Archive for the ‘Who thought that was a good idea?’ category

Men Like Ravenous Fishes Feed On One Another

January 30, 2017

Here’s a three-year old video with sadly renewed resonance.

It’s Ian McKellen, delivering a speech from Sir Thomas More, a work from the early 1590s that passed through many hands, including, as author of the passage McKellen performs, William Shakespeare.  It speaks precisely to the predicament we face now, and (as McKellen notes) because it’s Shakespeare’s the demand it makes on us is to discover our humanity.

Would that more of our former friends across the aisle could not just hear him, but listen.

“What have you got?” indeed.

You’re Fired! and Ready to Go…Errr, P’raps Not

January 20, 2017

There’s much to be said about the still-unpossible fact that the shitgibbon is now president.  But in this day one of our national experiment in test-to-destruction governance, there’s something…missing.

That would be a government.  Or at least, an administration.

There are roughly 675 Federal positions that require Senate confirmation.*

There are some four thousand more jobs to be filled by direct appointment, and while many of those are minor, many are not.**

So that’s the hole. How far along is Trump to filling it?

Well, according to The Washington Post‘s tracker, Trump has so far sent 30 names to the Senate.***  None have been confirmed.  By comparison in 2009, six Obama cabinet nominees were confirmed as of the inauguration, and four more followed the next week.

And even if/when all those nominated so far do make it through the Senate process, they’ll be doing — or rather not getting done all the work of the senior management of their departments.

Foreign policy? We ain’t got none, for the time being, no matter how often Trump bellows “America First!”  There are no appointees at State below the secretary level. That’s not “none-confirmed.” That’s none, as in not a single deputy, assistant, or under secretary has yet been named.

We’ve got no boots on the ground either.  In a break with prior custom, Trump demanded the resignation of every serving ambassador as of today.  With only three as-yet unvetted, much less confirmed, ambassadorial appointments, and dozens yet to be made, the US is without its head-of-mission everywhere.  While it’s true that politically appointed ambassadors have professional staffs that are still in place, the fact remains that our international representatives aren’t there.

Same goes for the national security apparatus.  The odious and unfit Michael Flynn does not require Senate confirmation, so he’s on the job.  He’s got no help though:

Trump has made one other NSC appointment, tapping retired Gen. Keith Kellogg to be NSC chief of staff. And some reports indicate that Matt Pottinger, a former Wall Street Journal China correspondent who joined the U.S. Marines and grew close to Flynn, may become the NSC’s director for Asia.

It ain’t going to get any better any time soon.  Flynn’s in charge of filling out his org chart, and, as the same Politico article notes, he’s making a mess of it:   (more…)

Government, Meet Bathtub

January 19, 2017

It’s easy to run a government that does (next to) nothing.

Here’s where Trumpism — or really Pence-ism, or really, exactly what the GOP has been promising (threatening) will have its most immediate, and quite possibly its most damaging impact:

Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned.

The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.

Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

The NEH and NEA cuts are at once symbolic — the GOP is killing stuff liberals like, which is reward enough in those quarters — and, I think, intended to distract from other hugely reckless choices:

The Heritage blueprint used as a basis for Trump’s proposed cuts calls for eliminating several programs that conservatives label corporate welfare programs: the Minority Business Development Agency, the Economic Development Administration, the International Trade Administration and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The total savings from cutting these four programs would amount to nearly $900 million in 2017.

At the Department of Justice, the blueprint calls for eliminating the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Violence Against Women Grants and the Legal Services Corporation and for reducing funding for its Civil Rights and its Environment and Natural Resources divisions.

At the Department of Energy, it would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Under the State Department’s jurisdiction, funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are candidates for elimination.

The single most important point I can make is that this is the Kansas-ification of America.  This isn’t a Trump policy choice.  This is Mike Pence shepherding plans the Republican Party has been trying to implement for years, decades even.  I doubt it will all get through, but much of it will, I’d guess, and when it does we will need to hang every shitty outcome and terrible choice around the neck of every Republican officeholder.

This is what they want. This is what they told us they wanted. They’re likely going to get it, to some approximation.  And they’re going to have to own it, so that once again, Democrats can come in and fix the serial catastrophes we’re going to witness very damn soon.

Also, too — who wants to bet all the pieties about the deficit and restoring balance to the budget will fall to the tax cuts to come?

Fuck it.  I’m heading back to the seventeenth century.

Image: Francesco de Rossi, Bathesheba at her Bath1552-1554.

If You Don’t Know Who The Patsy At The Table Is, Dear Trumpkins…

November 28, 2016

...it’s you:

Again and again, President-elect Donald Trump presented himself as the coal miners’ candidate. During the campaign, he promised to bring coal back into the economy, and jobs back into struggling Appalachian towns.

But now some in coal country are worried that instead of helping, Trump’s first actions will deprive miners — and their widows and children — of the compensation they can receive if they are disabled by respiratory problems linked to breathing coal mine dust.

