Notes and Comment Blog


Sep 22nd, 2017 10:28 am | By

Jesus and Mo:


Only bad reasons, and some excuses – sums it up, doesn’t it.

Jesus and Mo on Patreon.

Whose bomb is bigger?

Sep 22nd, 2017 8:52 am | By

So this is going well.

Kim Jong-un’s personal statement released on Friday, and his foreign minister’s threat to test a nuclear weapon over the Pacific Ocean, represent a new level of brinkmanship by the government.

Speaking in the first person in his statement, Mr. Kim called Mr. Trump a “frightened dog” and a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” Saying he was personally insulted by Mr. Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea, Mr. Kim vowed to take the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”

In other word’s Trump’s idiotic verbal abuse of Kim at the UN the other day did what sensible observers said it would: it pushed us closer to this nuclear war they both seem to want.

Trump needs to be removed from office immediately, but no one who can do it will do it.

Shortly after the North’s state-run news agency KCNA carried Mr. Kim’s statement, his foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, delivered prepared remarks to reporters outside his hotel in New York, saying it was up to Mr. Kim to decide what to do, but that North Korea might conduct the “biggest ever hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific.”

Mr. Ri could not have made such an alarming comment without approval from Mr. Kim, although analysts doubt whether North Korea has the technology or political daring to conduct an atmospheric nuclear test, which the world has not seen for decades.

Oh well that’s reassuring. If analysts doubt, I’m sure we can all rest easy.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said that Mr. Kim, faced with Mr. Trump’s threat of annihilation, could respond only with equal force.

“When Trump stood before the United Nations General Assembly and threatened to totally destroy his country, Kim Jong-un had to take that as the United States telling the world of its intention for possible military action,” Mr. Koh said. “He had to respond in kind, launching the same kind of verbal bombs.”

Analysts said that by putting his reputation on the line with his statement, Mr. Kim was now far more unlikely to stand down. Instead, his government would use the escalating standoff as an excuse to conduct more nuclear and missile tests, they said.

And Trump, being the incompetent uncontrollable idiot and egomaniac that he is, will do the same thing – shout back even louder, and so on until we’re destroying the planet.

But hey, emails.

How dare she?

Sep 22nd, 2017 7:32 am | By

Katha Pollitt on the Special rules that apply to Hillary Clinton but not Bernie Sanders or John Kerry or Franklin Roosevelt.

Hillary Clinton can’t catch a break. “Flawed” is attached to her name like a Homeric epithet. Never mind that she won almost 3 million more votes than Donald Trump: She lost in three swing states by 80,000, proof that she’s a horrible person who ran the worst campaign ever. But what could you expect? She’s a bitch and a cunt (men), or can’t-put-my-finger-on-it-but-just-not-likable (women). She’s got a shrill voice and thinks she’s oh-so-special. She voted for the war in Iraq—true, so did John Kerry and Joe Biden and that momentary darling of the left, John Edwards, but her vote was just… different. She supported the 1994 crime bill, which Bernie Sanders voted for, but that was different too. She gave those speeches to Goldman Sachs. She’s too feminist, or not feminist enough, too liberal, too conservative, too tame, too outspoken, too known a quantity—but also, who is she really? And she’s too privileged—not at all like Kerry, who married into millions, or, for that matter, FDR. She was too hawkish for the left but too female to be commander in chief for the right—and why did she want to be president anyway, a question asked of no man ever but which she faced a thousand times. Whatevs! Lock her up—if not in prison, in a retirement home. Because have I mentioned that she is old? Just Google “creepy grandma grin.”

Fortunately the other candidate was youthful and at the height of his intellectual powers.

Now she’s written a book, and how dare she?

After all, Hillary writing a book about world-historical events on which she has a unique perspective is nothing like Bernie Sanders publishing a book one week after Election Day, or Barack and Michelle Obama getting a reported $65 million advance for their memoirs, or any of the many other political figures who have told their side of the story while people still remember their names. Some actual headlines: “Hillary, I love you. But please go away”; “Hillary, time to exit the stage”; “Hillary Clinton Is Not Sorry”; “no twinge of remorse.”

Funny how hardly anyone says that to John McCain, who is older than she is.

But she is saying she wasn’t the only factor in Trump’s electoral college win – how dare she?

