Monday, August 21, 2017

Major Speech or General Speech

Bala Hissar Fortress, Kabul, at the time of the 1842 war, via British Battles.

I imagine Trump's address on Afghanistan tonight is going to be on the sober side, sticking fairly resolutely to the script that's been prepared for him in the hope of getting the broadcast media to call it "presidential", and since the actual policy change is supposed to be pretty modest, just adding another 4,000 troops to the 8,000 that are there, in contrast to the 100,000 US troops at the height of the Obama "surge" in 2011-12, the media discussion is mostly going to be about him, and whether he does or doesn't "demonstrate the stability and competence he needs to be successful", as old Senator Corker complained last week; as Corey Robin says:
Social media will focus entirely on the rhetoric. The theme of the commentary will be something like: Trump consolidating his shaky presidency with imperial violence abroad! Media falls for new Trump presidency grounded in imperial violence abroad! And then by Wednesday, it’ll all be forgotten. The discussion will have moved on to Trump’s latest tweet, whatever surge in the polls Trump got from his announcement will be countermanded by whatever barbarity he utters in his tweet.
But while everyone will be talking about the “insanity” of this presidency and this moment, there’ll be almost no discussion of the real insanity of this moment: that yet another US president continues, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, the longest war in US history—a war that shows no sign of being winnable—simply because no US president wants to be the one who lost Afghanistan.
I think it might even be a bit worse than that, on a couple of counts.

For one thing, the new "strategy" isn't necessarily as modest as the narrative is telling us. General Mattis has been anxiously saying that it isn't an Afghanistan strategy but a "South Asia" strategy, which means basically that it's also about Pakistan, where numerous Taliban cells and the so-called Haqqani network (and, they always used to say, Taliban sympathizers in the military) work both sides of the border to complicate the Afghanistan situation. According to the Times coverage, that aspect of the new strategy is going to be mainly about the use of US money for the Pakistani military—giving it or withholding it or laying down conditions—but there's a side the president and generals won't talk about, which is the presence of CIA troops in Pakistan. Looks like Afghanistan is going to escape Erik Prince's private army for the time being, but the equally unaccountable CIA force in Pakistan, intriguing and conducting its drone war in the borderlands, will still be there, killing.

And then another aspect is likely (I think I heard this on NPR this morning) to be the continued loosening of restraints on our military, especially with respect to bombing—restraints the Obama administration worked so hard to install from 2011 through 2016 to hold down civilian casualties, though I guess not very successfully in Afghanistan, where civilian deaths caused by NATO and government strike were already way up last year. Coalition was handling things better in Iraq and Syria, and they're much worse there now.

I will say about tonight's speech, in spite of Corey, that the more Trump looks "presidential", the more he'll be under the generals' control. That's how it will be staged, like an episode in Celebrity Apprentice, to look as if he's selected the best contestant to lead this week's effort, after considering all their ideas judiciously, with the Trump frown, showing him decisive, but of course the plan is pretty much their wish list, the kind of thing people like Mattis have been agitating for for a while. In reality Emperor Trump has nothing to do with it, other than showing up to take the credit. As I always say, there is a good side to this (Trump's not in charge) and a bad side (there is no civilian control over the military). It's uncharted constitutional territory, and though I'm confident nobody's going to blow up the world, it still gives me the willies.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

What to do with that torn down Confederate statue? That’s easy. Leave it just the way it is.

Angry protestors transformed this object from a monument
to a work of art
Statues of military figures, Confederate or not, are pretty much clichés in this nation. They’re everywhere — from the oodles of them on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, to the front lawns of obscure county courthouses around the nation.

The statues don’t say much. Essentially, all they tell us is, “Here’s a soldier. He stands for the thousands of soldiers who fought and died. He’s on a horse. Or on foot, weapon ready, prepared to defend his cause.” 

The cause might be anything — the defense of this nation against foreign invasion, or the destruction of naziism, or the complaint that the Kaiser was blocking our shipping lanes, or the demand that only the United States may colonize the Western Hemisphere, or the continuance (or destruction) of slavery on American soil.

Last week, in Durham, North Carolina, angry protestors tore down a civil war statue. And in so doing, instead of simply vandalizing  a clichéd monument, they created a visual masterpiece.

