Sunday, April 16, 2017
After a long post on Saturday, I need to keep this one short, almost
Saddened to hear of the death of Amy Durfee, 88, a neighbor of my
wife's when she was growing up in Oak Park, Michigan. Amy and Art
Durfee remained close friends of the family, people we saw every trip
we made to Detroit. I feel fortunate to have known them.
The big story this past week has been the Trump Administration's
attempt to show North Korea that when they get into a pissing contest
the US will not only stand up the challenges but will take the extra
step in showing itself to be more insanely belligerent. As best I
recall, even Nixon regarded his infamous "madman" ploy as something
of a joke -- a nuance Trump clearly is incapable of fathoming. So
far, it's been hard to argue that any of Trump's belligerence has
transgressed lines that Hillary Clinton was comfortable with, but
in Korea he could easily step out too far. This is probably something
to write a long post about. Indeed, I've written about Korea several
times, including a passage at the start of my memoir, given that I
was born the same week China entered the Korean War and turned an
American rout into a bloody stalemate. That was the beginning of
the end of America both as a global empire and as a nation that
could lay some claim to decent and honorable values. Korea was
where Americans learned to become the sore losers who invest so
much effort in bullying the world and are so unforgiving of any
offense. And here we are, sixty-six years later, still picking at
the scab of our past embarrassment.
Some scattered links this week in the Trumpiverse:
Robert Bateman: Why So Many Americans Support Deadly Aerial Warfare:
"It took decades of propaganda to get here." Last week's use of the
21,000 pound "Mother of All Bombs" signifies more as a propaganda coup
than for the 90 "ISIS fighters" it killed. The notion of "Victory Through
Airpower" goes way back, but what it mostly means today is that we can
punish our "enemies" at virtually no risk to ourselves. Removing that
risk helps strip away our inhibitions against bombardment, as does the
distance. Of course, it matters that one only attacks "enemies" that
don't have the capability to respond in kind. ISIS and the Taliban have
no airpower to speak of, and lately the US has been able to bomb Iraq
and Syria at will with no obvious repercussions (other than the stream
of bad press due to civilian casualties, but that rarely registers in
"the homeland"). One danger of listening to your own propaganda is a
false sense of confidence, which can lead to reckless provocations,
like Trump's macho bluff against North Korea.
Medea Benjamin: The "Mother of All Bombs" Is Big, Deadly -- and Won't
Lead to Peace: Actually, this feels like a publicity stunt, a way
to follow up on the gushing press Trump's cruise missile attack on
Syria generated. Benjamin doubts that MOAB is "a game changer," then
asks: "Will Trump drag us deeper into this endless war by granting
the US Afghan commander, Gen. John Nicholson, his request for several
thousand more troops?" What worries me more isn't that the US will
throw good troops after bad, but that Trump will conclude that what
he really needed was a bigger bang -- that MOAB is just a precursor
to deploying tactical nuclear weapons.
Frank Bruni: Steve Bannon Was Doomed: Bannon always seemed shaky
because he clearly had his own ideas and agenda, where Trump had little
He didn't grapple with who Trump really is. Trump's allegiances are
fickle. His attention flits. His compass is popularity, not any fixed
philosophy, certainly not the divisive brand of populism and nationalism
that Bannon was trying to enforce. Bannon insisted on an ideology when
Trump cares more about applause, and what generates it at a campaign
rally isn't what sustains it when you're actually governing. . . .
Bannon is still on the job, and Trump may keep him there, because
while he has been disruptive inside the White House, he could be pure
nitroglycerin outside. He commands acolytes on the alt-right. He has
the mouthpiece of Breitbart News. He has means for revenge. He also
has a history of it.
As for how Bannon could hurt Trump, Bruni cites
Sean Illing: If Trump fires Steve Bannon, he might regret it.
One need only note that the audience that Bannon cultivated is
used to getting screwed over by false heroes, and it will be
easy to paint Trump that way. Illing also has an interview with
On the billionaire behind Bannon and Trump
Lee Fang: Paul Ryan Raised $657,000 While Avoiding His Constituents
During Recess: I guess the buck doesn't stop with Trump.
Elizabeth Grossman: "It couldn't get much worse": Trump's policies
are already making workplaces more toxic
Fred Kaplan: Return of the Madman Theory: Found this after I wrote
the "madman" line in the intro, if you want deeper speculation on the
subject. Kaplan's argument that Trump's "erratic and unpredictable"
foreign policy "might just make the world more stable -- for a short
time" is a reach -- it could just as easily backfire spectacularly.
For instance, Trump doesn't understand that America's "leadership of
the Free World" was something paid for generously, not something
simply accorded because the US had the most bombs and the longest
reach. So when he tries to shake down NATO members or to flip trade
deficits with East Asia he doesn't realize how easy it would be for
supposed allies to go their own way.
Paul Krugman: Can Trump Take Health Care Hostage?
Jon Marshall: Thinking About Spicer's Chemical Weapons Gaffe:
I thought about writing more about the use of chemical weapons as
the Syria incident/response unfolded, and both Spicer's spouting
and Marshall's "thinking" suggests people are short on some of the
basics. Marshall writes, "It's no accident that since World War I,
the rare uses of chemical weapons have been as terror weapons, as
Saddam Hussein did with the Kurds in the 1980s and Assad has during
the Syrian Civil War." Actually, more typical examples were by the
British in Iraq in the early 1920s and by Italy in Ethiopia in 1937:
poison gas is a favored weapon against people with no protection
and no ability to respond in kind. I think the only time since the
Great War where it was used against a comparable army was by Iraq
against Iran, where Iran ruled out reprisals on moral grounds.
