Saturday, March 11, 2017

Diversion of the Day

Meanwhile in New York City, Barack and Michelle Obama brunched with Bono and his daughter at the Upland restaurant, where they were reportedly served--among other dishes--this scrumptious looking cacio e pepe  (recipe is here if you're interested.)

When they left, the President and First Lady got a standing ovation from other diners and cheers from the folks outside.

On Thursday the Obamas lunched at the Italian restaurant Carbone in NYC with daughter Malia.

Looking good and eating Italian food.  Style and good taste!

Early Impact

A woman who is afraid the Republican healthcare plan will mean her death, literally. A young man who says his father and brother were deported, and promptly murdered.  Another woman who is plagued by nightmares about the regime in the White House.  These aren't news stories.  They are people nearby.  There are many such stories.

As the assault continues, many feel like this woman and her father in the 1998 film Deep Impact, standing on a beach waiting to be swept away by a gigantic tidal wave.

The feeling is real and widespread, even if particular catastrophes may not be so imminent.  The Republican healthcare bill, opposed by major medical and medical insurance organizations as well as most of the nation's governors, is unlikely to become law, despite the brazenly irresponsible action of GOP House committees to speed through approval without even waiting for the plan to be costed out, let alone carefully analyzed and debated.  And environmental catastrophe due to EPA absence or negligence can come at any time, but the worst consequences are pushed off to the future, when it will be too late to stop them.

But it is the tidal wave of horrors every day that is so overwhelming, and the feeling that while certain groups and individuals are in imminent danger, a larger totalitarian regime is building.

If anyone thought previous posts here were alarmist, they will find even deeper and more elaborated alarm in Mark Danner's lead piece in the latest New York Review of Books issue.  He notes something that others intuit, if only in their waking or sleeping nightmares:

"Ours is famously said to be a government of laws, not of men, and yet we find in the Age of Trump that the laws depend on men and women willing to step forward and press them and that such are not to be found in the dominant party in Congress."

Ignoring Homegrown Hitler's lawlessness and recklessness now only emboldens him.  Danner suggests in slightly more detail what I have in brief-- that any real or imagined terrorist attack or aggression by, say, North Korea (though of course not Russia) could well become the pretext for a truly totalitarian state, using all the new technologies of surveillance and control.

At the moment he does not have the loyalty of the military, intelligence agencies or most of the federal police--though that could change in a flash of media imagery and bombast.  But as I suspected he apparently does have the immigration police, so failing a violent excuse, he will exercise his power there.  Besides, it's early yet.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Dictator Apprentice: The Next Step

He operates as an authoritarian both in substance and attitude (it's worth repeating the point made by a German newspaper, that Trump, like all dictators "believe that the words that come from their mouths as powerful leaders are the truth and that the media, when it strays from them, is telling lies. That's autocratic thinking — and it is how you sustain a dictatorship.")

However, there is also a civil war going on in Washington, most recently involving the regime's relationship to Russia and now the baseless charge of wiretapping, which has opened a rift between the White House and the FBI.

The problem for the Apprentice Dictator is that he needs political support but especially the support of the military and federal police.  He needs an unwaveringly loyal Gestapo.

It's clear from the absurd statements of the House committee chair who refuses to investigate the Russian connection because he sees no reason to, that the Apprentice Dictator has at least some meaningful political support for maintaining power regardless of anything he says or does.

And it's unfortunately clear also that elements of the federal police--notably members of the Immigration police force and Homeland Security or whoever it is that has been persecuting foreign nationals at airport security--are willing and able to enforce his xenophobic policies.

The military is another question.  It's likely that recent appointees from the military to major national security posts have some support within the US military, but also a lot of doubters.  But there are more direct ways to win over the military: give them a war, and give them money.

Even giving them a war might not work, but the regime is proposing to give them a lot more money.  In its proposed budget, everybody else gets starved but the military gets a big raise.  And some kind of war is coming.

Money corrupts, and it has a long history of corrupting the military.  Hasn't anybody else noticed that this is a formula for the Apprentice Dictator to become a full-fledged Dictator?

Presiding Over the Cruelty State

Trump’s revised travel ban is still cruel and still unconstitutional reads the headline to Ilya Somin's analysis in the Washington Post.  Cruelty characterizes cases of immigration enforcement and overreach increasingly making the news, including a father arrested immediately after dropping his children off at school, as they watched.