Lying on the ground in beneath his own pedestal, his legs bent or broken just above the ankles, his hat bashed in, his head bent as if to hide his face in shame, his body supported partly by his own base and partly by the soil, he now has more to say to those who pass than he ever did high atop his pedestal.

He is now a symbol not only of soldiers who fought for slavery in the Civil War, but also of what became of many of them, and of the world’s regard for their cause. And he speaks also of the rage of 21st Century protestors who said, in effect, enough! This worship of “lost” causes must stop when the lost cause is an evil cause. Those who fight for malevolent ends will always, in time, be toppled.

The bent and broken body, lying in front of a pedestal bearing the inscription, “IN MEMORY OF THE BOYS WHO WORE THE GRAY” is no longer a monument. Instead, it has all the characteristics of a work of art. It shows us something familiar in a new way. It prompts discussion. It makes an impassioned commentary. It tells a story.

It should be preserved in its present state. 

Cross-posted at The New York Crank 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Strzok by surprise (October Surprise, that is)

October Surprise. Uncredited image from Merriam Webster.
You may have heard Thursday or Friday about a weird little detail in the Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign—Rachel Maddow featured it on her show Friday night: the departure from the team of Peter Strzok, former head of FBI counterintelligence, who has now returned to the FBI, but not to counterintelligence: he's working in the human relations department.

The what? He's in personnel?
Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and associate dean at Yale Law School, said that she had "never heard of an agent being moved to the human resources department."...
"I have seen instances where if some issue comes up, the agent might be moved to another investigation or to the operations center, where you essentially field calls all day," Rangappa said. "But why he would be moved to HR is just bizarre."  (Natasha Bertrand for Business Insider)
There are a lot of ideas floating around as to what might be going on here, but I think I bumped into the real thing at Narativ, the Trump-Russia blog of the news producer Zev Shalev, and it's a blockbuster, as Rachel would say.

Shalev introduces the idea of a connection between this event and James Comey's strange behavior two weeks before the election, allegations from the Steele dossier, and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and his statement to Fox News of October 26:
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe in polls. Every election I ever won, I outperformed the polls,” Giuliani said. “I think he’s [Trump] got a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next few days. I mean, I’m talking about some pretty big surprises. We’re not going to go down and certainly won’t stop fighting. We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this around.” 
As has been noted often enough, Giuliani seemed to know something, because on the 28th Comey informed various congressional committee heads that a new source of Hillary Clinton's State Department emails had been discovered, Jason Chaffetz promptly leaked the information on Twitter, and the story rapidly began spreading that the FBI had "reopened" the Clinton investigation (not quite true) and that the emails were on a laptop belonging to the ridiculous Anthony Weiner, whose wife Huma Abedin had apparently been using it as some kind of backup, and the shit hit the fan, not to be dissipated a week later when Comey came out to say "Never mind."

Another thing Giuliani did, on October 28, as Seth Abramson was reporting in December, was to tell listeners to Lars Larson's radio show
that current agents in the FBI had committed Hatch Act violations to get him information about the ongoing Clinton investigation. Specifically, wrote CNN, “the former mayor said he was in contact with former agents ‘and a few active agents, who obviously don’t want to identify themselves.’” Giuliani wasn’t even being especially coy; he was quite clearly indicating that the reason the current FBI agents who’d spoken to him didn’t want to identify themselves was because their contact with him had been illegal.
And this in turn suggested why Comey had made his statement: he himself suggested he had been forced, against agency policy, to announce the development in the Clinton email story by the belief that the story was certain to be leaked anyway, and Giuliani's statement (which he walked back the next day, denying that he'd spoken to any active agents) revealed who the leakers were going to be.

Christopher Steele had been trying to get the FBI interested in his findings on the Trump campaign, but without success:
the bureau kept stalling instead focusing on Clinton. According to the Independent Newspaper which interviewed Steele:
“The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city,” The Independent wrote.
Shalev's new bit of information is that Peter Strzok, the counterintelligence man who just left the Mueller investigation and was demoted by the FBI, was in the center of these events—he was the agent who interviewed Hillary Clinton on November 4.

Shalev won't take the leap to the next level, but let's go through this together. If Special Counsel Mueller were to learn, in the course of his investigations, that one of his top investigators had been deeply involved in that anti-Clinton crusade as a rogue FBI agent, to the point of revealing information about the investigation to Giuliani, in clear violation of the Hatch Act, then Mueller would have to get that person off the team, and the FBI would have to remove him from investigative work pending the outcome of an internal investigation in which they decided how to discipline him and whether to prosecute him for the crime.

