Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What A Relief

Via the Washington Post:

The White House was under siege.

Domestic abuse allegations against a senior aide were ignored, pointing to a potential high-level coverup. Two Cabinet secretaries were caught charging taxpayers for luxury travel. A Playboy centerfold alleged an extramarital affair with the president. And the special counsel’s Russia investigation was intensifying. The tumult was so intense that there was fervent speculation that President Trump might fire his chief of staff.

But a gun massacre at a Florida high school last Wednesday, which left 17 dead, seemed to shift the media glare away from the Trump scandals and gave embattled aides an opportunity to re­focus on handling a crisis not of their own making. While the White House mourned the loss of life in Parkland, Fla., some aides privately acknowledged that the tragedy offered a breather from the political storm.

A tentative plan for White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to address the news media from the briefing room Wednesday — where he would have faced intense scrutiny over his role in the mishandling of the domestic abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter — was scuttled.

One White House official said the shooting forced the White House to focus on critical and serious issues — like consoling the victims and trying to heal the nation — rather than getting bogged down in what they view as more trivial West Wing drama.

“For everyone, it was a distraction or a reprieve,” said the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect internal conversations. “A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.”

Yes, I’m sure the families of the victims and the community are glad they could provide some comfort and relief for the poor beleaguered White House.  Next time Trump gets in trouble maybe we’ll be attacked by terrorists flying planes into buildings to prop up his ratings.

Sheesh.  These are horrible people.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Blackmail Is Such An Ugly Word

How about “creative inducement”?

Via The Hill:

An update to Ivanka Trump’s financial disclosure report reveals that she and her husband, Jared Kushner, have taken on millions of dollars in additional debt over the past year, Politico reported Tuesday.

Trump’s updated disclosure form shows that Kushner appears to have tapped three different lines of credit since he began working at the White House.

The changes up the couple’s debts from a range of $19 million to $98 million to being valued at between $31 million and $155 million, according to Politico.

Trump had initially reported the debts to be at the same levels Kushner had reported in March, but revised the form in December to show higher levels on the three credit lines.

The three lines of credit added to the form are held by Kushner. He holds the Bank of America and New York Community Bank lines with his father, and one from Signature Bank with his mother.

Another revision on Trump’s form did drop the amount owed for a Visa account from a range of $100,001 to $250,000 to one of $50,001 to $100,000.

It’s unclear if the raised credit lines are linked to recent financial issues at Kushner’s family business, Kushner Companies.

A spokesperson for Kushner and Trump’s attorneys declined to comment to Politico, as did a spokeswoman for Kushner Companies.

This is the part in the episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” where the guy in the dark suit, dark shirt, and white tie and wearing a pinkie ring, accompanied by his well-muscled “administrative aide,” sits down across the table in the back of a little family restaurant in Brooklyn to have a little chat with the nervous white guy from Fifth Avenue who’s up to his eyeballs in debt.  The guy in the dark suit makes a generous offer to help him get rid of all his problems if he’ll do him just one little favor.  [Cha-chung!]

Except this time it’s a little Russian tea shop in Brighton Beach and the guy in debt is the son-in-law of the president and has a provisional security clearance and would do anything to stay out of trouble as well as out of the East River.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

If You Build It

Trump rolled out his oft-promised infrastructure plan yesterday, something he’s been harping on since the campaign, at one point promising to put $1 trillion into it to restore roads, bridges, rail systems and other elements that are in terrible shape.  Oh, and it will create tons of jobs!

But as always with him there’s a catch.

The president’s plan recasts the federal government as a minority stakeholder in the nation’s new infrastructure projects. Half of the $200 billion promised over 10 years will be used for incentives to spur even greater contributions from states, localities and the private sector. Mr. Trump also wants to speed up the approval process.

In other words, he wants the states and local governments to come up with most of the money to pay for the projects and the federal government will stamp the permits as long as they benefit private enterprise.  So if Palm Beach County wants to repave the road to Mar-a-lago, hey presto, here’s your contract.  But if they want to repair the plumbing at an inner city school, well, show us the money.

In the first place, the states and local governments don’t have the money.  Thanks to legislatures in many states being taken over by Republicans who are bent on cutting taxes to buy off their corporate pals, there isn’t any money left for critical infrastructure work even if the federal government kicked in the 80% that it has been common practice to do.  And even if they had it, the incentive to rebuild a crumbling bridge in the urban areas doesn’t have the appeal of building a nice big hotel and golf course with all the fixings.  So asking the state and local governments to come up with the cash is like asking the homeless guy to pay for your limo.

Second, the idea that the federal government should chip in a large portion of the funding comes from the basic idea that this country is the united states, meaning that the taxes people pay in Omaha go to build a school in Miami and that the tolls paid by cars from Indiana and Pennsylvania on the Ohio Turnpike benefit everyone, not just the people from Ohio.

And lastly, we could probably replace every crumbling bridge, school, tunnel, and water system with the extra money he’s throwing at the Pentagon for planes and guns and ships that they themselves have said they don’t want, need, or have places to put them.  So far the hike in defensive spending has been to assure the world that Trump doesn’t have a small dick.

A Little Louder On The Dog Whistle, Please

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, speaking to the National Sheriffs Association, praised the local sheriff as the “critical part of Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”

People familiar with the law were quick to point out that he was probably referring to the “common law” that we Americans inherited from the British system and that the local sheriff is an office passed down from medieval times.  Perfectly innocent.

Sure, okay.  But “Anglo-American” and “heritage” are also terms that are commonly used by white supremacists to justify their long history of oppressing minorities in the name of racial purity, and “heritage” has been heard most recently to defend the Confederate battle flag flying over town squares next to statues of Robert E. Lee.  And Mr. Sessions has a long history himself of racial insensitivity.

And it should be noted that he veered off the prepared text to insert “Anglo-American.”  It’s like the dog whistle wasn’t loud enough already.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Memo? What Memo

If you’re waiting to see when Trump will authorize the release of the Democrats’ memo in response to the Nunes fiasco, don’t bother.

Trump on Friday blocked the release of a classified Democratic memo rebutting Republican claims that top federal law enforcement officials had abused their powers in spying on a former Trump campaign aide, a move that Democrats denounced as politically motivated hypocrisy.

