Fade To Black

When he was just a kid in Pittsburgh, Billy Strayhorn wrote Lush Life – “A week in Paris will ease the bite of it. All I care is to smile in spite of it.” It’s a song about what to do when things go wrong. Go to Paris. In 1954 there was Billy Wilder’s Sabrina – with Audrey Hepburn as the original manic-pixie-dream-girl. She’s the honest and authentic wide-eyed waif that blows away the cobwebs. Late in the film she tells Humphrey Bogart – he’s the stuffy cutthroat businessman Linus Larrabee – that “Paris is always a good idea.” His heart melts, or he gets in touch with his inner child, or he discovers his true self that was hidden all along. The two of them head for Paris. Fade to black – and in 1942 it was Casablanca where Humphrey Bogart comforts a distraught Ingrid Bergman telling her “We’ll always have Paris.” She gets it. Whatever happens next, for a brief time, things were perfect for them both, in that special city. That happened. No one can take that away from them. They part, but not really. Fade to black.

Paris is always a good idea. It’s an even better idea now. A friend who recently visited Paris for the first time in forty years – he was just a kid back then – said he immediately felt relieved. He said it was the absence of buffoonery there. Perhaps it was the formality. One addresses others properly – Monsieur or Madame, as the case may be, no matter what their station in life. That goes for waiters too. Garçon won’t do. No one calls grown men “boys” – even Jefferson Beauregard Sessions knows that now, finally. And no one talks loudly in restaurants. Keep it private. Keep everything private. The evening’s discussion can be about food and wine, or politics or fashion, or philosophy or sex, but no one talks about how much money they make and how they made it. That’s just not done. That’s unseemly. The room falls silent – and it’s the same for all personal details. Those can wait. Give it time – be witty and insightful and thoughtful – no bullshit – and, above all, be courteous. Respect others. If you can’t, fake it. That’s what makes civilized life possible.

That’s what Donald Trump has made impossible here. The French roll their eyes at buffoons, discretely. We elected one. “I’m rich, really rich!” That sealed the deal. He must know something, even if he is vulgar and loud and a mean man who loves to sneer at everyone, everyone who isn’t as rich as he is. He boasts. He brags. It’s all about him. Americans don’t roll their eyes at that. Americans like buffoons.

That’s what they got:

President Trump on Tuesday defended his use of Twitter and writing style in a tweet that slammed reporters for pointing out his grammatical and spelling errors.

“After having written many bestselling books, and somewhat priding myself on my ability to write, it should be noted that the Fake News constantly likes to pour [sic] over my tweets looking for a mistake,” he wrote. “I capitalize certain words only for emphasis, not b/c they should be capitalized!”

The president would later correct the mistake, issuing a second tweet with the corrected spelling around the time he was speaking at a rally in West Virginia with the state’s Republican governor, Jim Justice.

He didn’t write those books, by the way. He had ghostwriters, and now he has a staff to correct his tweets, and he may not write those tweets in the first place. He may just approve them – with intentional errors to piss off everyone who thinks they’re so smart when he’s the president and they’re not – and of course he doesn’t read much. He finds security briefings boring – all those damned words – but that leads to more buffoonery:

President Donald Trump appeared to rely on a dubious Fox News report Tuesday morning to unleash an attack on his predecessor, accusing President Barack Obama, without any real evidence, of granting citizenship to 2,500 Iranians as part of nuclear deal negotiations.

“Just out that Obama Administration granted citizenship, during the terrible Iran Deal negotiation, to 2,500 Iranians – including to government officials,” Trump tweeted. “How big (and bad) is that?”

It’s neither big nor bad:

Jeff Prescott, the former senior director on Obama’s National Security Council, called Trump’s allegation “absurd and entirely false.”

Prescott shared with CNN immigration data from the Department of Homeland Security which showed that the number of Iranians naturalized in the United States over the course of the Obama and Bush administrations was relatively consistent.