And if Strzok were that investigator, what just happened to him would make perfect sense. As that Business Insider story goes on to say,
A former FBI agent who worked with Strzok on and off over several years in the bureau's counterintelligence division said that Strzok's move to HR means he has now been separated from counterintelligence work altogether. 
The FBI sometimes parks agents in the human resources department, the agent explained, when they need to be reassigned quickly away from substantive matters and there's no other place to put them. 
Comey's letter certainly seems to have been a decisive factor in the election result, as Nate Silver has been saying since December, and it looks more and more likely in this sense that that story, of rogue FBI agents plotting with Giuliani and Erik Prince and the Trump campaign to steal the election, is true.  And Mueller knows it, and we'll all know it soon.

Cross-posted in The Rectification of Names.


I'll be away from the blog for a while -- probably about a week. The relief crew will be here while I'm gone, so stop by.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Last night, Senator Ben Sasse posted a long, disjointed Facebook essay titled "The Next Charlottesville." Sasse wants to be thought of as a different kind of Republican -- he's opposed to President Trump and he's skeptical of (some) ongoing partisan battles. But he's still, in many ways, a modern culture-war Republican, much as he tries not to seem like one.

Sasse's post begins:
Over the last week, many Nebraskans have told me some version of this: ‎“There are lots of us here who are ‎scared about where the country is headed. I think more violence is inevitable." That much seems obvious. Less expected was where some of them went next. One of my constituents, a fairly energetic Trump supporter and a middle-aged man, told me:

**"To be clear, I think the alt-Right are a bunch of a**holes."‎

**"And we should admit that the President has done a bad job getting us through this."

**But "when the next rounds of violence come, I'll bet you most of it will come from the left."

**"And then some folks I know will respond in kind. It's gonna be a powder-keg."
What does Sasse think about this? He never tells us, at least not directly. The Trump supporter (and, by extension, Sasse) virtue-signals by denouncing the alt-right and the president's Charlottesville response. But they both seem almost reassured by the notion that left-wingers are going to be responsible for the next Charlottesville -- and that anyone on the right who decides to "respond in kind" will be blameless, even if the situation turns into a "powder-keg." Or is it just the Trump supporter who believes that? Sasse never explicitly tells us what he thinks.

Sasse, in numbered points, states clearly that he blames white nationalists for Charlottesville (as he should):
3. White supremacy and racism are un-American, period.

4. The heartbreak in Charlottesville was the fault of the ‎white supremacists. Heather Heyer was murdered by an act of terrorism. The driver used his car to target public marchers.
Sasse, understandably, thinks it will happen again. He seems to waffle on who'll be at fault:
5. Sadly, I think that the pessimistic Nebraskans I've been with this week are right that there will be more violence toward public assemblies in the future.

6. I expect that violence will come when white supremacists and the alt-right fight anarchist groups aligned with the extreme left. ‎
He thinks the president will react badly -- though to some extent he thinks this will be the fault of advisers, not Trump himself:
7. What will happen next? I doubt that Donald Trump will be able to calm and comfort the nation in that moment. He (and lots of others) will probably tell an awful combination of partial truths and outright falsehoods....

8. Besides ability and temperament, I also worry that national unity will be unlikely because there are some whispering in the President's ear that racial division could be good politics for them.
And then Sasse reverts to being a Republican:
9. I worry that some on the left are also going to salivate over these divisions. Like the President's ear-whisperers, they see a divided nation as good for their political objectives.
The bothsidesism continues. Yes, Sasse acknowledges the real reason Confederate monuments were built:
11. I wish more folks understood how many of the monuments now being debated are not really from the post-Civil War period as a way to remember war dead. Rather, contrary to popular understanding, many of these statues were explicitly erected as Segregation Monuments in the twentieth century, during Jim Crow, as a way of shouting – against the American Idea – that public spaces were to be whites-only spaces. Tragically, many of these monuments were erected exactly when lynchings of black Americans were being celebrated in those communities – and the timing overlap here was not accidental....
But to Sasse that's not a sufficient reason to remove them at the earliest possible opportunity:
12. But I'm also against mobs tearing down the statues, or city governments removing them in the middle of the night. That doesn't advance the civics discussion and debates we need; it just exacerbates the unhelpful "on both sides" grievance culture. Rather, we need an orderly debate about such monuments.
What Sasse doesn't understand is that we're not going to have "an orderly debate." Defenders of these monuments aren't going to limit themselves to peaceful discussion of the question. If it's agreed that the monuments have to come down, they're not going to accept the outcome. And I'm not just referring to white nationalists -- in many cases, state law prevents cities from removing Confederate monuments or changing street names. What's the point of "orderly debate" if localities can't make their own decisions?