So the Democrats are trying to come up with enough redactions to make it pass Trumpian muster.  But it’s a fool’s errand; he never will allow it to see the light of day and all this talk about “transparency” was utter bullshit.  I honestly don’t know anyone who actually thought it ever would see the light of day.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Do You Solemnly Swear

Via the New York Times:

Lawyers for President Trump have advised him against sitting down for a wide-ranging interview with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to four people briefed on the matter, raising the specter of a monthslong court battle over whether the president must answer questions under oath.

His lawyers are concerned that the president, who has a history of making false statements and contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators. Their stance puts them at odds with Mr. Trump, who has said publicly and privately that he is eager to speak with Mr. Mueller as part of the investigation into possible ties between his associates and Russia’s election interference, and whether he obstructed justice.

Yeah, if I were Trump’s lawyers I wouldn’t want him to testify under oath either.  He can’t order lunch without lying or contradicting himself, and while that may make him liable to be charged with perjury, the lawyers could be disbarred for suborning perjury by the mere act of advising him to testify.  They have to be thinking of their own careers, too.  (Of course, if you allowed yourself to take on Trump as a client, you have to wonder about your own fealty to the canon of ethics.)

Mueller could subpoena Trump in order to force him to testify, and he would fight it, but chances are very good that he’d lose.  And while that might guarantee you years of billable hours, there’s no good outcome for your client, and with his track record with people who’ve worked for him, you’d end up getting stiffed.

I Got Your Treason Right Here

So Trump thinks that people who didn’t clap during the SOTU are traitors, eh?

“You have the other side, even on positive news — really positive news — like that. They were like…DEATH. And UnAmerican. UnAmerican,” he said.

“Someone said ‘treasonous.’,” he continued. “Yeah, I guess, Why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?”

Because this, via Sen. Tammy Duckworth:

We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy. I swore an oath—in the military and in the Senate—to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.

How about if I just fart in your general direction?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Sunday Reading

Nothingburger with Cheese — Charles P. Pierce.

I think I may have broken the RETURN key on my laptop. I was reading The Memo a short time after its release by the Republican majority of the House Intelligence Committee. I got to the end and I realized that, even though the Christopher Steele report is The Memo’s chief bogeyman, there was nothing in The Memo that undercuts anything we know about the substance of the Steele dossier. In fact, there is nothing in The Memo that undercuts anything pertaining to the relationship between the Russians and the Trump campaign, nor is there anything that undercuts what we know about the Russian ratfcking generally. I got all the way to the last of the six pages and I couldn’t quite believe that this was what all the fighting had been about for the past couple of weeks. There had to be more. I kept hammering that poor RETURN key in vain. You let me down, Devin Nunes, you White House lawn ornament, you.

I grew up with the Watergate tapes. I grew up with the revelations of the Pike and the Church committees. (Revelations, I might add, that produced the FISA process and the congressional intelligence procedures that Nunes turned into dog food Friday.) I grew up with George Schultz’s diaries that showed that everyone in the upper reaches of the Reagan administration was involved in the crimes of Iran-Contra. I watched every second of the several inquiries into the Whitewater land deal, which is how I know what a crock that was, but at least there was some phony substance to those phony charges. This Memo, Devin, isn’t even a good try. You and your staff have to be the laziest alleged obstructors of justice that I’ve ever seen. All it appears to be is a lame-ass defense of a self-important goofball Russophile named Carter Page. That’s all you got?

This is a guy that got on the FBI radar in 2013, when the president* was still firing celebrities on his television show. The FBI found that Page had been actively cultivated by Russian intelligence as a possible asset. And now, your whole argument is that the FISA warrants were prompted by the Steele dossier and that Steele is a shtunk who was biased against the president*? For this, you needed a memo? For this, you needed a month’s worth of drama? For this, you needed to demolish the good faith between the intelligence community and the congressional committees designed to conduct oversight of that community? You couldn’t even get the date of David Corn’s breakthrough story in Mother Jones right. Hell, you could have saved us all the trouble and just done a couple of nights on Hannity to make that case. You’d have reached every single American that currently buys what you’re peddling.

This is threadbare. This is shabby. This reveals absolutely nothing. All it does is damage. It isn’t even really good ratfcking. I mean, what the fck, Devin? You should’ve outsourced this to the Russians, who really do know how to do this kind of thing well. They wouldn’t have left hanging details like this, from Section 5 of The Memo:

The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok.

I thought it was The Dossier. I’m confused.

And the Russians never would have tried to argue that Steele was simultaneously an untrustworthy operative and a “longtime” FBI source. The FBI wouldn’t have kept him on as a “longtime” source if he wasn’t trustworthy. The FBI is not as dumb as you are. And this is the best you have for a defense?

“The Committee has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies exist to defend the American people, not to be exploited to target one group on behalf of another. It is my hope that the Committee’s actions will shine a light on this alarming series of events so we can make reforms that allow the American people to have full faith and confidence in their governing institutions.”

Oh, shut up.

‘The brave and assiduous oversight by Congressional leaders in discovering this unprecedented abuse of process represents a giant, historic leap in the repair of America’s democracy. Now that a few of the misdeeds against the Trump Movement have been partially revealed, I look forward to updating my pending legal action in opposition to DOJ this weekend in preparation for Monday’s next small step on the long, potholed road toward helping to restore law and order in our great country.’

Good lord, Carter. Brave! Assiduous! Unprecedented! Giant! Historic! The long, potholed road! Who the hell are you when you’re at home?

The fact is that there isn’t a serious violation of the public trust anywhere in The Memo. There is no abuse of authority. There is nothing giant and/or historic about anything in it. On MSNBC, retired FBI agent Bobby Chacon rightly called The Memo a glorified motion to dismiss the evidence, and not a very good one, either.

Naturally, various Democrats have chimed in, all expressing great disappointment that Nunes has turned out to be the unmitigated hack they all knew he was. (Hell, even gonzo former Congressman Joe Walsh believes that.) The Democrats on the Intelligence Committee said, in part:

“The premise of the Nunes memo is that the FBI and DOJ corruptly sought a FISA warrant on a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, and deliberately misled the court as part of a systematic abuse of the FISA process. As the Minority memo makes clear, none of this is true. The FBI had good reason to be concerned about Carter Page and would have been derelict in its responsibility to protect the country had it not sought a FISA warrant. In order to understand the context in which the FBI sought a FISA warrant for Carter Page, it is necessary to understand how the investigation began, what other information the FBI had about Russia’s efforts to interfere with our election, and what the FBI knew about Carter Page prior to making application to the court – including Carter Page’s previous interactions with Russian intelligence operatives. This is set out in the Democratic response which the GOP so far refuses to make public.”

