Media (culture)

The State of the Department (Quack)

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

With apologies: Altered detail from cartoon by Jen Sorensen, 17 April 2018.

“guess how many people are working on Iranian nuclear proliferation at the State Department? as of today....zero”

Anne Applebaum

We should be clear that by today, the columnist means Friday last, when she posted the tweet, which refers, in turn, to a report from Foreign Policy:

One of the State Department’s top experts on nuclear proliferation resigned this week after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, in what officials and analysts say is part of a worrying brain drain from public service generally over the past 18 months.

Richard Johnson, a career civil servant who served as acting assistant coordinator in State’s Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, had been involved in talks with countries that sought to salvage the deal in recent weeks, including Britain, France, and Germany — an effort that ultimately failed.

Johnson’s departure leaves a growing void in the State Department’s stable of experts on Iran’s nuclear program and highlights a broader problem of high-level departures from government.

Officials say the trend is particularly evident at the State Department, where Trump sidelined career diplomats and morale plummeted under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The office Johnson led has gone from seven full-time staffers to none since Trump’s inauguration.

Today is Tuesday, and elsewhere in the commentariat Steve Benen notes, “The article didn’t explicitly say that Johnson resigned in protest, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a mystery about what happened here.”

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Capitalism Recovering Itself

[¡#zucked!]

Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., 10 April 2018. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If the question is whether you want the lede or bottom line, well, it is Axios, and some days that pretty much makes the article. How about the headline: “Facebook stock has fully recovered from Cambridge Analytica scandal”.

What did anyone actually expect of capitalism? Of course Facebook stock has recovered. Public morality is also public relations, and that pretty much makes for the private limit. One thing about the Cambridge Analytica scandal is that it demonstrates just how valuable Facebook is to capitalists.

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Image note: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., 10 April 2018. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Primack, Dan. “Facebook stock has fully recovered from Cambridge Analytica scandal”. Axios. 10 May 2018.

The Pruitt Watch (Probably Not Pizza)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel): "During trip to Italy, SCOTT PRUITT dined at a 5-star restaurant with a Cardinal who is a climate change skeptic, even though @EPA staff knew the Cardinal was under investigation for child sex abuse. But they omitted the Cardinal's name from schedules released under FOIA. THREAD:" ―Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT): "FOLLOW ALONG WITH US HERE, as we walk through a FASCINATING collection of documents The NYT has pulled together about a certain dinner in Rome that EPA's Scott Pruitt had last June with Cardinal Pell, who is now facing sexual..." [via Twitter, 10 May 2018]

Rude balls and shitfire! (What? At least it’s not two-bit slapdash about what five-star pizza tastes like. No, seriously, what the hell is anybody supposed to say? Of all the extraneous scandals on the planet, five-star dinner in Rome with an accused child molesting Cardinal who just happens to be a climate change wan― . . . I mean . . . goddamnit!)

Oh, right:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)During trip to Italy, SCOTT PRUITT dined at a 5-star restaurant with a Cardinal who is a climate change skeptic, even though @EPA staff knew the Cardinal was under investigation for child sex abuse. But they omitted the Cardinal’s name from schedules released under FOIA.

Ken Vogel’s summary, via Twitter, suffices, but the real action, as he notes, is Eric Lipton’s tweet thread covering New York Times research and investigation into yet another scandal challenging EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

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Image notes: Top — Tweet by Kenneth P. Vogel, 10 May 2018.  Right — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

@EricLiptonNYT. “Follow along with us here, as we walk through a fascinating collection of documents The NYT has pulled together about a certain dinner in Rome that EPA’s Scott Pruitt had last June with Cardinal Pell, who is now facing sexual abuse charges”. Twitter. 10 May 2018.

@kenvogel. “During trip to Italy, Scott Pruitt dined at a 5-star restaurant with a Cardinal who is a climate change skeptic, even though @EPA staff knew the Cardinal was under investigation for child sex abuse. But they omitted the Cardinal’s name from schedules released under FOIA.” Twitter. 10 May 2018.

A Follow-Up Note (Sexual Redistribution)

#TheWomeAreSpeaking | #PayAttention

Fight: Mikasa awakens ― Detail of frame from Attack on Titan episode 6, 'The World the Girl Saw: The Struggle for Trost, Part 2'.

Meanwhile, there is this:

It’s really something the way Douthat can barely hold his nose to mention the monstrous “left leaning and feminist” among us, but it’s outstanding that he can then go on to leap from “the overweight and disabled” to internet trolls.

You want to have a conversation about sexual agency for marginalized groups, I am there for it. Surrogacy, self-pleasure, community: awesome. We are all entitled to healthy, safe, consensual sexual expression. But (grudgingly hoists megaphone): YEAH, THESE GUYS DON’T WANT THAT.