Sasse proceeds to defend Trump against liberals and members of the media who are presumed to hold extreme positions, although Sasse offers no evidence that they do:
13. Every single place I've been this week, I've gotten a question like this:

**"Washington and Jefferson owned slaves; do we have to tear down their statues too?"

**"Explorer X didn't treat native Americans the way he should have; do we abandon states west of the Appalachian Trail?" ...

The people asking these questions (over and over and over) are not racist. Rather they're perplexed by the elite indifference to their fair questions – about the "unnaming" movement now unfolding at Yale, for example. Most of these folks voted for Trump, to be sure, but many quietly admit to being dissatisfied with his leadership. But they have ZERO uncertainty about a choice between a Trump who would defend statues of Washington and Jefferson, and a national media elite who they assume would not defend monuments to Washington and Jefferson. That's the divide many here are seeing and hearing. ‎
Does Sasse really believe the "national media elite ... would not defend monuments to Washington and Jefferson"? He doesn't say. The fact that Trump voters think they won't is sufficient to make it a legitimate question.

Sasse has no answers for all this, apart from the following:
This is the right time for each of us – parents and grandparents, neighbors and patriots – to pause and teach our kids again about universal human dignity and about love of neighbor. This is a time for discussion and education and humility, not intimidation and mobs and midnight wrecking balls.
And there it is: Sasse believes there's a moral equivalence between killing someone in a violent demonstration and removing a statue.

Incidentally, how many of the statues that have been taken down have been subject to "wrecking balls"? I see a lot of monuments being carefully removed from pedestals. I don't see a lot of wrecking balls.

Sasse is savvy and ambitious. He's going to run for president eventually, and he's very determined to make a name for himself now. I appreciate the fact that he expresses anti-racist sentiments, but over the years a lot of national Republicans have been overtly anti-racist while supporting vote suppression, brutal law enforcement policies, and scapegoating and stereotyping of non-whites as criminals and "takers" of public assistance. Moreover, the party has allowed its messaging to be disseminated primarily on Fox News and talk radio, which vacillate between racist dog whistles and more overt appeals to racial fear and anger. And, of course, the party -- with Sasse admittedly one of the few exceptions -- rallied behind a birther who's now president.

If Republicans reject all that -- or if Sasse and others reject the Republican Party because it won't -- then we can have a civilized discussion of race. But we can't have one before then.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Steve Bannon is out:
Stephen K. Bannon, the embattled chief strategist who helped President Trump win the 2016 election but clashed for months with other senior West Wing advisers, is leaving his post, a White House spokeswoman announced Friday.
The Washington Post tellus in no uncertain terms that he was fired:
John F. Kelly, the retired four-star Marine Corps general brought in late last month as White House chief of staff, has been contemplating dramatic changes to West Wing staffing that included firing Bannon....

The decision to fire Bannon was made by Kelly, officials said....

“This was without question one man’s decision: Kelly. One hundred percent,” one senior White House official said. “It’s been building for a while.” ...

Kelly has no personal animus toward Bannon, said people familiar with his thinking, but was especially frustrated with Bannon’s tendency to try to influence policy and personal matters not in his portfolio, as well as a negative media campaign he and his allies waged against national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

The president, meanwhile, had been upset about Bannon’s participation in a book by a Bloomberg News reporter Joshua Green, “Devil’s Bargain” — particularly the shared photo billing on the cover between Trump and his chief strategist.
But The New York Times accepts the possibility that Bannon quit:
Earlier on Friday, the president had told senior aides that he had decided to remove Mr. Bannon, according to two administration officials briefed on the discussion. But a person close to Mr. Bannon insisted that the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week. But the move was delayed after the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va.
Politico can't seem to settle on a story:
A senior administration official said Bannon had resigned on Aug. 7, but other officials noted that Trump had grown tired of his tactics and behavior and had been plotting ways to oust him.

