OUR MAN IN AMERICA II: ‘BABIES, INNOCENT BABIES”

“`Written in late April, published in The Jackal this week.

Many years ago, in diffident preparation for an unenvisioned future, I drifted through graduate school. I took a course in Middle Eastern Politics with an accomplished professor who had recently helped President Carter pull off the Camp David accords. One day he gave us an project; several of us were assigned roles as nations, and we told to return the next week and conduct peace negotiations. I was cast as the Soviet Union, a plum role in what was still the Brezhnev era, and I might have done well, had I not completely forgotten about the task. Instead, I arrived at class on the day of the summit, blithely unprepared to represent the interests and designs of a nuclear superpower.

Fortunately, a classmate reminded me of what was about to happen, and in three minutes I scribbled down everything I could remember about Soviet policy. When the professor called on me to gave my introductory remarks, I took the podium and brazenly delivered a firm but small set of demands with what I hoped would be read as imperious disdain. That took about a minute, and then I sat down. The professor seemed shocked that a major diplomat could be so succinct, but in the end, he noted only that in real life, the USSR probably would have spent some time chatting with tis allies about what it was going to say.

I often remember this embarrassing experience as I watch President Trump vamp his way through the early months of his administration. He, too, seems to be making up his policies as he goes along. The Chinese are currency manipulators; the Chinese are not currency manipulators; maybe the United States should pull out of NATO; no, NATO is a force for good. It’s like watching President Bill Murray in Groundhog Day II: The Oval Office Years, where what happened yesterday just doesn’t matter. Need somebody to handle North Korea? Trump says make China do it, at least until he talks to Xi Jinping. “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over North Korea]. But it’s not what you would think.” It never is.

The policy that made it most seem like Trump was a quick-stepping contestant on Dancing with the Stars involved Syria. For months Trump had proclaimed “America First!’’, and had ridiculed policies of intervention in that terrible war.. Even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (the diplomatic virgin who had just told reporters “ I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job. … My wife told me I’m supposed to do this’’) suggested that it was likely that in the end, Bashar al-Assad could remain in power. The craven Assad took this as a nod and wink that he could act as he pleased, which in his case meant dropping nerve gas on a rebel-held town, killing 74.

Trump was outraged—completely appropriately, somewhat surprisingly, and entirely cringe-inducingly. Said Trump, “That crosses many, many lines – beyond a red line, many, many lines.” What other lines? The I’m Warning You line? The I’ll Tell Your Mother line? The Use Sarin Gas and There’ll Be No Dessert line?

Then he delivered the real shockeroo: he denounced the attack because the gas had killed “innocent children, innocent babies – babies, little babies.’’

In invoking the innocent baby standard, Trump reversed centuries of governmental policy. If history teaches us anything, it’s that the first job of any government is to preserve itself. It’s been that way since Herod the Great executed all young male children around Bethlehem to prevent losing his throne to a newborn King of the Jews. Innocent little babies are incidental. If governments were supposed to protect them, they wouldn’t have time for anything else. Moreover, how could they explain it when they had to go out and kill babies, or deny them health care, or a decent education? That’s why for centuries we have gone to war for God or king or country or freedom, but never for babies. Until now. Trump’s daughter Ivanka saw video of the carnage and tugged at dad’s heart strings.

In other words, it was a chick thing. But by the time it came to strike back, Trump switched again. He bombed one air base, a single blow to a single target, delivered after Assad’s Russian pals had skedaddled.

A slap on the wrist. Still, it might be enough to deter future baby massacres.

Assuming that continues to be the policy.

AS I WAS SAYING. . .

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Last year, fans of House of Cards were agog when Francis Underwood arranged for his wife Claire Underwood to become his running mate. This year–spoiler alert–not only did they manage to steal the election, but in a particularly malodorous bit of shark-jumping, Francis resigned and Claire replaced him. Well, whatever. It should be noted, however, that last February, in between seasons 4 and 5, life resoundingly imitated art, when the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, appointed his wife Mehriban Aliyeva to serve as his vice president. She now stands next in line for the presidency.
images Not to claim credit for everything, but attentive readers will remember that this particular plot device was part of my 1992 novel Mr. Stupid Goes to Washington. Lucinda Bibby, the wife of the kidnapped vice president, is speaking to her lover, President Roger Ross. At one point, Ross considers whom to name as Bibby’s successor, should such a need arise.
“Well, she said, “I suppose you could appoint me.”. . .
“I suppose,” he said suspiciously. . .
“And then, darling,”she said, “you and I could get married.”
“We could?” he said in excitement and amazement.
s-l225“Of course we could,” said said, wrapping her arms around him. “And then you and I could run for reelection together.”
This was getting better and better, he thought. “Okay,” he said, “we’ll do that.”
“And then, about a year before your term expires, you could resign, and I would become president.”.. . .
“I don’t know if I’d want to give up the presidency, Lucinda. I mean, it would be nice that you could move up, but what would I do?”
“Silly,” she said. “Do you think I would forget about you? I’d appoint you to be my vice president. And then we’d run for reelection, and we’d win. And then just before my term was up, I’d resign, and you’d step up and become president again; and then you’d appoint me vice president again; and so on, and so on, and so on.
There was a long pause as Ross mulled the plan over. “I suppose we could go on for years.”

FATHER’S DAY THOUGHT

Here is an article I published on time.com (time.com/4821335/fathers-day-children-father-essay):

My sister is nine years older than me, and during most of our father’s life, she enjoyed a closer relationship with Dad than I did. She would refer to things they had done together when she was little, fun things like playing make believe games on the living room floor.

I didn’t have the same relationship with him. Sure, my Dad did some things with my younger brother and me, occasional day trips and outings to ball games. But mostly, my dad worked — days at a factory, three or four nights a week at a market — and often when we saw him, he was gruff, short, removed.

