharraf's
turn against the Taliban was never popular there, especially with
the ISI, and only a combination of sticks and carrots made the move
at all palatable. It remains to be seen whether Trump removing the
carrots will tip the balance, but renewed Pakistani support for the
Taliban could make the US stake in Afghanistan much more precarious --
at worst it might provoke a major US escalation there, with pressure
to attack Pakistan's border territories ("sanctuaries"), with a real
risk of igniting a much larger conflagration. Probably won't come to
that, but Pakistan is a country with more than 200 million people,
with a large diaspora (especially in the UK), with nuclear weapons,
with a military which has fought three major wars with India and
remains more than a little paranoid on that front.
The reasonable solution for Arghanistan is to try to negotiate
some sort of loose federation which allows the Taliban to share
power, especially in the Pashtun provinces where it remains popular,
while the US military exits gracefully. This is unlikely to happen
because the Trump administration has no clue how diplomacy works
and no desire to find out. Pakistan could be a useful intermediary,
so cutting them out seems like a short-sighted move. But it is a
trademark Trump move: rash, unconsidered, prone to violence with no
regard for consequences; cf. Syria, Libya, Somalia, Palestine, North
Korea. It's only a matter of time before one of those bites back
Same is basically true of the offshore oil leases, but probably
on a slower time schedule. It will take several years before anyone
starts drilling, and there will be a lot of litigation along the
way. But eventually some of those offshore rigs will blow up and
spread oil all over tourist beaches in Florida and/or California.
Some people will make money, at least short-term, and some will be
hit with losses in the longer term, but at least it will mostly be
money. That matters a lot to Trump, but less so to you and me.
Less clear what the marijuana prosecution impact will be. In
theory Sessions just kicked the ball down to local US attorneys,
who can choose to prosecute cases or not. But a year ago Sessions
initiated a purge and replaced all of Obama's prosecutors with his
own, so it's likely that at least some of them will take the bait
and try to make names for themselves. Meanwhile, politicization of
the Department of Justice keeps ratcheting up. Trump and Congressional
Republicans have renewed attacks on Sessions for failing to protect
Trump from the Mueller investigation, and they've gone further to
question the political loyalties of the FBI. Meanwhile the courts
are increasingly being filled up with Republican hacks. The net
result of all this is that people on all sides are coming to view
"justice" in America as a vehicle of partisan patronage. It's going
to be hard to restore trust in law once it's been abused so severely
by goons like Trump and Sessions.
I haven't written much about the whole Russia situation. A big part
early on was the fear that neocons were just using it to whip up a new
cold war, which is something they were very keen on at least as early
as 2001, when Bush took office and Yeltsin gave way to Putin. With his
KGB background, it's always been easy to paint Putin as bearing Cold
War grudges, even more so as a master of underhanded tactics -- most
egregiously, I think, in his reopening of the Chechen War. The Cold
War was very good for the defense industry, and generally bad for the
American people (as well as many others around the world), so I regard
any effort to reignite it as dastardly.
The neocons had modest success doing so during the Obama years,
especially with recent sanctions in response to the Russia annexing
Crimea and, allegedly, supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Hillary Clinton was especially vociferous at Russia-baiting, so it
was no surprise that Putin favored her opponent. Trump himself had
pitched numerous business ventures to Russian oligarchs, so he must
have seemed to Putin like someone to deal with. Indeed, there seems
to have been mutual attraction between many Republicans and Putin,
possibly based on the former's admiration of strong men and contempt
for democracy. It's worth noting that Russia is the only country
where the ultra-rich have profited more inequally since 2000 than
the United States.
The second major reason for resisting the post-election claims of
Russian interference has been how it was used by Clinton dead-enders
as an excuse for losing the 2016 election. Their desperation to blame
anyone but the candidate has blinded them to the real lessons of the
campaign's failure. (Presumably I don't need to reiterate them here.)