... even after Bannon had submitted his resignation earlier this month, he still called rampant rumors about his departure “bulls---,” and his allies tried to build support for him. Like other departures in the West Wing, including that of chief of staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer, there are conflicting stories about whether Bannon resigned or was ousted.
The resignation story is just desperate Bannon spin. A few days ago he had a different strategy for dealing with his imminent departure: He did a bad a karaoke version of Anthony Scaramucci's demise, calling up a liberal journalist (in his case, Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect) and holding forth at length, after which he and/or his allies informed Jonathan Swan of Axios that he hadn't realized he was giving an on-the-record interview. Adrian Carrasquillo of BuzzFeed overthought this, describing it as Bannon's "Trump survival plan":
Allies who spend too long in Donald Trump's doghouse usually get sent away for good. Chief strategist Steve Bannon is trying to forestall that fate....

Bannon has now made the calculus that he’s on thin ice regardless, and won't go down quietly, [a] supporter said. "He's saying, 'I’m going to force you to fire me in a public way or we’re going to follow the agenda we were elected for.'"
Now, of course, Bannon is saying he'd already quit by then, but whatever. I think he wanted it to seem as his imminent firing was brought about by the interview -- specifically, that he wouldn't have been fired if the sinister liberal media hadn't published statement he never wanted to be made public.

Bannon just wants us to believe anything except the truth: that his actions displeased the president and other important White House figures, and that he was canned as a result.

The odd thing is that Bannon is one of the few White House tough-guy wannabes who actually served in the military. So why didn't he ever learn how to shut up and take discipline? Man up, Steve.


Hi, I'm back. Thank you again, Yastreblyansky, Crank, and Tom.

The Washington Post's Robert Costa and David Nakamura are describing President Trump's defense of Confederate statues as an effort to rally his base:
President Trump on Thursday assumed the role of leading spokesman for the racially charged cause of preserving Confederate statues on public grounds, couching his defense in historical terms that thrilled his core supporters....

[Some] in Trump’s orbit ... believ[e] there is a potential strategy in decrying identity politics and political correctness — a message that resonates with his base. But even within Trump’s circle, there are those who wonder whether Trump has gone too far and risks alienating some of the swing voters who voted for him last year with hope for change, not racial division.
But the argument about the statues, regrettably, resonates with people outside Trump's base as well, as an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll notes:
... when asked whether Confederate statues should remain as a historical symbol or be removed because they're offensive to some people, 62 percent say they should remain; just 27 percent said they should go.

African-Americans are divided on the question — but a plurality agree they should stay, 44 percent to 40 percent. Two-thirds of whites and Latinos believe the statues should remain as well.

The only groups in which a plurality said the statues should be removed are Democrats, especially those identifying as "strong Democrats," those identifying as "very liberal" and those who disapprove of the president.
A Harris poll finds similar results:
... when asked “Do you think city officials should honor monuments that celebrate The Civil War?” 49 percent agreed.... And 26 percent of Americans remain unsure, suggesting Trump’s slippery slope theory of 'who's next, Jefferson or Washington?' was an effective argument.
Another Trump argument has some support, according to Harris:
... people do not blame only white nationalists for Saturday's violence. Nearly half of all Americans (46 percent) believe both sides are to the blame for violence in Charlottesville (vs. 39 percent who blame the white nationalists alone), lending credence to President Trump’s assertions this week.
The numbers on that question are worse in a CBS poll:

In the CBS poll, Trumps get bad numbers overall for his handling of Charlottesville (34% approval, 55% disapproval). But that poll suggests that Trump is successfully shoring up the base -- or, rather, that the base is with him no matter what. Some of the interviews for the CBS poll took place before Trump's Tuesday press conference, some after -- and Republicans simply stuck with him:
Republicans interviewed prior to Tuesday's press conference were at 68% approval of President Trump's overall handling of the response to Charlottesville and 66% following it — ending up at 67% approval.
So it's no surprise that Trump's numbers in Gallup's daily tracking poll really aren't changing very much. Here's a three-month graph:

You can see the daily numbers as a list here. There was a big dip a few days ago, but the numbers have bounced back. The base doesn't seem "rallied" because the base never really loses faith in Trump. And the rest of the country, while disapproving, seems to believe he's not entirely wrong.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

And Now, the Rest of the Story

Since the election we've seen dozens of sympathetic pieces about the quintessential Trump voters--those beleaguered, disaffected rural white people, left behind by a post-industrial economy and a culture that no longer recognizes the inherent value of their whiteness. And every time another one is published...well, let's just say that there is rough language in my general vicinity.