Let us be clear about one thing. I do not care if the meatheads and morons out there buy this bilge. I don’t care how “effective” as spin the acolytes of the Church of The Savvy think the release of The Memo is. I think the Mueller investigation will blow through this flimsy excuse for an argument like a train through a willow tree. But the damage it will do to congressional oversight of the intelligence community—a dubious proposition on its best day, which was not Friday, god knows—will be long-lasting and far-reaching.

That oversight, as well as the FISA court, grew out of the CIA and FBI horror stories revealed in the late 1970s, which was a genuine scandal, and one with an actual body count. (Some of the more noxious revelations from the congressional investigations of that time were illegal CIA operations within the United States, CIA assassination plots overseas, and the foul campaign against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. waged by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.) People risked a lot to inform American citizens of what was being done in their name; Frank Church of Idaho, who led the Senate committee looking into the crimes, was defeated in the next election. Even the current system, which is not something of which I am overly fond, deserves better than what Devin Nunes did to it on Friday in order to run cover for a president* of very dubious character.

And now everybody’s on board. Speaker Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from the state of Wisconsin, is posing once again as a civil libertarian.

“Unlike most judicial proceedings, the FISA system depends not on an adversarial process, but instead on the government providing a complete presentation of the facts and circumstances underlying its warrant applications. It is clear from this memo that didn’t happen in this case, and as a consequence an American’s civil liberties may have been violated.”

And, meanwhile, everybody involved in Friday’s burlesque, from Devin Nunes to Carter Page to the president* himself, knows full well that the Russian ratfckers are gearing up for the 2018 midterms. And the institutions of our government are being asked to resist assaults from without and within. Things are not looking up. At all.

The End of Football — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

The Super Bowl is the most popular annual event in American life. When the ritual began, in 1967, the Green Bay Packers, of the National Football League, defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, of the American Football League, by a score of 35–10, and, although the Los Angeles Coliseum contained patches of empty seats, more than fifty million people watched on television, the largest sports audience in the history of the medium at the time. Last year, more than a hundred and eleven million people watched the Super Bowl, more than triple the TV audience for the Oscars. There’s little doubt that the game between the Patriots and Eagles on Sunday night will attract a similarly gargantuan viewership.

Fans of a certain age (and all those with the technical dexterity to operate the YouTube time machine) might best recall the charms of the early Super Bowls, and of the game itself, by watching N.F.L. Films and listening to its most stentorian narrators, including John Facenda, a.k.a. the Voice of God. N.F.L. Films was the brainchild of a Second World War veteran and topcoat salesman named Ed Sabol, who, in the early sixties, won a small contract with the N.F.L. to film the games and produce highlight films for broadcast on television.

Sabol, soon joined by his son Steve, did for the League what John Ford did for the War. Most historians of the form speak of Sabol’s film of Green Bay’s last-second victory over the Dallas Cowboys on “the frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field, in 1967, as his masterpiece, but, like those cineastes who unaccountably prefer the period charms and underlying darkness of “The Magnificent Ambersons” over the more obvious qualities of “Citizen Kane,” I am partial to “Elements of Victory,” an ambling masterwork on the Packers-Browns championship game of 1965, featuring a Hemingway-terse script by Tex Maule, Ray Scott’s understated narration, and the kettledrum-and-brass soundtrack that thunders under each “Super-Slow Motion” play from scrimmage. The narration begins—“In the gray chill of early dawn, the snows came to Green Bay”—and the martial drama unfolds from there. The dramatis personae include the stout and earnest place-kicker Lou Groza, the omnipotent running back Jim Brown, the “Golden Boy” Paul Hornung, and the hulking creatures of the line—particularly the pulling blockers Jerry Kramer and Fred (Fuzzy) Thurston. Sabol’s signature technique––his answer to Orson Welles’s “deep focus”—was called “tight on the spiral,” in which he keeps the camera trained on the pigskin as it leaves the quarterback’s twisting, unravelling arm; gently ascends in slo-mo; peaks downfield, then descends, rotating, rotating, into the outstretched hands (always “the outstretched hands”) of the receiver. The setting is rarely a sunny clime; nearly always, the action unfurls in frigid places like Lambeau Field, in Green Bay, where “the elements”—snow and rain and mud and “howling wind”—conspire to make the gridiron battle resemble the Battle of the Somme, but with commercials for beer and radial tires.

When I was a kid, I watched these Sabol-produced films incessantly: “NFL Game of the Week,” “Hard Knocks,” “Greatest Moments” (the histories and tragedies), and also “Football Follies” (the comedies), which featured the League’s fumbles, pratfalls, and bobbled balls. Sabol made the games far more dramatic than they were; there were no longueurs. Each moment of action was heightened, prolonged, monumentalized.

But what the Sabols, to say nothing of the various N.F.L. commissioners, broadcasters, and advertisers, were not especially eager to emphasize was the damage. Super-Slow Motion was a super deception. Collisions on the field that led to fractured arms and legs, broken backs, cracked spines, torn ligaments, and, above all, concussions, were lost under all the Wagnerian flights, the basso-profundo voice-overs, and the mythopoetical scripts.

The hits were always “spectacular,” never gruesome. Injured players got “dinged,” then they “shrugged it off.” Someone got his “bell rung” or his “cage rattled.” Euphemism was, for decades, the stoical language of football. And yet we now know, and we have known for long enough, that football doesn’t have “an injury problem”; it has a brain-damage problem. Countless players suffer from early dementia, depression, confusion, suicidal tendencies, and countless other alarming, often mortal, conditions resulting from the game.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that, when scientists examined the brains of a hundred and eleven deceased N.F.L. players, all but one showed signs of degenerative brain disease. That’s what all those “spectacular”—and unspectacular—hits so often come to: chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E.

When Rob Gronkowski, the redoubtable tight end for the Patriots, got “dinged” in a helmet-to-helmet collision with the Jaguars safety Barry Church last month, he suffered an injury, his second concussion, that could only hasten a path to a diminished middle age. Nevertheless, he has pronounced himself “full go, ready to roll” for the Super Bowl. “My mindset is, whenever you hit a speed bump in the road, just to get back up, keep doing what you gotta do through the process and not put yourself in more danger,” he told reporters. “Do everything that you can right, and just keep on truckin’ and get back out there.”

