Archive for December 2016

Odds and Ends

December 21, 2016

Consider this a proof-of-life post.  I went into a renewed Trump slough of despond a few days ago and am only now crawling out.  My reaction these last several days is summed up by this, fresh from my son’s vault of amusing internet clutter:

I’m climbing out of my funk in a couple of ways:  for one, by forcing myself to focus on work (and disconnect, insofar as I can, from Twitter).  Turns out that a deep dive into the story of Edmond “Comet” Halley as the father of life insurance does wonders for the mood.

Then there’s the promise of action.  My spouse is not letting up, and she’s making sure I’m going to march and all that.  The mood’s grim around here, but not abject.  I count that a win.

Then there’s all of you who read this.  Your company is  a light against the darkness.

And, though I may be a hopeless optimist on this one, I think the press is getting just a little better.  Not enough, yet, but the combination of obvious corruption, the overwhelming evidence of a tampered election, and the terror many are beginning to feel as the sheer slapdash incompetence of the Trump junta becomes ever more obvious has woken at least a few in the elite press.  Relentless pressure on social media, letters to the editor and so on will help.  That’s something the less crowd-loving among us (me!) can do, pajama-clad, in our basements.

And when all else fails, there’s the absurdity of it all.  That doesn’t make it better, of course, but it does give us something to gawp and cackle at.  Exhibit A?  This insight from the physician who attested to the Cheeto-faced, ferret-heedit shitgibbon’s Yuuuuuugely perfect health:

“If something happens to him, then it happens to him,” Bornstein said. “It’s like all the rest of us, no? That’s why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying.”

They. Can. Just. Keep. On. Dying.

That’s the perspective I seek in my medical professionals…

BTW — check out this gem from the good doctor:

“It never occurred to me that he was the oldest president, not for a second,” Bornstein, 69, said in his Upper East Side office of the 70-year-old Trump. He said that “there’s nothing to share” on a regular basis about a president’s health. “Ronald Reagan had pre-senile dementia. I mean, seriously, did they share that one with you, or did Nancy just cover it up?”

Reassured yet?

Last, because I love you, and I couldn’t resist this when I saw the shot, how about this edition of….

SEPARATED AT BIRTH

and…

Kitten Tikka Masala is unamused by Trump, and doesn’t care who knows it.

Thread, this one, open it is.

Image:  Yousuf Karsh, portrait of Winston Churchill, December 30, 1941.

A Hard Rain

December 12, 2016

I’m reading M Train right now — my way to push back on the news by diving into someone else’s struggle to live in the act of making work that cuts.  Just now, with the luck of the ‘net, my YouTube bot popped this into my recommend list:

I am much moved by Smith’s break on stage and more so by her return.

The song is obviously on point, the setting is surreal, and Smith herself is a walking, talking, ain’t-bragging-if-you-can-do-it lesson on turning a life into its own artform — as that same life spins its art into the world through all the moil and misery (and those flashes of joy!) that go into walking this earth.

It’s not all Trump and evil out there. I strain to remember that every day, and some days are harder than others. (Yesterday!  Worse than the chicken at Tresky’s.)

But it’s true, and I thank Patti Smith for the reminder.

Top of the evening to all here — with a thick layer of improbable acts with oxidized farm implements to our enemies!

The Trickster God Is Toying With Us

December 12, 2016

There really can’t be any further doubt:

On Friday night, Mr. Trump’s transition team insulted the American intelligence community by saying that officers had misrepresented the threat of weapons of mass destruction ahead of the Iraq War, meaning that they should not be trusted with their conclusion of Russian meddling in the presidential election.

In a new twist, Mr. Trump will meet on Monday with Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, to discuss the job of director of national intelligence, a senior transition official said. [h/t TPM]

The sound you hear is every H-P veteran shrieking in shock and despair.  This is screaming-of-the-lambs scale horror, Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn madness.

cthulhu_sketch_by_lovecraft

Fiorina’s picture is in the dictionary next to “Fail Upward.”

To speak the obvious: she has, as far as I know, exactly zero professional intelligence training, and nothing in her work (or, for the last several years, unemployment) record suggests she’s mastered what you’d want America’s eyes on the secret world to possess.  There’s no way to justify appointing Fiorina to this position unless you take Trump at his word and believe that he believes there’s simply no reason to bother with anything so frivolous as data, information, or knowledge of the world, our friends and adversaries alike.