“There was no connection between the Iran nuclear deal and immigration policy,” Prescott added.

Immigration data from the Department of Homeland Security show that, but this had another source:

The unsubstantiated claim first gained attention with a Monday story on Fox News’ website that relied on the word of an Iranian cleric who is also a member of the country’s parliament. The article, written by Chris Irvine, a Fox News senior editor, cited an Iranian news agency that cited an Iranian newspaper that quoted the single Iranian cleric, who said the Obama administration provided citizenship to 2,500 unidentified Iranians during nuclear deal negotiations.

That was the source and that was good enough:

After Fox News published its story, other outlets, primarily in the conservative media space, published similar stories. Those outlets included The Daily Mail, The Gateway Pundit, and TownHall. The claims were also shared on Twitter by Fox News host Sean Hannity and frequent Fox guests David Clarke and Charlie Kirk. On Tuesday morning, just hours before Trump’s tweet, the story made its way to Fox News’ airwaves on “Fox & Friends First,” the network’s early morning show. It also later aired on “America’s Newsroom,” a late-morning news program on Fox News.

Trump watches those each morning, because those damned daily security briefings are so boring, but sources matter:

Jake Sullivan, a former Obama official who was involved at the start of the Iran nuclear negotiations, also skewered Trump for relying on Fox News’ thin report to make what he called a “completely false” claim.

“What is interesting about this is that what happened is a hardline crank in Iran just randomly made this comment, Fox News writes a story on it, and then Trump tweets it,” Sullivan said…

“He had every opportunity to call people in his own Department of Homeland Security and State Department to ask whether or not this was true. And they would have told him it wasn’t,” Sullivan added. “Instead, he relies on Fox News. And the scary thing is that he’s increasingly relying on sources like Fox News to get his intelligence rather than the professionals in his own government.”

Sure, but the professionals in his own government are part of the “deep state” that’s out to get him. He doesn’t trust them – and they’re all so damned boring too. This is where buffoonery and paranoia intersect.

They intersect here too:

President Trump said Tuesday that the United States would be at war with North Korea without his efforts and that conversations with the nation’s leaders are “going well” – an assessment at odds with recent reports that North Korea is working to conceal key aspects of its nuclear weapons program.

The president’s comments in a morning tweet followed a report Saturday in The Washington Post that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear arms stockpile and instead is considering ways to conceal the number of weapons it has and its secret production facilities.

In his rosy assessment, Trump claimed that “only the Opposition Party” and the news media are presenting a different picture of his efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula in the wake of his June 12 summit with North Korea leader Jim Jong-Un.

This is all about him, not all that boring stuff, all those far too many damned words from his own intelligence officials:

Evidence newly obtained by U.S. officials points to preparations to deceive the United States about the number of nuclear warheads in North Korea’s arsenal as well as the existence of undisclosed facilities used to make fissile material for nuclear bombs, officials told The Post.

The findings support a new, previously undisclosed Defense Intelligence Agency estimate that North Korea is unlikely to denuclearize.

Trump dismisses all that boring stuff:

Trump has offered exuberant assessments about progress with North Korea for weeks, declaring in a previous tweet that “there is no longer a nuclear threat” from North Korea.

He did that. He alone did that. And did he mention he’s rich, really rich? People should remember that.

Some don’t care. Spencer Ackerman tells that tale:

The Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have said the NSA, CIA, and FBI got it wrong when they assessed that the point of Russia’s 2016 election interference was to harm Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. But now their counterpart in the Senate, in a bipartisan report, said the intelligence agencies got it right.

In April, the House Intelligence Committee Republicans put out an extensive report exonerating Trump from accusations of collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin, delivering a conclusion that Democrats had come to consider pre-ordained. Democrats quickly distanced themselves from it. Chief panel Democrat Adam Schiff said at the time that the GOP report suffered from a “raft of misleading conclusions, insinuations, attempts to explain away inconvenient facts, and arguments meant to protect the President and his campaign.”