That’s because buried in the Affordable Care Act are three sentences that made it much easier to access these benefits. If Trump repeals Obamacare — as he vowed to do before the election — and does not keep that section on the books, the miners will be back to where they were in 2009, when it was exceedingly difficult to be awarded compensation for “black lung” disease.

coal_mining_18th_c

This is by no means a done deal, given that at least some coal-country legislators (Joe Manchin, for one) have declared their support for retaining this in whatever comes out of the health care catastrophe the GOP is determined to commit.  But McConnell is, as usual, mum on the matter, and if I were a coal mining family depending on the pittance they do get (top payment for a miner with three dependents: $1,289/month), I’d be getting ready not for hard times — they’re already here — but worse.

update — obligatory post soundtrack:

The key change the ACA implemented in black lung cases was to shift the burden of proof: instead of a miner having to prove that the work caused the disease, under the new rules,

If a miner has spent 15 years or more underground and can prove respiratory disability, then it is presumed to be black lung related to mine work, unless the company can prove otherwise.

This wasn’t a case of free money all around. As reporter Eric Boodman writes,  “In 2009, 19 percent of claims for black lung benefits were successful; in 2015, that percentage had jumped to 28.” That’s a big jump — but hardly evidence that the black lung compensation process is a wild government grab of beleaguered coal company assets.

Those companies hate the rule, with a spokesman telling Boodman that it’s created “a supplemental pension program” rather than the compensation for occupational disease, which is as fine a bit of high priced turd polishing as I’ve seen in a while.

TL:DR?  Think of this as Mencken’s rule in action:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Trump voters in coal country — West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky — were promised their country back.

What will they receive?

The shaft, deeper and darker than any hole miners have dug in the hunt for what will continue to kill them where they stand.

Image: Léonard Defrance, Coal Mining, before 1805.

Thrice Before Cock Crow

July 31, 2016

Donald Trump, back when life was just tyrants and skittles:

“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today,” Trump told Roberts, when asked about his relationship with Putin. “He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form. But I do have a relationship with him and I think it’s very interesting to see what’s happened…

…I mean look, he’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and what he’s representing,” Trump said. “If you look at what he’s done with Syria, if you look at so many of the different things, he has really eaten our president’s lunch, let’s not kid ourselves.”

Donald Trump this morning:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Russia. You made a lotta headlines with Russia this week. What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?

TRUMP: I have no relationship with Putin. I have no relationship with Putin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you have no relationship with Putin, then why did you say, in 2013, “I do have a relationship,” in 2014, “I spoke–”

TRUMP: Because he has said nice things about me over the years. I remember years ago, he said something, many years ago, he said something very nice about me. I said something good about him when Larry King was on. This was a long time ago. And I said, “He is a tough cookie,” or something to that effect. He said something nice about me. This has been going on. We did 60 Minutes together, by the way, not together together…

To his credit, The Clinton Guy Shocked By Blowjobs (™ Charles Pierce, but too damn good not to steal) pressed the Incompressible Jizztrumpet* just a wee bit on that bit of revisionist Trumpismo:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But– I– I just wanna clear this up. Because you did say, on three different occasions, you had a relationship with him. Now you say there’s none.

TRUMP: Well, I don’t know what it means by having a relationship…

Stephanopoulos asked Trump three times in all to square that circle, and by interview’s end, the mangled apricot hellbeast seemed to realize he had a bit of a problem, leading to this weak finish to the line begun above with “Well, I don’t know…”

I didn’t meet him. I haven’t spent time with him. I didn’t have dinner with him. I didn’t– go hiking with him. I don’t know– I– I wouldn’t know him from Adam except I see his picture, and I would know what he looks like.

rembrandt peter christ

Beyond looking on in awe at the sheer speed and volume of Trump’s lies (a strength to date, but, I’m coming to think, a growing liability in the general election phase), there’s the meat of the interview, and his attempt to have it both ways on the Ukraine and Crimea:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Then why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?

TRUMP: I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your people were.

TRUMP: Yes. I was not involved in that. I’d like to — I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you know what they did?

TRUMP: They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They took away the part of the platform calling for the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves.

Why is that a good idea?

TRUMP: Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?

Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?

You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

TRUMP: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he’s going where — he takes — takes Crimea, he’s sort of — I mean…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you might recognize that.

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.

Now, that was under — just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration. And as far as the Ukraine is concerned, it’s a mess. And that’s under the Obama’s administration, with his strong ties to NATO.

So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess. Crimea has been taken. Don’t blame Donald Trump for that.

The key soundbite, of course, is “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

There’s more:  Stephanopoulos’s failure to press Trump on taxes (the Weasel-headed Fucknugget trotted out the audit excuse again, and Stephanopoulus let it pass); Trump’s claim he has no business ties to Russia, no debt, the claim “I’m so liquid, I don’t need debt,” and the truly bold lie, “If I need debt, if I want debt, I can get it from banks in New York City very easily.”  Err, not so much. Note also that Trump’s sole remaining big-bank lender isn’t exactly robust.)

All of which is to say that while Capt. Khan’s parents make the overarching argument against Trump the person as president, this Russia stuff, and the question of who owns Donald Trump is the drip, drip, drip tale that reminds us that Trump the policy-maker poses a clear and present danger to American and global security.