This isn’t rocket science. Men who idolize mass murderers do so because they hate women. They feel they have a right to their bodies. It enrages them when women do not behave in a sexually conciliatory way toward them. It enrages them that other men can obtain what they cannot, because they don’t see sex as a mutually pleasurable experience but as a reward they have been deprived of. They see themselves apart from the “Chads and Stacies” and “normies”—their version of the popular kids—and take comfort in posting memes about evil females and their precious man spaces. Oh, no, you’ve got us all wrong, they argue, I just want a nice girlfriend, and why can’t these ungrateful bitches understand that?

Douthat’s willful ignorance is telling. He hilariously believes that “The sexual revolution created new winners and losers, new hierarchies to replace the old ones, privileging the beautiful and rich and socially adept in new ways and relegating others to new forms of loneliness and frustration.” Because nobody wanted to screw good-looking people before disco and the Pill were invented. He sees the sexual economy in blanket terms, ignoring that the perpetrators of mass violence are generally not, say, women in wheelchairs. He visualizes “commerce and technology . . . harnessed, as already in pornography, to address the unhappiness of incels.” My dude, these guys don’t want to BUY sex. They want to be GIVEN sex. A big part of the incel mindset is a revulsion of women who are sexually independent. As Jennifer Wright noted recently in Harper’s Bazaar, “There’s a lot of slut-shaming.” No hypothetical robot is going to cure that.

(Marcotte)

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Rudy’s Bizarre Adventure

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump leaves after speaking during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, 19 July 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

In truth, the problem with calling Rudy Giuliani the gift that keeps on giving is not the fact of its politic, but, rather the disaster that statement represents. Caroline Orr, for instance, noted yesterday—

Speaking about the Mueller probe, Rudy Giuliani tells Judge Jeanine: “Maybe they think Manafort’s somebody they can flip faster.”

… hence implying that Manafort has incriminating evidence on Trump that would give him leverage to flip.

—and that ought to be hilarious except for the fact that it is real. And toward a certain political objection we might simply note that regardless of aesthetics and sincerely held beliefs, there really are investigations afoot, and one of President Trump’s attorneys really is putting on some extraordinary manner of flaming excremental spectacle.

The lede from Zeke Miller for Associated Press is striking insofar as it is a lawyer saying it instead of some conservative pundit on cable news—and, sure, go ahead and make the obvious point about Rudy Giuliani as a pundit, but what, really, is anyone to actually do with it?—but then we also face the prospect that this is an attorney for the President of the United States, which ought to be significant in and of itself even before begging the question of a sitting president pleading the Fifth:

President Donald Trump’s new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, won’t rule out the possibility that the president would assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the swirling Russia investigation.

“How could I ever be confident of that?” the former New York City mayor and U.S. attorney said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Giuliani said despite Trump’s openness to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller, he would strongly advise Trump against it.

“I’m going to walk him into a prosecution for perjury like Martha Stewart?” Giuliani said. Stewart was convicted in 2004 of lying to investigators and obstruction in an insider trading case.

Giuliani suggested that Trump wouldn’t necessarily comply with a subpoena from Mueller, but he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the president sitting for an interview with Mueller.

“He’s the president of the United States,” Giuliani said. “We can assert the same privileges other presidents have.”

That last is, technically, true; many critics will rightly point out it is also functionally meaningless; asserting privilege is different from actually exercising them insofar as one must make the assertion stick, and history does in fact seem clear on this point, which in turn means invoking and asserting a constitutional right: The President of the United States will not convey any true information that would incriminate him.    (more…)

The Pruitt Watch (Peat Fire)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

While the idea of a rioting dumpster fire experienced brief vogue among media commentators trying to describe the Donald Trump presidency, the slowburning, filthy corruption of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to describe something akin to a peat fire. The lede from the New York Times:

Since moving to Washington, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has attracted the attention of federal investigators because of his unusual association with lobbyists, including his rental of a condominium last year owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business before the E.P.A.

As a state senator in Oklahoma 15 years ago, Mr. Pruitt went even further: He bought a home in the state capital with a registered lobbyist who was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules—changes that Mr. Pruitt championed in the legislature.

And as with the condominium rental in Washington, Mr. Pruitt never publicly disclosed his financial relationship with the lobbyist, who, like Mr. Pruitt, lived in the home when in Oklahoma City on business.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)But if for some reason the Pruitt Watch seems frustrating, or even verges toward incomprehensible, perhaps the striking report from The Atlantic suggests a flashpoint:

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it.:

In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.

“This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

To the other, an unnamed White House official claiming knowledge of the situation explained: “Absolutely nothing Scott Pruitt did would surprise me.” And, yes, that last might as well include, the prospect of the EPA Administrator simply persisting and enduring, though the article did not.