It seemed that my sister and I knew two different men. And in fact, we really did. A significant thing happened between the time when my sister was in the heart of her childhood, and when I was in mine. I had a brother who died.

He was a year younger than my sister. And when he was 15 — when she was sixteen and I was seven, and my dad was 45 and squarely in the middle of his life — my brother developed a disease called aplastic anemia.

In those days, in the early sixties, if a young man was interested in becoming a priest, he attended school away from home at a seminary. It was a pretty intense experience for those boys; they came home on only holidays and during the summer, not even on weekends, and family visits were limited if not outright discouraged. Starting sometime after Christmas in my brother’s second year, in the early part of 1961, he began to call home and complain of having a lot of bloody noses and headaches and a rash. He had gone to the infirmary, but whomever he saw just gave him aspirin.

When he came home at Easter, my parents took him to the doctor, who sent him immediately to a hospital. He never came out. Aplastic anemia was destroying his ability to make blood cells and platelets. He was bleeding internally. He was dead in three weeks.

My parents were devastated. Not for years, really, did their grief abate. One of the ways my father coped was to work more. He took the second job. He increased his overtime. Very simply, he was around less. And when he was around, he more orbited his family than functioned as a part of its nucleus. Often when he tried to fit in, it was awkward. It took an effort. By the time I was a teenager, I wasn’t much interested in trying.

Eventually, I went to college. I met a girl and got married. We put off having a family for many years, and not until I was 36 was my first daughter born. She was my parents’ first grandchild, and both Mom and Dad were thrilled to see the day they had started to doubt would come.

By then, Dad was in his early seventies. I don’t remember Dad doing much with our daughter when she was a baby, but once she became mobile, he shocked me — he played with her. He got on the floor. He played with Barbie dolls, built Lego towers, laid out Thomas the Tank Engine tracks. The grouchy, distant man I knew pretended to be a crash victim and allowed her to bandage him until he resembled a mummy. He pushed her on swings, strolled through petting zoos with her and went on roller coasters, which neither of her parents would do.

He did something else. Having pretty near lost his hearing to 36 years in a factory, Dad spoke loudly. “WANT SOME COFFEE?” “HAVE YOU SEEN THE SPORTS SECTION?” He spoke that way to everyone. Including my daughter. For a while. Then he realized that his loud voice frightened her. So he did for her what he did for no one else: He lowered his volume.

When our second daughter was born, it was much the same. Dad played with both of them.

Along the way, something unexpected happened: He and I grew closer. Part of it, I’m sure, was that I was more mature, and that since I had become a father, I more clearly appreciated all that he and my mother had done for me and my siblings. And what they had lost.

But part of it, too, was that he had changed. Softened, maybe. Opened himself up, for sure. For too many years after the death of my brother, Dad lived on the outskirts of his family. When my children were born, he made an effort to try to be closer, and he appreciated that my wife and I not only let him, but welcomed him and happily made a place for him.The last good memory of my Dad before he died was at my daughter’s high school graduation. We made a party for the occasion, strung up lights in the back yard, set up tables. Many of our friends came. He had met most of them over the years, and they all sat with him and spoke to him. I remember him sitting there on that warm June night with a very satisfied look on his face, the happy paterfamilias, the man my sister knew as a girl, the man who through the grace of my children I finally got to know.

JUNE 2017: “LORDY, I HOPE THERE’S TAPES”

6.25 Unconfirmed revelation: Banksy is Robert Del Naja, the British artist, musician, and founding member of Massive Attack.
6.25 David Lieb of the AP: “The AP scrutinized the outcomes of all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly seats up for election last year.”
“The analysis found four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts.”
“Traditional battlegrounds such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia were among those with significant Republican advantages in their U.S. or state House races. All had districts drawn by Republicans after the last Census in 2010.” “[E]ven if Democrats had turned out in larger numbers, their chances of substantial legislative gains were limited by gerrymandering.”
8.25 Peter Baker in the Times: “Trump asks fair question: What did Obama do about Russian meddling before election? Also fair question: What has Trump done about it since?”
6.25 Axios: “[V]oters’ complicated views of Trump may give Republicans more running room than his popularity figures suggest. The votes cast by individual Republican incumbents [like healthcare in the Senate this week] may be more important to their survival than any linkage with the president.”
6.23 Sam Baker in Axios: The 142-page Senate bill: It “would not replace the Affordable Care Act. It would replace Medicaid.” The biggest winners: young people who don’t use much health care — the “losers” under Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Those consumers would no longer face a penalty for going uninsured. They’d get bigger subsidies than they’re getting now. And the broader shifts in the healthcare market would favor people who don’t need to use it. The losers, broadly, are older consumers and the poor. Although the bill phases in its Medicaid cuts more slowly than its House counterpart, once they took effect, the Senate’s cuts would be deeper. And in the individual insurance market, older consumers would see their financial assistance shrink.
6.23 Margot Sanger-Katz in the Times: “Obamacare raised taxes on high earners and the health care industry, and essentially redistributed that income — in the form of health insurance or insurance subsidies — to many of the groups that have fared poorly over the last few decades. “The draft Senate bill … would jettison those taxes while reducing federal funding for the care of low-income Americans. The bill’s largest benefits go to the wealthiest Americans … and its biggest losses fall to poorer Americans who rely on government support.”
6.22 George Will in the Washington Post: “In the accelerated churning of today’s capitalism, changing tastes and expanding choices destroy some jobs and create others, with net gains in price and quality. But disruption is never restful, and the United States now faces a decision unique in its history: Is it tired — tired of the turmoil of creative destruction? If so, it had better be ready to do without creativity. And ready to stop being what it has always been: restless.”
6.22 “Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who tried to unseat Ms. Pelosi as House minority leader late last fall, said she remained a political millstone for Democrats. But Mr. Ryan said the Democratic brand had also become ‘toxic’ in much of the country because voters saw Democrats as ‘not being able to connect with the issues they care about.’ ‘Our brand is worse than Trump.'”
6.22 David von Drehle in Time: “It goes back to the Greeks, who understood that the peril of kings was hubris, and that hubris was an invitation to the avenging goddess called Nemesis. In Robert Mueller, Trump may have found his.”
6.21 Fast Company: Most leaders “vastly underestimate the power and necessity of positive reinforcement,” Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman, CEO and president of Zenger/Folkman, write in Harvard Business Review. An abundance of research shows that giving positive feedback increases employees’ sense that they’re learning and growing at their jobs, makes them feel valued, and leads to increased confidence and competence. A 2015 Gallup survey found that 67% of employees whose managers communicated their strengths were fully engaged in their work, as compared to 31% of employees whose managers only communicated their weaknesses. One study found that high-performing teams receive nearly six times more positive feedback than less effective teams—evidence that positive reinforcement really does help the bottom line.
6.21 The Atlantic: Subjects under the influence of power, [the UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner] found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.
Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University, in Ontario, recently described something similar. Unlike Keltner, who studies behaviors, Obhi studies brains. And when he put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, “mirroring,” that may be a cornerstone of empathy. Which gives a neurological basis to what Keltner has termed the “power paradox”: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place.
6.21 Wired: “Global cybersecurity analysts have a theory about the endgame of Ukraine’s hacking epidemic: They believe Russia is using the country as a cyberwar testing ground — a laboratory for perfecting new forms of global online combat.”
6.20 Republican Karen Handel beats Democrat Jon Ossoff 52-48 in a high-stakes special election in Georgia’s sixth district. In a race in South Carolina, a Republican narrowly beats the Democrat

