Pro Patria Mori

There’s that line from one of Horace’s Odes – “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” – “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country” – even if Wilfred Owen didn’t think so. “Sweet” may not be the right word either – “satisfying” might be better – but decorum – fitting and proper – is the right word. One should do things properly. Good manners matter, even in difficult circumstances, or particularly in difficult circumstances. Formality helps, as does a bit of tolerance. Don’t be a jerk, and the Bush family knows this. The Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan and Josh Dawsey report this:

The family of former president George H. W. Bush has planned a state funeral that will steer clear of the kind of anti-Trump sentiment evident at the recent funeral of Sen. John McCain, according to people familiar with the funeral planning.

The Bush family contacted the White House this past summer to say that President Trump would be welcome at the funeral, scheduled Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral, and to assure him that the focus would be on Bush’s life rather than their disagreements, according to one former administration official.

This was a compromise, even if an awkward compromise:

The truce with Trump allows the Bush family, and the nation, to honor the legacy of a president who guided the United States through the 1991 Gulf War and the breakup of the Soviet Union without becoming mired in today’s toxic politics. Trump in turn has been effusive in his praise of Bush since his death… But the detente also comes after Trump’s long history of insulting and taunting the Bush family – calling his 2016 primary opponent “low-energy” Jeb Bush, saying the 9/11 attacks were partly due to President George W. Bush’s failure to keep the nation safe, and mocking George H. W. Bush’s signature “thousand points of light” volunteerism program. And it comes as Trump has fully taken control of the Republican Party, leading a bare-knuckle rejection of the traditional GOP establishment that the Bush family represented and helped build.

But let that slide for one day, masking resentment with formality:

While Trump will not deliver a eulogy, he will be seated in the front row alongside former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Bush’s son, former president George W. Bush, will deliver a eulogy.

Neither he nor the other eulogists – former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former senator Alan K. Simpson, and presidential historian and Bush biographer Jon Meacham – are expected to focus on the stark differences between the genteel and patrician Bush and the bombastic Trump.

“If you have any sensitivity for human feelings, you just don’t get into that,” Simpson said in an interview Monday. “It’s not what a funeral is for.”

And some things are, after all, rather obvious:

Another Bush confidant said, “The comparisons are presenting themselves; we are not heightening them,” according to a person familiar with the funeral preparations.

A third person, who like others close to the preparations spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said the tone of Wednesday’s funeral will reflect the sense of propriety of Bush, who “wouldn’t want anyone there to feel uncomfortable, including the incumbent president.”

“It’s interesting, though, that praising the Bushes or McCain risks sounding critical of Trump even when Trump’s in no way part of the thinking,” the third person said.

So tell him this:

Three current and former administration officials said there had been deep frustration in the White House over the anti-Trump tone of the Sept. 1 funeral for McCain, which Trump did not attend. One senior administration official said Trump’s reaction to the criticism was “almost paralyzing for a week,” and officials have been assured that Bush’s funeral would be different.

It won’t be different:

The eulogists all knew the 41st president for many years. Mulroney was Canada’s prime minister from 1984 to 1993 and helped negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Bush. He also gave eulogies at the funerals of President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy Reagan.

Meacham, who wrote “Destiny and Power,” a 2015 biography of Bush, also delivered a eulogy at Barbara Bush’s funeral. “In hours of war and of peace, of tumult and of calm, the Bushes governed in a spirit of congeniality, of civility, and of grace,” Meacham said. “Barbara and George Bush put country above party, the common good above political gain, and service to others above the settling of scores.”

Mulroney is NAFTA. Trump hates NAFTA. Meacham will speak of congeniality and civility and grace, Trump keeps saying “We have to stop being so NICE to people, folks!”

Donald Trump will be unhappy, but Max Boot, the former Republican, is not surprised:

George H. W. Bush and Donald J. Trump had almost nothing in common beyond their privileged upbringing and membership in the Republican Party.

During World War II, Bush volunteered for the Navy at age 18 and two years later was shot down over the Pacific. Trump won five draft deferments to avoid the Vietnam War. Bush held a long series of appointed and elective government positions before becoming president, making him one of the most knowledgeable occupants of the Oval Office. Trump had no government experience and still has next-to-no knowledge of policy. Bush was so self-effacing that he hated to use the personal pronoun – “don’t be talking about yourself,” his mother instructed him. Trump, by contrast, hardly talks about anything other than himself.

But Trump won that battle:

Bush was the most successful one-term president in the nation’s history. He presided over victory in the Persian Gulf War, the peaceful end of the Cold War and the unification of Germany – all achievements that today might appear to have been inevitable but could easily have had a far less happy outcome. Yet he never got any love from the right. Conservatives did not see Bush as one of them, and by end of his term they had turned against him.

The marriage of convenience between Bush and the right broke apart in 1990. The president was determined to reduce the growing deficits that he had inherited from Ronald Reagan – and that had grown larger still because of the need to bail out failing savings and loan associations. With the nation headed to war in Kuwait, he wanted to put America’s finances in order. The problem was that in 1988 he had foolishly promised, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Bush knew he would pay a price for breaking his pledge, but he was determined to do so for the good of the country.

And the rest is history:

The No. 2 Republican in the House, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, initially appeared supportive of a spending deal that would have limited tax increases to levies on gasoline, alcohol and other products, avoiding income tax hikes. But when it came time to announce the agreement in the Rose Garden, Gingrich stalked out. Opposition from conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats doomed the deal, forcing a temporary government shutdown. Bush went back to the table, agreeing to a small increase in the top income tax rate, from 28 percent to 31 percent. (It had been 50 percent as recently as 1986.) House Republicans still rejected the deal, but this time there were enough Democratic votes to pass the compromise.

From a fiscal conservative’s perspective, the 1990 deal was a raging success. As Bruce Bartlett notes, “The final deal cut spending by $324 billion over five years and raised revenues by $159 billion.” It also put into place stringent rules mandating that any future tax cuts or spending increases would have to be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases. Within eight years, a $376 billion deficit had become a $113 billion surplus.

Yet conservatives never forgave Bush for his apostasy. Gingrich’s opposition to the budget deal – and his general disdain for bipartisan compromise – helped him in 1994 to become the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years.

Bush did see that:

Bush saw what was happening – and it horrified him. In “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” author Jon Meacham quotes from Bush’s diary in 1988 after meeting a supporter of televangelist Pat Robertson who refused to shake his hand: “They’re scary. They’re there for spooky, extraordinary right-winged reasons. They don’t care about Party. They don’t care about anything… They could be Nazis, they could be Communists, they could be whatever… They will destroy this party if they’re permitted to take over.”

Well, now they have taken over, and it is impssible to imagine the Republican Party again nominating a man who put loyalty to country above loyalty to right-wing dogma.

Frank Bruni saw that too:

Kinder. Gentler. Those were words that George H. W. Bush famously used in his inaugural speech, when he was sworn in as the 41st president of the United States. I say “famously” not because the verbiage was particularly visionary, but because it evolved, over the years, into shorthand for his philosophy, for his character, for what the Republican Party needed to be and for what he wanted to make it.

The words fell into a passage of the speech that, in relation to the “American carnage” of the current president’s oratory, seems both quaint and exotic — and makes you yearn for an earlier time. “America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle,” Bush told the crowd arrayed in front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1989. “We as a people have such purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”

That’s not going to happen:

In reality and in retrospect, Bush was a kinder and gentler breed of leader. He believed in courtesy, as any lawmaker who dealt with him and any journalist who repeatedly crossed paths with him can attest. He believed in manners, not merely as an outgrowth of his patrician background and not principally in a fussy way, but because he saw them as an expression of respect. To read his voluminous letters is to encounter a man who cared deeply about that – about precedent, propriety, tradition. And, yes, about kindness.

And yes, that was a mistake:

That softness and soulfulness at times earned him derision, as when Newsweek published a cover story about his 1988 presidential campaign that was titled “Bush Battles the Wimp Factor.” For decades afterward, everyone in the Bush family seethed about it.

I look back now and wonder if it was really an unintended compliment. We could use more wimps like him.

Evan Thomas agrees with that:

In October 1987, when George H. W. Bush announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story titled “Fighting the ‘Wimp Factor.'” The article did not quite come out and declare that Bush was a weakling, and it noted that Bush’s own advisers were worried about the “wimp” label. But the clear implication of the cover story (which I edited, penciling in the word “wimp” over the objection of the story’s reporter, Margaret Warner) was that Bush somehow lacked the inner fortitude to lead the free world.

How wrong we were.

This was not a wimp:

As the 41st president, Bush was anything but a wimp. In 1991, he had the courage to abandon his own “read my lips” vow and instead raise taxes in the cause of restoring fiscal sanity to the federal budget, left badly out of whack by his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. Agreeing to raise taxes was necessary to get the Democrats to agree to spending cuts, but it was political suicide for Bush. It cost him a second term in office, which he had almost surely earned by bringing the Cold War to a successful, peaceful conclusion and by driving Iraq from Kuwait in the 1991 Operation Desert Storm. Bush had wisely limited the first Gulf War to its stated war aims and resisted the temptation to push on to Baghdad. If only his own son had been so prudent after 9/11 and stuck to liberating Afghanistan without plunging into Iraq.

This was a careful man:

Bush was at heart a moderate Republican, a nearly extinct species today. He was fiscally conservative, but he believed that government had a role in protecting the poor and redressing social injustice – all within reason, of course. The on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand tepidness of Republican moderation is easy to mock, and has been, mercilessly, by tea partiers and talk show shouters. But Bush nurtured a belief in compromise and consensus even, or perhaps especially, if that meant swallowed pride. In foreign policy he was an internationalist, an interventionist if necessary – but never an adventurer. He was smart to order his minions not to gloat when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. He knew that communism would fade away more quickly if Uncle Sam did not dance on its grave.

He’d wait, because he is who he is:

In a boastful age, when young people feel the need to “brand” themselves, Bush’s circumspection seems almost quaint. But the current dysfunction in Washington and the mindless one-upmanship played out on cable TV is enough to make one nostalgic for a time when politicians of different persuasions tried to listen and deal with each other. Bush as much as anyone embodied that lost age, when politics were said to stop at the water’s edge and there was a sense of shared purpose among lawmakers confronting the challenges of the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War.

It would be a mistake to mythologize Bush. Politics were hardly pure in his time, and he made compromises that strained his sense of principle (like going along with Reagan’s antiabortion stand or pandering to conservatives by promising never to raise taxes). He could wander off the high road when political exigency demanded. In the 1988 election, he allowed his political henchmen, Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater, to paint the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. George Dukakis, as a weak-on-crime nerd – and to play to white fears of black criminals. Nor was Bush ego-free. At Newsweek, he let us know how mad he was at being called a “wimp.” But it is impossible to imagine him resorting to the petty vindictiveness of a Trump tweetstorm.

Bush has been partly forgotten by history, but America’s 45th president may make us nostalgic for the grace and manners – and self-discipline – of our 41st.

So he never was a wimp, but David French argues that was always the issue:

One of the more puzzling aspects of modern Republican discourse is the equation of Donald Trump’s aggression with manliness and the slander of his (male) critics as feminine. As near as I can tell, the foundation of the argument is essentially stylistic and tactical… In a 2016 magazine piece I noted the hosannas poured on Trump for his alleged masculinity. A popular pickup artist said he “tight game.” He was the “ultimate alpha.” Fox News’s Andrea Tantaros said, “The Left has tried to culturally feminize this country in a way that is disgusting. And you see blue-collar voters – men – this is like their last vestige – their last hope is Donald Trump to get their masculinity back.” Another Fox personality called him “street,” meaning it as a compliment.

As for his critics? Well, if you’re a man and criticize Trump – especially on moral grounds – prepare for the allegation that you’re “pearl-clutching.” MAGA-world will call you “low-testosterone” or “dilettantish.” In fact, the accusation of weakness will often substitute for argument. After all, why argue the merits of a point when you can just accuse a man of wetting his panties?

But there’s nothing new here:

The Right has long struggled with the notion that “toughness” requires a particular kind of angry public posture. As a colleague noted to me yesterday, one of the hallmarks of the Trump era is that the president makes old conflicts more “electric” rather than creating new ones. It’s stunning to consider this when you consider the basic facts of Bush’s biography, but he battled the “wimp factor” and claims that he was “too nice” for much of his political career. It’s a sign of our fallen world that all too many people misinterpret the presence of manners as a lack of manliness. It’s destructive to our culture and body politic that all too many people interpret kindness as a lack of conviction.

After Bush’s death, this almost 40-year-old clip of Bush on CBS’s Face the Nation rocketed around the Internet. In it, Bush presents the best answer I’ve ever heard to the charge that he was too nice:

“I equate toughness with moral fiber, with character, with principle, with demonstrated leadership in tough jobs where you emerge not bullying somebody, but with the respect of the people you led. That’s toughness. That’s fiber. That’s character. I have got it. And if I happen to be decent in the process that should not be a liability.”

Now add this:

As we raise our sons, who is the better model? Is it the “wimp” who enlisted in the Navy at age 18, became one of the service’s youngest aviators, was shot down over the Pacific and rescued, went on to a lifetime of public service (including the presidency), led the nation in war, and managed the fall of the Soviet Union with calmness, ending a great-power conflict without triggering a cataclysm? Is it the beloved husband (of one wife for more than 70 years) and father – a man of real faith?