In the mid-fifties, the dominant sports in the United States were baseball, boxing, and horse racing. American life had not urbanized and accelerated to the point where the three hours of languid, pastoral play in a Tuesday-afternoon baseball game were deemed “slow.” Speaking one night at Delmonico’s, in 1889, Mark Twain referred to the sport as “the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century!” That lasted well into the twentieth, somehow. In the mid-fifties, everyone knew the name of the heavyweight champion, an exalted office, and columnists competed to find the apt gladiatorial metaphor to describe each bout. The Kentucky Derby was an event far bigger than the N.B.A. Finals. If you were Jimmy Cannon or Red Smith or any of the big columnists, you saw basketball as a banal game of “up and down,” played by curious overgrown gland cases; you preferred an afternoon at Churchill Downs, the grandstand redolent of bourbon, crushed mint, and horseshit.

Things have changed. As baseball’s ratings slump and twitchy fans complain of games dominated by long episodes of spitting, scratching, and pitching-mound conferencing, there are rumbles of reform (shifting the strike zone) and revolution (a seven-inning game). Baseball is still selling tickets and drawing fans, but it feels as though it has dropped out of the center of popular entertainment, lost pace with the times. Horse racing has declined far more radically, overwhelmed by alternative games of chance. An image of corruption, drugs, and cruelty to animals did not help much, either.

Boxing, by its very nature, proved unreformable. There is, undeniably, a terrible beauty in the best fights––an athletic craft exemplified by the likes of Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Roberto Durán––but cruelty and violence, and the terrible pleasure taken in cruelty and violence, are at the center of things. The very point of the contest is to render an opponent temporarily unconscious or to bruise and bloody him into a helpless state of “technical” knockout. Who wants their child to box? Twenty years ago, when I was writing a book about Muhammad Ali, nearly all the ex-fighters I interviewed displayed signs of dementia or worse. When I spoke with the former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, in 1997, he was still the chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, which supervises prizefighting in the state. He was only intermittently coherent. The next year, during a deposition, he could not remember the names of his associates or of his secretary, and he had to step down from his position.

In the journalism of the past decade, more and more N.F.L. players and players’ families are describing the toll of the game on their bodies, their minds, and their lives. It is a collective portrait of pain, mental illness, physical debility, and, often enough, shattered families. The latest is an essay published this week in the Times, by Emily Kelly, whose husband, Rob Kelly, played for the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots in the late nineties and early two-thousands. As with so many other veteran players, Rob Kelly suffers from debilitating emotional problems, including paranoia, sleeplessness, depression, and an inability or unwillingness to communicate. There is almost no doubt that the cause is football.

How do you “fix” a game in which the attraction of the game resides in its violence, in the crash of huge, super athletic men, down after down, game after game, year after year? A special helmet? More rule changes? No less an authority than the President of the United States has complained that rule changes are “ruining the game.” “Today, if you hit too hard, fifteen yards, throw him out of the game!” an outraged President Trump said during a rally in Alabama last year.

I don’t watch much football anymore—the N.B.A. playoffs are, for me at least, an infinitely greater pleasure—but, hypocritical as it is, it’s hard to deny the excitement or the beauty of the game when I do tune in. But the beauty is the beauty of a car crash in an action movie—only here there are no stuntmen, no C.G.I. As N.F.L. players often say, nearly every play feels like a car crash, a real one. Even after an “injury-free” game, players soak themselves in ice baths; they are, head to toe, an enormous contusion.

After covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I remember driving one Friday night from New Orleans to the airport in Houston to get a flight back to New York. For hours, all I could find on the radio was high-school football, and everywhere I looked, along the road in Louisiana and Texas, there were illuminated stadiums filled with cheering fans and kids slamming into one another, revelling in the game of football. Now the ratings for the N.F.L. are starting to decline. Some Pop Warner and high-school programs, particularly in wealthier communities, have diminished or shut down. Parents are asking the question once asked of boxing: Do you want your kids to play football?

This will not be the last Super Bowl any more than Ali–Frazier III was the last heavyweight-championship fight. But, just as boxing inexorably shifted to the margins of American life, this might be, for football, the start of the long eclipse.

The Multiple Lives of J.K. Simmons — Melanie McFarland in Salon profiles the understated but prolific actor.

You may find it hard to believe this, but aside from a mercifully brief stint as an overwhelmed temp, “Counterpart” star J.K. Simmons has never worked in an office. “Oh god, I’m glad nobody has film of that,” he told Salon recently.

This is a rare and somewhat odd gap in the resume of a man who has played an extensive range of roles, lending his talents to everything from animated series aimed at children to Tom Fontana’s celebrated HBO drama “Oz” which spun a tapestry of violence cruel enough to force the hardiest of viewers to tap out.

For a man who has played all kinds of roles, “Counterpart” may prove to be one of his most challenging projects because he’s playing two versions of the same person, at the same time. Not only that, it places him inside the life of, yes, an office drone.

Simmons’ Howard Silk amounts to more than this — twice as much in fact. In the show’s chilly Berlin setting, Silk is a bureaucrat whose job entails completing a set task each day that isn’t just boring, it makes no discernible sense. But he soon finds out that the world doesn’t make sense, largely because there are two versions of it, the result of a Cold War event gone wrong.

These parallel existences mean that every person has a duplicate, although the government strains mightily to keep that under wraps. Howard’s happens to be a spy assigned to a mission to capture a killer who has found a way to cross between these existences.

Dual roles aren’t unique — especially in recent seasons — or relegated to science fiction. Think James Franco playing the role of brothers on “The Deuce,” or Ewan McGregor pulling off a similar job on the third season of “Fargo.”

“Counterpart,” currently airing Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz, creates a different challenge for Simmons in that the actor must play one man, two different ways. In the drama’s universe, they share the same upbringing and the same memories until the split forced one to take a part the other probably did not consider. And he manifests this with delicate changes between one personality and another. The smallest change in posture gives Howard Silk the bureaucrat the torso of a sedentary working stiff, which is apparent as he stands across from Howard Silk, government agent.

And as Simmons recalled, two versions of one person in a number of scenes made this role a little more daunting than others.

“I was going to say there were no days off of work,” he said, “but every once in a while those days where all I had to do was, ‘You’re just walking from here to there, and now you’re walking from there to here’ turned into, ‘but you’re this dude, and you’ve experienced this, this, this, and this, which we haven’t shot yet. And you’re pretending to be the other dude.’

He jokingly added, “I kept thinking of the line from Robert Downey Jr. line in ‘Tropic Thunder’: ‘I’m the dude dressed as a dude, pretending to be that other dude.’ That was the guy I felt like sometimes, yeah.”