One of the key findings of the GOP report, led by critical White House ally Devin Nunes of California, was that the three intelligence agencies erred in their assessment of “Putin’s strategic intentions” behind his election interference… Nunes and company instead faulted the agencies for not “incorporating analysis of alternatives” or more fulsomely explaining the differences in confidence levels between the NSA, FBI, and CIA. Most of the intelligence community analysis (ICA) “held up to scrutiny,” but accused the agencies of not meeting their own standards for tradecraft.

That was then, but this is now:

The Senate Intelligence Committee, however, reached a much firmer conclusion: The January 2017 intelligence community was right to find the Russians meddled in the election to defeat Clinton and aid Trump.

“The Committee found that the ICA provided a range of all-source reporting to support these assessments,” it found. “A body of reporting” from classified intelligence to Russian media “showed that Moscow sought to denigrate Secretary Clinton.” The ICA finding on Putin’s objectives used similarly cumulative Russian media, similarities between Trump positions and Putin’s interests “and a body of intelligence reporting to support the assessment that Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for Trump.”

Information “obtained subsequent to the publication of the ICA provides further support” for what the CIA called a Russian aspiration “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible,” the Senate panel found.

That was a bipartisan conclusion. Devin Nunes had been a buffoon, shilling for another buffoon, but as Jonathan Chait notes, something seems still to be happening with the Russians:

At the recent G7 meeting, Donald Trump kicked off the proceedings by urging the group to let Russia rejoin, made a series of derogatory comments to the assembled leaders, then left the meeting early in a huff. His planned meeting with Vladimir Putin later this summer appears to be friendlier. Trump, CNN reports, plans to meet with Putin one on one, with no advisers or staff.

“Without official note-takers or other witnesses,” CNN notes, “one-on-one meetings lack any official record, making it difficult afterward to determine whether agreements have been reached.”

Chait adds this:

It’s almost as if Trump has some kind of secret relationship involving money or blackmail with Russia he wants to discuss without fear of being revealed to his own country!

Martin Longman adds this:

Don’t you think that at least one American should witness what Trump and Putin have to say to each other? Personally, I’d impeach Trump for even announcing this intention, and I’d certainly not let it happen without Mueller sitting in between them at the same table.

Of course Trump also met alone with Kim Jong-Un for part of their summit last month with only interpreters present – no one else at all – and then surprised all of our allies and our defense department by announcing we would stop all defense exercises with South Korea and anything else that offended Kim – because Kim was a fine fellow – much more impressive than that wimp Justin Trudeau. That’s why there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea – none at all, no matter what our intelligence services continue to document. Donald Trump did that, no one else. And he’s rich too, really rich.

Kim knew he was dealing with a buffoon. Putin knows the same thing. Trump will surprise all of our allies and our defense department by announcing that Crimea is part of Russia and all sanctions are off now – for nothing in return but a promise we’ll be allies with Russia now – not NATO or anyone else – and Devin Nunes had been right all along. Russia didn’t mess with our election. Putin said so, and he’s a fine fellow.

Buffoons get played. We elected one, but there’s this:

Most state leaders would avoid saying no to President Trump in a room full of reporters. But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte isn’t like most leaders.

Rutte, a liberal straight-shooter known for mopping up his own coffee spills and cycling to the Dutch King’s palace in The Hague, met Monday with Trump amid rising trade tensions between the United States and the European Union, of which the Netherlands is a member. In a five-minute news conference in the Oval Office, Rutte spoke significantly less than Trump. But when the Dutch prime minister interjected, he made himself heard.

About a minute into his remarks, Trump suggested that leaving the trade dispute unresolved could still be “positive.” Rutte responded by raising his eyebrows, laughing and cutting in to say, “No.” When Trump kept going, Rutte said while smiling to reporters: “It’s not positive. We have to work something out.”