Or is it the “tough guy” who ducked his war, paid off porn stars, gloried in his adultery, married three women, built a business empire in part through nepotism and “suspect” tax schemes, bankrupted casinos, and now adopts his aggressive posture mainly through public insults and angry tweets? This isn’t the masculinity that we should respect. And it’s hardly “manly” to defend behavior that is barely removed from the posturing and strutting of the schoolyard bully.

George H. W. Bush a wimp? No, he was a man in full. Decency requires strength. The conservative movement (and our nation) would do well to remember that vital truth.

That might be difficult. Eric Knowles and Sarah DiMuccio did the research:

We found that support for Trump in the 2016 election was higher in areas that had more searches for topics such as “erectile dysfunction.” Moreover, this relationship persisted after accounting for demographic attributes in media markets, such as education levels and racial composition, as well as searches for topics unrelated to fragile masculinity, such as “breast augmentation” and “menopause.”

And this has to do with Trump alone:

In contrast, fragile masculinity was not associated with support for Mitt Romney in 2012 or support for John McCain in 2008 – suggesting that the correlation of fragile masculinity and voting in presidential elections was distinctively stronger in 2016.

The same finding emerged in 2018… In the more than 390 House elections pitting a Republican candidate against a Democratic candidate, support for the Republican candidate was higher in districts that, based on Google search data, had higher levels of fragile masculinity. However, there was no significant relationship between fragile masculinity and voting in the 2014 or 2016 congressional elections. This suggests that fragile masculinity has now become a stronger predictor of voting behavior.

Kevin Drum adds this:

I was uninterested at first because I figured the Trump effect was really just a Republican effect. But no, insecure men voted in unusually large numbers for the Republican candidate only when that candidate was Trump. And two years later, the effect was still there in a midterm election that was heavily dominated by Trump’s presence.

If this holds up, it suggests that Trump really did appeal to a kind of toxic masculinity in a way that other Republicans haven’t. If it’s true, it’s quite possible that it’s galvanized mostly by factors that affect the self-image of men who have grown up thinking that stereotypical manliness was a core part of who they had to be. Inability to be a good breadwinner would certainly be part of that. Being the “losers” of the feminist movement would be part of it. Being forced to give up their traditional control of family and sex – no more demands, no more casual harassment – would be part of it. A candidate who explicitly appealed to this frustration and promised to fix it – which neither Romney nor McCain did – would attract their votes especially if he were running against that shrill harpy Hillary Clinton.

Long story short, this is interesting to the extent that it shows who Trump specifically appealed to above and beyond normal Republican candidates.

It’s also something for Democrats to give some serious thought to, even if, like Trump, they currently have few real solutions to offer. I’m not sure what a “real” solution might be, but it’s worth noting that one thing it’s not is an insistence on nominating a man in 2020. Although the authors found that insecure men might like Trump, they held no grudge against women running for office: “Notably, fragile masculinity was unrelated to support for female candidates in the 2018 elections.”

That means we can feel free to nominate anyone we want. It just needs to be someone who knows how to talk to insecure men.

But who knows how to do that? It’s just as well that George H. W. Bush is gone. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – but what if that kind and gentle and thoughtful country disappeared years ago?

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Some Other Person Elsewhere

Las Vegas is a miserable nasty place in the middle of the desert but this started in 2003:

Las Vegas’ “What Happens Here, Stays Here” slogan is one of the more famous taglines in modern tourism marketing and one of the most quoted, talked about, and recognized ad campaigns in any industry.

And it’s still going strong with the variation “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” – adding the name was important – and there’s this from the advertising agency’s initial case study in support of the campaign:

The emotional bond between Las Vegas and its customers was freedom. Freedom on two levels. Freedom to do things, see things, eat things, wear things, feel things. In short, the freedom to be someone we couldn’t be at home. And freedom from whatever we wanted to leave behind in our daily lives. Just thinking about Vegas made the bad stuff go away. At that point the strategy became clear. Speak to that need. Make an indelible connection between Las Vegas and the freedom we all crave.

That worked. The freedom to be someone one cannot be at home, or dares not be, is overwhelmingly seductive. And that generates deep resentment – somehow someone or something is making one’s life a limited miserable mess of conventions and compromises – not a life at all. Most men do live lives of quiet desperation. Get to Las Vegas.

That’s what people did – and they found giant air-conditioned rooms full of slot machines in the middle of nowhere, and Wayne Newton, and what happened there followed them home. The money they lost there was real money, and foolish talk is still foolish talk – that fling was foolish. Las Vegas is just another place, and Buenos Aires is just another place, and Donald Trump is not a brilliant diplomat:

Donald Trump wants North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to know that he likes him and will fulfill his wishes, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday, a day after meeting the U.S. president at an economic summit in Argentina.

Moon, who is hoping to host Kim soon on the first ever trip to Seoul by a North Korean leader as agreed earlier this year, said Trump had asked him to pass on a message.

“The message is that President Trump has very favorable views toward Chairman Kim and he likes him,” Moon told reporters aboard a flight from Argentina to New Zealand, where he started a three-day state visit on Sunday.

“As such, he asked me to tell Chairman Kim that he wants to implement the rest of their agreement together and he will fulfill Chairman Kim’s wishes.”

Perhaps something was lost in translation. Perhaps this is The Onion, not Reuters. But neither is true. This is what it is:

Trump has frequently described a warm personal relationship with Kim, arguing that this rapport would help him succeed at a diplomatic breakthrough that has eluded U.S. presidents since the 1950s.

In September Trump drew applause from a crowd of supporters at a campaign rally by describing “beautiful” letters he had exchanged with Kim, saying: “We fell in love, okay?”

Trump’s critics say such warm words have so far failed to yield concrete concessions from one of the world’s most authoritarian states.

But it was just a Vegas fling. Trump loves authoritarian strongmen. They give him a thrill. Kim is still working on his nukes and missiles, so perhaps Trump likes to be abused. Who knows? But in this case, what happened in Buenos Aires should have stayed in Buenos Aires, and didn’t. This was embarrassing, but Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan report that in Buenos Aires, Donald Trump did try hard to be some other person:

President Trump managed to spend two days in the company of world leaders he has long antagonized without any visible eruptions.

There were no feuds, or at least none publicly detected, as Air Force One took off from Buenos Aires on Saturday night. Trump signed on to a statement of principles with the other leaders at the Group-of-20 summit, the kind of document he refused to endorse at a summit in Canada a few months earlier. He made nice with the European leader he most regularly trashes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

And the biggest diplomatic faux pas to occur here did not even involve the gaffe-prone American president. It was the autocratic bro-shake between Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A president who prides himself on being the ultimate disrupter on the global stage instead played the part of reluctant diplomat here in Argentina, at the risk of making himself something of a non-factor.

He did try to be something else:

Trump curtailed his ambitions by canceling his meeting with Putin and calling off a scheduled news conference, leaving as his marquee event a high-stakes working dinner to discuss trade Saturday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. After months of harsh rhetoric, threats and insults about China, Trump accentuated only the positive as he sat for an Argentine steak dinner with Xi.

Trump agreed to hold off on raising existing tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports for 90 days, pending a new round of trade talks later this month, while Xi agreed to designate fentanyl as a controlled substance and for China to purchase a substantial amount of U.S. agricultural product, according to the White House.

That wasn’t much – a temporary truce – but it was something, as was this:

The meeting with Xi, like Trump’s other tête-à-têtes, was overshadowed by news back home – first former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea in the Russia investigation and then the death of former president George H. W. Bush.

Trump’s determination to be on his best behavior in Buenos Aires was most visible when he met with Merkel on Saturday afternoon. He passed up the opportunity to rib her for arriving late because her government aircraft malfunctioned; German engineering and military readiness have been past targets of his. Nor did Trump gloat over Merkel’s declining political fortunes; he previously has said the veteran leader was losing her touch.

Instead, Trump said Merkel was doing “an incredible job” as Germany’s leader and was “highly respected by everybody, including me.”

Trump’s self-restraint continued as he answered a few questions from reporters. When one asked whether he had any regrets about his past criticisms of Bush and his family, Trump paused for a moment and then decided not to engage.

He said “thank you” and walked out, and didn’t tweet anything later, and he was someone else for the moment:

After Trump canceled his scheduled bilateral meeting with Putin, citing Russia’s maritime clash last week with Ukraine, the two men interacted at a private dinner for leaders and their spouses in El Teatro Colón, this city’s opulent grand opera house.

Trump, who was photographed sitting four seats away from Putin at the long dinner table, had “a number of informal conversations” at the dinner with world leaders, including Putin, according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Putin said at a news conference here that he “briefly” communicated with Trump, but he did not specify the content of the conversation, according to the Interfax news agency. Putin called Trump “a man of character” and a “very experienced man.”

“It’s a misfortune that we’re not able to have a meeting,” Putin said. He added, “I hope that the meeting will finally take place when the U.S. side is ready for it.”

That would be when Trump gets back to being himself, because he wasn’t himself:

Trump made no public embrace of Mohammed, who was treated as a pariah here because of the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump was seen briefly conversing with the Saudi, often known by his initials, MBS, but the White House said they merely “exchanged pleasantries.”

People go to Las Vegas to be someone else for a few hot and wild days. Donald Trump went to Buenos Aires. Max Boot argues that Trump is not very good at being someone else:

President Trump may have had his most successful international outing at the Group-of-20 summit that concluded on Saturday in Buenos Aires. But that’s not because he accomplished anything significant. He didn’t. It was simply because he did not commit a massive gaffe.

Trump’s ballyhooed deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping was little more than an agreement to keep talking. Trump committed not to increase tariffs on China for 90 days, and Xi committed to buy more U.S. products – but with no specific numerical targets. This is no more binding than North Korea’s promise to denuclearize somehow, someday. The two countries’ post-summit statements showed that they could not even agree on what they had agreed on. China’s statement, for example, did not mention a 90-day negotiating.

But not all was lost:

At least Trump did not have any cringe-worthy moments, such as when he left early the Group of 7 meeting in Quebec in June and refused to sign the communique, or when he acted like a lackey toward Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in July.

Trump even distinguished himself in Buenos Aires by making appropriate comments on the death of George H. W. Bush rather than continuing his feud with the Bush family. With Trump, you can never take such human niceties for granted. And if he had been as petty and mean-spirited as he was after John McCain’s death, it would have been a big news story. So a disaster averted. But not much accomplished either.

Boot cites this of course:

Two months have passed since Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and a week since Russia’s illegal seizure of Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait, and the perpetrators of those crimes still have not paid any price for them.

The iconic image from the G-20 showed Mohammed bin Salman and Putin giving each other high fives, laughing and smiling. It reminded me of the classic David Low cartoon after the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939 showing Hitler and Stalin curtsying to each other, with Hitler saying, “The scum of the earth, I believe,” and Stalin replying, “The bloody assassin of the workers, I presume?”

Mohammed bin Salman and Putin are no Hitler or Stalin, but they do have fresh blood on their hands – including that of the countless victims of Saudi bombing in Yemen and Russian bombing in Syria – and they are getting away with their crimes because Trump won’t do anything to hold them to account.

But it’s far worse than that:

Trump’s refusal to meet with Putin officially at the G-20 is hardly the kind of action that will get the Russian strongman’s attention. (They instead saw each other at dinner.) Rather, it signals American weakness that will encourage Putin to transgress further. Likewise, denying overwhelming evidence of Mohammed bin Salman’s complicity in Khashoggi’s murder signals that Trump isn’t tough enough to hold his ally to account.

And his (or our) ally knows that:

The Saudi crown prince was thumbing his nose at the United States with his chumminess toward Putin and his insistence, despite U.S. entreaties, to continue exploring the purchase of an S-400 air-defense system from Russia. He was also undercutting one of the chief rationales that Trump offers for his obsequiousness to Mohammed – the Saudis’ opposition to Iran – given that Russia is Iran’s chief ally.

Putin, for his part, mocked Trump by saying that “two little boats gifted to Ukraine by the U.S. couldn’t even get through the Kerch Strait.” (The ships reportedly weren’t actually provided by the United States.) The world’s tyrants are laughing at the United States – and Trump is letting them get away with it.

But he has no choice:

In some ways, the miracle of Buenos Aires is not what Trump said or did but that he could function at all, given how crippled by scandal his presidency has become. Just in the past week, we have learned that conspiracy-monger Jerome Corsi notified Trump friend Roger Stone of the Russians’ theft of Hillary Clinton campaign emails long before they were released and that the next day Stone talked to Trump. We have also learned that Trump was working on a deal to build a tower in Moscow even as he was winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. The evidence of collusion grows stronger – and so does the evidence of obstruction of justice.

So, you can’t go to Las Vegas to be someone else for a few days, or to Buenos Aires. Most men do live lives of quiet desperation. Donald Trump is stuck with the presidency, its own miserable mess of conventions and compromises, and David Nakamura and John Hudson argue that Trump is kind of giving up:

President Trump returned to Washington on Sunday after a relatively subdued two-day visit to the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, where he announced modest breakthroughs on trade but chose to avoid provocative meetings with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

His performance – coupled with his listless two-day visit to Paris days after the midterms, during which he skipped a visit to an American cemetery and appeared isolated from other world leaders – has created the impression of a president scaling back his ambitions on the world stage amid mounting political crises…

In recent weeks, Trump has curtailed his foreign itinerary. Last month, he skipped a trio of annual summits in Asia – the first time since 2013 an American president has been absent. And he canceled scheduled visits to Ireland in November and Colombia on the way home from the G-20.