Gregg Henry plays a Trumpian Julius Caesar in Shakespeare in the Park
6.19 Richard Reeves in The Guardian: “The upper middle class families have become greenhouses for the cultivation of human capital. Children raised in them are on a different track to ordinary Americans, right from the very beginning,” he writes.The upper middle class are “opportunity hoarding” – making it harder for others less economically privileged to rise to the top; a situation that Reeves says places stress on the efficiency of the US economic system and creates dynastic wealth and privilege of the kind the nation’s fathers sought to avoid. “The US labor market is mostly meritocratic and not some kind of medieval cartel,” Reeves told the Guardian, “but it’s what happens before that that is unfair.” The problem, he says, is that people enter the race with very different levels of preparation. “Kids from more affluent backgrounds are entering the contest massively well prepared, while kids from less affluent backgrounds are not. The well-prepared kids win, and everybody pretends to themselves it’s a meritocracy,” he says. Reeves believes we have to think much earlier about equality of opportunity, including the way the education system, labor and housing markets work. Without reform, society continues with a system that replicates inequality, he argues.
6.19 Mike Allen in Axios: “The Bannon wing of the White House would like to take on the lords of the Valley now over outsourcing, the concentration of wealth and their control over our dand lives. But this fight is on hold for a later date, officials tell us. The bigger problem for tech is that many Americans are rethinking their romantic views of the hottest and biggest companies of the new economy. As people look for villains to blame, tech might get its turn: Some shine has come off Facebook (though not in user data, Dan Primack points out: People still love the service), as executives fend off grievances about fake news, live violence and the filter bubble. Silicon Valley makes itself a juicy target with its male dominance, concentration of wealth (in both people and places), and reliance on foreign workers. Robots will soon be eating lots of jobs, with working-class, blue collar workers — an engine of the Trump coalition — at the most immediate risk. Many think this will be the story of the next 10 years. Anyone familiar with military intelligence will tell you cyber-risk is much greater than most people realize. Russians used cyber tools to try to throw the 2016, and electronic attack is perhaps the greatest U.S vulnerability to an international power. People increasingly distrust technology, and the companies will increasingly be in the crosshairs. Richard Edelman — president and CEO of the global communications firm — wrote in introducing Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer: “[O]ngoing globalization and technological change are now further weakening people’s trust in global institutions, which they believe have failed to protect them from the negative effects of these forces.
6.19 Recode: “Musk estimates the cost of getting 12 people to Mars to start a colony is about $10 billion per person at this point. … He thinks they might be able to get the cost down to less than $100,000.” Musk: “If we can get the cost of moving to Mars to be roughly equivalent to a median house price in the United States, which is around $200,000, then I think the probability of establishing a self-sustaining civilization is very high … I think it would almost certainly occur.'”
6.19 Steve Coll in The New Yorker: “The Constitution does appear to be alive and well: prosecutors and the F.B.I. have vigorously defended their independence; judges appointed by Presidents of both major parties have blocked the Administration’s discriminatory travel ban; and a robust and well-sourced Washington press corps is keeping the public apprised of the Administration’s activities.”
6.18 Megn Kelly‘s interview with Alex Jones a ratings bust
6.18 Dinner at Fig and Olive with Paul and Anne
6.17 Bret Stephens in the Times: “The United States has too many people who don’t work hard, don’t believe in God, don’t contribute much to society and don’t appreciate the greatness of the American system. They need to return whence they came. I speak of Americans whose families have been in this country for a few generations. Complacent, entitled and often shockingly ignorant on basic points of American law and history, they are the stagnant pool in which our national prospects risk drowning. On point after point, America’s nonimmigrants are failing our country. Crime? A study by the Cato Institute notes that nonimmigrants are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of illegal immigrants, and at more than three times the rate of legal ones. Educational achievement? Just 17 percent of the finalists in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search — often called the “Junior Nobel Prize” — were the children of United States-born parents. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, just 9.5 percent of graduate students in electrical engineering were nonimmigrants.”