Coyote is laughing…but at least this gives us all an excuse to revisit this old favorite:

Image: H. P. Lovecraft, Cthulu sketch1934

One More Thing: I Do Dare Call It Treason

December 10, 2016

There’s no way to parse what happened in the few weeks before the election without recognizing that both FBI director Comey and Senate Majority Leader McConnell effectively colluded with Russia to throw this election.

hanged-men-pittura-infamante-andrea-del-sarto-6c

Comey can’t not have known about the Russia connection to the emails, and yet chose to violate policy, precedent and explicit advice from Justice in his email letter ten days before the vote.

McConnell was specifically briefed on Russia’s efforts to influence the election, and he pressured (successfully, alas) the Obama administration to withhold that information from the public.

Both of them made choices that directly enabled Putin’s efforts.  Both of them knew, to a virtual certainty, that this was the case.

Both of them are in my view traitors — both to our country as it is now, and to the idea of a representative democracy America is supposed to embody.

And one more one more thing: Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife, is Trump’s nominee for Transportation secretary. It is unconfirmed at this time that this is payment for services rendered.  It would, however, be irresponsible not to speculate.

Image: Andrea del Sarto, Study for a “Shame Painting” — In Italy, this form of execution was associated w. traitors. Before 1530.

Reds Under The Bed

December 10, 2016

The non-revelation that Vladimir Putin actively tried to select the next US President — and succeeded — has been pretty well covered by now.  I just want to add one question that’s been bugging me all day:

What did the Trump campaign do, and when did they do it?

We do know a few things.  Michael Flynn was both a national security advisor to the Trump campaign and has ties to the Russian propaganda apparatus.  Former Trump campaign head Paul Manafort has worked for Russia and allied states, and has a rich, long-held trove of contacts with the state apparatus there.  Donald Trump himself famously asked Putin to hack Hillary’s emails.  I’m sure if we had the same access to Trump’s, his campaign’s and the RNC’s communications that we had to Hillary’s and her team’s, we could well have some very interesting reading.

Short of that, it seems a basic question to ask of the Trump circle.  Did any of them conspire with a foreign power to manipulate (steal) the election?

The fundamental crisis we face, of course, is that a foreign power fucked with our election, which ended in the result sought by an adversary.  But while that’s the obvious disaster,  it gets worse if the Russians had active co-conspirators within the Trump camp.  That moves them from illegitimate, to traitors.

513px-giotto-kissofjudas

That may seem a stretch — but given the extremely well documented Russian connections that obtained in the Trump campaign through the crucial months of the general election, it’s seems to me that it’s imperative we get real answers as to who did what to whom over here.  This is where I hope Marty Barron has his people working (I’ve given up on Dean Baquet).  And I hope there are folks at the CIA pissed off enough to help out.

Whoever does it, this really is a time that puts the idea of the elite press to the test.  Either they cover Trump and all his high crimes and misdemeanors, or they give up, and the American experiment lurches to its increasingly imminent collapse.

I live not in expectation, but in hope.*

*Hope is the thing with feathers. The one Dick Cheney kept trying to shoot out of the sky.

Image: Giotto, The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas)betw. 1306 and 1308.

The Purges Begin

December 9, 2016

the-destruction-of-the-temple-at-jerusalem-1637

This is how would-be dictators work after they achieve office w. the veneer of democratic respectability:

Advisers to President-elect Donald Trump are developing plans to reshape Energy Department programs, help keep aging nuclear plants online and identify staff who played a role in promoting President Barack Obama’s climate agenda.

The transition team has asked the agency to list employees and contractors who attended United Nations climate meetings, along with those who helped develop the Obama administration’s social cost of carbon metrics, used to estimate and justify the climate benefits of new rules. [h/t TPM]

Step 1: identify expertise and any possible source of civil-service resistance to the illegitimate power grab.

Step 2: harass the key figures into resignation, or, failing that, post them to sheep-flatulance monitoring posts in the Dakotas.

Step 3:  replace with loyalists.  Consolidate long term holds over policy in the agencies.  Capture government statistical reporting and the representation of reality.

Step 4:  Rince. Repeat.

ETA: The Washington Post has more detail on the probe/purge-in-waiting at DOE:

The Trump transition team has issued a list of 74 questions for the Energy Department, asking officials there to identify which department employees and contractors have worked on forging an international climate pact as well as domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output.

The memo provides the clearest indication yet of how Trump’s administration would begin to dismantle specific aspects of President Obama’s ambitious climate policies. …

One question zeroed in on the issue of the “social cost of carbon,” a way of calculating the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. The transition team asked for a list of department employees or contractors who attended inter-agency meetings, the dates of the meetings, and emails and other materials associated with them.