White House aides said the president was too busy to stop in Bogota, a visit intended as a makeup after Trump canceled a trip to Peru and Colombia in the spring. The Ireland stop, which was supposed to be tacked onto the Paris trip, reportedly included a planned check-in at Trump International Golf Links at Doonbeg. News reports in Ireland suggested mass public protests were planned to greet him.

Oh well, he has other worries:

For Trump, there appears to be diminishing bandwidth to focus on foreign affairs, given that he is weighing a Cabinet shake-up and has threatened a partial government shutdown this month over border wall funding. Furthermore, the Democrats’ looming takeover of the House has posed new dangers for the White House in the form of potential subpoenas and investigations. And bombshell revelations last week involving former Trump associates in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election have rattled the White House.

So stay home, but that is unusual:

In the two weeks following the midterms in November 2006 – when Republicans lost control of both chambers of Congress – President George W. Bush visited seven countries, including meeting with Putin in Moscow.

In the month following the 2010 midterms – when Democrats lost control of the House, a setback President Barack Obama called a “shellacking” – he visited six countries, including a visit with U.S. troops at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Trump has yet to visit troops in a war zone.

“I see it as an atypical, nontraditional person who is in a traditional role,” said Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security.

Donald Trump is stuck with the presidency, a miserable mess of conventions and compromises he seems to hate. There’s no escape from that in foreign lands, where he has offended everyone anyway:

Foreign-affairs analysts said some capitals have grown wary given Trump’s sharp-elbowed performances. Trump embarrassed British Prime Minister Theresa May by rebuking her in a newspaper interview published just as he arrived outside of London for a meeting last summer. Trump upended the G-7 Summit in Canada in June after taking umbrage at mild criticism from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and he obliquely renewed threats to withdraw U.S. support for NATO during a dispute over defense spending at a summit in Brussels in July.

“He doesn’t like these meetings, he doesn’t like the format and he doesn’t like multilateralism,” said Ted Piccone, a Latin America expert who served on the National Security Council during the Bill Clinton administration.

He doesn’t like his job. But he’s supposed to like his job. It’s the most important job in the world after all. The only thing to do is fake it. He loves the job and he’s wonderful at it. Andrew Restuccia at Politico reports on that:

President Donald Trump said his trade agreement with China was “one of the largest deals ever made.” He dubbed his new accord with Canada and Mexico the “most significant, modern and balanced trade agreement in history.” And he insisted that the world leaders he’s lambasted on the world stage had become great friends.

Ah, no, not exactly:

As he crisscrossed Buenos Aires, posing for photos with dignitaries and boasting about his accomplishments, Trump left behind a trail of exaggerations meant to paper over the fractious first half of his term and rebrand himself as a globe-trotting statesman.

It’s the Art of the G-20, by Donald Trump. The 45th president is writing his own rulebook on how to claim credit and respect on an international stage where many leaders have looked down on him for years. But just as his famous 1987 book counseled, Trump’s global deal-making was as much about style as substance, with grandiose talk the most important ingredient of all.

Things went great in Vegas, or Buenos Aires, or wherever:

The president arrived back in Washington on Sunday feeling triumphant, believing his latest international trip to be a resounding success. During his overnight flight on Air Force One, Trump seemed vindicated after dealing with a long buildup of pressure to the summit in Argentina.

“It’s an incredible deal,” he told reporters of his agreement with China to temporarily pause new tariffs. “It goes down, certainly – if it happens, it goes down as one of the largest deals ever made.”

White House aides had reason to be happy, too. The gaffe-prone president managed to avoid a diplomatic snafu and even canceled a Saturday news conference that could have sent the entire trip off the rails. He kept off Twitter for more than 24 hours until later Sunday afternoon, when he chimed in with good wishes for Hanukkah.

Cool, but Restuccia notes this:

Behind the veneer is a more complicated reality. His deal with President Xi Jinping of China was effectively an agreement to continue trying to agree. The president’s critics argue that the new North American trade agreement is little more than NAFTA 1.1. And behind all the smiles, many world leaders still have a strong distaste for Trump.

Still, Trump loves the key authoritarian strongmen in the world. They give him a thrill, but Julia Davis at the Daily Beast reports this:

Following the abrupt cancellation of Donald Trump’s G20 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian state media roasted him. Known for seamlessly adhering to the Kremlin’s viewpoint, the troupe of Putin’s cheerleaders took turns laying into the president of the United States.

In an opinion piece for the Russian publication “Arguments and Facts,” Veronika Krasheninnikova, “Director General of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies and Initiatives, Advisor to the Director General of ‘Russia Today’ and a member of the Kremlin-appointed Russian Public Chamber,” says that in light of the canceled meeting, Russia can now give up on the U.S. and “should have never trusted Trump to begin with.”

Krasheninnikova opines that “as long as Trump is in power, nothing positive can happen in the relations between the United States and Russia,” concluding that “Trump is a rock hanging around Russia’s neck.”

Now, finally, Donald Trump has offended everyone:

The host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Evgeny Popov, angrily criticized Trump’s abrupt cancellation: “Just a few minutes earlier he said that now is a good time to meet… What kind of a man is this? First he says it will happen, then it won’t – are we just supposed to wait until he gets re-elected to start communicating with America? This is just foolishness. He seems to be an unbalanced person.”

Panelists on the same show point out the folly of those in Russia who celebrated Donald Trump’s election by toasting with Champagne. “Trump was never our friend – never!” exclaims Popov. Hosts and participants of “60 Minutes” previously made a habit of repeatedly boasting: “Trump is ours!” In light of their current commentary, it appears that “ours” was used in context of control or possession, not friendship.

The co-host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Olga Skabeeva said the American President is so unpopular that “blimps of Trump in diapers are popping up in every city and country he visits.” State TV show “Vesti” described Trump as a lonesome figure at the G20, looking for someone to talk to – and finding his daughter, Ivanka.

Vladimir Soloviev, the host of “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” declared that Putin – not Trump – is the leader of the free world.

Who’s left to like this guy? The freedom to be someone one cannot be at home, or dares not be, is overwhelmingly seductive, but everyone is who they are. A weekend in Vegas or Buenos Aires won’t change that. What happens there doesn’t stay there. Eventually everyone knows who you really are.

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Trump in the City of Books

It’s a good place:

Strongly influenced by European culture, Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the “Paris of South America”. The city has the busiest live theater industry in Latin America, with scores of theaters and productions. In fact, every weekend, there are about 300 active theaters with plays… more than either London, New York or Paris…  Buenos Aires is the home of the Teatro Colón, an internationally rated opera house. There are several symphony orchestras and choral societies. The city has numerous museums related to history, fine arts, modern arts, decorative arts, popular arts, sacred art, arts and crafts, theater and popular music, as well as the preserved homes of noted art collectors, writers, composers and artists. The city is home to hundreds of bookstores, public libraries and cultural associations (it is sometimes called “the city of books”) as well as the largest concentration of active theatres in Latin America. It has a world-famous zoo and botanical garden, a large number of landscaped parks and squares, as well as churches and places of worship of many denominations, many of which are architecturally noteworthy.

In fact, Buenos Aires looks like Paris – the same Haussmann architecture – and it’s just as sophisticated and cool. It’s Jorge Luis Borges’ city and Pope Francis’ home town. The very cool Gato Barbieri started out there. His jazz score for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris was way cool. Buenos Aires is a fine place, as good as Paris.

What was Donald Trump doing in the City of Books? He had to go there, even if that’s not his kind of place. And things didn’t go well. The New York Times’ Mark Landler and Peter Baker explain that:

He didn’t sit down with two of his favorite strongmen. He downgraded a meeting with one ally and postponed one with another. He exchanged icy smiles with the prime minister of Canada, who had threatened to skip the signing of a new trade agreement with the United States and Mexico because of lingering bitterness over steel tariffs.

And President Trump was preoccupied by legal clouds back home, tweeting angrily that there was nothing illicit about his business ventures in Russia, a day after his former lawyer Michael D. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the extent and duration of those dealings.

For Mr. Trump, his first day at the summit meeting of the Group of 20 industrialized nations in Buenos Aires was a window into his idiosyncratic statecraft after nearly two years in office.

And that has come down to this:

His “America First” foreign policy has not become “America Alone” exactly, but it has left him with a strange patchwork of partners at these global gatherings. Mr. Trump canceled a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, citing the country’s recent naval clash with Ukraine. Nor did he meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, though he did exchange pleasantries with the prince, whom he has pulled close despite charges that the prince had a role in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The president did meet with the leaders of two Pacific allies, Australia and Japan, as well as with the prime minister of India. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, one of Mr. Trump’s most eager courtiers among foreign leaders, congratulated him on his “historic victory in the midterm election” – an election in which Democrats seized control of the House.

Donald Trump looked puzzled. Was that a dig, was Shinzo Abe being ironic, mocking him? Or did he think Trump was a fool who’d actually believes that? That was awkward, but there was this:

In purely social terms, Mr. Trump’s day may well have peaked at 7:30 a.m. when he greeted Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, at the Casa Rosada. The pink presidential palace is famous for the balcony from which Eva Perón once spoke to adoring crowds in the plaza below.

“We’ve known each other a long time,” said Mr. Trump, who was involved in a Manhattan real estate deal with Mr. Macri’s father in the 1980s. “That was in my civilian days,” said a nostalgic president, who has talked recently about how much he misses his hometown.

And then he sang a chorus of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” – or he should have, but he didn’t. Still, this was a sad day:

The Group of 20 is a motley congregation under any circumstances, divided between liberal democratic leaders, who are greater in number, and autocrats, who often drive the agenda. Mr. Trump, who was making his second visit to the G-20, dramatizes its split nature, having alienated European allies and cultivated friendly ties with several of the strongmen.

This year, however, the autocrats proved as problematic as the allies. Despite professing his loyalty to Prince Mohammed only two weeks ago, Mr. Trump did not find time for a formal session with him. The president’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, chalked up the omission to Mr. Trump’s “full to overflowing” schedule of meetings with other leaders.

When the president encountered Prince Mohammed on the sidelines of the meeting, “they exchanged pleasantries,” according to a White House official, as Mr. Trump did “with nearly every leader in attendance.” Mr. Trump later told reporters: “We had no discussion. We might, but we had none.”

Donald Trump was all alone. He’s called all our usual allies fools and has done his best to humiliate each and every one of them, and has kept saying that Putin and the Crown Prince are wonderful, but now, since they do murder journalists and such, he needed to tone down his admiration for them a bit, which leaves him alone:

As if to prove that the prince was not persona non grata, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry posted photos of him chatting with President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, though not Mr. Trump. He even exchanged a modified high-five with Mr. Putin before they sat down next to each other at the first session of the leaders.

Donald Trump watched from the sidelines looking a bit foolish:

After months of trying to arrange another date, Mr. Trump abruptly and unhappily pulled the plug on a scheduled meeting with Mr. Putin in Buenos Aires, citing the recent escalation in Russian tensions with Ukraine.

The Kremlin, which learned about the cancellation via Twitter, like the rest of the world, has been tweaking Mr. Trump in response. A Russian official told reporters that the real reason Mr. Trump canceled was the revelation that he had been trying to build a tower in Moscow much later into his presidential campaign than previously acknowledged.

On Friday, Mr. Trump insisted again to reporters that the meeting was scrapped “on the basis of what took place with respect to the ships and the sailors.”

But he didn’t want to confront Putin on that, dressing him down. Donald Trump doesn’t like confrontation with stronger people. He was hiding. Everyone saw that, and it wasn’t just Putin:

He downgraded a meeting with another ally, Mr. Moon of South Korea, to a “pull aside,” diplomatic jargon for a less formal encounter. The White House did not say why it had made that change, though Mr. Trump’s nuclear diplomacy with North Korea has bogged down in recent weeks. The White House said Mr. Trump is still hoping for a follow-up summit meeting with President Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

Don’t expect that:

“In previous meetings, Trump has been more focused on undermining the very notion of a global agenda, let alone affirming the U.S.’s leadership role in defining it,” said Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “But in this one, with the exception of his working dinner with Xi, he is not even doing the key bilateral meetings.”

William J. Burns, who served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, said Mr. Trump was dismissive of traditional diplomacy and appeared distracted by the investigation of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

“The net result is not just a missed opportunity,” Mr. Burns said, “but the acceleration of international disorder and the long-term weakening of American influence.”

Donald Trump has been burning bridges:

He has called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada “very dishonest and weak.”

He has also, perhaps jokingly, accused Canada – which came into formal being in 1867 – of burning down the White House during the War of 1812.

But on Friday morning, President Trump, Mr. Trudeau and Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, signed a North American trade pact after 14 months of acrimonious negotiations.

The leaders of the United States and Canada appeared cordial – Mr. Trudeau even addressed his counterpart as “Donald”- even though their words and body language in recent months have suggested that their once-warm rapport had become as icy as a Canadian winter.