The left focuses on her rather mild jabs at Sanders, but her other critiques are far more serious—and dead-on, too. The media was at its worst: There was endless coverage of the e-mail non-scandal (Chris Cillizza alone wrote at least 50 columns!) and almost none of her actual positions. While both candidates received largely negative coverage, a curiously neglected Harvard study shows that Trump’s platform got more attention than his scandals, while for Hillary it was the reverse. Comey’s interventions—especially his letter to Congress, just 11 days before the election, stating that he was reopening his investigation into whether she had mishandled classified documents—were disastrous. Without that announcement, Nate Silver strongly suggests, Clinton would have won. (I just hope I live long enough to learn why Comey kept quiet about the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s Russia ties.) The steady drip of hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and the campaign itself, the dissemination of false stories on Facebook through Russian bots and trolls—what Obama called “this dust cloud of nonsense”—it adds up. An RT video called “How 100% of the Clintons’ 2015 ‘charity’ went to…themselves” was viewed 10 million times.

It turns out it’s not such a good idea to get our information from Putin propaganda sites. Who could possibly have known that?!

When it goes out of ease and into disease

Sep 21st, 2017 5:46 pm | By

Time for a visit with Mr Profundity.

You’ll never guess what he’s gone and done – he’s only gone and rejected the modern world and its medical technology. Did you ever?

Big picture aside, most of what afflicts us today – cancer, obesity, mental illness, diabetes, stress, auto-immune disorders, heart disease, along with those slow killers: meaninglessness, clock-watching and loneliness – are industrial ailments. We create stressful, toxic, unhealthy lifestyles fuelled by sugar, caffeine, tobacco, antidepressants, adrenaline, discontent, energy drinks and fast food, and then defend the political ideology that got us hooked on these things in the first place. Our sedentary jobs further deplete our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, but instead of honestly addressing the root cause of the illness we exert ever more effort, energy, genius and money trying to treat the symptoms and contain the epidemics.

Wow! I never knew any of that. I thought we should consume all the tobacco and adrenaline and discontent we possibly can. No wonder I need to sleep seven hours a night.

The philosophy underlying my approach is that of any herbalist: keep the vitality in your body strong, and be mindful to do it every day. When it goes out of ease and into disease, use the appropriate plants – the original source of many industrial medicines – to bring your body and mind back into balance, and to restore optimal functioning. Your body is always aiming for balance and health, and listening to it is one of the best things you can do. Illness is feedback – the sooner you heed it and restore your vitality, the less likely it is you’ll develop more serious problems.

Keep the vitality in your body strong! I know it’s fun to do your best to weaken it, but don’t, because it’s not good for you.

I pick my own fruit and vegetables from the garden and hedgerows, and eat them as fresh, raw and unwashed as is optimal.


Wait, what? I eat my food as fresh, raw and unwashed as is optimal too. I think we all do what we consider optimal. For all we know what Mr Profundity considers optimal is putting all his vegetables and fruit in the washing machine and pushing the start button.

I cycle 120km each week to lakes and rivers, where I then spend three evenings of that week relaxing and catching the following day’s dinner. I work outdoors, getting sweaty and dirty doing things I enjoy. I made the tough decision to live in the natural world so that I could breathe clean air, drink pure water and create life that allows others the same. I wash with water, and water only. I use no chemicals inside or outside the house. I wear as few clothes as I need, I use nothing electrical – no fridge, no screens, no phone. I avoid sugar, caffeine and stress like the plague.

What’s he doing avoiding the plague? It’s so nice and natural.

Sleep comes and goes with the light – I find six hours of peaceful rest sufficient. If and when I do feel ill or out of balance, my girlfriend Kirsty (who illustrates these articles and is teaching herself herbalism) recommends a plant from our herb patch and I slowly feel vital again. She’s currently drying yarrow, horsetail, silverweed, self-heal, calendula and chamomile for the winter months.

Have a dandelion, you’ll feel more vital.

Winners need to win

Sep 21st, 2017 12:46 pm | By

Thomas Frank at Comment is Free in June 2016:

It felt so right, this Democratic infatuation with the triumphant young global professional. So right, and for a certain class of successful Americans, so very, very obvious. What you do with winners like these is you celebrate them. Winners need to win. Winners need to have their loan payments deferred, to have venture capital directed their way by a former president. That all these gestures might actually represent self-serving behavior by an insular elite does not appear to have crossed our leaders’ minds in those complacent days of June 2016.

But by the time of Hillary Clinton’s speech the happy, complacent mood was already beginning to crumble. Just a few days before her salute to tech winners came Brexit, a blunt and ugly rejection of some of her cohort’s most cherished ideas. A short while later came the FBI’s pronouncement on Hillary Clinton’s email practices, removing the threat of prosecution but not the aura of outrageous misbehavior. And then, like a drumbeat of horror, came a series of police shootings of black men, followed quickly by the murder of five policemen in Dallas. Over it all hung the fear that these events might somehow propel this unthinkable man, Donald Trump, into the White House.