Xenophobic policy inspires acts of violence against people of specific ethnic groups, including two incidents in the state of Washington.  Cruelty is the official policy and not unexpected result of the regime rapidly presiding over the Cruelty State.

Late Monday the Republican plan to destroy Obamacare was released, proposing to end support for healthcare for the poor.  "Let them die" is now official Republican party policy.

Part of the cruelty regime is the so-called "deconstruction" of the "administrative state."  First of all, it's a trendy misuse of the word "deconstruct," which has three standard definitions before it gets to the meaning here, which is "destruction."

There is no analysis involved--just destruction.  There are two chief tools to this destruction: withdrawing (i.e. destroying) funding and destroying regulations.  Both are most obvious in the area of environment, where funds are taken away from crucial programs and staff at EPA and NASA, for example.  But it's happening elsewhere.

As is the sweeping away of regulations that safeguard health and safety.  For example, as flagged by the New York Times: Giants in telecommunications, like Verizon and AT&T, will not have to take “reasonable measures” to ensure that their customers’ Social Security numbers, web browsing history and other personal information are not stolen or accidentally released.

Other of the more than 90 regulations forestalled by the new regime already were designed to protect against mentally ill persons getting guns as well as letting banks get away with stealing.

When consumers are directly affected, controversy and law suits are likely to follow.  But in the meantime, people will suffer.  And voiding regulations meant to protect the health of children as well as the natural environment that supports all life means that people well into the future will suffer.  This is the Cruelty State, and it's just getting started.

Sunday, March 05, 2017


If the strategy behind Homegrown Hitler's charges against President Obama was to deflect attention from his regime's potentially illegal conspiracy with Russia and then lying about it, it's not going well.

On the accusations, the New York Times:

"The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday. Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected, they said, but the department has not released any such statement.

Mr. Comey’s request is a remarkable rebuke of a sitting president, putting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the position of questioning Mr. Trump’s truthfulness. The confrontation between the two is the most serious consequence of Mr. Trump’s weekend Twitter outburst, and it underscores the dangers of what the president and his aides have unleashed by accusing the former president of a conspiracy to undermine Mr. Trump’s young administration."

The Times notes however that weasly Comey could himself issue such a statement on behalf of the FBI, which would have carried out wiretaps and so is itself being accused.

On the blowback, CNN:

"The mystery over Donald Trump and Russia is taking a corrosive hold on his presidency, sowing accusations and hysteria that threaten to overwhelm his White House and drain his personal credibility.

Washington has become a hall of mirrors, where it's impossible to distinguish between rumor and fact as conspiracy theories and partisan paroxysms rage -- all arising from an alleged Russian spy plot to sway last year's election that is now clouding the new administration.

The White House is finding it impossible to put to rest claims it has improper ties to Russia. Often, President Trump himself reignites the drama — apparently to his detriment — as with his sensational claim Saturday that his predecessor Barack Obama tapped his phones."

Absent some of the hyperbole, other outlets like the Washington Post have made the same point.

Opined E.J. Dionne. "Trump has a problem either way. If he was not wiretapped, he invented a spectacularly false charge. And if a court ordered some sort of surveillance of him, on what grounds did it do so?  Every time the issue of the relationship between Trump’s apparatus and Moscow comes up, he is moved to unleash unhinged counterattacks. This only underscores how urgent it is to get to the bottom of this story quickly."

"Even by the surreal standards set during his early weeks in office,... Trump's tweets over the weekend marked a potentially dangerous turn in the course of American democracy," wrote Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post.  He quotes a German newspaper that likened Trump to the dictator of Turkey. ""They believe that the words that come from their mouths as powerful leaders are the truth and that the media, when it strays from them, is telling lies. That's autocratic thinking — and it is how you sustain a dictatorship."

In a story about Kellyanne Conway challenging Comey to go public with what he knows about wiretaps, Fox News quotes Nancy Pelosi about the initial Trumped up charge: 'It's called a wrap-up smear. You make up something. Then you have the press write about it. And then you say, everybody is writing about this charge. It's a tool of an authoritarian," Pelosi said.

Update: WAPost Daily 202 on Monday suggests Trump did sort of get away with it by getting the media off Sessions' lies, but ultimately he may well pay a price.

NBC News suggests President Obama may have grounds to sue for libel.

Meanwhile, a relaxed and informally dressed President Obama visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington with his wife Michelle.  Afterwards a crowd outside cheered him.