That’s over:

In his remarks, Mr. Trudeau urged Mr. Trump to remove punishing tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Canada, saying they imposed a “major obstacle” on the Canadian economy. As Mr. Trudeau spoke, Mr. Trump appeared stone-faced, but broke into a pensive smile at one point. When Mr. Trudeau ended his comments, the American president shook his hand with brevity that contrasted with his usual vigorous greetings.

This has not gone well for some time:

In June, after Mr. Trudeau ended a two-day Group of 7 summit meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec, by saying Canadians “are nice” but wouldn’t be “bullied on trade,” Mr. Trump responded on Air Force One by accusing him of being feeble and making false statements. Just in case the message wasn’t clear, Peter Navarro, the director of the White House trade office, suggested on Fox News Sunday that there was “a special place in hell” for Mr. Trudeau.

Canadians were irate. Mr. Trudeau, who has attracted adulation on the global stage, is a sometimes polarizing figure at home and he faces an election next year. But Mr. Trump’s barrage of insults momentarily united most Canadians behind him, and his approval ratings jumped.

Some Canadians even canceled summer vacations in Maine or California and boycotted American products like Twizzlers. Others insisted on using Canadian-produced kidney beans to make “Trump-free chili.”

They’ve had enough:

Many Canadians regard Mr. Trump as a bully; a perception that intensified after the American leader imposed the steel and aluminum tariffs in May. Mr. Trump framed the move as necessary for national security, prompting Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, to retort that “the national security pretext is absurd and frankly insulting to Canadians.”

They won’t forget. No one forgets being humiliated. But that cuts both ways. John Schindler argues that Trump won’t forget this:

This was the week that the bottom fell out of Donald Trump’s presidency. After almost two years of White House denials that Candidate Trump had any ties to Russia in 2016, that turns out to be just one more Trumpian lie. No amount of “NO COLLUSION” tweets from the Oval Office can undo the damage that has now been done.

The decisive moment was the appearance of Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime personal attorney, in Federal court in New York on Thursday to admit he lied to Congress about Trump’s commercial interests in Russia…Cohen reached out to Russians multiple times during 2016 in futile efforts to get Trump Tower Moscow going, at last. Donald Trump sought to develop “his” luxury tower in Russia’s capital for decades. This was the reason for Trump’s flashy trip to the Soviet Union way back in the summer of 1987. Three decades later, Trump Tower Moscow remained a mirage that the presidential contender was determined to make reality. This clearly mattered more to Trump than winning the White House.

That forlorn quest will cost President Trump more than he could possibly imagine.

It seems that Trump got trapped:

President Trump’s biggest worry isn’t Bob Mueller but Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin’s displeasure with its erstwhile friend, rising for months, has risen to hazardous levels for the White House. The breaking point is Ukraine. Last weekend, Putin’s Federal Security Service engineered an armed confrontation in the Black Sea, grabbing two Ukrainian navy patrol boats and their crews as booty.

Trump’s timid response to this crisis – “We do not like what’s happening either way. We don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully it will get straightened out” – disappointed Ukraine and its Western well-wishers while infuriating Moscow, which expected Trump to help Russia, or at least keep his mouth shut.

And now he’s all alone in the City of Books. Michael Hirsh, writing at the Foreign Policy site, notes Trump’s dilemma:

President Donald Trump flew to Argentina on Thursday to attend the G-20 summit – a forum born of American weakness – at what is perhaps the weakest moment of his presidency…

The Cohen admission reopened a host of questions about Trump’s ties with Russia that the president has, in recent days, been trying to squelch. All of a sudden, the soon-to-be Democratic-controlled House of Representatives may be forced to examine anew whether Trump lied his way into high office – a potentially impeachable offense – and whether he is obstructing justice by refusing to appoint a new attorney general after he dismissed Jeff Sessions and removed oversight of the special counsel’s Russia investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Trump may also be vulnerable to charges that he lied to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the president’s Russia ties.

And this is bad place to be in that fix:

The G-20 is a recent and somewhat odd institution – probably the first major international institution to be created without a dominant U.S. role as parent or midwife (though Washington did help oversee member selection). Convened in 1999 by Europe and Canada as a gathering of finance ministers and central bankers and largely ignored for the next decade, it won a battlefield promotion during the financial crisis of 2008, when it was elevated by common consent to summit status because it included China, South Korea, and other important U.S. creditor nations. It has since turned into the world’s preeminent economic forum, eclipsing the G-7 gathering of leading industrial nations.

The G-20 thus came of age amid U.S. weakness and culpability, at a time when the world was pointing fingers at Wall Street as the chief culprit in the Great Recession. With so many cooks tending the broth and no real leadership, consensus on trade, capital rules and other issues generally eludes the G-20 leaders. Above all, Washington has rarely been able to get its way on any major issue, as it so often has at the G-7, NATO, or the United Nations Security Council.

In short, the G-20 is not a place where anything gets solved or resolved, and so it is with Trump:

Trump will strut his way through the G-20 sessions as is his wont, but he won’t be able to avoid a lot of uncomfortable encounters. What will he say to British Prime Minister Theresa May, now that Trump has offhandedly trashed the Brexit deal she spent two years negotiating? How will he sidestep Mohammed bin Salman, who might have expected at least a meet-and-greet for the $400 billion investment he promised? Or French President Emmanuel Macron, now that Trump has all but called publicly for the right-wing nationalists to defeat him in the next election?

That means that all that’s left is this:

The one big meeting that may go forward is Trump’s dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump, who may be worried that the U.S. economic boom will tail off on his watch – he has been relentlessly criticizing his own Federal Reserve chief, Jerome Powell, for edging up interest rates – suggested before his departure on Thursday that he might be close to a deal to end his tariff war with China.

“I think we’re very close to doing something with China, but I don’t know that I want to do it,” Trump told reporters.

He may not want to do it. But he certainly wants to change the headlines.

That may not be possible now. Politico notes just who generates the headlines now:

The strongmen are rampaging across the world stage with impunity, and they know it.

Only moments after European Council President Donald Tusk used a news conference to urge G20 leaders to address Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia’s evident disregard for human rights, video footage of the leaders’ arrivals showed Russian President Vladimir Putin slapping hands in jovial fashion with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as they took their seats for the summit’s opening session.

Someone else is leading the world now:

If Putin was feeling any concern about Tusk’s vow that Western economic sanctions against Russia would be extended yet again in January, he did not give the smallest hint of it. And if the crown prince was worried in the slightest about the international condemnation that he has faced in recent weeks, there was also no indication as he adjusted his gold-trimmed thawb and took his seat at the conference table.

Indeed, the only tough guy in Argentina who seems to be having the slightest trouble these days is U.S. President Donald Trump.

Things have changed:

For Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the evident self-assuredness of the Russian and Saudi leaders highlights just how powerless the West has been in responding to what it views as grave transgressions of international norms.

“This is a difficult moment for international cooperation,” Tusk said at a joint news conference with Juncker. “I would like to appeal to the leaders to use this summit, including their bilateral and informal exchanges, to seriously discuss real issues such as trade wars, the tragic situation in Syria and Yemen and the Russian aggression in Ukraine. I see no reason why the G20 leaders shouldn’t have a meaningful discussion about solving these problems – especially because all the instruments lie in their hands. The only condition is good will.”

Tusk, in an unsubtle jab at the Saudi prince, continued, “We also cannot underestimate other issues which remain difficult for some leaders, such as human rights, freedom of press and basic safety of journalists. It is our obligation, as the EU, to take this opportunity and press our partners to respect these basic principles.”

Only one guy stood up to the thugs:

French President Emmanuel Macron interacted briefly with the Saudi prince, and made an effort to rebuke him.

A video of their encounter picked up the prince telling Macron “don’t worry” and the French president replying, “I do worry. I am worried.”

Later in the conversation Macron added, “You never listen to me.” And the prince replied, “I will listen, of course.”

Asked about the conversation, a French official told reporters that Macron had conveyed “a very firm” message.

Emmanuel Macron did what Donald Trump wouldn’t do, or couldn’t do, or was too angry or too depressed and too confused to do – but France hasn’t been a world power since the eighteenth century. Emmanuel Macron’s encounter with the Saudi prince was a bit sad. The United States is the one sole superpower now. But now, somehow it isn’t. Donald Trump got lost in Buenos Aires, the City of Books. Donald Trump doesn’t read.

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Not Much but Everything

It wasn’t much. The date was Sunday, June 18, 1972, the byline was Alfred E. Lewis, Washington Post Staff Writer, and the story was this:

Five men, one of whom said he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 a.m. yesterday in what authorities described as an elaborate plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee here.

Three of the men were native-born Cubans and another was said to have trained Cuban exiles for guerrilla activity after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

They were surprised at gunpoint by three plain-clothes officers of the metropolitan police department in a sixth floor office at the plush Watergate, 2600 Virginia Ave., NW, where the Democratic National Committee occupies the entire floor.

There was no immediate explanation as to why the five suspects would want to bug the Democratic National Committee offices or whether or not they were working for any other individuals or organizations.

A very young Bob Woodward would cover the arraignment. Something was odd about this. A very young Carl Bernstein would soon join him in looking into this. There was no immediate explanation for what had happened, but finally, there was an explanation, and on Friday, August 9, 1974, President Nixon resigned from office. That first little news story wasn’t much. But it was everything.

The date is Thursday, November 29, 2018, and the byline is Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky and Rosalind Helderman, all Washington Post staff writers again, and the story is this:

President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday in New York to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued at the same time he was running for president.

In a nine-page filing, prosecutors laid out a litany of lies that Cohen admitted he told to congressional lawmakers about the Moscow project – an attempt, Cohen said, to minimize links between the proposed development and Trump as his presidential bid was well underway.

Cohen’s guilty plea – his second in four months – is the latest development in a wide-ranging investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Activity in that probe has intensified this week, as one planned guilty plea was derailed, and, separately, prosecutors accused Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort of lying to them since he pleaded guilty.

That was it. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, again, to something else, but he’s nobody in particular – he’s not part of government and long gone from the Trump organization. This little news story should not have been much, but maybe it is everything. Jeffrey Toobin thinks so:

The question at the heart of the Russia investigation has always been one of motive. Why has Donald Trump, both as a candidate and as the President, been so solicitous of Russia and of its leader, Vladimir Putin? Why did Trump praise Putin so obsequiously during the campaign? Why did the Trump campaign steer the Republican Party platform in a more pro-Russia direction? Why does Trump still refuse to criticize Putin and Russian actions around the world?

The guilty plea that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, entered on Thursday morning, at a federal-court hearing in Manhattan, goes a long way toward answering those questions.

And the answer is fairly simple:

Once again, with Trump, it seems, the answer comes down to money. In September of last year, in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Cohen said that he made efforts on Trump’s behalf to negotiate the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow but that those efforts had ended in failure, in January of 2016, and were rarely discussed again. But, on Thursday, Cohen admitted that this had been a lie; he acknowledged that he had continued to negotiate on Trump’s behalf well into 2016, until at least June, when Trump was already the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.

In other words, while Trump was running for President, his company was simultaneously (and secretly) negotiating with Russia to build a tower. Since Putin and his government effectively control all such developments in Russia, they held the fate of the project in their hands… Trump had dreamed of building in Moscow for decades, and had travelled to the Russian capital as far back as the nineteen-eighties to try to make it happen.

That’s serious leverage over Trump, and there’s this:

The timing of Cohen’s guilty plea is significant. It seems that the prosecution team, led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, delayed Cohen’s admission of guilt until after Trump and his legal team had submitted the President’s written answers to Mueller’s questions, which he did earlier this month. Mueller surely asked Trump about the Moscow negotiation, and the President’s answers were likely locked in before he and his lawyers could factor in Cohen’s admissions. If those answers were to conflict with Cohen’s latest version of events, it would potentially be a matter of great peril for the President. Mueller’s prosecutors made it clear in court on Thursday that they believe that Cohen is now telling the truth.

The charging document from the guilty plea, prepared by the Mueller office, shows that Cohen’s account is corroborated by multiple contemporaneous e-mails between him and an “Individual 2,” who is likely Felix Sater, a frequent Trump business associate.

In short, Trump committed to his answers. He had Paul Manafort on the inside – admitting guilt of all sorts and pretending to cooperate with Mueller, for less jail time, but at the same time feeding all the inside skinny on what he’d told Mueller back to Trump’s team, so their answers to all questions would match his, and all the time knowing that Trump would pardon him. They had fooled Mueller. Then Mueller fooled them back. He cancelled all deals with Manafort. He had Cohen. He’s had a ton of evidence supporting Cohen’s answers to all those questions. Trump and Manafort had the wrong answers. Sorry, guys.

Trump was trapped:

On Thursday morning, as Trump was leaving the White House for the Group-of-20 summit, in Buenos Aires, he both minimized Cohen’s new version of the facts and asserted that the new version is false. (“Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me.”) Trump said that his Moscow deal was widely known when he was running for President (it wasn’t), and that, as a private developer, he was entitled to make such deals. He then cancelled a previously announced meeting with Putin at the G-20, allegedly because of Russia’s current dispute with Ukraine.

Everyone knew that was bullshit. Trump couldn’t afford another Helsinki. Trump couldn’t afford another press conference where he defended Putin against his own government. Trump couldn’t afford to be seen with Putin now. Nothing was easy anymore, and Josh Marshall adds this:

The real issue here is that the President’s most crucial foreign policy decisions (remember, major crisis right now between Russia and Ukraine) are being driven both by his financial interests and, in this case, the fall out of his criminal acts. Meeting with Putin or not, Saudi-friendly or not – these have never been the core issue. The core issue is the root of his foreign policy, which is driven by personal enrichment and perceptions of threat. That’s a pressing danger for the state on all fronts.