Even David Brook was perturbed, and wrote a perturbed column saying he was perturbed.

Brooks-in-despair is a pitiful sight, and one can’t help but sympathize. But what’s really remarkable about the response to these shocks of people like him has been their inability to acknowledge that their own satisfied white-collar class might be part of the problem. On this they are utterly in denial and whatever the disaster, the answer they give is always … more of the same. More “innovation”. More venture capital. More sharp young global Stanford entrepreneurs. There is no problem that more people like they themselves can’t solve.

Consider the New York Times think-piece on the Brexit that ran on 7 July. It mocked the British government for being dominated by a tiny, incestuous circle of friends, but then reassured readers that things simply aren’t like that here in the USA: “It’s as if President Obama’s inner circle consisted almost entirely of his friends, neighbors and fellow Harvard graduates,” supposedly an impossibility. I had to read that passage over again and again to understand it, so great was the cognitive dissonance. President Obama’s inner circle does consist of his fellow Harvard graduates; encouraging Obama to appoint such people and documenting their adventures in government has been a pundit obsession for years. Applauding Bill Clinton for doing the same with his Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law friends was also once a standard journalistic trope.

It’s the best and the brightest all over again.

I wouldn’t argue that presidents shouldn’t hire lots of people from Harvard and Yale…but I would argue that they should also hire lots of people with other forms of credentials, such as for instance union experience.

It’s easy to see the problems presented by a cliquish elite when they happen elsewhere. In the countries of Old Europe, maybe, powerful politicians sell out grotesquely to Goldman Sachs; but when an idealistic American president announces that he wants to seek a career in venture capital, we have trouble saying much of anything. In Britain, maybe, they have an “establishment”; but what we have in America, we think, are talented people who deserve to be on top. One wonders what kind of a shock it will take to shake us out of this meritocratic complacency once and for all.

On the other hand now we have Trump who might as well be heeding Frank’s question, because he carefully does not hire talented people who deserve to be on top, but instead talentless stooges and cronies who share his “everything for the rich” ideology. It’s not an improvement.

Too busy attending TED talks

Sep 21st, 2017 11:22 am | By

I’m reading Thomas Frank’s Listen, Liberal. The Times ran a review in April 2016, while liberals were cheerfully watching the Republicans destroy themselves…

At the same time, many liberals have expressed a grim satisfaction in watching the Republican Party tear itself apart. Whatever terrible fate might soon befall the nation, the thinking goes, it’s their fault, not ours. They are the ones stirring up the base prejudices and epic resentments of America’s disaffected white working class, and they must now reap the whirlwind.

In his new book, the social critic Thomas Frank ­poses another possibility: that liberals in general — and the Democratic Party in particular — should look inward to understand the sorry state of American politics. Too busy attending TED talks and ­vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, Frank argues, the Democratic elite has abandoned the party’s traditional commitments to the working class.

He’s not wrong about that.

Frank’s most famous book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (2004), argued that Republicans had duped the white working class by pounding the table on social issues while delivering tax cuts for the rich. He focused on Kansas as the reddest of red states (and, not incidentally, the place of his birth). This time Frank is coming for the Ivy League blue-state liberals, that “tight little network of enlightened strivers” who have allegedly been running the country into the ground. Think of it as “What’s the Matter With Massachusetts?”

Frank’s book is an unabashed polemic, not a studious examination of policy or polling trends. In Frank’s view, liberal policy wonks are part of the problem, members of a well-educated elite that massages its own technocratic vanities while utterly missing the big question of the day. To Frank, that question hasn’t changed much over the last few centuries. “It is the eternal conflict of management and labor, owner and worker, rich and poor — only with one side pinned to the ground and the other leisurely pounding away at its adversary’s face,” he writes.

The book is an unabashed polemic but it is one with citations. He doesn’t just spin his “view” out of nothing; he makes an argument and he cites sources.

And he’s not wrong. There’s a very interesting (and persuasive) chapter about professionals as the new ruling class, and meritocracy as the unquestioned ideology of that class, and both political parties, and basically everyone except…of course…the working class.