A third reason, I reckon, is the hypocrisy of blaming Russia while
ignoring Israel's much more pervasive involvement in US elections:
I've seen numerous liberals describe Trump as "Putin's bitch" (most
recently in Dawn Oberg's song, "Nothing Rhymes With Orange"), but
if Trump's anyone's bitch, it's Netanyahu's (or more directly,
Sheldon Adelson's -- who, as Philip Weiss notes in the link below
put more money into the campaign than Trump himself did).
On the other hand, the "Russiagate" story is sticking, and
lately the focus has shifted to culprits one feels no sympathy
whatsoever for. The problem isn't really collusion: Trump's
people were very sloppy about their meetings with Russians,
but they were sloppy and inept in pretty much everything they
did. On the other hand, it sure looks like they would have
colluded had they figured out how, and they were aware enough
that they were overstepping bounds to lie about it afterwards --
greatly increasing their culpability. It's also clear that Flynn
and Manafort had their own Russian deals, which wound up looking
worse than they initially were after they joined the campaign.
What Russia actually did to tilt the election toward Trump
wasn't much -- certainly cost-wise it's a small drop in the
ocean of money agents working for Adelson and the Kochs spent
to get Trump elected. It would be a mistake to play up Russia's
hacking genius, just as one shouldn't underestimate the effect
of AFP's grassroots organizing. Elections are run in a crooked
world -- even more so since the Citizens United ruling unlocked
all that "dark money" -- but one thing that Clinton really can't
complain about is not having enough money to compete.
On the other hand, what "Russiagate" is making increasingly clear
is the utter contempt that Donald Trump and (increasingly) the whole
Republican Party have for law, justice, truth, and fairness. I don't
hold any fondness for James Comey, whose own handling of the Clinton
email server case was shameless political hackery, and I've actively
disliked Robert Mueller for decades -- ever since he prosecuted that
ridiculous Ohio 7 sedition case (which my dear friend, the late
Elizabeth Fink, was a successful defense counsel on). But Trump's
interference in their jobs has been blatantly self-serving -- if
not technically obstruction of justice easily conveying that intent.
We seem to only be a short matter of time until Trump's contempt
becomes too blatant to ignore, and while I doubt that will phase
his Republican enablers or his most fervently blinkered base, it
should at least help bury his awful political agenda.
Meanwhile, here are some other ways Trump has stunk up last week:
Matthew Yglesias: Trump's week of feuds with Bannon, Pakistan, marijuana
smokers, and ocean waters, explained: Trump broke ties with Steve
Bannon; Trump opened up huge areas to offshore drilling; Trump is cracking
down on marijuana; Trump is cutting off aid to Pakistan. Trump breaking
with Bannon doesn't amount to much, but Bannon will struggle for a while
without the Mercers' money. Basically what happened there was that Bannon's
always been a side bet for them, useful for electing Trump but unnecessary
with Trump in office, able to further their graft. The oil drilling story
is a prime example of graft under Trump, while the other two are cases
where ideology and arrogance threaten to blow things up. Other Yglesias
The Steele dossier, explained, with Andrew Prokop.
Cory Gardner showed how Senate Republicans could check Trump if they
2018 is the year that will decide if Trumpocracy replaces American
democracy: Two takeaway points here: one is that despite all of the
chaos surrounding him, Trump has consolidated effective power within the
Republican Party, such that opposing him in any significant way marks
one has a heretic and traitor; the second is that if Republicans are not
rebuffed in the 2018 elections Trump's control will harden and become
even more flagrant and dangerous. Yglesias gets a little carried away
on the latter point, at one point noting that "even Adolf Hitler was
dismissed by many as a buffoon" -- Trump's megalomania is comparatively
fickle and suffused with greed, making African dictators like Idi Amin
and Mobutu closer role models. He also fails to note the key point:
that in all substantive respects, it was Trump who surrendered to the
orthodox Republicans. Trump didn't bend anyone to his will; he merely
proved himself to be a useful tool of movement conservatism, which in
turn agreed to provide him cover for his personal graft. In some ways,
this makes the Republicans more vulnerable in 2018, if Democrats can
convince voters that the Party and the President are one.