Perhaps so, but Toobin says the danger is domestic:

It’s true that Trump had the right to do business in Russia during the time when he was a candidate, but the public also had a right to know where his true financial interests lay. It would have been highly relevant to the public to learn that Trump was negotiating a business deal with Russia at the same time that he was proposing to change American policy toward that country. Not only was the public deprived of this information but Cohen’s guilty plea indicates that voters were actively misled about Trump’s interests. That is what is so important about Thursday morning’s news—it says that while Trump was running for President, he was doing his private business, not the public’s business. Trump may believe that his interest is the national interest, but it wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.

Ken White agrees with that and finds a few things here that are remarkable:

The first was that Cohen walked into a Manhattan federal courtroom unannounced. He did it by surprise. We live in a political environment characterized by constant leaks, each choreographed more carefully than a public announcement. The drama of learning what’s going to happen at an event, rather than before the event, has mostly disappeared. But Cohen’s plea, a momentous development in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, happened with no warning. That reflects admirable discipline in Mueller’s office.

The second remarkable thing was that the plea happened at all. Cohen already pleaded guilty in August to eight federal felonies, including tax fraud, bank fraud, and campaign-finance violations. That plea already ended his career and exposed him to at least several years in federal prison. By contrast, Cohen’s new plea is to a lone count of lying to Congress in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001 —a weapon Mueller has wielded ruthlessly against President Donald Trump’s followers, including Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, and Paul Manafort. The conviction won’t increase Cohen’s sentence, and the additional felony count won’t have any perceptible impact on his life…

Normally, federal prosecutors don’t waste time with this sort of rubble-bouncing. So why would Mueller spend the time and resources on it? Because it tells a story about Trump and his campaign. Because it lays a marker.

That’s what happened here:

It’s not clear whether the Constitution allows Mueller to indict a sitting president. But Department of Justice policy forbids it, and Mueller is a rule-follower. If Mueller thinks that the president has committed a federal crime, his remedy is to recommend impeachment in a report to the attorney general. The attorney general, in turn, is supposed to tell Congress the outcome of the special counsel’s investigation and decide whether the report should be made public. Did you catch the problem? The acting attorney general is Matthew Whitaker, Trump’s creature and a vigorous critic of Mueller’s investigation. Mueller has every reason to expect that Whitaker will suppress the report and limit what he shows to Congress.

A formal report is not, however, Mueller’s only way to tell Congress – and the nation – about his conclusions. The journalist Marcy Wheeler has written extensively about her theory that Mueller will “make his report” through court filings against Trump confederates like Manafort and Cohen.

And this is that report:

On Monday, Mueller accused Manafort of lying to investigators, breaching his cooperation agreement, and committing further federal crimes; he promised he’d bring the receipts when he filed briefs urging a long sentence. Those sentencing briefs will let Mueller tell the story of how Manafort lied about the Trump campaign – and, by extension, lay out the evidence of what the Trump campaign did.

Cohen’s case lets Mueller do the same thing – tell a story, make a report. The information – the charging document to which Cohen pleaded, waiving his right to indictment by grand jury – asserts that the Trump Organization planned a hotel in Russia, communicated with Russian officials about it, and even contemplated sending Trump himself for a visit to Russia well into 2016, contrary to Cohen’s congressional testimony that the plan was abandoned in January 2016. The significance is not just that Cohen lied to Congress. The significance is what he lied about: the fact that Team Trump continued to pursue Russian opportunities well into the campaign.

That will be on record. Trump played the Whitaker card, and the Mueller trumped Trump. Mueller wins:

The president of the United States’ personal lawyer admitted to lying to Congress about the president’s business activities with a hostile foreign power, in order to support the president’s story. In any rational era, that would be earthshaking. Now it’s barely a blip. Over the past two years, we’ve become accustomed to headlines like “President’s Campaign Manager Convicted of Fraud” and “President’s Personal Lawyer Paid for Adult Actress’s Silence.” We’re numb to it all. But these are the sorts of developments that would, under normal circumstances, end a presidency.

They still might. Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress to support President Trump’s version of events. He notably did not claim that he did so at Trump’s request, or that Trump knew he would do it. But if Cohen’s telling the truth this time, then this conclusion, at least, is inescapable: The president, who has followed this drama obsessively, knew that his personal lawyer was lying to Congress about his business activities, and stood by while it happened.

The game may be over, but not just for Donald Trump:

Who else lied to Congress about the pursuit of a hotel deal in Russia? Donald Trump Jr.? Did the president himself lie about it in his recent written answers to Mueller’s questions? (His lawyers claim that his answers matched Cohen’s.) Even if the pursuit of the hotel deal wasn’t criminal (and there’s no evidence that it was), everyone in Trump’s orbit who made statements about it – whether under oath or in interviews with the FBI – is in jeopardy today.

They’re not just in danger from Mueller, either. In just weeks, a Democratic majority will take over the House of Representatives. Control of committees will shift, and subpoenas will fly like arrows at Agincourt. Each hearing will present new terrible choices: Take the Fifth, tell uncomfortable truths, or lie and court perjury charges? Each subpoena is a new chance for frightened Trump associates to make new bad decisions like the ones that have felled Cohen and Manafort and Gates and Flynn and Papadopoulos.

I wouldn’t expect President Trump’s agitated tweets to stop anytime soon.

Subpoenas will fly like arrows at Agincourt. That was some battle – the use of the English longbow in large numbers, nearly eight percent of Henry V’s army, devastated of the far larger French cavalry. Accurate ranged and precise weapons on the battlefield win the day. Ken White chooses his metaphors carefully.

Josh Marshall doesn’t deal in metaphors, just the basics:

We can now see documentation and confessions that outline some of what has always seemed probable. During the campaign – for roughly the first year of the campaign! – Donald Trump was actively trying to strike business deals in Russia with the help of Vladimir Putin’s government and working closely with members of the Russian intelligence services. Felix Sater was working with all these people. Trump’s deal-maker and Russian money channel handler, Michael Cohen, literally reached out to Putin’s press office and spoke to a member of the staff to enlist the Russian government’s assistance. This was while Trump was already the clear frontrunner for the nomination.

As this was happening, Putin’s intelligence services were stealing emails and documents from various arms of the Democratic Party. They were mounting various information operations within the United States. As this was happening a bankrupt and desperate political fixer who’d been working for a Putin loyalist for a decade showed up wanting to work for the campaign for free. That’s Paul Manafort, a longtime business partner of Roger Stone, another member of the conspiracy.

Did they work with WikiLeaks? Yes, there was a back channel between Trump and WikiLeaks murkily conducted through Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi and likely others – requests for help in one direction, information and assistance in the other.

All of this has become clear now. A formal report will follow. That formal report may be withheld from the public. It may be withheld from Congress. It doesn’t matter. Mueller has laid it all out in court documents. It’s all a matter of public record now. Marshall notes that it is what it is:

President Trump has been at war with the Russia investigation from the get-go for an obvious and totally logical reason: the depth of his personal involvement in and knowledge of the conspiracy amounts to a devastating indictment of him and his presidency. It all makes perfect sense.

And this was just a short allocution by minor figure in all this, a few minutes in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday morning in late November – nothing much – but sometimes nothing much is everything. Richard Nixon learned that lesson – and Donald Trump may learn that lesson. Or he may not. He hasn’t learned much so far.

Posted in Trump and Russia, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Golem in the White House

No-Drama Obama was a master of self-control. He didn’t lose his temper, publicly. He couldn’t afford to. He couldn’t be seen as that “angry black man” – he was everyone’s president – but that wasn’t much of a problem. By temperament he was courteous and warm and thoughtful – or weak, as almost every Republican said. He’d listen. He’d think things over. He’d ask questions. That wasn’t action. Maybe he didn’t care. That was the word in Republican circles. He was Spock when the nation needed Captain Kirk. He was a mensch when the nation needed a golem – the monster created from nothing but mud, brought to life to fight the bad guys, but dangerous. No one can really control a golem. A golem might kill anyone, and eventually will. But a golem that can summon the dead and wipe out the bad guys can be useful.

America chose one of those, a golem, to follow Obama. Donald Trump may not be a subhuman dimwitted but dangerous mud-monster, but in September 2016, Josh Marshall noted how Trump seems to think:

Trump lives in a psychic economy of aggression and domination. There are dominators and the dominated. No in-between. Every attack he receives, every ego injury must be answered, rebalanced with some new aggression to reassert dominance. These efforts are often wildly self-destructive. We’ve seen the pattern again and again. The Khans, Judge Curiel, Ted Cruz, virtually every Republican presidential candidate at one point or another, half the reporters who’ve covered Trump. We can’t know a man’s inner thoughts. But we’ve seen action and reaction more than enough times to infer, or rather deduce, his instincts and needs with some precision.

And so Marshall deduced this:

Trump is injured by attacks and slights as we all are. But for Trump they create an inner turbulence which forces an almost peristaltic response. The inner equilibrium must be reestablished. The salient fact about Trump isn’t his cruelty or penchant for aggression and violence. It’s his inability to control urges and drives most people gain control over very early in life. There are plenty of sadists and sociopaths in the world. They’re not remarkable. The scariest have a high degree of impulse control (iciness) which allows them to inflict pain on others when no one is looking or when they will pay no price for doing so. What is true with Trump is what every critic has been saying for a year: the most obvious and contrived provocation can goad this thin-skinned charlatan into a wild outburst. He’s a seventy-year-old man with children and grandchildren and he has no self-control.

And two years later that’s still true:

Escalating his attacks on the special counsel investigation, President Trump said on Wednesday that a presidential pardon for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is “not off the table,” casting him and other subjects of the inquiry as victims of prosecutorial abuse.

Although Mr. Trump had not discussed a pardon for Mr. Manafort, “I wouldn’t take it off the table,” he said in an Oval Office interview with The New York Post. “Why would I take it off the table?”

He said that prosecutors for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, had poorly treated Mr. Manafort, who was convicted of eight felonies this summer and pleaded guilty to two more.

Trump won’t let this play out:

Though Mr. Trump is given to loose promises that go unfulfilled, the suggestion of a pardon was nonetheless remarkable. It came as his rhetorical attacks on Mr. Mueller have grown increasingly provocative – the president tweeted on Wednesday that prosecutors were “viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts and they will get relief” – and as leading Republican senators again thwarted an effort to protect Mr. Mueller from being fired.

Those leading Republican senators know that their golem will protect their ghetto, because their golem is clever:

The president’s declaration also capped a turn of events for Mr. Manafort, who was a cooperating witness for Mr. Mueller until prosecutors declared this week that he had lied to them in breach of his plea agreement. They were said to be frustrated in part because one of his lawyers was updating Mr. Trump’s legal team about the case.

Mueller got played. Manafort was a plant all along, sent in there to find out what Mueller was really after, so he’ll get his pardon, as will anyone who helps out:

By leaving open the possibility of pardoning a former aide whose lawyer was a source of inside information about an investigation into Mr. Trump himself, the president showed a new willingness to publicly signal that he will intervene to protect people who are in the special counsel’s cross hairs.

And the golem will continue to attack:

Despite prosecutors’ declaration that Mr. Manafort had lied to them, Mr. Trump claimed that Mr. Manafort had instead refused to make false statements that would advance the special counsel’s investigation. He said Jerome Corsi, a conservative author, had also been pressured to lie and defended Roger Stone Jr., a former Trump campaign adviser and longtime friend of the president’s whom the special counsel is investigating.

“It’s actually very brave,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m telling you this is McCarthyism. We are in the McCarthy era. This is no better than McCarthy.”

And he didn’t stop there:

President Trump on Wednesday morning shared an image calling for his opponents to face trial for “treason,” with many of them behind bars.

The image, which the president retweeted from a pro-Trump Twitter account, depicts a host of figures Trump has criticized, including former President Obama, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, special counsel Robert Mueller, former FBI Director James Comey and former President Bill Clinton.

“Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?” the caption on the photo reads.

That’s how Trump is thinking. This is treason, and traitors should get what they deserve:

Several of the figures in the image were targeted with mailed explosives allegedly from a Trump supporter last month.

And add this:

Trump on Monday lashed out at Mueller as a “conflicted prosecutor gone rogue” following a new filing from the special counsel that claims Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, violated a plea agreement by lying to federal prosecutors.

In a series of tweets, Trump accused Mueller of causing “tremendous” damage to the nation’s criminal justice system and “only looking at one side” in his investigation.

Why isn’t Hillary Clinton a target here? She’s the one who should be impeached, the one forced from office in disgrace.

And he didn’t stop there:

President Trump explained to the New York Post Wednesday that his decision to walk back plans to declassify sensitive Russia-probe related investigation documents was at least in part based on a calculation that he could use the documents as leverage against Democrats seeking to investigate him.

“I think that would help my campaign. If they want to play tough, I will do it. They will see how devastating those pages are,” Trump told the Post, referring to applications for surveillance warrants and other sensitive documents related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

He said that if Democrats “go down the presidential harassment track” it would be “the best thing that would happen to me.”