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6.17 Binge-watched the Canadian series Cardinal. Most excellent. Billy Campbell is terrific. So is his counterpart, the fetching Quebecoise actress Karine Vanasse.
6.16 Finished House of Cards Season 5. Too over the top.
6.14 House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was among five people shot during a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, marking the first shooting that’s targeted a federal legislator in six years. President Trump praised Capitol Police officers for intervening in the attack and confirmed that the gunman, who law enforcement identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson, died of his injuries.
6.14 A Fire in London: At least 58 people were killed and dozens of others were left in critical condition after a fire broke out in western London’s Grenfell Tower, prompting fears that the 24-floor apartment building might collapse.
6.13 The Cabinet Praise-a-thon. “Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, taking his turn to genuflect for a beaming Trump, said: “On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”
6.13 The Atlantic: The embattled Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced he is taking a leave of absence for an unspecified amount of time following a string of scandals that have engulfed the ride-sharing app
6.12 Warriors top Cavaliers, 4 games to 1
6.11 Penguins beat Predators in 6 games
6.10 Robert Reich in The Guardian: “[Trump’s infrastructure plan] boils down to a giant public subsidy to developers and investors, who would receive generous tax credits in return for taking on the job. Which means the rest of us would have to pay higher taxes or get fewer services in order to make up for the taxes the developers and investors would no longer pay. For example (in one version of the plan I’ve come across), for every dollar developers put into a project, they’d actually pay only 18 cents – after tax credits – and taxpayers would contribute the other 82 cents through their tax dollars. No one should be surprised at this scheme. It’s what Trump knows best. After all, he was a developer who made billions, often off sweeteners such as generous tax credits and other subsidies. The public would also pay a second time. The developers would own the roads and bridges and other pieces of infrastructure they finance. They’d then charge members of the public tolls and fees to use them.”
ee71f976febf25bf6cad11e038b9c0cc-16.10 Adam West dies
6.9 David French in National Review: “I don’t believe a civil-war mentality will save America. There are simply too many differences and too many profound disagreements for one side or the other to exercise true political dominance. Red won’t beat blue in the same way that blue beat gray. Adopt the civil-war mentality and you’ll only hasten a potential divorce. No, absent a presently unforeseen unifying ideology, event, or person, the idea that will save America is one of the oldest ideas of the Republic: federalism. So long as we protect the “privileges and immunities” of American citizenship, including all of the liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights, let California be California and Texas be Texas. De-escalate national politics. Ideas that work in Massachusetts shouldn’t be crammed down the throats of culturally different Tennesseans. Indeed, as our sorting continues, our ability to persuade diminishes. (After all, how can we understand communities we don’t encounter?)”
6.9 More than 8,000 U.S. brick-and-mortar stores could close this year — twice the number as 2016, per Axios’ Steve LeVine. Among the chief victims are retail workers. Amazon says it’s adding 100,000 employees, but a multiple of that number have lost their jobs in recent years. One in 9 Americans work in bricks-and-mortar retail, almost 16 million people in all.
6.8 Hung Parliament. Teresa May‘s gamble fails, as conservatives lose majority.
6.8 Comey testifies; Trump claims vindication. “The reason this is such a big deal is, we have this big messy wonderful country where we fight with each other all the time. But nobody tells us what to think, what to fight about, what to vote for except other Americans. And that’s wonderful and often painful. But we’re talking about a foreign government that using technical intrusion, lots of other methods, tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal. And people need to recognize it. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. They’re coming after America, which I hope we all love equally. They want to undermine our credibility in the face the world. They think that this great experiment of ours is a threat to them. So they’re going to try to run it down and dirty it up as much as possible. That’s what this is about and they will be back. Because we remain — as difficult as we can be with each other — we remain that shining city on the hill. And they don’t like it.”
6.8 Benjamin Wittes in lawfare.come: “this document is about a far more important question to the preservation of liberty in a society based on legal norms and rules: the abuse of the core functions of the presidency. It’s about whether we can trust the President—not the President in the abstract, but the particular embodiment of the presidency in the person of Donald J. Trump—to supervise the law enforcement apparatus of the United States in fashion consistent with his oath of office. I challenge anyone to read this document and come away with a confidently affirmative answer to that question.”
6.7 In anticipation of his testimony, James Comey releases his prepared remarks, which include details of his three private meetings and six private phone calls with Trump. Highlights:
January 27 Dinner: “. . . My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch. I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President. A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, . . .Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things 4 about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, “I need loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get that from me.” As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty – had helped end a very awkward conversation.”
February 14 Oval Office Meeting On February 14, I went to the Oval Office for a scheduled counterterrorism briefing. . . . The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me. The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me. The President then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me. When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned 5 the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President.. . .“He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.”. . . Shortly afterwards, I spoke with Attorney General Sessions in person to pass along the President’s concerns about leaks. I took the opportunity to implore the Attorney General to prevent any future direct communication between the President and me. I told the AG that what had just happened – him being asked to leave while the FBI Director, who reports to the AG, remained behind – was inappropriate and should never happen. He did not reply.
March 30 Phone Call On the morning of March 30, the President called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as “a cloud” that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to “lift the cloud.” I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, . . . .The President went on to say that if there were some “satellite” associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him. I
April 11 Phone Call On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I “get out” that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that “the cloud” was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. He said that perhaps he would have his people reach out to the Acting Deputy Attorney General. I said that was the way his request should be handled. I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel. He said he would do that and added, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” I did not reply or ask him what he meant by “that thing.” I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended. That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.