The scary reality behind Trump's long Tuesday of weird tweets: "He's
relying on Fox News for all his information." Of course, that was equally
true before he became president. Back during the campaign, I noted that
he didn't engage in didn't follow Republican custom in couching his racism
in "dog whistle" terms because he wasn't a "whistler," he was a "dog."
Among Republican rank-and-file, his lack of subtlety and cleverness was
taken as authenticity and conviction, even though he merely echoed the
coarseness he heard on Fox. Of course, one might reasonably expect a
responsible statesman to seek out more reliable information, even if
as a politician he chooses to bend it to his own purposes. But Trump
lacks such skills, and would probably just get confused trying to sort
out the truth. Sticking with Fox no doubt makes his life easier, but
makes ours more dangerous.
Esme Cribb: Trump: 'Ronald Reagan Had the Same Problem' as Me With 'Fake
News': Actually, Reagan had the same problem with facts, with truth,
although even Reagan knew when to throw in the towel. After all, what was
his Iran-Contra quote? "A few months ago I told the American people I did
not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me that's
true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not." As Matt Taibbi notes
(see link below), Reagan was cognitively impaired well before he was
diagnosed with Alzheimer's: e.g., the CIA used to shoot movies to brief
Reagan on world leaders, finding that the only way to get his attention.
Still, no previous president has shown so little regard for facts or so
much hostility to honest investigation so early in his term as Trump.
While it's possible that age-related cognitive impairment may contribute
to this, it strikes me as overly charitable to blame mental illness.
From early on, Trump was a liar and scoundrel, a spoiled one given his
inherited wealth, and he's only gotten worse as he's gotten caught up
in his many intrigues.
Josh Marshall (see
Is President Trump Mentally Ill? It Doesn't Matter) adds this comment:
All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might
be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day:
impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing
poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior.
He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or
sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell.
Both are very bad.
John Feffer: Trump and Neocons Are Exploiting an Iran Protest Movement
They Know Nothing About: I don't doubt that most Iranians have good
reason to assemble and protest against their government, indeed their
entire political system, and indeed as an American I sympathize with the
rights of people everywhere to organize and petition their governments
for change. But Washington pols habitually play their kneejerk games,
touting dissent against so-called enemies while overlooking suppression
of dissent by so-called allies, showing their own motives to be wholly
cynical. Thus, American support for protests in Iran immediately taints
those protesters as pro-American and anti-Iranian. (Nor are we just
talking about Trump, who has become little more than an Israeli-Saudi
puppet on Iran; Hillary Clinton was also quick to support the Iranian
masses against theocracy, jumping to the conclusion that their goals
are the same as her own.) For more, see
Trita Parsi: These Are the Real Causes of the Iran Protests;
Simon Tisdall: Iran unrest: it's the economy, stupid, not a cry for
freedom or foreign plotters; and
Sanam Vakil: How Donald Trump's tweets help Iran's supreme leader.
German Lopez: Trump has disbanded his voter fraud commission, blaming
state resistance and
Trump's voter fraud commission, explained: Presidential commissions
have long been a method for addressing matters of broad and/or deep
concern. Lyndon Johnson, for instance, convened two of the more famous
ones: the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of John
F. Kennedy, and the Kerner Commission on domestic violence (i.e., the
"race riots" of 1965-68). They've rarely proved very satisfactory,
although the commission investigating the Challenger NASA disaster
(famously including physicist Richard Feynman) did appear to get to
the bottom of the story. But Obama's sop to the deficit hawks, the
Simpson-Bowles commission, proved to be biased and useless. There
were some suggestions that Trump should have appointed a commission
to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, but (not by
choice) he wound up with a special prosecutor instead. One area where
a commission might be useful would be to look into immigration laws
and patterns, to try to clear away many of the popular myths on the
subject, and try to come up with a sensible balance between all the
competing interests and views. (Of course, had Trump done that, he
would have stacked the deck supporting his own prejudices, thereby
losing any possibility of building consensus.) Instead, the one (and
only) problem Trump decided to be worthy of a presidential commission
was the vanishingly tiny question of voter fraud. This was widely
viewed as a vehicle for Kansas Secretary of State (and ALEC busybody)
Kris Kobach, who appeared on Trump's doorstep with a folder full of
schemes -- this appears to be the one that struck Trump's fancy: as
the article makes clear, "the voter fraud myth has been used repeatedly
to suppress voters." And few things have been more evident over recent
decades than Republican efforts to undermine the popular vote. Indeed,
that makes perfect sense, given that the Republican agenda heaps favors
on the rich and powerful while undermining the vast majority -- people
who could rise up and vote them out of office if only the Democrats
offered a credible alternative.
