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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.”

(more…)

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What They Voted For: The Laughingstock

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference since winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Because the first part of the making something great again is wrecking it so that it needs to be recovered:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, reads a copy of 'Fire and Fury', by Michael Wolff, at the Tehran Book Fair, 11 May 2018. (via Instagram)On Friday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was pictured in a post on his Instagram feed at the Tehran Book Fair.

Nothing unusual there, but in one image he was seen reading a Persian-language edition of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury. The subject of which, of course, is the chaos inside Mr Trump’s White House.

When the book was released in January, it was described as a “bombshell” by commentators as it raised doubts over Mr Trump’s mental health.

It claimed Mr Trump said he pursued his friends’ wives, that his daughter Ivanka would mock him, and that the US president would eat cheeseburgers in bed.

(BBC)

This is, of course, only days after President Hassan Rouhani responded to President Trump’s dereliction of a nuclear treaty by “conferring with the world’s two super powers, Russia and China”.

Yes, this demolition of American prestige is precisely what Republicans voted for. They cannot prove to us that government doesn’t work unless they break everything; they cannot make the nation great “again” if they do not lay it low. And, yes, in their own way, a game show host and flaccid farce, an obvious subject for Ayatollah Khamenei to scorch with such easy, demonstrative, blistering critique, is precisely what Trump supporters voted for.

This is actually part of their supremacism: It is easier to foster a world war if supporters feel insulted by the designated enemy; Trump seems to think Iranians are as simplistic as his followers, so he makes it easy for the Ayatollah to zing the President of the United States because he knows the magagaga are, themselves, easy marks.

They did elect him, after all.

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Image note: Top — President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference after winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  Right — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, reads a copy of Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff, at the Tehran Book Fair, 11 May 2018. (via Instagram)

British Broadcasting Corporation. “Is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei trolling Trump?” BBC News. 11 May 2018.

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)

(more…)

The Pruitt Watch (#WhatTheyVotedFor)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Skyhobo, 2009)

Miserable: Jonathan Swan offers a glimpse “Inside Scott Pruitt’s ‘miserable’ bunker”, and what is unbelievable about the article is that it might be written at all. Starting with the incendiary report from The Atlantic about intracabinet political attacks and the typical Axios brief on “why this matters”—approximately that for whatever reasons, Administrator Pruitt still has his job—but then lays an ugly string of points from “behind the scenes”, starting with the idea that EPA senior staff apparently being surprised by a photo of the Administrator at lunch with “members of his team” emerging in a lobbyist’s tweet.

Gravity is gravity; the slope is uncertain, but something about downhill goes here.

• Over the last few months, Pruitt has walled himself off from all but five EPA political appointees: ​Millan Hupp, Sarah Greenwalt, Hayley Ford, Lincoln Ferguson, and Wilcox. Of those five, only Wilcox is over 30. Hupp, Greenwalt and Ferguson came with Pruitt from Oklahoma. Wilcox is the only press aide Pruitt appears to trust.

• Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, runs the agency’s operations but rarely knows where his boss is. Pruitt has frozen Jackson out of his inner circle—a disaster for a chief of staff. Pruitt and Jackson don’t trust each other, multiple sources told me.

• “All of us have been frozen out over time,” one EPA political appointee told me. “It’s absolutely unreal working here. Everyone’s miserable. Nobody talks. It’s a dry wall prison.”

And the band plays on as EPA tumbles down the rabbit hole: “Pruitt never trusted the EPA’s career staff”, writes Swan, and the understatement about the sentence is nearly unavoidable; the point is highlight the Administrator having “frozen out” political appointees as administrative paranoia apparently grows and staff morale similarly continues its plummet.

(more…)

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…)

One of Those Moments Spent Wondering What the Hell Is Wrong With President Trump

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Donald Trump attends the Miss Universe 2013 competition at Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Russia, 9 November 2013. (Photo: Alexander Aleshkin/Epsilon/Getty Images)This is the sort of question that might well remain beyond any definitive answer:

President Donald Trump twice gave James Comey an alibi for why a salacious report about the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow couldn’t be true: He never even spent the night in Russia during that trip, Trump told the former FBI director, according to Comey’s memos about the conversations.

Yet the broad timeline of Trump’s stay, stretching from Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, through the following Sunday morning, has been widely reported. And it’s substantiated by social media posts that show he slept in Moscow the night before the Miss Universe contest.

Now, flight records obtained by Bloomberg provide fresh details. Combined with existing accounts and Trump’s own social-media posts, they capture two days that, nearly five years later, loom large in the controversy engulfing the White House and at the heart of the Comey memos, which the Justice Department turned over last week to Congress.

(Silver)

In all of history, given every stupid gaffe and inadequate excuse we might ever hear from politicians, what part of this was worth lying about, and by what measure would anyone expect to get away with it? The social media aspect is itself ridiculously damning. That is to say, it is perhaps possible to imagine a circumstance whereby someone like Donald Trump might not even bother to think about whether or not flight records can be ultimately hidden, but, you know, posing for promotional pictures and then saying one was not actually there is one of the tougher sells. True, Trump voters will generally be okay with it because whatever Trump says is #WhatTheyVotedFor, but for the rest of society, regardless of any other mystery about the #TrumpRussia debacle, this one just shines.

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Image note: Donald Trump attends the Miss Universe 2013 competition at Crocus City Hall in Moscow, Russia, 9 November 2013. (Photo: Alexander Aleshkin/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Silver, Vernon. “Flight Records Illuminate Mystery of Trump’s Moscow Nights”. Bloomberg. 23 April 2018.