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6.6 New York Fights Back rally at the Javits Center. “We believe that we are all connected, that there’s a cord that connects me to you, to you, to you, to you,” Cuomo said, pointing to people in the audience. “And that cord weaves a fabric and we call that fabric called community. And when one of us is raised, we’re all raised, and when one of us is all lowered, we are all lowered. We believe the New York credo that we are not at our best until every man, woman and child has the right to develop their God-given gifts and to contribute to society.”
6.6 Scooter Gennett of the Reds hit four home runs in four at bats in a game against the .St. Louis Cardinals.
6.6 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland : The United States has truly been the indispensable nation, Mr. Speaker. For their unique, seven-decades-long contribution to our shared peace ‎and prosperity, and on behalf of all Canadians, I would like to profoundly thank our American friends.
As I have argued, Canada believes strongly that this stable, predictable international order has been deeply in our national interest. And we believe it has helped foster peace and prosperity for our ‎southern neighbours, too. Yet it would be naive or hypocritical to claim before this House that all Americans today agree. Indeed, many of the voters in last year’s presidential election cast their ballots, animated in part by a desire to shrug off the burden of world leadership. To say this is not controversial: it is simply a fact.
Canada is grateful, and will always be grateful, to our neighbour for the outsized role it has played in the world. And we seek and will continue to seek to persuade our friends that their continued international leadership is very much in their national interest—as well as that of the rest of the free world. Yet we also recognize that this is ultimately not our decision to make. It is a choice Americans must make for themselves. The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course. For Canada that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order.
We will follow this path, with open hands and open hearts extended to our American friends, seeking to make common cause as we have so often in the past. And indeed, as we continue to do now on multiple fronts—from border security, to the defence of North America through NORAD, to the fight against Daesh, to our efforts within NATO, to nurturing and improving our trading relationship, which is the strongest in the world. And, at the same time, we will work with other like-minded people and countries who share our aims.
6.5 Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old NSA contractor and Air Force veteran, was arrested and charged with leaking classified information to a news organization.
6.5 Trump doubled down on his criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan. “Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his “no reason to be alarmed” statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!
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6.4 Maureen Dowd in the Times: “America is living through a fractured fairy tale, in the grip of a lonely and uninformed mad king, an arrogant and naïve princeling, a comely but complicit blond princess and a dyspeptic, dystopian troll under the bridge. American carnage, indeed. On climate change, the troll, Steve Bannon, got control and persuaded Donald Trump to give a raspberry to the world. Bannon had better watch out or rising waters will wash out his bridge to the past. Even though Jared, Ivanka, Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson, Elon Musk, Bob Iger and Lloyd Blankfein pressed the president to stay in the Paris climate accord — which is merely aspirational about the inhalational — Bannon won the day because Trump loves to act like the fired Mr. Met.”
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6.3 Saw Wonder Woman with Ginny, Cara, Molly and Shawn. Excellent. Gal Gadot is a star.
6.3 Roy Larner, 47, is a lifelong Millwall supporter and was in a steakhouse near London Bridge when three knife-wielding attackers barged in and began slashing diners.
“They had these long knives and started shouting about Allah. Then it was, ‘Islam, Islam, Islam,’” Larner told The Sun. “Like an idiot I shouted back at them. I thought, ‘I need to take the p— out of these b—ers.’” Before he actually stepped into the path of the attackers, Larner made sure they knew he was affiliated with the notoriously rough and tumble South London club.
“I took a few steps towards them and said, ‘F– you, I’m Millwall.’ So they started attacking me,” Larner told The Sun. Larner was left with eight knife wounds on his head, neck, chest and hands, but his actions allowed dozens of his fellow diners to rush out of the building. He is being hailed as The Lion of London Bridge, a reference to the Millwall mascot.
6.3 Seven murdered in knife-and-vehicle terrorist attack in London,
6.3 Gideon Lichfield in Quartz: “Chinese firms will dominate the alternatives, while enjoying the most clout in setting global energy policies. What’s at stake isn’t just opportunities in the cleantech industry (solar already employs more than twice as many Americans as coal). It’s a world in which China stands to become not only the biggest economy within a decade or so, but, eventually, an energy superpower. Its growing military muscle and wide-ranging global investments in infrastructure will add to its influence, and its pro-globalization (and now pro-climate) stance will even lend China a grudging moral authority with the world’s other rich nations. This is an entirely new geopolitical order—one in which, unless Europe overcomes its splits, an opaque autocracy will be the chief agenda-setter. Because of its size and weapons, the US, like Russia, will never not be a superpower. But, like Russia, it is on its way to becoming a second-tier one. China will take the throne. And Trump, for all his complaints about China’s ambitions, has just dusted off the cushions and invited it to have a seat.”
6.2 Bill Maher: “Senator, I am a house nigger.”
6.2 Ireland’s ruling party has elected a new prime minister, and the results are historic: Not only will 38-year-old Leo Varadkar be the youngest leader in Ireland’s history, he’ll also be its first prime minister who’s openly gay and its first who’s a person of color.
6.2 David Brooks in the Times: “In this worldview, morality has nothing to do with anything. Altruism, trust, cooperation and virtue are unaffordable luxuries in the struggle of all against all. Everything is about self-interest. We’ve seen this philosophy before, of course. Powerful, selfish people have always adopted this dirty-minded realism to justify their own selfishness. The problem is that this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to self-destructive behavior in all cases. The error is that it misunderstands what drives human action. Of course people are driven by selfish motivations — for individual status, wealth and power. But they are also motivated by another set of drives — for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment — that are equally and sometimes more powerful. People are wired to cooperate. Far from being a flimsy thing, the desire for cooperation is the primary human evolutionary advantage we have over the other animals. People have a moral sense.”
June 2 Michael Grunwald in Politico: “Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from this carefully crafted multilateral compromise was a diplomatic and political slap: It was about extending a middle finger to the world, while reminding his base that he shares its resentments of fancy-pants elites and smarty-pants scientists and tree-hugging squishes who look down on real Americans who drill for oil and dig for coal. He was thrusting the United States into the role of global renegade, rejecting not only the scientific consensus about climate but the international consensus for action, joining only Syria and Nicaragua (which wanted an even greener deal) in refusing to help the community of nations address a planetary problem. Congress doesn’t seem willing to pay for Trump’s border wall—and Mexico certainly isn’t—so rejecting the Paris deal was an easier way to express his Fortress America themes without having to pass legislation.”
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6.2 Joe Scarborough: “Donald Trump doesn’t know anything about policy. Donald Trump doesn’t know anything about politics. Donald Trump doesn’t know anything about anything. He can get up and give a good speech. You listen to him talk about any topic and he wanders from sentence to sentence to sentence. So Steve Bannon is now the President of the United States. And that was more clear yesterday than ever before.”
6.1 Megan Garber on Wonder Woman in The Atlantic: “The character suits the times … not just because of the fights she fights, but also because of one of the weapons she uses to fight them: the Lariat of Hestia, otherwise known as the Golden Lasso, otherwise known as the Lasso of Truth. The device was forged of the chain mail worn by Diana’s mother, the warrior queen; if someone finds themselves ensnared within the lasso’s golden grip—as Steve learns in the new Wonder Woman—that person will be compelled to tell the truth. The lasso features prominently in the director Patty Jenkins’s film, as both a weapon and a tactic: In it, Diana uses the glimmering device repeatedly to whip, to entrap, to win. Most of all, though, she uses it for precisely the purpose its name suggests: to force people, usually against their will, to admit to reality.”
6.1 NY Times: “Asked about suspicions that Russia might try to interfere in the coming elections in Germany, Mr. Putin raised the possibility of attacks on foreign votes by what he portrayed as free-spirited Russian patriots. Hackers, he said, “are like artists” who choose their targets depending how they feel “when they wake up in the morning.” Any such attacks, he added, could not alter the result of elections in Europe, America or elsewhere. Artists, he said, paint if they wake up feeling in good spirits while hackers respond if “they wake up and read that something is going on in interstate relations” that prompts them to take action. “If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions — which are right, from their point of view — to the fight against those who say bad things about Russia,” Mr. Putin added, apparently referring to Hillary Clinton.”
6.1 Kathy Griffin holds up severed head of Trump, gets fired from CNN.
6.1 Eric Roston in Bloomberg Businessweek: “An exit would undermine America’s economic competitiveness, technological innovation, and global leadership. Not to mention the, um, planet.”
6.1 Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein: “Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world.” Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger tweets: “As a matter of principle, I’ve resigned from the President’s Council.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweets: “Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”
6.1 Fareed Zakaria on CNN: “This will be the day that the United States resigned as the leader of the free world.”
June 1: President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Accords. He claimed that stipulations in the agreement were unfair to the US saying, “The Paris Accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.” He pointed to rules regarding coal production as being particularly disagreeable. “This agreement is less about the climate and more about others gaining financial advantage over the US,” he said.
June 1 New York Post: “Couples trying for a baby have sex an average of 78 times before becoming pregnant, a new study reveals. Typically, it takes a total of 185 days from deciding to conceive to getting a positive pregnancy test — the equivalent of six months and three days. It also emerged couples have sex 13 times each month while attempting to make a baby.”