Jeff Sparrow: Milo Yiannopoulos's draft and the role of editors in
dealing with the far-right.
Michael Wolff: Donald Trump Didn't Want to Be President: An excerpt
from Wolff's new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,
Amazon's #1 bestseller and the talk of Washington (except on Fox News)
this past week. The excerpt runs from election night to a few months past
inauguration -- Priebus and Bannon are still on board at the end, but
probably not Flynn -- but the title focuses on election night, when "the
unexpected trend" shook Trump, who "looked as if he had seen a ghost.
Melania was in tears -- and not of joy."
Some other pieces on the book:
Matthew d'Ancona: Fire and Fury? Maybe Donald Trump is only just getting
started. Minor point, but I've reached for Shakespear analogies as
well, though I doubt it's possible to dumb the Bard down far enough.
At times, Trump roars in the manner of the world's stupidest King Lear,
as Ivanka stumbles behind him, a clueless Cordelia. Bannon makes a fine
Iago, alongside a rep company of useless aides rotating as Rosencrantz
Jonathan Freedland: Fire and Fury confirms our worst fears -- about the
Republicans: Well, it should, but not for the reasons Freeland gives:
an old gripe that "moderate Republicans" aren't willing to stand up to
deranged Trump and restore sanity to their party and nation. Rather, the
book -- like numerous public reports -- shows a leader incapable of
original thought or independent action, and therefore a usable (albeit
imperfect) tool for party hacks, to go about their business of showing
us that what we really should fear isn't crazy Trump for their own sober
Michelle Goldberg: Everyone in Trumpworld Knows He's an Idiot.
Lloyd Green: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House review -- tell-all
Jen Kirby: 8 ways Fire and Fury brings back the cringe of Sean Spicer in
the White House.
Peter Maass: Enough About Steve Bannon. Rupert Murdoch's Influence on
Donald Trump Is More Dangerous.
Andrew Prokop: The controversy around Michael Wolff's gossipy new Trump
Maryam Saleh: Trump on Saudi Leadership Shake-Up: "We've Put Our Man on
William Saletan: What Michael Wolff Got Right About Donald Trump:
That Trump makes more sense once you recognize that he never really wanted
to win: he was just garnering publicity, building up his brand, so he
could exploit it after the rigged election installed Crooked Hillary.
Emily Stewart: Trump tweets that he's a genius and "a very stable genius
Matt Taibbi: Why Michael Wolff's Book is Good News: Takes some solace
in Trump's incompetence underming his malevolent impulses: "Trump could
be cunning, focused and bursting with willpower, in addition to being a
gross, ignorant pig. We can only hope that Wolff is right that he isn't
Philip Weiss: A foreign leader -- Netanyahu -- set Trump's agenda in
Middle East, Michael Wolff book says.
Richard Wolffe: Trump's Bannon outburst removes any shred of presidential
decorum: Maybe the book offers more reason for Trump to strike back
at Bannon, but the excerpt (link above) doesn't feature Bannon as either
a major source or major player, so it's not clear what got under Trump's
skin. Bannon does have enemies both in the White House and elsewhere in
the GOP, so maybe they got to Trump first, and that was enough to provoke
the tantrum. Wolffe himself notes: "The trigger for the outburst is in
fact Trump's trigger-happy nature."