The social cost of carbon is a metric that calculates the cost to society of emitting a ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The Obama administration has used this tool to try to calculate the benefits of regulations and initiatives that lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“My guess is that they’re trying to undermine the credibility of the science that DOE has produced, particularly in the field of climate science,” said Rob Jackson, a Stanford climate and energy researcher, in response to the question about the Integrated Assessment Models.

There’s lots more at the link. None of it good. These are f**king dangerous people.

Meanwhile, public protest too is under pressure from the Trump junta:

For the thousands hoping to echo the civil rights and anti-Vietnam rallies at Lincoln Memorial by joining the women’s march on Washington the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration: time to readjust your expectations….

The NPS filed a “massive omnibus blocking permit” for many of Washington DC’s most famous political locations for days and weeks before and after the inauguration on 20 January, said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a constitutional rights litigator and the executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

The National Park Service applied for the blocking permit on behalf of the Presidential Inauguration Committee — i.e., Trump’s donors and apparatus.

Again: this is how would-be dictators work, taking control of the bureaucracy and squeezing civil space.

We’ve a long road ahead.  My small act of resistance today is to call my representatives (Warren, Markey, Kennedy) to urge them to publicly condemn the emerging civil service witch hunt.  Whatever y’all can do, please have at it.

Image: Nicholas Poussin, The Destruction of Jerusalem1637.

Moral Action in Trump’s America

December 7, 2016

I’m way deep in a big project, and rather significantly behind on it too, so my blogging for the next few months is going to be quick-hit stuff rather than anything thought through.  I’ll try to make up for that by making it as regular a practice as I can to toss good reads your way.

Todays comes from Masha Gessen, someone y’all know I greatly admire.  About a week ago she posted a piece on The New York Review of Books site.  In it, she asks if the realist stance in politics can function in the context of Trump.  To find out, she looks to her own family history — including choices she made — to answer no.  She takes no prisoners:

In Bialystok ghetto, my great-grandfather’s responsibility in the Judenrat was to ensure that the ghetto was supplied with food. He ran the trucks that brought food in and took garbage out, he ran the canteen and supervised the community gardens that a group of young socialists planted. He also discouraged the young socialists from trying to organize a resistance movement: it would be of no use and would only jeopardize the ghetto’s inhabitants. It took him almost two years to change his mind about the resistance efforts, as he slowly lost hope that the Judenrat, by generally following the rules and keeping the ghetto inhabitants in line, would be able to save at least some of them.

As in other ghettos, the Judenrat was ultimately given the task of compiling the lists of Jews to be “liquidated.” The Bialystok Judenrat accepted the job, and there is every indication that my great-grandfather took part in the process. The arguments in defense of producing the list, in Bialystok and elsewhere, were pragmatic: the killing was going to occur anyway; by cooperating, the Judenrat could try to reduce the number of people the Nazis were planning to kill (in Bialystok, this worked, though in the end the ghetto, like all other ghettos, was “liquidated”); by compiling the lists, the Judenrat could prevent random killing, instead choosing to sacrifice those who were already near death from disease or starvation. These were strong arguments. There is always a strong argument.

But what if the Jews had refused to cooperate?

640px-le_brun_charles_-_horatius_cocles_defending_the_bridge_-_google_art_project

Was Arendt right that fewer people might have died? Was Trunk right that Judenrat activities had no effect on the final outcome? Or would mass murder of Jews have occurred earlier if Jews had refused to manage their own existence in the ghetto? We cannot know for certain, any more than we can know now whether a scorched-earth strategy or the strategy of compromise would more effectively mitigate Trumpism. But that does not mean that a choice—the right choice—is impossible. It only means that we are asking the wrong question.

The right question…or better, the right stance, the right scale on which to weigh any choice of action?

We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge….

Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices. As Trump torpedoes into the presidency, we need to shift from realist to moral reasoning. That would mean, at minimum, thinking about the right thing to do, now and in the imaginable future. It is also a good idea to have a trusted friend capable of reminding you when you are about to lose your sense of right and wrong.

I’m convinced Gessen is correct.  More, I believe her demand that we make the moral choice first, and then pursue whatever particular tactic seems most likely to embody that choice while advancing (or at least defending) the cause will be the most effective, as well as the right thing to do.  A Democratic response to Trump that says we can make this work a little better enshrines Trumpism, and all the vicious GOP assumptions as the ground on which such matters get decided.  One that says “No. This is wrong.  Democrats will oppose, not mitigate…” is the one that creates a real choice going forward on the ground on which we want to fight.

Read the whole thing.

Image: Charles Le Brun, Horatius Cocles Defending the Bridgec. 1642/3 (I know it’s not dead on point, but it’s close, and I always loved the story, so there.)