“I’m a counter-puncher and I will hit them so hard they’d never been hit like that,” Trump said, according to the Post.

In short, if they investigate him, he’ll hit back ten times harder:

Trump earlier this year said he would declassify certain documents related to the Russia investigation, as well as messages sent among Justice Department figures he has sought to vilify. He backed down on that promise, ostensibly to allow for further review of the national security concerns involved.

Now, according to what Trump told the New York Post, he was also advised by Emmet Flood, a top White House lawyer, that waiting made sense politically too.

“He didn’t want me to do it yet, because I can save it,” Trump said.

CNN has a bit more:

If Democrats “want to play tough” when they control the House of Representatives next year, he will declassify documents that will be “devastating” to them.

“If they want to play tough, I will do it,” Trump told the New York Post in an interview Wednesday. “They will see how devastating those pages are.”

It’s an escalation of what Trump told reporters on November 7 after Democrats had retaken control of the House during the midterm elections.

During that post-midterm news conference, Trump said that if Democrats start investigating his administration then he would be moving to “a warlike posture.”

When asked by a reporter if he would show Democrats that he could “play that game and investigate” Democrats, Trump said, “Oh, yeah. Better than them.”

And it’s all attack now:

In Wednesday’s wide-ranging interview with the New York Post, Trump also said he plans to return to New York City when his time in the White House is up.

He claimed that he would be denied a Nobel Peace Prize in the same way that his TV show, “The Apprentice,” was denied an Emmy award in 2004 and 2005.

“‘Amazing Race’ got it because ‘Amazing Race’ was the establishment,” Trump said.

And he took aim at several potential 2020 challengers, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) as well as former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Of course he did:

“I’d love to run against Little Michael,” Trump said of Bloomberg.

He falsely claimed that while Booker was mayor of Newark, he had “decided not to live there, which was illegal.”

In 2013, Booker provided property records and documentation to BuzzFeed News showing that he did in fact live in Newark, after the Daily Caller published a piece quoting residents who said they had never seen him at his property.

Of Gillibrand, Trump noted that he “supported her early on” but that she’s “not going to make it,” citing her position on gun control.

The president last year prompted criticism with a tweet describing Gillibrand as someone who had previously come to him “begging” for donations and “would do ‘anything’ for them.”

Yeah, imagine her on her knees, mouth open. Maybe he is a subhuman dimwitted but dangerous mud-monster after all, our golem in the White House.

But maybe he’s not that effective. Spencer Ackerman reports that the secretaries of state and defense went to Capitol Hill to shore up support for Saudi Arabia and that backfired:

The White House blocked CIA Director Gina Haspel from attending a highly anticipated Senate briefing on Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis told senators on Wednesday.

“The most persuasive presence at this briefing was an empty chair – a chair that should have been occupied by Gina Haspel, head of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters. “We were told at this briefing that it was at the direction of the White House that she did not attend.”

That was a mistake:

Several senators confirmed that Mattis and Pompeo told senators at the classified briefing that the White House prevented Haspel from attending. Lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had specifically asked for Haspel to brief senators on the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment about the murder of Khashoggi. Thanks to the Turkish government, Haspel reportedly has heard a gruesome audio recording of Khashoggi’s final moments.

The CIA, for its part, contradicted Mattis and Pompeo’s account.

“While Director Haspel did not attend today’s Yemen policy briefing, the Agency has already briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Congressional leadership on the totality of the compartmented, classified intelligence and will continue to provide updates on this important matter to policymakers and Congress,” CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett said in a statement.

The CIA is certain that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered that murder of the Washington Post columnist in Turkey. They’ve said that before. They’ll say it again. Mattis and Pompeo can say anything they want – that no one knows for sure – but the CIA is standing pat on this, and that’s the problem:

Haspel’s absence fueled the exact opposite result their briefing was meant to accomplish – to shore up support for the bloody U.S.-backed Saudi-Emirati war in Yemen. As Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) are set to force a vote on ending Washington’s support for the conflict, previously undecided senators left the briefing indicating they will join an effort that would deliver a forceful rebuke to President Donald Trump and two key authoritarian Mideast allies.

Corker, who has historically backed U.S. involvement in Yemen, said he was inclined to vote to advance the Sanders-Lee resolution in the absence of a sufficient White House response to the Khashoggi killing.

Our nasty golem wasn’t going to get his way:

U.S. intelligence has reportedly concluded that one of the Yemen war’s key architects, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is the crucial figure in Khashoggi’s grisly October murder and dismemberment inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

“I think the administration would do well by figuring out a way to respond to this because… we’ve got an imbalance here where something has occurred that has not been addressed,” Corker told The Daily Beast. He said he asked Mattis and Pompeo to “share with us what they’d like to see Congress do,” but “they could not.”

“The White House can fix this this afternoon. They can fix it in an hour. The secretary of state can fix it in an hour,” Corker added. “It’s like we’re dancing on the head of a pin to keep from – look, MBS is responsible for this death.”

But no one will say that:

Pompeo, who was photographed laughing with the crown prince in Riyadh shortly after Khashoggi’s execution and dismemberment, previewed his message in a defiant Wall Street Journal op-ed that defended the Saudis as a regional bulwark against Iran.

Pompeo’s op-ed portrayed Yemen, where U.S.-provided bombs from Saudi warplanes have brought 14 million people to the brink of starvation, as a key locale in “rooting out Iran’s destabilizing influence.” He claimed that the U.S. has “exerted effort to improve Saudi targeting to minimize civilian casualties.” According to Pompeo’s prepared remarks, the secretary told senators the administration’s efforts “have actually made the Yemen war less ugly.”

On Wednesday, Pompeo maintained his confrontational tone. According to prepared remarks released by the State Department, he told senators, “I know many of you think it’s time to pack up and abandon the role in Yemen we’ve been playing since the previous administration. I’m here to tell you why that’s a bad call.”

They listened. They thanked him. He left, and then they voted:

The Senate on Wednesday delivered a historic rebuke of Saudi Arabia and President Trump’s handling of the fallout over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing last month, as a decisive majority voted to advance a measure to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The 63-to-37 vote is only an initial procedural step, but it nonetheless represents an unprecedented challenge to the security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The vote was prompted by lawmakers’ growing frustration with Trump for defending Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s denials of culpability in Khashoggi’s death, despite the CIA’s finding that he had almost certainly ordered the killing.

They wanted a good guy in the White House, not a subhuman dimwitted but dangerous mud-monster, our very own golem. Forget Obama. Not even Ronald Reagan would defend this new Saudi crap, although there’s this:

President Trump claims in a new book that he is “far greater than Ronald Reagan” and says conservative columnists don’t get him enough credit for his accomplishments.

The president told the authors of “Trump’s Enemies: How the Deep State is Undermining the Presidency” – his allies Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie – that he would be considered the greatest president in U.S. history if his name weren’t Trump.

“The amazing thing is that you have certain people who are conservative Republicans that if my name weren’t Trump, if it were John Smith, they would say I’m the greatest president in history and I blow Ronald Reagan away,” Trump said, according to the Washington Examiner.

Why? This is why:

Trump reportedly pointed to his judicial nominees, “environmental stuff” and his regulation cuts in making the claim.

That’s it? This is a dimwitted but dangerous mud-monster, but he can be stopped:

During a very special episode of The Late Show on Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert reminisced with his old friend Jon Stewart about their time on The Daily Show and Colbert Report. The trip down memory lane continued on Wednesday thanks to a conspicuous comment from President Trump in a new interview with the Washington Post.

“I’m doing deals, and I’m not being accommodated by the Fed,” Trump told the Post. “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”

“I totally agree,” Colbert said in response. “That quote about trusting your gut over the brains of the experts reminded me of someone I used to know: Me. Because when I played a conservative pundit on my old show The Colbert Report, I talked about that on the very first episode.”

He did:

The real Colbert then cut to a clip of the fake Colbert delivering his first-ever edition of “The Word” on October 17, 2005.

“That’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentleman, the gut,” Colbert said in his debut. “Do you know you have more nerve endings in your stomach than in your head? Look it up! Now somebody is going to say, ‘I did look that up, and it’s wrong.’ Well, mister, that’s because you looked it up in a book. Next time try looking it up in your gut.”

Back to the president, Colbert exclaimed, “Trump stole my bit! Knock it off!”

This can be stopped:

“That’s copyright infringement,” he continued. “He is stealing my anti-intellectual property. So tonight, I am officially announcing that I am suing Donald J. Trump for stealing my old character. You better lawyer up, buddy! And somebody better than Rudy Giuliani, too.”

That was a joke, unless it wasn’t a joke. Who can tell anymore? The United States has elected forty-five presidents. The first forty-four were men of various sorts and various talents, with quite human flaws. And the forty-fifth was straight out of Czech-Jewish folklore, that dimwitted but dangerous mud-monster, the golem, called into being to protect the people – but really dangerous. This won’t end well.

Posted in Donald Trump, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Age of Smoke

Something big is happening. No one seems to know what it all could mean. It has to mean something big – the Trump presidency is over or Robert Mueller is gone – but sometimes it’s best to wait. These four short paragraphs from the Associated Press could go either way:

The breakdown of a plea deal with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an explosive British news report about alleged contacts he may have had with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threw a new element of uncertainty into the Trump-Russia investigation Tuesday.

A day after prosecutors accused Manafort of repeatedly lying to them, trashing his agreement to tell all in return for a lighter sentence, he adamantly denied a report in the Guardian that he had met secretly with Assange around March 2016. That’s the same month Manafort joined the Trump campaign and Russian hackers began an effort to penetrate the email accounts of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The developments thrust Manafort back into the investigation spotlight, raising new questions about what he knows and what prosecutors say he might be attempting to conceal as they probe Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates in the campaign that sent the celebrity businessman to the White House.

All the while, Manafort’s lawyers have been briefing Trump’s attorneys on what their client has told investigators, an unusual arrangement that could give Trump ammunition in his feud against special counsel Robert Mueller.

There’s a smoking gun in there somewhere but this will take weeks to sort out, and there are the minor characters too:

As Trump continues raging against the investigation – he tweeted Tuesday that Mueller was doing “TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice system” – others in the crosshairs have filled the vacuum of Mueller’s recent silence by publicly declaring their innocence, accusing prosecutors of coercing testimony or tempting fate by turning aside negotiations.

One associate of Trump confidant Roger Stone is contesting a grand jury subpoena in court. Another, Jerome Corsi, said he was rejecting an offer to plead guilty to a false statements charge and has complained in news media interviews about his interrogations by prosecutors.

Stone, under investigation himself for connections to WikiLeaks, has repeatedly disparaged Mueller’s investigation and said his friend Corsi was at risk for prosecution “not for lying but for refusing to lie.”

That’s bullshit – the AP item goes on discuss the emails between Corsi and Stone about coordinating all this with the Russians. Those emails are out there now. These two are blowing smoke, but it’s all smoke. Robert Mueller hasn’t done anything much yet. He’s not brought down the hammer, and Donald Trump hasn’t fired him. This is all big news that’s not news at all yet.

That’s a problem for news organizations. They can only report that something big is about to happen, but they’re not sure what that will be or what that will mean – but it will be big, really big, whatever it is. Wait for it. Don’t change channels.

That won’t do, and Erik Wemple reports that one channel decided not to play along:

It had been nearly a month since Sarah Sanders had held what was once known as a “daily” briefing. So when the White House press secretary – along with White House officials Larry Kudlow and John Bolton – took the podium on Tuesday afternoon, cable-news channels jumped right on the proceedings. Well, most of them, anyway.

While CNN and Fox News carried the tripartite briefing from the very beginning, MSNBC stayed away – until it had blown off the entire session.

In doing so, it had missed a chance to beam a live presentation of Kudlow saying, “We’ll see what happens… Our economy’s in very good shape right now”; of Bolton saying he hadn’t listened to the audio recording of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi (“I guess I should ask you, why do you think I should, what do you think I’ll learn from it?”); of Sanders saying this about Trump and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation: “I don’t think the president has any concerns about the [Mueller] report because he knows that there was no wrongdoing by him and that there was no collusion.”

They decided that wasn’t news but this was:

Instead of all that, MSNBC carried segments on the following topics: Trump’s trade wars; the state of the auto industry, in light of GM’s announced plant closings; the stock market and the welfare of the U.S. worker; a deadly attack on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; a Guardian report that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, had met with Julian Assange; and the U.S. Senate election in Mississippi. After the press briefing concluded, MSNBC plowed ahead with more on GM, including an interview with Hamtramck, Mich., Mayor Karen Majewski, a segment on the Mueller investigation, a politics roundup, a mention of “giving Tuesday.”

That was odd, but Wemple says they were being traditionalists:

There was a time, before Sean Spicer turned press briefings into I-can’t-believe-he-just-said-that extravaganzas, that the rest of the world would continue with its business as the White House press briefing chugged along. When there was big news afoot, perhaps the cable-news networks would carry it live. And they might cut away from other coverage to a newsworthy scene in the briefing room. But as a general rule, some flack dishing out talking points at the White House wasn’t worthy of live, hold-everything televised coverage.

With this approach, journalists at MSNBC can evaluate what happened at the briefing and reach measured decisions about whether to incorporate the goings-on into its work…

Asked about Tuesday’s decisions, an MSNBC source said, “Given the pace of the day’s news we decided to monitor the briefing and to report on any major developments afterwards.”