MAY 2017: “A TRAGIC DUMBASS COMEDY”

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5.31 Kevin Williamson at National Review: Time was when “the American shopping mall was the reincarnation of the downtown business district, moved indoors where it could be air-conditioned” and “efficiently policed.” Yet now this “new downtown is dying” — we’re down to 1,100 malls (400 of which are soon set to close) from the high-water mark of 5,000. But “shops and jobs go together: One in ten employed Americans works in retail,” and they tend to be “workers who for various reasons — sometimes lack of skill and education, but also things such as the need for flexible scheduling or physical limitations — often do not have a great many desirable options.” The real crisis is “not so much a matter of jobs lost in the present but of jobs that never come into being in the future.”
5.30 John McCain: “The Russians tried to destroy the very fundamental of democracy, and that is to change the outcome of an American election.”
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5.30 H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn in the Wall Street Journal: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural, and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.”
5.29 Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker: “A 2012 study by a University of Pennsylvania researcher found that black patients were thirty-four per cent less likely than white patients to be prescribed opioids for such chronic conditions as back pain and migraines, and fourteen per cent less likely to receive such prescriptions after surgery or traumatic injury. But a larger factor, it seems, was the despair of white people in struggling small towns. Judith Feinberg, a professor at West Virginia University who studies drug addiction, described opioids as “the ultimate escape drugs.” She told me, “Boredom and a sense of uselessness and inadequacy—these are human failings that lead you to just want to withdraw. On heroin, you curl up in a corner and blank out the world. It’s an extremely seductive drug for dead-end towns, because it makes the world’s problems go away. Much more so than coke or meth, where you want to run around and do things—you get aggressive, razzed and jazzed.”
5.28 Heidi Klum has a new book
5.28 Robert De Niro, at Brown’s commencement yesterday in Providence, R.I.: ‘”When you started school, the country was an inspiring, uplifting drama. … You are graduating into a tragic, dumbass comedy.”
5.28 Angela Merkel sats Europe cannot rely on others
5.28 Frank Deford dies at 78
5.27 Gregg Allman dies at 69
5.27 Zbigniew Brzezinski dies at 89
5.26 Two men from Portland OR, Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were stabbed to death after attempting to intervene on a Portland train when a man was harrassing two teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab.