What exactly is it about these thumbsucking pieces, individually and (even more) en masse, that is so deeply infuriating?

Good question. Let's ask Madyson Turner:
Turner’s mom, who cleans houses in town for a living, went to work a couple of days after that, and her employer, an older white woman, brought up the results of the recent election. The two had talked politics before—Turner’s mom is a Democrat, and her employer is a Republican. “Well, you might as well come and live with me now,” the employer said. “You gonna be mine eventually.”
Or Alex Romero:
One day, his daughter came home from school, frightened because the other kids were telling her that Trump was going to send all the Hispanics out of the country. He asked her how she responded. “I didn’t say nothing because I didn’t want to get mad,” she replied.
Or Elena Garcia:
When Trump began to gain popularity, Garcia felt betrayed by people she thought she knew, people we both grew up with. Late last year, Garcia began to see a pattern on her Facebook feed. One post said, “I can’t wait for Trump to take over, so we can start building this wall.” A commenter added, “Yeah, and the Mexicans are going to pay for it and work for it.”

She stared at her screen in disbelief. “Some of them I even thought were my friends at one point.”
These are from a piece by Becca Andrews in Mother Jones, about some of the African-American and Latino people living in her native Crockett County, Tennessee. These are the people who have been invisible in all the white-working-class profiles, whose pain and anxiety might as well not exist as far as the WaPo and the Times and all the others are concerned. Andrews' piece is well worth reading all the way through. And it's a start toward remedying the unforgivable exclusion of these people from the mainstream narrative...but it's only a start.

And until the stories of Trump's targets take their rightful place front and center in the mainstream press, J.D. Vance can take his elegy and shove it up his ass, and Chris Arnade is cordially invited to blow the Front Row. I don't give a flying fuck about the shitheads who voted to fuck over their neighbors and 'friends'; I care about the people who are newly vulnerable because of it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Turnout Troofing

Yesterday the Times Upshot ran a piece by Nate Cohn analyzing the 2016 presidential election in terms of what looks to me like another take in the Legendary White Working Class family of takes, identifying the crucial factor in Trump's victory as that particular set of white-no-college voters who voted for Obama in 2008 and/or 2012 but for Trump in 2016, and who are said to have made this remarkable switch mostly out of racial resentment (I actually don't think that's as bizarre as it sounds, but the obvious question it raises, of why a white person who voted for Obama one year would turn around against Clinton out of racial resentment the next time, is one Cohn doesn't even discuss) and then out of disappointment with Obama and then lastly because they agree with Trump's policy prescriptions as they understand them.

Which Cohn does not take to mean that Democrats need to appeal more to racists, even though that's what his data makes it sound like, but that we should take positions more like those of imaginary Trump, in favor of lots of infrastructure spending, and trade protectionism, and relatively relaxed sexual views. The great Zandar of Kentucky, though, hears Cohn thinking it, and he doesn't like it:

What that means is that Cohn is strongly suggesting that in order to be competitive, Democrats have to make a sea change to attract voters that harbor no small amount of racial resentment. Trump was able to leverage that resentment into massive distrust of the Obama administration and Democrats in general.
The problem is that this will come at a cost, and the cost will be borne by black, Latinx, and Asian voters and candidates [and female candidates too, I'd add].  I've said before that this path is suicidal for the Dems and so far Trump is making it incredibly easy to make the Democrats be the party of inclusiveness in comparison by simple dint of Trump's overwhelmingly awful racism, if not open support of white supremacists.

Nor do I.

Both for the range of moral-emotional reasons that make me revolt against the thought of moving the party back into that ugly territory of accepting little homeopathic doses of racism once again, and for the obvious political-science reason that we can't win without the full-hearted support of black and brown people, and abandoning them (or allowing them to feel abandoned) in pursuit of these dubious Trump voters looking for Mr. Good-Dem is just really bad tactics, and probably bad strategy. It's not only wrong, it's dumb to think there are that many of those guys waiting to get picked up.

Which is where I want to go here, just looking at those numbers. Especially, how does Cohn know how many Obama-to-Trump switch voters there are? Before the party starts chasing them, how important a group is it, in fact?