There were no “major developments” this time around. It was the old same old same old. This wasn’t news. These were three Trump folks blowing smoke. That’s not news, but this is the age of smoke, not the age of fire, and that makes this news:

Mary Kissel often took a dim view of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy. As a Wall Street Journal editorial writer, she tweeted about his “frightening ignorance,” criticized his approach on Syria and China, and said Putin “scored a great propaganda victory” at the Helsinki summit in July.

And Trump swatted back. After Kissel said in a March 2016 appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Trump has “no principles, he has no policies,” the president counter punched on Twitter. “Major loser!” then-candidate Trump wrote, adding that Kissel had “no clue!”

Now, Kissel is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s new senior adviser for policy and strategic messaging.

“We could not be more thrilled to have her on board,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, in a statement, announcing her arrival.

It is unclear whether the president – if he is even aware of Kissel’s arrival – feels the same way.

“Trump would lose his mind if he knew about this,” a former administration official who has witnessed Trump reaction to past criticism told Politico.

That makes this a news story about a befuddled president:

While other foreign policy experts have found themselves blacklisted for trashing Trump, Kissel is Pompeo’s second recent hire who has done so: In August, he appointed Jim Jeffrey – who joined dozens of GOP foreign policy insiders in signing a letter denouncing Trump – as special representative for Syria engagement.

Whether the hires signal a kind of amnesty for former Trump critics is unclear. Neither Kissel nor Jeffrey has taken jobs requiring Senate confirmation hearings that might bring their criticisms to the president’s attention.

But he’s not paying attention, because he’s blowing smoke himself:

President Trump placed responsibility for recent stock market declines and this week’s announcement of General Motors plant closures and layoffs on the Federal Reserve during an interview Tuesday, shirking any personal blame for cracks in the economy and declaring that he is “not even a little bit happy” with his hand-selected central bank chairman.

In a wide-ranging and sometimes discordant 20-minute interview with The Washington Post, Trump complained at length about Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. “Jay” Powell, whom he nominated last year. When asked about declines on Wall Street and GM’s announcement that it was laying off 15 percent of its workforce, Trump responded by criticizing higher interest rates and other Fed policies, though he insisted that he is not worried about a recession.

“I’m doing deals, and I’m not being accommodated by the Fed,” Trump said. “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”

His gut tells him more than any brain anywhere? This is absurd, but not news, unless a befuddled president is big news:

Sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, Trump also threatened to cancel his scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a global summit this week in Argentina because of Russia’s maritime clash with Ukraine.

Asked whether he thought Putin was within his rights to capture three Ukrainian ships and their crews Sunday in the Black Sea, Trump said he was awaiting a “full report” from his national security team Tuesday evening about the incident. “That will be very determinative,” Trump said. “Maybe I won’t have the meeting. Maybe I won’t even have the meeting.”

That was more smoke, as was this:

Trump also dismissed the federal government’s landmark report released last week finding that damage from global warming is intensifying around the country. The president said that “I don’t see” climate change as man-made and that he does not believe the scientific consensus.

“One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,” Trump said. “You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean.”

We are? Matthew Yglesias wonders about this man:

I happen to be among the minority of policy analysts who thinks there is some merit to Donald Trump’s argument that the Fed is a bit too eager to raise interest rates, and if he ever wants to give me a call I could walk him through some arguments in favor of this position. That way, the next time he’s asked about this by reporters he could say something that makes some kind of sense…

The entire interview is littered with pronouncements that are bizarre (“oceans are small”), nonsensical (“we lose $800 billion a year on trade”), or so incoherent that when he comes out and just tells a lie (like that in the past there were many articles worrying about global freezing) it comes almost as a relief.

But there are the Saudis:

Obviously the historical roots of the US-Saudi alliance lie in the geopolitical significance of Saudi oil reserves, and that significance has often led US officials over the years to downplay Saudi human rights abuses. Today, with US oil production soaring, this aspect of the relationship is less relevant than it’s ever been. Yet here’s Trump all but chanting “blood for oil!” as his battle cry when asked about the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi:

“If you look at my statement, it’s maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. But he denies it. And people around him deny it. And the CIA did not say affirmatively he did it, either, by the way. I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively. I’m saying this: We have $52-a-barrel oil right now and I called them about three months ago, before this whole thing happened with Khashoggi, and I let him have it about oil. We were up to $82 – probably two and a half months ago – we were up to $82 a barrel and it was going up to $100 and that would’ve been like a massive tax increase and I didn’t want that. And I called them and they let the oil start flowing and we’re at $52.”

Yglesias doubts that:

Here’s the thing about the Saudis and oil sales. They sell oil on the global market because they get money in exchange. It’s not a favor they are doing for us, and we don’t need to kiss their butts to get them to sell oil. People disagree about the appropriate US policy toward Venezuela, but everyone understands we don’t need to say nice things about Maduro to beg him to keep the oil flowing – he needs to keep the oil flowing because he needs the money.

Yet Trump is so in the tank for the House of Saud that he thinks the Saudis are doing us a favor when they sell us oil, and doing us another favor when they buy our military equipment…

Many observers have remarked over the past several weeks on the extraordinary crassness of this calculus that it’s okay for the Saudis to murder a US resident who is a father to US citizens because the Saudis give us money. But it’s also just incredibly shoddy economics.

And then there’s Trump on those GM layoffs:

“And I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m just telling you I think that the Fed is way off-base with what they’re doing, number one. Number two, a positive note, we’re doing very well on trade, we’re doing very well – our companies are very strong. Don’t forget we’re still up from when I came in 38 percent or something. You know, it’s a tremendous – it’s not like we’re up – and we’re much stronger. And we’re much more liquid. And the banks are now much more liquid during my tenure. And I’m not doing – I’m not playing by the same rules as Obama. Obama had zero interest to worry about; we’re paying interest, a lot of interest. He wasn’t paying down – we’re talking about $50 billion lots of different times, paying down and knocking out liquidity. Well, Obama didn’t do that. And just so you understand, I’m playing a normalization economy whereas he’s playing a free economy. It’s easy to make money when you’re paying no interest. It’s easy to make money when you’re not doing any pay-downs, so you can’t -and despite that, the numbers we have are phenomenal numbers.”


I have basically no idea what Trump is talking about here, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t either. The good news is it’s not clear that Trump can actually do any harm here.

But there’s why he disagrees with government scientists about climate change:

“You look at our air and our water and it’s right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including – just many other places – the air is incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say, where does this come from? And it takes many people to start off with.”


This is true enough as far as it goes. Air pollution is a global problem, and while the US is a major contributor to climate pollution, we are not the only culprit or necessarily even the biggest culprit. The international cooperation problem is a hard one to solve, but nothing in this answer even remotely begins to justify his administration’s policy course of doing less than nothing to reduce emissions.

And oceans are very small. But then so is Donald Trump, as Emily Stewart reports here:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to retaliate against General Motors for its decision to shutter plants and slash jobs by cutting the automaker’s federal subsidies, including for electric cars. But he can’t act unilaterally to do it.

The president has become increasingly incensed publicly since GM said on Monday that it would make overhauls that would lead to $6 billion in cost reductions by 2020, including shuttering up to five plants in the US and Canada and slashing 15 percent of its salaried workforce, a total of some 14,700 jobs.

“We don’t like it,” Trump told reporters on Monday. He said that he told CEO Mary Barra, who met with National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow regarding the decision, “You better get back in there soon.”

On Tuesday, Trump upped the ante even more, firing off a pair of tweets at GM.

“The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get!” he wrote, before going on to say he was considering cutting GM’s electric car subsidies.

That won’t happen:

Trump appears to have been referring to a $7,500 federal tax credit for consumers who buy fully electric cars. The credit currently phases out after an automaker sells 200,000 such cars. It originated in the 2009 stimulus bill and was extended in the 2017 Republican tax bill Trump signed last year.

Tesla already hit the 200,000-car mark in July. GM is expected to reach it by the end of the year, and actually, Tesla, GM, and Ford have been lobbying lawmakers to lift the cap or get rid of it altogether. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Dean Heller (R-NV) have also proposed raising the cap or extending the credit.

Trump now appears to want to do the opposite, but he can’t do it by himself.

“Trump would need Congress to pass legislation amending the IRS tax credits for electric vehicles that were in the tax reform passed last year,” Garrett Nelson, a senior equity analyst at research investment firm CFRA Research.

If Congress were to revise the electric vehicle tax credit, it would also likely have to change it entirely – not only focus on GM.

“Don’t imagine they can go back and single one company out in the tax code,” Clayton Allen, an analyst at research firm Height Capital Markets, said.

He was just blowing smoke, but he does that:

President Trump this week renewed his questioning of the military’s new system for launching aircraft at sea, underscoring his skepticism about a technology the Navy has put at the center of its future aircraft carrier fleet.

In a call to service members on Thursday marking the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump asked the commander of the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier deployed in the Pacific, whether he supported using electromagnetics rather than the traditional steam system to catapult aircraft off carrier decks and land them safely back on board.

Trump has repeatedly criticized General Atomics’ Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), installed on the Navy’s newest carrier and slated to be used on other new ships.

“Steam is very reliable, and the electromagnetic – I mean, unfortunately, you have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly,” Trump said. “What would you do?”

He got his answer:

Capt. Pat Hannifin, articulating the Navy’s view, responded by telling Trump that EMALS would lessen the burden that steam-powered systems exact on carriers and was within sailors’ power to operate successfully.

“You sort of have to be Albert Einstein to run the nuclear power plants that we have here as well, but we’re doing that very well,” Hannifin said.

That was a bit cheeky but that was the news:

Trump has singled the system out before, saying last year that it cost more and was “no good,” suggesting the Navy should return to steam. More recently, he called the technology “ridiculous” while complaining broadly about the military’s desire for new equipment. It’s not clear how the president became interested in this somewhat obscure military technology issue.

Unlike the older system, which uses a large, maintenance-intensive system of pipes and pistons to propel planes into flight, EMALS uses a more efficient linear-induction motor and is seen as more suitable for launching an array of aircraft, from drones to heavy jets. Shipbuilding firm Huntington Ingalls Industries has likened it to “the system that powers many of today’s roller coasters.”

And this is what is on the president’s mind, and thus that’s news, the big story of the day – but it’s still smoke, and smoke is not news. Wait. Some big news is coming, one day, but this was not the day.

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That Which Just Isn’t So

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of knowledge – what we know and what we can know, and perhaps what we cannot ever know. Epistemology is all questions. How is knowledge produced? Should we be skeptical of different “knowledge claims?” What do people really know? How did they come to “know” it, whatever it is? And what does “knowing” mean anyway? And it’s easy enough to assume that those on the other side, whoever they are, are incapable of thinking clearly from actual evidence and are, in fact, incapable of knowing anything, but then, what is evidence? Anecdotes are not evidence, and so on. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that makes your head hurt, but it’s where all of philosophy must start. What do we know?

Epistemology is also in the news, with this from

Our 2018 Word of the Year Is … Misinformation

The rampant spread of misinformation poses new challenges for navigating life in 2018. As a dictionary, we believe understanding the concept is vital to identifying misinformation in the wild, and ultimately curbing its impact.

But what does misinformation mean? defines it as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”

They’re making a distinction here:

The meaning of misinformation is often conflated with that of disinformation. However, the two are not interchangeable. Disinformation means “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.”

So, the difference between misinformation and disinformation comes down to intent.

And that’s the problem:

When people spread misinformation, they often believe the information they are sharing. In contrast, disinformation is crafted and disseminated with the intent to mislead others. Further confusing the issue is the fact that a piece of disinformation can ultimately become misinformation. It all depends on who’s sharing it and why. For example, if a politician strategically spreads information that they know to be false in the form of articles, photos, memes, etc., that’s disinformation. When an individual sees this disinformation, believes it, and then shares it, that’s misinformation.

And then there’s Donald Trump and the big story of Thanksgiving weekend that simply disappeared, as Chris Cillizza explains here:

President Donald Trump on Monday dismissed a study produced by his own administration, involving 13 federal agencies and more than 300 leading climate scientists, warning of the potentially catastrophic impact of climate change.

Why, you ask?

“I don’t believe it,” Trump told reporters on Monday, adding that he had read “some” of the report.

That was no surprise:

Just over eight years ago, he tweeted this: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” In 2014, he penned this tweet: “It’s late in July and it is really cold outside in New York. Where the hell is GLOBAL WARMING??? We need some fast! It’s now CLIMATE CHANGE.”

And then, this from last Wednesday: “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS – Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

And then this:

Forty-eight hours after Trump’s how-can-the-world’s-climate-be-changing-if-it’s-cold-in-half-the-country-on-one-day tweet — and the moved-up release of the Fourth National Climate Assessment… It was originally slated to be made public next month but was suddenly released on the day after Thanksgiving, aka Black Friday, when the country shops, eats, hangs with family and pays a total of zero attention to what’s going on in politics. Outside of Christmas and the actual day of Thanksgiving, there’s no better day to drop bad news that you don’t want people to see.