Frank argues that the Democratic Party — once “the Party of the People” — now caters to the interests of a “professional-managerial class” consisting of lawyers, doctors, professors, scientists, programmers, even investment bankers. These affluent city dwellers and suburbanites believe firmly in meritocracy and individual opportunity, but shun the kind of social policies that once gave a real leg up to the working class. In the book, Frank points to the Democrats’ neglect of organized labor and support for Nafta as examples of this sensibility, in which “you get what you deserve, and what you deserve is defined by how you did in school.”

Which wouldn’t be so terrible, maybe, if it went along with strong support for unions, a national health service, health and safety regulations, good public schools…you know, all that. But it doesn’t.

The problem, in Frank’s view, is not simply that mainstream Democrats have failed to address growing inequality. Instead, he suggests something more sinister: Today’s leading Democrats actually don’t want to reduce inequality because they believe that inequality is the normal and righteous order of things.

I don’t know if I think it’s that or if it’s that they think touching inequality will electrocute them.

Frank’s book ends on a pessimistic note. After two decades of pleading with liberals to think seriously about inequality, to honor what was best about the New Deal, Frank has concluded that things will probably continue to get worse. “The Democrats have no interest in reforming themselves in a more egalitarian way,” he writes. “There is little the rest of us can do, given the current legal arrangements of this country, to build a vital third-party movement or to revive organized labor.”

But this conclusion, too, may rest on a faulty analogy with the 1930s. Franklin Roosevelt did not suddenly decide on his own to enact Social Security or grant union rights. Those ideas came up from below, through decades of frustration and struggle and conflict. If Americans want something different from their politicians, there is no alternative to this kind of exhausting and uncertain hard work. In the end, it is the only way that liberals — or conservatives — will listen.

Right now they seem to be too busy cheering on white supremacists.

By our own example we must teach children

Sep 21st, 2017 10:32 am | By


Melania Trump gave a speech at the UN “on the dangers of cyber-bullying.”

That’s nice, I guess, but she is after all married to the biggest cyber bully on the planet.

Now, she doesn’t make him do that, obviously, and she’s not exactly responsible for him, not quite so obviously…but she does live with him and stay married to him and appear by his side at intervals. She’s not exactly responsible for him but she is implicated in his bad behavior, because she stays. Is that unfair? No, I don’t think so, not really – not given the highly visible nature of his bullying, and how extreme it is. There’s something ethically wrong with someone who condones that level of brutality, and she does condone it by sticking around.

“We must teach each child the values of empathy and communication that are at the core of the kindness, mindfulness, integrity and leadership which can only be taught by example,” Mrs Trump said, raising more than a few eyebrows in the process, given her husband’s online behaviour.

“By our own example we must teach children to be good stewards of the world they will inherit.

“We must remember that they are watching and listening so we must never miss an opportunity to teach life’s many ethical lessons along the way.”

Like her own kid, who (I assume) is watching and listening to the way his father carries on. That’s some ethical lesson right there.

Donald Trump has been accused of using his own social media accounts to bully a vast array of people.

Accused? We’ve all seen them. We can see them right now.

Someone steals your idea

Sep 20th, 2017 4:04 pm | By

Nine non-threatening leadership strategies for women, by Sarah Cooper.

If a male coworker steals your idea in a meeting, thank him for it. Give him kudos for how he explained your idea so clearly. And let’s face it, no one might’ve ever heard it if he hadn’t repeated it.

There are eight more. They’re great.


To pick up a city and move it inland 20 miles

Sep 20th, 2017 3:21 pm | By

It could be too late already.

Scientist and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said Sunday that, in the wake of devastating floods and damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, climate change had become so severe that the country “might not be able to recover.”

In an interview on CNN’s “GPS,” Tyson got emotional when Fareed Zakaria asked what he made of Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert’s refusal to say whether climate change had been a factor in Hurricanes Harvey or Irma’s strength — despite scientific evidence pointing to the fact that it had made the storms more destructive.

“Fifty inches of rain in Houston!” Tyson exclaimed, adding, “This is a shot across our bow, a hurricane the width of Florida going up the center of Florida!”

“What will it take for people to recognize that a community of scientists are learning objective truths about the natural world and that you can benefit from knowing about it?” he said.

Here, in the US? A completely different political system.

Tyson told Zakaria that he believed that the longer the delay when it comes to responding to the ongoing threat of climate change, the bleaker the outcome. And perhaps, he hazarded, it was already even too late.

“I worry that we might not be able to recover from this because all our greatest cities are on the oceans and water’s edges, historically for commerce and transportation,” he said.

“And as storms kick in, as water levels rise, they are the first to go,” he said. “And we don’t have a system — we don’t have a civilization with the capacity to pick up a city and move it inland 20 miles. That’s — this is happening faster than our ability to respond. That could have huge economic consequences.”