In the real world, if Simmons seems like he’s everywhere, that’s because he kind of is. Simmons takes the term “working actor” seriously to a degree that’s beyond impressive, continuing to rack up voice work credits even while he’s in demand as a film actor and TV star.

Spend an hour watching TV, and it is possible to see him as the spokesperson for Farmers Insurance company, to hear him voicing the part of the yellow M&M (yes, that’s him) and, possibly, popping other animated roles within the same stretch.

Simmons got his first Hollywood break relatively late, at the age of 39 when he landed a part in the Denis Leary vehicle “The Ref.” Cutting his teeth on stage in the early years of his career provided a basis for dramatic versatility that has served him incredibly well ever since.

His wide-ranging adaptability as a performer enabled Simmons to move past being associated with one of the most terrifying characters on television, the white supremacist leader Vern Schillinger on HBO’s “Oz.” Schillinger was Simmons’ first regular series role, and the viciousness the actor poured into the part made Schillinger tough to forget. Fortunately it didn’t typecast him. During the run of “Oz” Simmons appeared in the “Law & Order” franchise as Dr. Emil Skoda, a psychiatrist working with the police department.

He also went on to play J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” in addition to extensive work in TV, including on series such as “The Closer,” before landing the role of a cruel, hard-driving instructor in the Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning 2014 film “Whiplash,” the part that would earn him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

“That’s a blessing that I’ve had, really my whole career since I was doing theater 40 years ago, is I’ve had opportunities to play many different kinds of characters,” he said.  In this, to be able to play different kinds of characters on the same show, on the same day, in the same scene sometimes, is just a really, it’s like a nice workout where you’re . . . I don’t know . . . you get in your cardio and your weight lifting at the same time.”

Doonesbury — Missing in action.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Short Takes

White House will release Nunes memo.

Air strike cripples Syria cave hospital.

12-year-old girl held in L.A. school shooting.

Robert Wagner now a “person of interest” in Natalie Wood’s death.

No, Trump did not have the “highest audience” for the SOTU (unless you count those who blazed a doobie during it).

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

The fact-checkers at the Washington Post hand out a dose of reality.

Trump’s State of the Union speech had soaring rhetoric — and many dubious facts and figures. Many of these claims have been fact-checked repeatedly, yet the president persists in using them.

They touted up 18 dubious claims, everything from jobs created to tax cuts to immigration and found that Trump was either taking credit for other peoples’ work — most often that of Barack Obama — or putting out statements that are demonstrably false, such as ending the “war” on “clean coal.”  He might as well say that his administration was responsible for eradicating the invading forces of orcs in Hialeah.

Since I didn’t watch the speech and the analysts seem to be overwhelmed by the steaming piles of bullshit that he shoveled about how great he is, I wonder if he bothered to bring up getting Puerto Rico back its electricity, water, and infrastructure?  (Turns out he did… the day before FEMA officially cuts off assistance to the island.)  Did he say anything about supporting education at the most basic level, that being funding to make classrooms habitable?  I’m sure he said nothing about keeping LGBTQ Americans’ rights secure; if he had, that would have been banner news.

I see a couple of articles about the showmanship that went before, during, and after.  That’s not a surprise; he’s more concerned with the flash and glitz than substance, and all that does is mask the shoddy, cheap, and cynicism behind it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For

Trump got his wish and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe decided to turn in his papers.

Andrew G. McCabe abruptly stepped down on Monday as the F.B.I.’s deputy director after months of withering criticism from President Trump, telling friends he felt pressure from the head of the bureau to leave, according to two people close to Mr. McCabe.

Though Mr. McCabe’s retirement had been widely expected soon, his departure was nevertheless sudden. It added to what has already been a chaotic upheaval at the F.B.I. under Mr. Trump, who has responded to an investigation into his campaign with broadside attacks against both the bureau and the Justice Department.

As recently as last week, Mr. McCabe had told people he hoped to stay until he was eligible to retire in several weeks. Instead, he will immediately go on leave and retire on March 18.

His replacement, however, is David Bowditch, who is reputed to be a straight shooter, and, according to sources, a bad-ass: former police officer, SWAT leader, gang-buster, loyal to his fellow officers, and immune to political pressure.

Chris Wray just sent a 90-decibel message right into Trump’s earhole: “Come after whoever you want. There are a million more behind ’em. There is no stopping the FBI.” So good. So damn good.

So instead of getting a toady, Trump got a terminator.

Bonus Track: If you ever doubted for an instant that Trump could not rise to the level of maturity of your average eight-year-old, this should reassure you.

The day after President Donald Trump fired James Comey, he became so furious watching television footage of the ousted FBI director boarding a government-funded plane from Los Angeles back to Washington, D.C. that he called the bureau’s acting director, Andrew McCabe, to vent, according to multiple people familiar with the phone call.

Trump demanded to know why Comey was allowed to fly on an FBI plane after he had been fired, these people said. McCabe told the president he hadn’t been asked to authorize Comey’s flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.

The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser — an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe’s wife made in 2015.

McCabe replied: “OK, sir.” Trump then hung up the phone.

To his credit, he didn’t add “Neener, neener.”

Monday, January 22, 2018

Easy Mark

Josh Marshall has a look into how Michael Wolff was able to get the goods on his subjects in his books.

Wolff is, in a word, vicious. He played Murdoch and then knifed him, all out in the open. And then he did more or less exactly the same thing to Trump a decade later, with the added bonus that Trump was talking to Murdoch regularly while Wolff had the run of the White House and was laying the ground work to shiv him as he had his new friend Rupert. None of this is terribly surprising given the Trump we know. But it wasn’t only his narcissism and neediness. The lack of any experienced staff and the organizational disarray that was particularly marked before John Kelly took over as Chief of Staff allowed Wolff to always be saying that he had the run of the place because someone else said it was okay. Because he was Trump’s best friend. Because Trump thought it was great. Because … well, didn’t you know that other person …

As I said, Trump got just the kind of vicious, shameless and canny biographer he deserved. “Joyously nasty” seems to capture it – precisely the person you want to write the book about someone you already despise.

But we don’t have to stop there. It is impossible not to look at the Wolff story and see many of the patterns we are now reading about which occurred over the course of 2015 and 2016 as various Russian nationals, cut-outs and intelligence officers inveigled their way into the Trump orbit. A key lure was the same: flattery. Another more amorphous draw was greed – whether for money or for damaging campaign material or positive press for a White House drowning in the worst press imaginable and abysmal public support. In both cases, the Trumpers were dealing with people who knew how to read a mark. And the Trumpers were easy marks.