Now, I have my own current theory of the 2016 election, which is that Sam Wang was more or less right, and Clinton had a 95% chance of winning, and it was just that one out of 20 times when enough things go wrong that the outside chance prevails. This doesn't mean I'm claiming that it was a well-run campaign, because I don't think it should have been anywhere near that close in the first place, and I especially can't see why Democrats didn't take the Senate in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but it does mean I'm suspicious of anybody who insists that there's one overwhelming factor, whether it's Russians or all these sour-ass white guys, I just don't believe that's going to work.

I also have my own theory of American politics in general, which is that non-voters and unlikely voters play a decisive role that never gets enough attention from the pandits and apostles. Nearly half the population stays home in a national election in the US, and if they all came out it would certainly change things (this was Bernie's theory—he was just wrong in thinking he would bring them out). And one of the annoying things is the data is never presented in a way that makes it easy for me to figure out what the actual role of the nonvoter in a given election is going to be.

So I'm looking at some of the data Cohn is working with, as examined at Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, which are of very large-scale surveys of eligible voter (as opposed to registered or likely voters or people who definitely did vote) from the American National Election Study, which found that 13% of Obama's voters in 2012 went to Trump in 2016 (6% of total vote)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What part of anti-fascist didn't you understand?

Image via New York Times.

Not long after retweeting (and then untweetting) an image of the Trump train evidently emulating the automobile of that murdering Nazi in Charlottesville to mow down the CNN mascot, Emperor Trump
showed up at Trump Tower to inform the press of a new executive order:
“I’ve just signed a new executive order to reform the nation’s badly broken infrastructure permitting process,” Trump announced, suggesting that his directive would streamline the process of approving constructions on highways.
But according to my source (the Mic Network), it was actually just rear-ending an order of 2015 from the Obama White House, revising the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard
ratcheting upwards the height requirements on federally funded infrastructures so that they might withstand the rising sea levels and more frequent, more extreme storms caused by climate change.
It's get to feel more and more as if Harry Lime is president, working to deregulate antibiotics so industry can be set free on the corpses of children. I have more and more difficulty understanding how we could have gotten here.

Anyhow, he couldn't refrain from making sure you know he didn't mean it yesterday when he came out, 48 hours too late, to name-check white supremacists and neo-Nazis as the guilty parties in Charlottesville horror. Now he's trotting out the whataboutism:
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say alt-right? Do they have a semblance of guilt?” Trump asked of the counter-protesters at the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. “What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands? Do they have a problem? I think they do.”
I want to stop here, to take that question a little bit seriously. Is anybody wielding a double standard here? Are we howling about violence on one side and ignoring it on the other?

A couple of things: first, I think I've said this before, I'm an instinctual pacifist, I really hate violence, but I'm even more an instinctual cultural relativist, and I understand most societies throughout human history have tolerated a level of violence that's too much for me, and I have to be careful about judging, in particular about judging the oppressed. And then, like many of us, I'm brought up on the same stories of anti-fascist bravery, on the streets of Weimar Germany, in the battles of the Spanish Civil War, in the French maquis and the Warsaw uprising, in all the places in Southeast and East Asia where people battled Japanese occupation (not to even mention the whole history of anti-colonial resistance from the 13 Colonies to Vietnam), the romance and rightness of resistance.

The people who use the term "antifa" on themselves are nourished by the same stories, and as I understand the history of the word by a sense of mission of protecting people. When the European punk movement was infested by racist skinheads and Nazis in the 1980s and 90s, these are the people who came between them and the harmless apolitical fans. That story just resonates with me.

And in the Charlottesville story as I'm reading it, yes, there was a lot of fighting, and it would be crazy to try to prove it was the Nazis and white supremacists that started it every time (I'm believing stories that the law failed to keep them apart, though), but it's also the case that one side wears ski masks and carries sticks while the other side wears armor and carries assault rifles, and that guy hurtling his car through the crowd (an entirely peaceful part of the group) may have been much crazier than the rest, but he was in the same fascist spirit of being the overwhelming strongest, inside his huge and heavy machine, attacking the weak.

But the other thing is anti-fascists are in the right, just like the Lincoln Brigades and the maquisards and so forth. They're really fighting against evil! I can't see any way around this to moral equivalency. Fascism is bad, the Confederacy was bad, and opposing them is good, even if you're opposing them in a less than optimal way.