I’ve been thinking that too, in fact I thought it with Katrina and Sandy – as of course did a lot of people. It’s hard to ignore: there are a lot of cities on coasts, and a direct hit on one city costs billions to repair. It’s clearly not going to work to just keep getting wiped out and then fixing it and getting wiped out again the next summer. But what’s it going to take for the people in charge to do anything about it? Total devastation, I guess.

He congratulates them

Sep 20th, 2017 11:47 am | By

Trump exercising his diplomatic skillz again.

At a United Nations lunch Wednesday with African leaders, President Trump marveled at Africa’s “tremendous business potential.” “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich,” he said. “I congratulate you, they’re spending a lot of money.”

Oh yes, Africa has done so well from all those rich business dudes buying up natural resources. It’s super nice of Trump to congratulate the heads of state on their good fortune, and not at all creepy and patronizing.

There’s a video clip of him saying it, so you can watch his bizarro gestures while he says that stupid thing.

You expect him to take the bus?

Sep 20th, 2017 10:54 am | By

Typical hypocrisy coupled with greedy self-indulgence.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is taking an unprecedented number if privately chartered flights to conduct official business, taking a substantial financial toll compared to traveling commercially.

Politico reported Monday that Price opted for private travel as many as five times last week, including a stop in Philadelphia on a private jet from Virginia’s Dulles airport, which is just a 135-mile trip.

The trips also included a privately chartered jet to New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and a resort in Maine.

A resort…hmm…well maybe he needed to inspect how healthy the resort is, or how good its services are, or both.

The cost of such travel can amount to tens of thousands of dollars above commercial traveling. For instance, booking a private flight from the Washington, DC area to Philadelphia can cost upwards of $25,000.

But it saves him upwards of twenty minutes, so it’s obviously money well spent.

“As part of the HHS mission to enhance and protect the health and well-being of the American people, Secretary Price travels on occasion outside Washington to meet face to face with the American people to hear their thoughts and concerns firsthand,” the HHS spokesperson said. “When commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel.”

Price, previously a Republican congressman from Georgia, often railed against government spending on frivolous perks, including private travel by members of Congress.

Yes but he’s not a member of Congress. Checkmate.

Off to Threadneedle Street

Sep 20th, 2017 9:57 am | By

The Guardian last week:

A campaigner who forced the Bank of England to have female representation on banknotes has pledged to donate her first Jane Austen tenner to a women’s shelter as the new plastic currency enters circulation.

Caroline Criado-Perez threatened to take the Bank to court for discrimination when the former governor Mervyn King announced that it was phasing out paper fivers featuring the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, the only woman other than the Queen to feature on legal tender at that time.

They were replaced last year by the new £5 featuring Winston Churchill.

But on the new £10 note the bank backed down and on Thursday more than 1bn new tenners featuring Austen begin entering circulation. It ends a four-month period in which there has been no usable note featuring a woman other than the Queen.

Twitter today:

41 minutes of hell

Sep 19th, 2017 4:32 pm | By

The Guardian did an “as it happens” of the UN meeting, including Trump’s speech. It’s quite funny in places. Trump starts on page 3.

Trump speaks about protecting the rights given by God, emphasizing the word “God” and pausing before he continues.

“In America, we do not seek to impose our life on anyone,” he says but the US wants to shine as an example.

He says he was elected to give power to the people “where it belongs”.

“As president of the United States” he will always put America first, he says. He gets louder, saying that’s what all countries should do. He gets some claps for that remark.

“He gets louder” – of course he does. It’s all he knows: the pinch, the point, and getting louder.

Trump says the United States will no longer be taken advantage of in deals it makes with other countries.

“Our citizens have paid the ultimate price to defend our freedom,” he says. They have also fought to defend other countries represented in the room, he says.

“It is an eternal credit to the American character,” that we have fought wars abroad but have not “sought territorial expansion” and not imposed our way of life on other people.

Oh rilly? Mexico could point out that rather large chunk of its territory that we grabbed – you know, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Texas – odds and ends like that. Then there are the indigenous people who were living here when we bounced in and sought territorial expansion like billy-o.

“We want harmony and friendship, not conflict and strife,” he says.

He says, a few minutes before gloating at the prospect of destroying North Korea.

Trump’s speaks loudly again as he discusses the threat of international terrorism.

He says the US is working with its allies in the Middle East to “crush” terrorists.