It’s not just the French that roll their eyes at buffoons, discretely, and Rutte had to say something:

In May, Trump commissioned an investigation by the Commerce Department into the state of automobile imports into the United States, prompting EU leaders to send Trump an 11-page document last Friday threatening to levy taxes on $290 billion in U.S. goods. Trump responded by tweeting that the United States would impose a 20 percent tax on all European cars if the EU did not remove existing tariffs, and then saying in a televised interview with Fox News that the EU is “as bad as China” when it comes to trade.

It is? That’s buffoonery, and no one should play along with it:

In March, the Dutch leader told reporters that Trump’s decision to impose a global steel and aluminum tax was “very disappointing,” adding that the EU had “to make clear we are prepared to take countermeasures.”

They’ll do that. They won’t play along, and there are alternatives:

China is putting pressure on the European Union to issue a strong joint statement against President Donald Trump’s trade policies at a summit later this month but is facing resistance, European officials said.

In meetings in Brussels, Berlin and Beijing, senior Chinese officials, including Vice Premier Liu He and the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councilor Wang Yi, have proposed an alliance between the two economic powers and offered to open more of the Chinese market in a gesture of goodwill.

The Chinese are pressing hard, and meeting resistance in the form of delay:

One proposal has been for China and the European Union to launch joint action against the United States at the World Trade Organization.

But the European Union, the world’s largest trading bloc, has rejected the idea of allying with Beijing against Washington, five EU officials and diplomats told Reuters, ahead of a Sino-European summit in Beijing on July 16-17.

Instead, the summit is expected to produce a modest communique, which affirms the commitment of both sides to the multilateral trading system and promises to set up a working group on modernizing the WTO, EU officials said.

That’s all they’ll get for now, and they may get nothing else:

Chinese state media has promoted the message that the European Union is on China’s side, officials said, putting the bloc in a delicate position. The past two summits, in 2016 and 2017, ended without a statement due to disagreements over the South China Sea and trade.

“China wants the European Union to stand with Beijing against Washington, to take sides,” said one European diplomat. “We won’t do it and we have told them that.”

But it is tempting:

David Cameron and Romano Prodi come from opposite ends of Europe’s political spectrum, but they have much in common. Both have left high office, boast an extensive network of connections, and now work in some capacity for China.

The former British and Italian prime ministers are far from alone: Across Europe, politicians past and present are taking positions on China’s growing global reach.

Some such as Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish premier and head of NATO, warn that Europe must gird itself against China’s rise. Far more are riding the wave and helping China’s onward march.

One of those is Dominique de Villepin:

As France’s foreign minister, De Villepin came to global prominence in 2003 when he argued the case against the U.S.-led war in Iraq at the United Nations in New York. He went on to serve as France’s prime minister under President Jacques Chirac. He’s since become a regular commentator on Chinese affairs and advises Chinese companies on their international expansion plans through his consultancy Villepin International.

He’s French. He’s back. The suave Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin – who ran marathons and wrote literary criticism in his spare time – smiled and told us that our plan for immediate war with Iraq was ill-advised. It was as if he were explaining this to a petulant child, or a buffoon. At the UN in early February, 2003, he almost laughed at Colin Powell when Powell asked for the UN to go to war along with us, or at least to tell us our little (that is, specific and limited) war was fine with them. Dominique de Villepin, with that bemused smile of the loving adult for the confused child who needs a little help with his tantrum, said wait, let the inspectors finish – there may be no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and even if by some odd chance there are, there are better ways to handle this. He rolled his eyes, discretely, and of course the guy was right. It just took ten years for us to realize that. George W. Bush was the buffoon at the time. This time it’s Donald Trump.

This time it’s worse. George W. Bush wasn’t a mean and nasty man – just distracted, with that absent look in his eyes. Trump’s buffoonery is confrontational. And did he mention he’s rich, really rich? People should remember that. But that’s not what people will remember after all this is over. They’ll remember what makes civilization possible. They’ll miss that, when it all fades to black.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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