In IOW, my friends, this interview is the sound of a story with legs.

*I find as I check the source that I misquoted yesterday’s invective.  It was Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon, not as I had it:  “Cheetos-faced, ferret-topped shitgibbon.  The singular cheeto is clearly better, but I think ferret-topped scans better, so there.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, St Peter’s Denial, 1660.  It will reward you to click on the link and look at a full rez version of this painting.  Jesus being led away in chains on the right whilst Peter goes “No, no, no….” in glorious chiaroscuro.

Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

July 22, 2016

Josh Marshall has a tweet stream going talking about the Trump-Russia alliance.  As he sees it, the Manchurian-by-way-of-Queens Candidate isn’t even trying to hide his alliance with/subservience to Putin.

I’m not sure I wholly believe it, but I can’t come close to ruling it out, and that cranks the dangers of this election up to eleven.  Which is why I found this story a welcome bit of comic relief:

Sargent_MadameX

@IvankaTrump

Shop Ivanka’s look from her #RNC speech: http://bit.ly/29Qj7dE #RNCinCLE

  • 271271 Retweets
  • 748748 likes

This isn’t Ivanka Trump tweeting, technically. It’s @IvankaTrump, but that’s the Twitter handle forIvankaTrump.com. If one has one’s own clothing line, it seems natural that you’d wear pieces from it; perhaps the marketing folks saw an unplanned opportunity to plug the outfit on Twitter. It’s $138 at Macy’s; apparently her father’s boycott of the chain doesn’t apply to her. The garment is described as a “sophisticated sheath dress” that “works wonders at both social and professional occasions” — and, clearly, political ones.

Oh, also? The dress is “imported,” according to its description.

So perhaps this was a just a smart move by the site’s marketing team to capitalize on the moment. Possible. Or perhaps Ivanka Trump has been doing this for the entire convention, posting a series of photos from the event at her website with personalized captions to each — and links to where you can buy all of the things she’s wearing or carrying.

So yeah, maybe the Trump campaign is Putin’s Hail Mary attempt to reverse the outcome of the Cold War.  And maybe it’s just one long grift, the true family business now being carrie on by the smart child.

Of course, there’s no reason that what we’re seeing couldn’t be both a floor wax and a dessert topping.

Image:  John Singer Sargent, Madam X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)1883

Peter Thiel Makes The Case For Confiscatory Taxation On Billionaires

May 25, 2016

This broke over at Forbes and is bouncing around the ‘nets today:

Peter Thiel, a PayPal cofounder and one of the earliest backers of Facebook FB +0.49%, has been secretly covering the expenses for Hulk Hogan’s lawsuits against online news organization Gawker Media. According to people familiar with the situation who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, Thiel, a cofounder and partner at Founders Fund, has played a lead role in bankrolling the cases Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hogan, brought against New York-based Gawker. Hogan is being represented by Charles Harder, a prominent Los Angeles-based lawyer.

Whatever you think of Gawker, Hulk Hogan, or Thiel himself, this is yet one more way in which extreme income inequality destroys civic life. It’s actually worse than many, given the clandestine way it deepens the corruption of the system that could (in theory) provide a check on the damage that purchased legislative and executive branches can do.

Lazarus_in_Heaven_and_the_Rich_Man_in_Hell_LACMA_M.88.91.91

Here’s a take on the poison here revealed from Caterina Fake:

Champerty, as third-party litigation funding used to be called (and should probably be called again!) was formerly a crime, but the commercial litigation finance industry has been growing in recent years.

Fake notes that much of such litigation is actually a form of speculation, in which rich folks gamble on the possibility of significant payout.  One can imagine the “free market” argument that such funding levels the playing field, allows those who’ve suffered real harm to recoup, and thus makes the legal system a more efficient and effective dispute-settling and behavior-changing engine. But Thiel’s pursuit of Gawker illuminates what this leads to in the real world:

Generally, people avoid frivolous lawsuits because it often exposes them to as much scrutiny as those they sue, so what is significant about this case is that by funding Hogan behind the scenes, Thiel could get his revenge, escape exposure, and influence the outcome of the case.

For the very rich, this is a win however it goes, and damn the collateral damage.

Hogan’s lawyers made decisions against Hogan’s best interests, withdrawing a claim that would have required Gawker’s insurance company to pay damages rather than the company itself–a move that made Nick Denton, Gawker Media’s founder and CEO, suspect that a Silicon Valley millionaire was behind the suit.

I leave it to the actual lawyers to weigh in on the ethics (and consequences, if any) for such a litigation approach. For myself, I’ll note that what you have here is an insanely rich guy gaming the legal system to destroy a media outfit that pissed him off.

And with that, one more thought:  Franklin Roosevelt created the social welfare state in the US as an alternative to revolution.  Today’s plutocrats might want to think about that.  In plainer terms: to remain democracies, modern democractic states need to tax polity-buying wealth out of individual hands; income taxes and a levy on inheritances.  A 90% rate that kicks in well below an estate value of a billion bucks seems a good place to start.

A blogger can dream…

Image: Cornelius Bos, Lazarus in Heaven and the Rich Man in Hell, 1547.