“Our country has achieved more against Isis in the last eight months,” says Trump, then it has in the years before combined. It’s unclear what measure he is using for achievement.

He thanks Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for hosting refugees.

“The United States is a compassionate nation,” he says, before launching into a defense of his government’s efforts to reduce the refugee cap in the US.

Yeah that’s the guy. Say something and then say the opposite. Nobody ever taught him what a contradiction is.

Trump briefly winds down his speech to speak about the need to empower “women entrepreneurs,” earning applause, before becoming angry again to talk about the US contributions to the UN.

He says the US carries an “unfair burden” with the resources it provides to the UN.

Trump then attacks Cuba and the government of Venezuela. He says people need to do more to address the situation there.

Nukes, maybe?

Trump speaks about the US middle class, saying they will be “forgotten no more”.

He heralds the importance of patriotism, again emphasizing that countries can only resolve global conflict if they protect themselves and their interests first.

“Now we are calling for a great reawakening of nations,” he says.

“We need to defeat the enemies of humanity and unlock the potential of life itself,” he says.

Trump thanks the audience and concludes, after about 41 minutes and 20 seconds, by saying: “God bless you, God bless the nations of the world, and God bless the United states of America”.

That’s disgusting. He threatens to destroy North Korea while talking about “Rocket Man” and then he goes into full-blown messianic bullshit.

The “righteous many” against the “wicked few”

Sep 19th, 2017 4:11 pm | By

Let’s see what they’re saying about Trump’s horrific speech outside the US. Let’s read the Guardian.

Donald Trump’s maiden address to the UN general assembly was unlike any ever delivered in the chamber by a US president.

There are precedents for such fulminations, but not from US leaders. In tone, the speech was more reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez.

And going back to pre-UN days it was reminiscent of Hitler. Yes, Hitler.

Like Bush, Trump offered the world a black-and-white choice between the “righteous many” against the “wicked few” – but his choice of language was far blunter than his predecessor. There can not have been many, if any, threats to “totally destroy” another nation at a UN general assembly. He did not even direct the threat at the regime, making it clear it was North Korea as a country that was at peril.

Trump issued the warning just minutes after the UN secretary general, António Guterres, had appealed for calmer rhetoric. “Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings,” Guterres had said in his own first general assembly address, and it was clear who those remarks were directed towards.

But Trump thinks he’s a law unto himself, and that everyone else is beneath him. He won’t have given a rat’s ass what António Guterres said.

Venezuela was targeted for the socialist policies of the Nicolás Maduro government and the erosion of its democracy, but Trump did not attempt to distinguish Venezuela’s faults from other autocratic regimes with whom Trump has sought to cultivate.

Saudi Arabia was not mentioned. Nor was Russia, although there was, early on in the speech, a rare public expression of support for Ukrainian sovereignty.

Well they’re not socialist. There’s none of that pesky insistence that the wretched of the earth should get a share of the good things too.

Nor was there any explanation of how the castigation of these “rogue regimes” dovetailed with the dominant theme of the first half of Trump’s speech, which was devoted to the assertion of the undiluted sovereignty of the nation state.

Seeking to draw a sharp line between his view of international relations and those of his predecessors in the Oval Office, Trump stressed that diverse nations had the right to their own “values” and “culture” without the interference of outsiders. The UN was there as a forum for cooperation between strong and independent nations, not to impose “global governance” from on high.

In a briefing on the eve of the speech, a senior White House official had insisted that Trump had pondered long and hard over this “deeply philosophical” segment of his address, as it marked an important exposition of his approach to foreign policy, labelled “principled realism”.

Trump and his administration have frequently invoked such ideas to justify the absence of criticism for Saudi Arabia, Russia and other perceived partners for their appalling human rights records.

With Tuesday’s address, however, Trump punched yawning holes in his own would-be doctrine, singling out enemies, expressing horror at their treatment of their people and threatening interference to the point of annihilation.

What was left, when the muted applause died down in the UN chamber, was a sense of incoherence and a capricious menace hanging in the air.

He’s a toddler with nukes. He’s the stupidest man any of us have ever seen in that job, and he may well destroy everything.

In a better world

Sep 19th, 2017 11:30 am | By

I hear we need some furry beasts again.

Not the Templars again

Sep 19th, 2017 11:21 am | By

There’s a quirk in the white supremacist movement that I was unaware of: it likes to play Medieval.