No one was supposed to see this:

The report, the second of four such annual studies commissioned by Congress, concludes not only that the world’s temperature is rising and but also that the preponderance of evidence suggests human actions play a role in it. The report’s authors conclude that the changing climate “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us.” And that, unless we change our practices and policies, there will be “substantial damages to the US economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”

The report goes on to detail the economic impact of climate change (hundreds of billions lost, with farms being hardest hit) and the physical toll it could take on our collective health, as factors like air quality, disease transmission by insects, food and water will “increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people.”

Trump believes none of it:

Earlier the White House downplayed the report, saying it relied on extreme models that were selected during the Obama administration… but it’s important to note here that this is not a partisan document. It was produced by 13 agencies within the Trump administration — the result of Congress, in the 1980s, mandating that this sort of report be submitted every four years as a sort of reference point for lawmakers and legislators.

And yet, the chances of Trump taking any of the advice from this report, which was conducted by HIS administration, are somewhere close to zero. Why? Because it was surprisingly cold in a lot of places in the country on Thanksgiving, of course!

What do people really know and how did they come to “know” it? Sometimes they look out the window. The earth really is flat. Sometimes they they’re simply insecure and paranoid:

Trump’s disdain for the idea of climate change is also born of his broader suspicions of the United States being taken advantage of by other countries. In Trump’s conception, the US signs on to pledges to reduce its carbon footprint and the like and sticks to it while other competitor countries break the rules and force America to fight on the economic world stage with one hand tied behind its back.

Trump insisted Monday the US is “the cleanest we’ve ever been,” and said other countries weren’t keeping up.

This is the cleanest we’ve ever been? Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman dispute that in a long item full of actual evidence including this:

In his disregard for scientific evidence, Mr. Trump has made the dismantling of policies to curb greenhouse pollution a centerpiece of his deregulatory agenda.

The most direct way the Trump administration is working to allow more greenhouse gas emissions is by weakening the Obama-era regulations meant to reduce pollution at its source: the smokestacks of power plants and tailpipes of automobiles.

Trump has been systematic:

In 2015 the Obama administration put forward its signature climate measure, the Clean Power Plan, designed to cut greenhouse pollution from power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That would be the equivalent of preventing more than 365 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

By contrast, the Trump administration’s replacement unveiled in August, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule, sets no national benchmark. It aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 0.7 to 1.5 percent by 2030.

According to estimates by environmental groups, that means the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from American power plants over the next decade could be up to 12 times higher than it would have been under the Obama-era plan.

“These are life-extension projects for coal plants,” said Jody Freeman, a Harvard law professor and former counsel to the Obama administration. “It’s a very calculated effort to go in the opposite direction from what’s needed.”

Davenport and Friedman have much more. Donald Trump was lying, or he was misinformed and innocently spreading misinformation, not maliciously spreading disinformation – unless he was angry and his intention was to deceive – unless Davenport and Friedman have evil intentions and there was no 2015 Affordable Clean Energy rule at all and they’re the one intending to deceive, or at least just causing trouble. Who knows? One man’s evidence is another man’s anecdotal nonsense that proves nothing.

What is “hard evidence” anyway? Actually, that might be this:

The number of farms filing for bankruptcy is increasing across the Upper Midwest, following low prices for corn, soybeans, milk and beef, according to a new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

The analysis found that 84 farms filed for bankruptcy in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana in the 12 months that ended in June. That’s more than double the number over the same period in 2013 and 2014.

“Current price levels and the trajectory of the current trends suggest that this trend has not yet seen a peak,” said Ron Wirtz, an analyst at the Minneapolis Fed.

Something is up:

The increase in Chapter 12 filings reflect low prices for corn, soybeans, milk and beef, The Star Tribune reported. The situation has gotten worse for farmers since June because of the retaliatory tariffs that have closed the Chinese market for soybeans and held back exports of milk and beef. Chapter 12 bankruptcy allows for repayment of debt over three years.

“Dairy farmers are having the most problems right now,” said Mark Miedtke, the president of Citizens State Bank in Hayfield. “Grain farmers have had low prices for the past three years but high yields have helped them through. We’re just waiting for a turnaround. We’re waiting for the tariff problem to go away.”

That’ll be a long wait:

President Trump has told The Wall Street Journal he expects tariffs to be placed on all Chinese imports, including items like iPhones. This could boost the cost of an iPhone by 10 percent – a hike which Trump believes would not be a problem. “People could stand that very easily,” Trump told the Journal.

The news comes four days ahead of a summit between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. China’s top priority for the summit is to try to persuade the US to not implement a planned tariff increase that’s set to kick in on January 1st, which would raise existing tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent. Trump says Beijing’s request to hold off on this increase is “highly unlikely.”

There will be our new wide and deep and comprehensive tariffs – on every damned thing that China tries to sell here. No one here will buy their stuff. There will be their massive and nasty and cleverly targeted retaliatory tariffs. No one there will buy any of our stuff. It’s a game of chicken. Who will blink first? Both economies will be driven into deep recession – the whole world will be driven into deep recession – but whose economy will collapse first? Who will “win” this superpower trade war? Who will be the last country standing, bankrupt and ruined, but still there, the only one still there? Or are all trade wars “good” and “easy to win” as Donald Trump has said, over and over again? Which is it? That’s an epistemological question.

Donald Trump does get some things wrong. David Lynch and Taylor Telford report on that:

General Motors said Monday it will close five factories and lay off nearly 15,000 workers in a move that shows the economy may be starting to slow and dents President Trump’s claim to be leading a renaissance for industrial America.

The automaker said it would save $6 billion annually by thinning its salaried management ranks, dropping thousands of American and Canadian factory workers, and emphasizing the production of larger sport-utility vehicles rather than sedans.

GM’s announcement sounded an incongruous note amid otherwise plentiful signs of U.S. economic health.

In short, Trump was leading nothing:

Coming just weeks after Republican candidates lost several congressional seats across the industrial Midwest, GM’s action carries a stark political warning for the president. If voters conclude that Trump failed to deliver on his promise to return lost jobs and prosperity to the region, his reelection hopes could be dealt a blow.

In 2016, he won four states with significant ties to the auto industry: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They provided nearly a quarter of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.

Before leaving the White House Monday for a campaign rally in Mississippi, the president told reporters he had complained to GM chief executive Mary Barra about the shutdowns.

“I was very tough,” the president said. “I spoke with her when I heard they were closing. And I said: ‘You know, this country has done a lot for General Motors. You better get back in there soon. That’s Ohio, and you better get back in there soon.’ ”

He did, after all, make promises:

Trump’s ire may be linked to his repeated promises to reverse the Rust Belt jobs hemorrhage that he said had emptied the region’s factories as a result of poorly designed trade policies.

“They’re all coming back. They’re all coming back. Don’t move, don’t sell your house,” the president said during a July 2017 visit to Youngstown, Ohio. “We’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build new ones.”

During an October 2016 campaign rally in Warren, Mich., site of one of the targeted transmission plants, Trump promised: “If I’m elected, you won’t lose one plant, you’ll have plants coming into this country, you’re going to have jobs again, you won’t lose one plant, I promise you that.”

And then he screwed that up:

GM’s bombshell news comes near the end of a year that has seen the auto industry occupy center stage in the Trump’s “America First” campaign to overhaul U.S. trade policy. Raw-material costs have soared as a result of Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, with Ford saying it absorbed a $1 billion hit because of the president’s policies.

The new North American trade deal with Mexico and Canada includes sourcing requirements that will complicate industry supply chains, and the president also is considering imposing 25 percent tariffs on imported vehicles, a policy that would increase the cost of imported cars by an estimated $6,000 and eliminate 600,000 industry jobs, according to the American Automotive Policy Council.

And none of this was in his control anyway:

GM’s action was largely a result of shifting consumer demand rather than a sudden, economy-wide deterioration. “GM is making a big bet on a future that is autonomous, connected and electric,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Auto Trader. “It has to be extremely profitable now to finance that because no one knows when those vehicles will be commonplace.”

This had to be done. They were selling fewer and fewer “cars” and that was going to get worse. Those would go away soon enough. There’s no future in selling buggy whips but the president doesn’t see it that way, as Jonathan Chait explains here:

General Motors announced the closure of several auto facilities, including the Lordstown plant in northeast Ohio. This is a devastating development for those workers and their communities. Secondarily, it is a political setback for President Trump, who has boasted repeatedly that his policies have brought back American manufacturing. Trump responded by loudly threatening GM.

“You’d better get back in there soon, that’s Ohio,” Trump told reporters zeroing in on the plant whose fate concerned him the most. He elaborated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “They better damn well open a new plant there very quickly. I love Ohio. I told them, ‘You’re playing around with the wrong person.'”

Apparently concerned he had made the point with too much subtlety, Trump continued, “I said, ‘I heard you’re closing your plant. It’s not going to be closed for long, I hope, Mary, because if it is you have a problem.'”

You’re playing around with the wrong person… Keep that plant closed and YOU have a problem…. Chait sees the return of gangster government:

In 2009, the Obama administration extended loans from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to General Motors and Chrysler, which were facing imminent bankruptcy. While both firms had serious competitiveness problems, neither would have had any danger of failure except for the financial crisis having frozen the credit markets, which they needed to finance their operations. (Ford was safe – not because its autos were more economically sound, but because it happened to have secured a loan shortly before the crisis.)

The Obama administration considered its dilemma carefully. The administration had strong reservations about wading into the economy on a firm-by-firm or sector-by-sector basis. Obama ultimately decided the economic and social repercussions of the auto industry failing was too great a calamity to bear, and extended loans to Detroit. (They have since been repaid.) As part of the deal, the administration forced both unions to accept wage reductions and creditors to take some losses.

Chait says that tore it:

It is almost impossible to convey the tenor of the freak-out this generated on the political right. Conservatives, already whipped into a lather by the fiscal stimulus and Obama’s plans to reform health care and create a cap-and-trade system, treated the auto bailout as the literal death knell for capitalism. Michael Barone quickly coined the phrase “gangster government” to capture the conservative belief that the Obama administration was threatening the private sector with the untrammeled power of government. Denunciations of “gangster government” echoed from editorials (the Washington Examiner “the way Obama strong-armed creditors who rightfully expected to be treated justly under the law was right out of Juan Peron’s playbook”) to tea-party rallies to a book by David Fredosso (Gangster Government: Barack Obama and the New Washington Thugocracy.)

The conservative pundit Lawrence Kudlow used the term in a hysterical interview with one of the bondholders who had to accept some losses as part of the bailout. “I mean was there bullying in those meetings? I have heard from other sources that there was. And some of this stuff is pretty mean and nasty. And that ain’t the American way,” he asked at one point. “We are corrupting the Constitution and contract law,” Kudlow declared at another point.

Chait is amused:

One early sign that the right-wing freak-out about gangster government might not have been completely sincere is the Republican Party’s decision to nominate for president a man who has spent his career working closely with literal mobsters, from the Cosa Nostra in New York to the Russian mafia. But the fact that the Republican president is now publicly threatening a private company, and making perfectly clear his concern is not the overall economy but his specific needs in a particular swing state, casts an especially clarifying light on the “gangster government” attack.

Kudlow, now Trump’s chief economic adviser, is holding a meeting today with GM president Mary Barra. Presumably he will not simply tell her that the administration is staying out of private business decisions out of fealty to the Constitution and contract law.

He certainly won’t say that, and John Nichols adds this:

The company will stop making a long list of Chevrolet, Buick, and Cadillac sedans that have been mainstays of its production lines. And this will not be the end of the change as GM makes a transition toward production of self-driving cars using manufacturing models that share components across vehicles, utilize virtual tools, and embrace robotification.

Many of these changes were anticipated. It was possible to make smart policy moves and send savvy signals that might have bettered the prospects of American auto workers. Yet Trump, Ryan and McConnell got everything wrong. Instead of angling for programs and policies that could have positioned US workers on the winning side of technological transitions – and that would have eased hits that could not be avoided – Trump and his fellow Republicans governed as if it was 1985, with an emphasis on tax cuts for multinational corporations, reduction of regulations, and dismissal of environmental concerns. They played games with trade policy and tariffs, failing to recognize the reality of the global game that is afoot.

But others have noticed that it isn’t 1985 any longer:

Decrying “a bad combination of greedy corporations and policy makers with no understanding of economic development,” Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan, who represents Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, said on Monday, “President Trump has been asleep at the switch and owes this community an explanation. We tried to get his attention on this issue two years ago. He promised us that his massive corporate tax cut would lead to dramatic reinvestments in our communities. That clearly is not happening. The Valley has been yearning for the Trump Administration to come here, roll up their sleeves and help us fight for this recovery. What we’ve gotten instead are broken promises and petty tweets.”

And there’s the other guy:

Instead of responding to warnings that his decision to scrap fuel-efficiency standards could harm US manufacturers of compact cars, instead of creating incentives for US corporations to embrace innovative work-sharing programs, Trump pursued a foolhardy course that left GM workers vulnerable to what Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown on Monday referred to “corporate greed at its worst.”

Brown pointed out that “the company reaped a massive tax break from last year’s GOP tax bill and failed to invest that money in American jobs, choosing to build its [Chevy] Blazer in Mexico.”

Brown has been warning for months about threats to the Lordstown plant and to other GM facilities. He proposed responses, including a host of innovative measures designed to create incentives for the purchase of US-made vehicles and to address loopholes in the GOP tax plan.

Sherrod Brown saw the danger coming. Donald Trump did not. That’s all there is to it, along with the one core epistemological question. What does this guy know about anything at all?

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