Saddam Hussein against the Kurds was an isolated incident tied
to the Iran War. It's also not clear to me that Assad ever used
it in Syria, regardless of what Marshall thinks. No doubt poison
gas is terrifying, but so is every other method of killing in war.
The international treaties and the general taboo about chemical
weapons are just one part of a more general effort to prohibit
war, and it's the general case we should focus on.
For more on Spicer's "doofusery" (Marshall's apt term), see:
Amy Davidson: Sean Spicer Is Very Sorry About His Holocaust Comments;
Brant Rosen: All Pharaohs Must Fall: A Passover Reflection on
Charles P Pierce: Is Trump Actually in Charge? Or Is It Worse Than We
Feared? I don't get the Fletcher Knebel references, but what I take
away from the Trump quotes is that he simply lets the military brass
do whatever they want, assuming that whatever they come up with will
be just great: "We have the greatest military in the world . . . We
have given them total authorization, and that's what they're doing.
Frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately." This shouldn't
come as a surprise to anyone: from the start of his campaign, Trump's
only original idea was that Obama weakened the country by telling the
military "no" too many times. (Personally, I thought Obama said "yes"
way too often.) But the problem here isn't uncertainty of control.
It's that the military -- indeed, all militaries in recent history --
have tended to be over-optimistic about their own powers, while
under-estimating the risks of action, and having no fucking idea
about where their aggression might lead.
Eric Fehrnstrom: The generals come to Trump's rescue, which
starts: "Thank God for the gneerals. No one thought they would turn
out to be the moderates in the Trump White House. . . . If not for
them, Trump's grade on his first 100 days would go from middling to
poor." Fehrnstrom is a big fan of "Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly,"
yet the best he can say for them is that the "first 100 days" have
Gareth Porter: New Revelations Belie Trump Claims on Syria Chemical
Rick Sterling: How Media Bias Fuels Syrian Escalation.
Matt Taibbi: For White America, It's 'Happy Days' Again: Or, there
ain't gonna be any federal civil rights enforcement while Jeff Sessions
is Attorney General. Also the DOJ (formerly Department of Justice) won't
be reviewing any alleged instances of local police abuses. Not sure why
turning you back on decades of civil rights justice (lackluster as it's
been) is supposed to make white people happy -- more like ashamed, I'd
Annie Waldman: DeVos Pick to Head Civil Rights Office Once Said She
Faced Discrimination for Being White.
Jon Wiener: On the Road in Trump Country: Interview with Thomas
Frank, whose 2016 book Listen, Liberal prefigured the Hillary
Matthew Yglesias: Trump's pivot is real -- he's more right-wing than
ever; or as David Dayen put it,
President Bannon Is Dead, Long Live President Cohn.
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though sometimes still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Rebecca Burns: Is Georgia Poised for a Democratic Upset? This is
GA-6, mostly Atlanta suburbs, Newt Gingrich's old district, recently
vacated by Republican Tom Price whom Trump picked as his Secretary
Against Health and Human Services. The national Democratic Party
likes its chances here because the district was only narrowly won
by Trump (unlike KS-4, which Trump won by 27 percentage points,
reduced to 7 points last week by James Thompson) -- also perhaps
because Ossoff was a Clinton (not Sanders) supporter, and the
district's demographics are more upscale and cosmopolitan. The
election is next week, but unless Ossoff wins a majority there
will be a runoff.
Michael Corcoran: Single-Payer Health Care Is Seeing Record Support
Taylor Link: The total cost of the 2016 election was nearly $6.5 billion:
Isn't there some relevant adage about how "you get what you pay for"?
That's an awful lot of money to wind up with Donald Trump as president
and a swamp full of Congressional corruption. Of course, compared to
something really counterproductive, like the war in Syria (let alone
Afghanistan or Iraq) that's pretty cheap.
Isaac Stone Fish: Let's stop calling North Korea 'crazy' and understand
their motives; also:
William J Perry: How to Make a Deal With North Korea.
Kareem Shaheen: Erdogan clinches victory in Turkish constitutional
referendum: Probably a big story. Certainly not the only one
who would try to take advantage of his position to rig the system
with an eye to the future. Another view:
Simon Waldman: After referendum, Turkey is more divided than ever.
Matthew Yglesias: Why flying in America keeps getting more miserable,
explained: Deregulation back in the 1970s was supposed to increase
competition and reduce prices, but it's led to all sorts of predatory
behavior -- especially as customers have predictably looked for lower
prices than better service -- and the fallout has resulted in only four
airlines controlling more than 80 percent of passenger traffic, with
their attendant monopoly pricing. Also note that the fact that the
system is functional at all is due to residual regulation -- e.g.,
rules that keep airlines from cheating on safety in ways that would
increase crashes (and probably cause the industry to implode). More
regulation could help bolster minimal service standards, and more
competition would help keep prices reasonable. But if you've ever
doubted that the market knows best, you can find plenty of evidence