MIDNIGHT RAMBLE, MAY 26

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Greg Schmidt and I went to the Ramble in Woodstock on Friday night, on what would have been Levon Helm‘s 77th birthday. Another fabulous show: Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Bryan Mitchell, Amy Helm, Jim Weider, Jay Collins, Steve Bernstein, Eric Lawrence, Shawn Pelton and Jacob Silver were joined by many special guests, including Billy Payne, Marco Benvenutto, Cindy Cashdollar, Conor Kennedy, and Catherine Russell. A great show. Very happy to have attended.
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MAY 2017: “I HOPE YOU CAN LET THIS GO”

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5.25 The spring finalists have been decided: Penguins-Predators, and for a third consecutive year, Cavs-Warriros
5.25 The day after bodyslamming and punching a reporter, Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte won a special election for Congress in Montana.
5.25 Trump to NATO leaders: “Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense,” Mr. Trump declared, as the leaders shifted uncomfortably behind him, shooting one another sidelong glances. “This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States,” he added. “And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years.”
5.24 CBO says 23 million would lose health coverage under GOP bill repealing Obamacare
5.24 The New York Times: Trump told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that Washington has sent two nuclear submarines to waters off the Korean peninsula, an apparant breach of security. “We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all.”
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5.24 At NATO summit, Trump pushes his way past the prime minister of Montanegro
5.24 AP: Here are the 10 highest-paid CEOs for 2016, as calculated by AP and Eqular, with change from last year: Tom Rutledge, Charter Communications, $98 million, Up 499%; Les Moonves, CBS Corp., $68.6 million, Up 22%; Bob Iger, Walt Disney Co., $41 million, Down 6%; David Zaslav, Discovery Communications, $37.2 million, Up 15%; Robert Kotick, Activision Blizzard Inc., $33.1 million, Up 358%; Brian Roberts, Comcast Corp., $33 million, Down 9%; Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner Inc., $32.6 million, Up 3%; Ginni Rometty, IBM, $32.3 million, Up 63%; Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, $28.3 million, Down 40%; Steve Wynn, Wynn Resorts, $28.2 million, Up 36%
5.24 Mike Allen in Axios: Republican leaders are coming to the bleak conclusion they will end summer and begin the fall with ZERO significant legislative accomplishments. Privately, they realize it’s political malpractice to blow at least the the first nine of months of all Republican rule, but also realize there’s little they can do to avoid the dismal outcome. In fact, they see the next four months as MORE troublesome than the first four. They’re facing terrible budget choices and headlines, the painful effort to re-work the healthcare Rubik’s Cube in the House (presuming it makes it out of the Senate), a series of special-election scares (or losses) — all with scandal-mania as the backdrop.
5.24 Richard Patterson, the Florida man who used the big penis defense was acquitted of killing 60-year-old girlfriend.
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5.23 Finished The Keepers. Infuriating. Frustrating.
5.23 The Washington Post: Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers to publicly deny that there is any evidence of connections between Trump’s team and Russia.”
5.23 John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director: “”Frequently individuals who go along a treasonous path do not even realize they are on that path until it gets to be a bit too late.”
5.23 Speech by Mayor Mitch Landrieu explaining why New Orleans removed four statues honoring confederates: “The historic record is clear: The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This “cult” had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America. They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for. After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous “corner-stone speech” that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” . . . [A] friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too? We all know the answer to these very simple questions. When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth. And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics. This is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naive quest to solve all our problems at once.This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division and, yes, with violence.”
5.23 Roger Moore dies
5.22 Suicide bombing at Ariana Grande concert in Manchester kills 22
5.22 “Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes. Man!” — President Trump, returning a compliment given by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who had told Mr. Trump, “You are a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible.”
5.21 AP: “With laughter, hugs and tears — and … death-defying stunts — the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus received its final standing ovation Sunday night as it performed its last show.”
5.21 Incumbent Hassan Rouhani was re-elected president in Iran. Rouhani, who wants to open the country up to the West, handily beat Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who strongly opposed Iran’s nuclear deal in 2015.
5.21 Ev Williams, a Twitter co-founder in the Times, re Trump saying Twitter helped elect him: “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that … If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”
5.19 Revealed: Trump to Russian officials in the Oval Office on May 10, the day after he fired Comey, per a document summarizing the meeting that was read to the Times by an American official: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job … I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. … I’m not under investigation.”
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5.19 Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa spends $110.5 million on a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, a record price for an American artist at auction
5.18 Trump: “The entire thing has been a witch hunt. There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign—but I can only speak for myself.”
5.18 Man drives through Times Square, kills one, injures 22
5.18 Robert Mueller named Special Counsel
5.18 Roger Ailes dies at 77
5.18 Graydon Carter in Vanity Fair: `The media, the opposition, the resistance, and indeed the rest of the Free World are playing by outmoded rules of engagement with regard to the man in the White House. The thing is, you cannot rise above Donald Trump, you cannot go under him, and you cannot engage him in a conventional way. Before he became president, you could basically ignore him—he was a local joke, after all. Now that he’s commander in chief, you must resist him, with everything that is in you and in every way you can. As anyone who has followed his jerry-rigged career from the 1980s onward will tell you, Trump just drags you to the bottom of the pond every time. Decades ago, he was a short-fingered vulgarian tooling around town in a mauve stretch limo, reeking of Brut. In those days, competitors, subcontractors, politicians, and wives were the ones who found themselves mired in the Trump muck. Now it is the country that’s up to its knees in it.”
5.18 At Cannes, 70 year-old Susan Sarandon shares photo taken in 1978
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5.17 Camera catches Alex Rodriguez‘s notes before broadcast of Yankees-Royals game: “ “We should be talking about why we haven’t spoken about it. Child, birth control, baby, pull out stuff”
5.16 Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from a black Mercedes-Benz sedan as his security detail attacks pickets at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington
5.16 NY Times reports Trump asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. According to a memo Comey wrote, Trump said “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” “A whole new door has opened,” said a well-known Republican operative who has worked to help the Trump White House. “A week ago, we were talking about the agenda grinding to a halt,” the Republican said. “Now, the train is going down the hill backwards.”
5.16 Times: Trump‘s “mood, according to two advisers, … has become sour and dark, and he has turned against most of his aides — even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — describing them in a fury as ‘incompetent.'”
5.16 Ross Douthat in the Times: “The 25th Amendment Solution to Remove Trump”: “[T]he 25th Amendment to the Constitution … allows for the removal of the president if a majority of the cabinet informs the Congress that he is ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office’ and (should the president contest his own removal) a two-thirds vote by Congress confirms the cabinet’s judgment.”
5.15 Washington Post: “Trump “revealed highly classified [‘code-word’] information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week”
5.15 AP: “Fidget spinners, the hit toy that spun out of nowhere.”
5.15 At least 200,000 people in 150 countries were hit over the weekend by a malware virus dubbed `Wanna Cry’ that holds files hostage for $300 in bitcoin. A security researcher stumbled into a way to slow the virus
5.15 Gideon Lichfield provides a guide to 21st-century propaganda: “What’s changed, of course, is the internet, and the many new ways it creates for falsehoods to reach us. The power of populism today lies in its ability to combine 20th-century propaganda techniques with 21st-century technology, putting propaganda on steroids.”
5.15 Caitlin Flanagan in New York magazine on Ivanka: “Sometimes, she seems not just essential to his idea of being president; sometimes, she seems the point of his being president. … [Trump] is Lear — ‘All the power of his wits have given way to his impatience’ — but Lear with only one relevant daughter, and to her has fallen the task of keeping his terrifying impatience from destroying not just their shared empire but the world itself. He is strangely dependent on her now. And so are we.”
5.14 Yankees retire Derek Jeter‘s jersey, hang plaque
5.13 In Virginia, alt-right’s Richard Spencer leads torch-bearing protesters defending Confederate statue