And also this:
“So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is George Washington next week, and is Thomas Jefferson the week after?” the president asked. “You really have to ask yourself, ‘Where does it stop?’”
Once they start taking down statues of that gallant General Lee, they'll be taking down statues of everybody I like! He really doesn't understand that the Confederacy was a bad country, that deserved to lose the war. It's all a movie, or a Wrestlemania episode, and General Lee doesn't look like a heel, does he?

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Thimk, damn it! No no, thimk harder!

This painting, hanging in the lobby of a Trader Joe’s supermarket in Manhattan,
purports to be a New York street scene. But look closely. How did those cars get 
up on that sidewalk bridge? Did they drive up the wall of the kiosk that’s
holding it up? Was the artist thinking? More likely he was only thimking
Like Donald Trump.

Once upon a time, back in the early 1960s, there was a big, prosperous, international company that specialized in making adding machines and typewriters. Its name was IBM, an abbreviation for International Business Machines.

Additionally, the company was futzing with things called computers — room-filling assortments of big, metal-boxed vacuum tubes, flashing and flickering while they spun tapes on which data was recorded. Data got put into the machines by feeding it cards in which holes were punched at various places. The machine would “read” the data on the cards, and manipulate it ways that would enable it to retrieve information it had already been fed, or do the work of dozens of calculators.

At that time, the company had a long-established one-word slogan. It was coined by the company’s founder, Thomas J. Watson, a remarkable character who also demanded, on pain of dismissal, that all his employees always wear white shirts with suits that were either blue or charcoal. I don’t recall what the dress code said about ties, but you had better bet it was pretty conservative.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the company was desperately hanging on to its slogan despite merciless parody. Typically, the letters THIN would fill a column, with a K either squeezed into the margins, or placed above the rest of the word with a carat. Another popular parody was meant to indicate that some unthinking sloganeer hadn’t proofread his work. “THIMK,” it said.

By the mid 1960s, parody was the least of the problems with the IBM slogan. Computers were being touted around the media as eerie devices that were going to take away everybody’s job. We’d all become unemployed drones, left without income by the terrible “thinking machines” that we’d be forced to serve.

In retrospect the touting was fairly accurate.  But IBM was not about to take that kind of reputation-wrecking rumor lying down. It launched an advertising campaign in which every headline began with the words, “IBM computers don’t think.” The ads would go on to list human-helping benefits of the machines, such as helping to find rare blood to save a life, or locating a lost ship at sea. I’m familiar with this obscure corner of history because I was the 23 year old kid who was writing most of the ads.

But if computers hewed to the company line and didn’t “think,” what was one to do with a slogan that said “Think” at the bottom of the ads? Well, we got rid of the slogan. And for good measure, we generally added to the text of the ads a thought that computers would “free up people to think.”

Pretty soon the THINK slogan suffered the same fate that Grover Norquist wishes on government. It shrank away until somebody drowned it in the bath tub of history.

Now, thanks to Donald Trump,  the United States is also in danger of drowning in the bath tub of history. We are being sucked threat-by-threat into a potential war with North Korea. We are srattling our sword at Venezuela. It may have been possible to fight massive wars on two fronts during WWII when we have a draft. With today’s all-volunteer army it is not. 

And never mind just two fronts. There's still Afghanistan. There's still Iraq. Iran, too, anybody?

Eric Prince and his private war company, Academi (formerly called Xe, and before that, Blackwater) cannot save us, although if he sells the Trump administration on paying him to conduct a war he may quite possibly bankrupt the nation. 

Yet Trump shoots off his mouth — at North Korea, at Venezuela, at Iran, at….well hell, maybe we can go to war with the entire world. 

While in principle I don’t mind Trump painting himself into a corner, he has also managed to paint the entire United States into the same corner to keep him company. And all the national forests and spectacular landscapes that he turns into coal mines, all the streams and drinking water he poisons, all the social safety nets he destroys in the name of…..whatever, will not save us.

Give him a chance and he’ll shoot off his mouth — via Twitter — about any thing that pops into his head. He’ll support racists until his frantic staff grabs his arm and twists it to make him stop. He’ll create internal chaos and disorganization throughout the government. He’ll insult and alienate potential allies. 

Can’t anybody in the White House think? Or even pretend to think? Of if that’s too much trouble, at least Thimk?


I have some family business to attend to, so I'll be away from the blog for a few days. The relief crew will be here, so stop by.