In short, he appealed to the most obvious vulnerability that Trump has: his vanity.  Tell him he’s smart, good-looking, nay even sexy, and he’s putty in your hands.

Vladimir Putin has known this all along.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday Reading

One Year In — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker.

Living as we do, on what is—as hard as it may be to believe—the first anniversary of Donald Trump in power, we find ourselves caught in a quarrel between Trump optimists and Trump pessimists, and one proof of how right the Trump pessimists have been is that the kind of thing that the Trump optimists are now saying ought to make you optimistic. Basically, their argument amounts to the claim that the stock market remains up, the government isn’t suspended, and the President’s critics aren’t in internment camps. In the pages of The Economist, as in the columns of the Times, one frequently reads some form of this not-very-calming reassurance: Trump may be an enemy of republican government, and a friend to tyrants, while alienating our oldest friends in fellow-democracies, but while he may want to be a tyrant, he isn’t very good at being one. This is the Ralph Kramden account of Trumpism: he blusters and threatens and shakes and rages, but Alice, like the American people, just stands there and shrugs him off sardonically.

Those in the Trump-pessimist camp are inclined to point out not only that the final score is not in yet but that the game has only just started. In real life, as opposed to fifties sitcoms, the Ralph Kramdens tend to act on their instincts. Trump’s Justice Department has already reopened an investigation of his political opponent, after he loudly demanded it—itself a chilling abuse of power. And if, as seems probable, Trump tries to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel on the Russia investigation, we will be in the midst of a crisis of extreme dimensions.

But, even in the absence of overt criminality, Trump pessimists may also point to how degraded our discourse has already become—how the processes variously called “normalization” or “acceptance” or just “silent stunned disbelief” go on. We know that Trump fired James Comey, the F.B.I. director, because he wanted him to stop investigating contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and Russia—and Trump announced this fact in public, despite having had subordinates come up with more plausible-sounding rationales for him to cling to. And surely no one can doubt that, had Hillary Clinton become President and, say, a meeting had then been discovered to have taken place between members of her campaign and a mysterious visitor from an autocratic foreign power offering information designed to subvert democracy, with an accompanying e-mail from Chelsea Clinton saying “Love it!,” we would now be in the midst of Clinton’s impeachment hearings, with the supposedly liberal press defending her faintly, if at all.

Meanwhile, the insults to democratic practice continue. In any previous Administration, reports that the resident of the White House had paid off a porn star to be silent about an alleged affair would be a defining—and, probably, Presidency-ending—scandal. With Trump, Stormy Daniels hardly registers at all as a figure, so dense and thick on the ground are the outrages and the indignities, so already bizarre is the cast of characters. (It’s as if we have been watching some newly discovered season of “The Sopranos,” what with the Mooch and Sloppy Steve. Who now can even quite recall poor Sean Spicer?)

Worse still, in a sense, is the degradation of memory that this circus enforces. Not long ago, Bret Stephens, who left the Wall Street Journal for the Times and has been an admirable mainstay of the anti-Trumpist movement among conservatives, wrote a touching piece about his father, and the decency of the values that he exemplified, especially when it came to the treatment of women, in the workplace and outside it. “Our culture could sorely use a common set of ideas about male decorum and restraint in the 21st century, along with role models for those ideas,” Stephens wrote. “Who, in the age of Trump, is teaching boys why not to grope—even when they can, even when ‘you can do anything’?” But nowhere did Stephens acknowledge that, less than a year ago, America did have, in President Barack Obama, a near-perfect model of male decorum and restraint, who in his own behavior and words taught boys how to be men who honored and respected women.

The point is not that what Obama did was necessarily always admirable, but that amnesia about even the very recent past has become essential to the most decent conservative politics; only by making the national emergency general and cross-party can it be fully shared rather than, as it should be, localized to the crisis of one party and its ideology. In plain English, it becomes necessary to spread the smell around so that everyone gets some of the stink on them. This is why we have to read so much undue hand-wringing about our national crisis in civic values and family piety rather than recognize the abandonment of republican values that began when the mainstays of the conservative party decided to embrace Trump instead of—as their French equivalents had done, when confronted with the same choice between an authoritarian nationalist and a moderate centrist —reject him. It is always appealing rhetorically to insist that all of us are at fault. We’re not. The attempts to pretend that the Trump era is part of some national, or even planetary, crisis, stretching out from one end of the political spectrum to the other, obscures the more potent reality. Had Mitt Romney and the Bushes not merely protested, or grumbled in private, about Trump but openly endorsed Hillary Clinton as the necessary alternative to the unacceptable, we might be living in a different country. For that matter, if, during the past year, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell had summoned patriotism in the face of multiple threats to the norms of democratic conduct, then we might not be in this mess. They didn’t, and we are.

Needless to say, the degradation of public discourse, the acceleration of grotesque lying, the legitimization of hatred and name-calling, are hard to imagine vanishing like the winter snows that Trump thinks climate change is supposed to prevent. The belief that somehow all these things will somehow just go away in a few years’ time does seem not merely unduly optimistic but crazily so. In any case, the trouble isn’t just what the Trumpists may yet do; it is what they are doing now. American history has already been altered by their actions—institutions emptied out, historical continuities destroyed, traditions of decency savaged—in ways that will not be easy to rehabilitate.

And yet there are grounds for optimism. Institutions may crumble, but more might yet be saved. Restoration may be no more than two good elections and a few steady leaders away, as long as the foundational institutions of democracy—really, no more than fair voting and counting, but no less than those, either—remain in place. Political results are far more often contingent than overdetermined, much more to do with accident and personality than with irresistible tides of history. This is what makes them controllable. After all, not long ago a rational woman won the popular vote for President, rather easily, and only a bad electoral system prevented her from taking office. Part of the power of tyrants and would-be tyrants is to paralyze our self-confidence. The famous underground societies of the Eastern European countries, built under Soviet tyranny, were exercises not in heroism but in normalcy: we like this music, this food, these books, and no one can tell us what to think about them. What has happened is worse than we want to pretend. But it happened for highly specific and contingent causes, and the means of remedying them have not yet passed.