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The Pruitt Watch (#swampstyle)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The lede from Bloomberg ought to be enough—

President Donald Trump called his embattled environmental chief Monday to assure him his job is safe amid mounting scrutiny of Scott Pruitt’s travel, hiring practices and an unorthodox condo rental arrangement last year, according to two administration officials.

—to beg the question: So, the clock is ticking, then, right?

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What They Voted For: Trump Family Values

#familyvalues | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Donald Trump Jr. speaks at a Global Business Summit in New Delhi, India, 23 February 2018. (Photo: Manish Swarup/AP Photo, File)

Ah! scandal! Or, via Page Six:

Years before Vanessa Trump filed for divorce from Donald Trump Jr., their marriage was rocked when—around the time she was pregnant with their third child—he cheated on her with a contestant from “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

Page Six has exclusively learned that Don Jr.—then a so-called “adviser” on the NBC show—fell for busty Danity Kane star Aubrey O’Day while filming “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2011.

Sources say that Vanessa—who filed for divorce from President Donald Trump’s eldest son last week after 13 years of marriage—was devastated when he told her that he planned to leave her for O’Day.

Vanessa was pregnant with their third child, Tristan, around that time.

That was yesterday; the New York Post gossip team rolls on, today asking, “Is Aubrey O’Day’s song ‘DJT’ about Donald Trump Jr.?”

What will the post-presidential reality show be called? Trump Family Scandals? Trump Shore? The Real Assholes of Manhattan? The Ballad of “Donny Smalls”?

Additionally, it is worth noting that apparently we now must give a damn about who Aubrey O’Day is. That is to say, branded celebrity is easy enough to avoid until it isn’t, and the crossing of such thresholds ought to count for something.

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Image note: Donald Trump, Jr. (Photo: Manish Swarup/AP Photo, File)

Bacardi, Francesca. “Is Aubrey O’Day’s song ‘DJT’ about Donald Trump Jr.?”. Page Six. 20 March 2018.

Coleman, Oli and Carlos Greer. “Donald Trump Jr. romanced Aubrey O’Day during marriage to Vanessa”. Page Six. 19 March 2018.

The Latest Pickup: Joseph diGenova

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

US President Donald J. Trump after a group photo on the second day of the G7 Summit at the Hotel San Domenico in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, 27 May 2017. (Photo: Angelo Carconi/ANSA)

Steve Benen suggests—

Obviously, diGenova’s track record of pushing strange, right-wing conspiracy theories on television makes it difficult to take him seriously, but because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, the opposite is true in the White House: this president loves those who push strange, right-wing conspiracy theories on television. The same qualities that make Joseph diGenova appear foolish in the eyes of the American mainstream are the very qualities that make him appealing to Trump.

Attorney Joseph E. diGenova, ca. 2016 (Image: C-SPAN)—and that is all well and fine insofar as it goes. One need not protest, though, in order to recall general questions of White House morale and who might wish to work for the Trump administration, and from there specifically point out that eventually there will only be diverse manners of true believers left to answer the call. In this context, Joe diGenova might not be the best man for the job—

For those who support the president and want him to succeed, none of this is good news. Trump is facing a serious scandal of historic significance, which may very well bring his presidency to a premature end. He needs the best legal defense possible.

I’m not sure he’s getting it. Trump—who already had to replace the former head of his legal team, who seemed completely out of his depth—has assembled a group of attorneys who haven’t necessarily served him especially well, and he’s now adding a conspiracy theorist whom the president probably saw on Fox News, peddling a strange tale with no basis in fact.

—but could well be the last best attorney to take up President Trump’s defense.

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Image notes: Top —President Donald Trump. (Photo: Angelo Carconi/ANSA)  Right — Attorney Joseph E. diGenova (Image: C-SPAN)

Benen, Steve. “Trump’s new defense attorney burdened by a controversial past”. msnbc. 19 March 2018.

Your Tweet of the Day: McCabe Memos

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid): "Republican source to me just now: 'The McCabe Memos are the new Pentagon Papers.' #MuellerTime" [via Twitter, 17 March 2018]

This is the thing about melodrama and hyperbole:

Republican source to me just now: “The McCabe Memos are the new Pentagon Papers.” #MuellerTime

Joy Reid

For all the times Republicans bawled about the Obama administration as a Watergate-valence scandal, it is easy enough to be wary of an invocation so spectacular as the Pentagon Papers. Nonetheless, we might recall that melodrama and hyperbole are precisely #WhatTheyVotedFor, even if it hurts who they voted for.

And this does not begin to account for the long Republican habit of challenging thresholds, because the hard part about explaining that is found in the aspect of what is appropriate or not to speculate, project, conclude, or otherwise say about our neighbors.

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