White supremacists explicitly celebrate Europe in the Middle Ages because they imagine that it was a pure, white, Christian place organized wholesomely around military resistance to outside, non-white, non-Christian, forces. Marchers in Charlottesville held symbols of the medieval Holy Roman Empire and of the Knights Templar. The Portland murderer praised “Vinland,” a medieval Viking name for North America, in order to assert historical white ownership over the landmass: Vinlander racists like to claim that whites are “indigenous” here on the basis of medieval Scandinavian lore. Similarly, European anti-Islamic bigots dress up in medieval costumes and share the “crying Templar” meme. Someone sprayed “saracen go home” and “deus vult”—a Latin phrase meaning “God wills it” and associated with the history of the Crusades—on a Scottish mosque. The paramilitary “Knights Templar International” is preparing for a race war. In tweets since locked behind private accounts, University of Reno students reacted to seeing classmate Peter Cvjetanovic at the Virginia tiki-torch rally, saying they knew him as the guy who said racist things in their medieval history classes.

Mark Twain could have told us this would happen. He called it “Sir Walter disease” and he despised it.

I thought back to other, less explicit ways that I’ve observed white supremacists engaging with the Middle Ages. I’m not sure we’re as ready to handle the racism when it lurks in the subtext and context, rather than when a bigot picks up a Templar shield. It’s easy to overlook both the depths of white-supremacist celebration of the Middle Ages and the ease with which these groups pluck out appealing nuggets of white-supremacist ideology from any product that lacks an explicit rejection of same.

For example, before it was taken offline, I would regularly read the white-supremacist discussion boards at Stormfront, scanning for medieval history content so I could better understand this dynamic. The posters, predictably, spend time celebrating their understanding of the spirit of the Crusades (treating them as a heroic Lost Cause) and gleefully retelling narratives of Jewish expulsion while denying that there was ever a wholesale massacre.

It’s too bad they don’t all watch cooking shows instead.

And a little child shall barf on them

Sep 19th, 2017 10:08 am | By

Of course he does. Trump makes his debut at the UN by threatening to destroy North Korea while at the same time calling Kim Jong Un by a ridiculous childish nickname. We’re living in a serial titled The Giant Toddler Who Destroyed the Earth.

“We meet at a time of immense promise and great peril,” Trump said in his maiden address to more than 150 international delegations at the annual U.N. General Assembly. “It is up to us whether we will lift the world to new heights or let it fall into a valley of disrepair.”

Oops. That was “despair,” Don. Do more rehearsals. The world is not a car that needs repair; it’s a little more complicated than that.

“I will always put America first just like you, the leaders of your countries, should put your countries first,” Trump said, returning to a campaign theme and the “America First” phrase that has been criticized as isolationist and nationalistic.

And undermining the whole point of the UN, which was born out of the real-time observation that nationalism ends in war.

Trump praised the United Nations for enacting economic sanctions on Pyongyang over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. But he emphasized that if Kim Jong Un’s regime continued to threaten the United States and to destabilize East Asia, his administration would be prepared to defend the country and its allies.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said, before calling Kim by a nickname he gave the dictator on Twitter over the weekend. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.”

And everyone present wished his nanny would come in and drag him back to the nursery.

You grab the eyeballs however you can

Sep 18th, 2017 4:53 pm | By

Frank Bruni is not amused by Sean Spicer’s gig at the Emmys.

[W]hat I and anyone else who tuned in to Hollywood’s latest self-congratulatory orgy on Sunday saw wasn’t good fun. It was bad news — a ringing, stinging confirmation that fame truly is its own reward and celebrity really does trump everything and redeem everyone.

Object of ridicule or object of reverence: Is there a difference? Not if you’re a household name, not if you’re a proven agent of ratings and not if you’re likely to deliver more of them. Our commander in chief took that crude philosophy to heart and rode it all the way to the White House. Sean Spicer took a page from the president and then a bow on the Emmys stage.

Not exactly a bow, and there are Emmys production folks and television industry figures who are telling themselves that during his fleeting appearance at the ceremony, Spicer was being slyly demeaned, not sanitized.

What bunk. The message of his presence was not only that we can all laugh at his service and sycophancy in the Trump administration, but that he’s welcome to laugh with us.

Well jeez, all he did was lie to us for five months. Aren’t they allowed to do that? Don’t we expect it?

Spicer came onto the stage behind the kind of podium that Melissa McCarthy used in her impersonations of him and told the Emmys host, Stephen Colbert, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period — both in person and around the world.”

His words alluded, obviously, to his fictitious claim — at his very first news conference as the White House press secretary — about the crowds for Trump’s inauguration. But that claim wasn’t merely ludicrous. It was precisely and perfectly emblematic of Trump’s all-out, continuing assault on facts and on truth itself. And it signaled Spicer’s full collaboration in that war, which is arguably the most dangerous facet of Trump’s politics, with the most far-reaching, long-lasting consequences.