Meanwhile, our primary obligation may be simply not to blind ourselves to the facts, or to compromise our values in a desperate desire to embrace our fellow-citizens. Any anti-Trumpist movement must consist of the broadest imaginable coalition, but it cannot pretend that what we are having is a normal national debate. The reason people object, for instance, to the Times running a full page of Trump-defending letters is not that they want to cut off or stifle that debate; it is because the implication that Trumpism is a controversial but acceptable expression of American values within that debate is in itself a betrayal of those values. Liberal democracy is good. Authoritarian nationalism is bad. That’s the premise of the country. It’s the principle that a lot of people died for. Americans never need to apologize for the continuing absolutism of their belief in it.

One Year After the March — Lena Felton in The Atlantic.

More than 100,000 protesters showed up on a warm, sunny day in New York to celebrate the anniversary of the Women’s March protests that followed Donald Trump’s inauguration as president last year. But in contrast with last year’s events, this year’s gathering was optimistic, almost celebratory. The pink pussy cat hats were out; so were the signs (“A Women’s Place Is in the Revolution,” “Grab ‘Em By the Putin,” “Shed Walls, Don’t Build Them”). Couples danced to a brassy tunes floating from somewhere down the block.

Last year, more than 400,000 protesters clogged Fifth Avenue and descended upon Trump Tower, according to the Mayor’s Office. That event was just one of the hundreds that comprised one of the largest single days of protest in U.S. history, with more than 3 million people estimated to have participated, according to crowd-size experts. No matter that the Women’s March on Washington, the original event, was borne from a single Facebook post and organized entirely ad-hoc. People then were coming together for one reason: to protest the election of Donald Trump. This year, more than 300 towns and cities across the U.S. have registered for events.

The president, for his part, needled the protesters with a tweet.

“Beautiful weather all over our great country, a perfect day for all Women to March,” President Trump tweeted. “Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!”

But for the protesters, these Women’s Marches aren’t just about opposing the president; for many, they’re about joining in a moment of cultural upheaval around issues of sexual abuse. When I spoke with Winnie Whitted, who attended the march in Austin, Texas, last year, she put it like this: “I think that #MeToo is the reason why women are coming together this year. This is now really a women’s march.”

The #MeToo movement, which was sparked by the revelation of multiple rape and sexual harassment allegations against the powerful Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, continues to be a central part of the national debate over sexual abuse.

Since Weinstein’s downfall, many other prominent figures in media and entertainment have faced allegations of sexual abuse and harassment as women across those industries have spoken up about their experiences. It’s no surprise, then, that #MeToo and #TimesUp signs featured prominently amongst the anti-Trump ones at the march. One protester, Kirsten Herman, was holding a large black one above her head when I spoke with her. She didn’t come to last year’s march, because she “has lots” of crowd anxiety. “But I knew I had to come this year,” she said. Harassment “is such a universal thing that women have to go through all the time, and we’re done with it.”

I asked Sarah Sibilly, who marched last year, what had changed from last year to this year. “Definitely more men,” she said. “They’re probably here in solidarity more than anything.”

Daniel Robinson was one of those men. He didn’t participate last year, but said that #MeToo was the galvanizing factor this time around. “I didn’t necessarily recognize [the issue of sexual harassment] to the same degree,” he told me. “But there’s a lot more understanding of what’s going on, and realizing the importance of it really brings everyone to the forefront.”

Cindy Brummer brought her husband, Bob, along with her to the march, which neither of them attended last year. Trump “brings out the feminist” in her, she told me. She thought she had seen the end of the fight for women’s rights in the seventies, but looking at the younger generation now, she says, makes it clear that the fight is far from over.

Others I spoke with cited the nation’s current sexual-harassment reckoning as an even greater reason to protest the president, whom 19 women have accused of sexual assault. Whitted called it “crazy” that men in Hollywood, the media, and politics were getting fired while “this guy is still in office.”

Where last year’s marches were simply a rejection of Trump, this year’s events were electorally focused. The Women’s March on Washington anniversary event planned for Sunday in Las Vegas, Nevada, is being billed as “Power to the Polls” and aims to get people to register and vote ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Virtually everyone I spoke with said Democratic success in the midterms is their biggest political goal in the coming year, and see the march as a good starting point to start encouraging people to show up to polls.

Following last year’s marches, my colleague Conor Friedersdorf wrote, “The political future depends on where Trump opponents focus their energy and whether they are adept at expanding their coalition.” This year did indeed see more women than ever before sign up to run for office, and a record 28 women were elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates in the November 2017 elections. New public-opinion research conducted by SurveyMonkey also shows that Trump is losing ground amongst women—regardless of race or class—who previously supported him, a trend which will likely be consequential in the 2018 congressional midterms if it holds up.

The crucial work for the marchers still lies ahead; it’s unclear if the momentum will hold. But protesters were still hopeful: “Here we are a year later, doing it again,” one marcher, Emma Saltzberg, said. “It shows we’re here to fight and we’ll push for people to vote. You have to if you want to see change in the future.”

Charles P. Pierce:

In other political news, the Charleston City Paper informs us that Stormy Daniels is visiting a strip club in Greenville tonight:

The club is promoting the event as part of Daniels’ “Making America Horny Again Tour” days after the Wall Street Journal reported that candidate Donald Trump paid her $130,000 through a shell company one month before the 2016 election to cover up an alleged 2006 affair. Daniels is said to have signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of the alleged payoff, but years earlier she reportedly spilled all the salacious details to InTouch Magazine about having sex with the future president…”He saw her live. You can too,” reads one poster for the event posted on The Trophy Club’s Facebook page, referring to President Donald Trump’s alleged sexual encounter with the porn star. A YouTube video promoted by the club says “The Twitter Storm Sensation” is visiting for a “one-night performance.”

The first day of the government shutdown is also the anniversary of the inauguration of the president*, and if that doesn’t convince you that a Higher Power is running things, and that the Higher Power has a sense of humor best described as perverse, I don’t know what to tell you. A year ago, he stood before an embarrassingly small crowd on the steps of the Capitol and gave the worst inaugural address in American history, even worse than the one that actually killed William Henry Harrison. A year ago Sunday, he sent his press secretary out to lie about the size of the crowd, and we were pretty much off to a year of actual American carnage.

The most striking thing about the extended burlesque in the Senate as Friday night became Saturday morning was the almost complete lack of urgency in the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, now presiding over his second government shutdown, held the cloture vote on the House’s continuing resolution open for hours after it had clearly failed, and in a resoundingly bipartisan manner.