THE REICHSTAG WARNING

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In The New York Review of Books, historian Timothy Snyder warns that Trump just might try to commit a Reichstag Fire-like event to declare martial law and arrogate greater power to himself:

“If we know the history of terror manipulation, we can recognize the danger signs, and be prepared to react. It is already worrying that the president speaks unfavorably of democracy, while admiring foreign manipulators of terror. It is also of concern that the administration speaks of terrorist attacks that never took place, whether in Bowling Green or Sweden, while banning citizens from seven countries that have never been tied to any attack in the United States.

“It is alarming that in a series of catastrophic executive policy decisions—the president’s Muslim travel ban, his selection of Steve Bannon as his main political adviser, his short-lived appointment of Michael Flynn as national security adviser, his proposal to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem—there seems to be a single common element: the stigmatization and provocation of Muslims. In rhetoric and action, the Trump administration has aggrandized “radical Islamic terror” thus making what Madison called a “favorable emergency” more likely.

“It is the government’s job to promote both freedom and safety. If we face again a terrorist attack—or what seems to be a terrorist attack, or what the government calls a terrorist attack—we must hold the Trump administration responsible for our security. In that moment of fear and grief, when the pulse of politics might suddenly change, we must also be ready to mobilize for our constitutional rights. The Reichstag fire has long been an example for tyrants; it should today be a warning for citizens. It was the burning of the Reichstag that disabused Hannah Arendt of the “opinion that one can simply be a bystander.” Best to learn that now, rather than waiting for the flames

A KIND WORD FOR DONALD TRUMP

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This week the President Trump made news when he began talking about ancient history. `‘I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War, ” he said. `He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, “There’s no reason for this.”

Apart from the blunderous clause in which Trump had Jackson, a newly minted corpse in 1845, angered about something that began in 1861, the president had a legitimate hypothetical point: had Jackson been president in 1860, the Civil War surely would not have happened as it did, and might not have happened at all.

jackson_secondIt is important to remember that the south did not secede in unison; the states split off one by one, with the last of them that left, Tennessee and North Carolina, not choosing to depart until after the shooting started. South Carolina, which led secession in December 1860, was always the most radical of the southern states, and most of the states–especially key states like Georgia and especially Virginia–were waiting to see how Washington reacted to South Carolina’s bold gesture. In the event, President Buchanan reacted weakly–he said that South Carolina had no right to secede, but that the federal government had no right to compel them to stay.

Thirty years earlier, during the Nullification Crisis, President jackson reacted much differently. Objecting to a high tariff, South Carolina declared it had the right to nullify any action of Congress. Jackson had no sympathy with that position. “There is nothing that I shudder at more than the idea of a separation of the Union. Should such an event ever happen, which I fervently pray God to avert, from that date I view our liberty gone.”

Responding forcefully, he reinforced the garrisons of Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney in Charleston harbor, sent two armed revenue cutters to Charleston harbor, and ordered General Winfield Scott to prepare for military operations. Like Lincoln three decades later, he said that federal forces must not initiate violence, but warned a South Carolina congressman that ‘if one drop of blood be shed there in defiance of the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man of them I can get my hands on to the first tree I can find.’ When South Carolina Senator Robert Hayne ventured, ‘I don’t believe he would really hang anybody, do you?’ Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton replied, ‘Few people have believed he would hang Arbuthnot and shoot Ambrister [two British subjects who aided the Seminoles] . . . I tell you, Hayne, when Jackson begins to talk about hanging, they can begin to look out for ropes!’ Jackson followed up these orders with a bill seeking Congressional authorization, and he got allies in Congress to lower the tariff to pacify the other southern states and keep South Carolina isolated. And so the crisis passed.

And so I think Trump was right: had Jackson been president, you would not have seen the war, at least not as it happened.

Trump also drew dismay when he added, ‘People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?’’

Good question, Mr. President! And for a good answer, you can’t beat And the War Came: Six Months That Tore America Apart. You’ll see how an slaveholders–radical, uncompromising, right wingers–manipulated their states into rebellion and war. It might strike a familiar note.