Which is not any kind of joke. Remember how he tweeted that Obama had wiretapped him? Which was a libelous lie? Remember how he insisted there were good people “on both sides” in Charlottesville? Remember the birther lies that went on for years?

[A]t the Emmys, Colbert abetted Spicer’s image overhaul and probably upped Spicer’s speaking fees by letting him demonstrate what a self-effacing sport he could be. The moment went viral, and I suppose that’s the point. You grab the eyeballs however you can. Trump taught America that, too.

And that’s how we got into this mess.

Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci and Corey Lewandowski are all graduating to greater recognition and riches, never mind that they willingly promoted, ignored or sugarcoated actions and pronouncements by Trump that went well beyond the established norms of partisan politics.

Spicer and Lewandowski will be fellows at Harvard, never mind their volitional submission to someone whose lack of character, grace and basic maturity was just affirmed anew by his retweet of a video of him hitting a golf ball into Hillary Clinton and knocking her over.

He’s not politically correct! He’s tough! He’s rich! He’s famous! What more do we want?

Confidence is high

Sep 18th, 2017 4:04 pm | By

Republicans are hoping to be able finally at long last to take health insurance away from millions of people. They’re wetting themselves with excitement, because it’s looking good!

Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress on Monday demanded that lawmakers wait to find out the budgetary and healthcare impacts of a new, last-ditch legislative effort by Republicans to repeal Obamacare before voting on it.

In their long-running war on former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, Senate Republicans are now proposing to replace it with a system that would give states money in block grants to run their own healthcare programs.

The Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan fiscal analysis unit of Congress, said Monday it will make a preliminary assessment of the bill’s impact next week. But it said it won’t be able to estimate the impact on the deficit or changes in insurance coverage or premiums for several weeks.

Which you would think would be a reason not to pass it now, but that would be silly, because the point is to pass it, not to worry about what the consequences would be. That’s grown-up politics.

Past Republican proposals to dismantle Obamacare have been hampered, in part, by CBO estimates that showed the bills would have left millions more Americans without health insurance.

Obama’s healthcare reform provided health benefits to 20 million Americans. Since its passage, Republicans have sought to undermine it.

Because they want those 20 million Americans to lose those health benefits. That’s how they roll.

Lunch break

Sep 18th, 2017 12:31 pm | By

So that’s hilarious.

It is every Washington reporter’s dream to sit down at a restaurant, overhear secret stuff and get a scoop. It rarely happens.

Still, everyone in town important enough to have secrets worth keeping knows that secrets are not safe on the Acela train and in Washington restaurants.

This is especially true in eateries next door to a major newspaper.

Yes, Ty Cobb and John Dowd, lawyers for President Trump, we’re talking to you.

But it’s too late now.

*stops reading in order to laugh*

Really? Really? Trump’s lawyers went out for munchies and talked loudly enough to be overheard? Really?

Together, they went for what appears to have been a working lunch at BLT Steak, 1625 I St. NW in Washington. It’s close to the White House and very convenient.

It’s also next door to 1627 I St. NW, which happens to house the Washington bureau of the New York Times.

Walkies, see? Takes 1 (one) minute. They might as well have gotten takeout and gone and sat at a reporter’s desk.

But they basically did, because there was one at the next table. I guess he wasn’t wearing a big neon sign that said NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER so Trump’s lawyers felt safe discussing things at normal conversational volume.

Vogel overheard the lawyers talking about White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II and Jared Kushner, president Trump’s son-in-law, as well as the infamous Trump Tower meeting. Here’s a sample from the article bearing the bylines of Vogel and Peter Baker:

Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed “a McGahn spy” and saying Mr. McGahn had “a couple documents locked in a safe” that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to. He also mentioned a colleague whom he blamed for “some of these earlier leaks,” and who he said “tried to push Jared out …”

The White House Counsel’s Office is being very conservative with this stuff,” Mr. Cobb told Mr. Dowd. “Our view is we’re not hiding anything.” Referring to Mr. McGahn, he added, “He’s got a couple documents locked in a safe.”

… Mr. Cobb also discussed the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting — and the White House’s response to it — saying that “there was no perception that there was an exchange.”

The movie is probably in production as we speak, with Jim Carey and Seth Rogen playing the lawyers.
Plus…the reporter snapped a photo.

Apparently Kelly is not best pleased.