As minutes became hours, ad hoc bipartisan groups of senators—Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake, Maggie Hassan and Elizabeth Warren?—gathered and dispersed, like small flocks of birds, but there was no real sense that a real emergency was going on around them. There was an endless trail of rumored deals—A two-week CR? Three weeks? Pledges to deal with the Dreamer kids later?—and an equally endless train of broken promises.

“The bottom line is that time only matters if there’s will,” said Lindsey Graham, as he briefly held out hope for a three-week funding compromise that he was pushing. “I may live to eat these words, but the Congress is beginning to realize that the American people expect more of us. Between the soldier in the field and the DACA recipient, we have some real-world reasons to get our act together and grow up, I may be wrong, but I think we’re getting there.”

He was wrong. According to Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, the last real chance went a’glimmering on Friday when he spent a lot of time negotiating with the president*, and even offered a substantial concession regarding the president*’s stupid wall, only to have White House chief-of-staff John Kelly call him to tell him the framework under discussion was too liberal.

What became clear was that a) that there is a serious faction that wants the Dreamer kids out of the country, and that this faction includes Kelly, who apparently has been appointed President For Immigration Matters, xenophobic madman Stephen Miller, and Senator Tom Cotton, the bobble-throated slapdick from Arkansas, and b) that the president* himself has decided to decide by not deciding, and to lead by not leading, and that he believes the essence of being presidential is agreeing to deals that Kelly will talk him into reneging the first time he gets the president*’s ear.

Maybe gushing about a guy just because he once was a general wasn’t the best idea professional pundits ever had. Kelly’s tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security, during which he unleashed ICE to run amuck, should have hipped us all to that. As for the fact that the president* has abdicated his obligation to lead, and that his word in negotiations is not to be trusted, hell, everybody’s used to that by now. Which is probably why nobody seemed to be in any rush to get anything solved.

So, no deal was reached. Nothing happened. McConnell finally closed out the vote. And, as Saturday dawned, both Houses remained in session. The president*, or someone like him, got out the electric Twitter machine.

So the “DACA kids” are now “illegal immigrants,” and the guy who killed at least two deals in the past 10 days is complaining about how nobody wants to negotiate with him. His alleged former inamorata is doing a VIP show at a strip club not far from the godfearing campus of Bob Jones University And we have had a year of this now, a year in which we’ve all been living in what the nuns used to call, “the near occasions of sin.” Things are looking up!

Doonesbury — Worth a shot.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

That Clears That Up

Jonathan Chait dismisses all the speculation about Trump’s deteriorating mental health.

A recent Washington Post story chronicled the rise of Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, who has gained special influence with President Trump. McCarthy’s methods include obsequiousness, attention to detail, and an ability to bring the discussion down to a sub-literate level so Trump can follow it. At Camp David, McCarthy gave a presentation on the midterm elections. “According to two people familiar with the presentation, Trump appreciated McCarthy’s use of pictures and charts rather than a memo. It was a basic and ‘foundational’ presentation that explained midterm politics to Trump, in the words of one senior White House official.”

Note that McCarthy was not walking the president through a complex technical policy requiring expertise in a field like science or economics. He was trying to explain the elections. He had to use pictures. It has been publicly known since last year that Trump cannot read a memo longer than a page, and any written material must be in bullet-point form. Trump himself admitted (or bragged) a year and a half ago that he does not read. “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.” By this point it is simply taken as a matter of course that people wishing to communicate with the president must treat him as though he is suffering a severe mental impairment.

Trump is not actually suffering a severe mental impairment. White House doctor Ronny Jackson, who has served in the post since 2013, informed reporters on Wednesday that the president is in fine physical and mental health. The report comes as the national media has discussed whether Trump’s functional near-illiteracy, minuscule attention span, and narcissistic pathos are the symptoms of dementia or some other kind of cognitive incapacitation. We should take Jackson’s diagnosis at face value. Trump is just an idiot.

There’s nothing wrong with not being the smartest guy in the world; not everyone can be.  In fact, we’re better off knowing that not everyone is a genius, much less a stable one.  We have systems in place to accommodate the different levels of intelligence and capabilities.

But there are certain jobs that require both intelligence and a knowledge of the limitations, and most of all an awareness of them, and you don’t give them to people who are incapable of understanding that.  Being the president is one of those jobs.

The fact is that Trump will never admit that he’s not up to the job because he’s unable to understand the concept.  That’s not a mental disease.  It’s plain old stupidity.

Not Fully Informed

Chief of Staff John Kelly tries to clear up a few things.

Trump’s chief of staff privately told a group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had not been “fully informed” when promising voters a wall along the Mexican border last year, and said that he had persuaded the president it was not necessary. He also expressed optimism that a bipartisan immigration deal could eventually be reached.

John F. Kelly, the retired Marine general credited with bringing a measure of discipline to Mr. Trump’s chaotic White House during his six months as chief of staff, told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he had educated the president about the issue of immigration, adding that Mr. Trump had “evolved” on the wall.

Hold it right there, cowboy.  “Credited with bringing a measure of discipline to Mr. Trump’s chaotic White House”?  So calling Africa and Haiti “shitholes” and tripping over his own message five times before breakfast is supposed to be an improvement?  Okay, so he didn’t call them “fucking shitholes.”

Anyway…

But in telling lawmakers that Mr. Trump had essentially erred from the start in promoting a wall and by claiming credit for dissuading him, Mr. Kelly appeared to be voicing a sentiment some in the West Wing have heard him express privately — that it is his job to tutor a sometimes ill-informed president who has never served in public office before.

At the same time, it suggested that Mr. Kelly, who served as secretary of homeland security before coming to the White House and has hard-line views on immigration that mirror the president’s restrictionist approach, was positioning himself now as a moderating influence.

Mr. Kelly made the remarks at a meeting with members of the Hispanic Caucus, as a group known as the Twos — the No. 2 Democrat and Republican in both the House and Senate — worked toward negotiating a deal to protect from deportation the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers. The meeting with the Hispanic caucus was first reported by The Washington Post.

What it really means is that we have an attempt at a reverse Wizard of Oz throne room scene: pay no attention to the flaming talking head; listen to the man behind the curtain who’s really running the show.

The problem with that is that even if you take away all the bells and whistles and tweets and fumbles, you still have a policy on immigration that puts young undocumented immigrants in jeopardy, and worse, unsure of what’s next.  Who knows what the nitwits at Fox and Friends will come off the couch with — aliens in the bathtub! — and send Trump around the bend.

If this little chat was meant to moderate the administration’s approach and instill confidence in their leadership, it needs a lot of work.