Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Remarkable Restraint

Back in 1975 James Whitmore had a one-man show about President Truman called “Give’em Hell, Harry!” There’s a moment in the film where President Truman recalls an anecdote about his language:

Say, Rose, there’s a story going around about me these days. It says that some old party hen is supposed to have cornered Bess at some party, and said, “Mrs. Truman, isn’t there anything you can do to get the President to stop using the word ‘manure’?” And Bess is supposed to have replied, “It took me forty years to get him to use that word!”

That came to mind when reading that Trump referred to Omarosa Manigault Newman as “that dog.”  Given his attitude about women in general and African-American women in particular, I’m impressed that he didn’t come up with the more colorful and gender-specific term for “that dog.”

Monday, August 13, 2018

Insider Trading

I’m not going to read Omarosa Manigault Newman’s book on her life inside the Trump White House.  You can if you want to.

Books like that are meant to shock the reader and reveal the “true inside story,” but frankly if we’re talking about the Trump folks, all you have to do is listen to the news if you want shock, and it has nothing to do with tanning beds or Trump’s overt racism.  The way they’re dealing with voting rights, immigration, the environment, our allies, and trade is a lot more damning than what is revealed in a gossip’s tale.

Ms. Manigault Newman can write whatever she wants; it’s still a free country — for now.  And our capitalist system will reward her with its judgment through the sales of her tales; either they fly off the shelves or they’re on the $5 a copy table by Christmas.  But nothing she reveals will change anything in the Trump White House, so whatever her point was in writing it will be lost on the people she wrote about, and all we’ll be left with is that her name is the answer to a trivia question in a couple of years.

Frankly, if this book was researched, sourced, and reported to the level of something like that written by Woodward and Bernstein it still wouldn’t make a difference.  Trump and his minions will keep on doing what they do; shame and exposure actually energize them.  After all, if cabinet members and cronies can rip off the system and call in insider trading moves from the south lawn of the White House, what difference will the news that Trump uses the N-word make?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Space Farce

I’m sure there are legitimate reasons to want to come up with a way to protect our satellites and other space-borne entities, but this isn’t the way to do it.

Vice President Mike Pence promoted a proposed Space Command on Thursday as “an idea whose time has come” in comments at the Pentagon to unveil a few more details about President Trump’s plan to create another military force, this one for outer space, and for it to be in operation by 2020.

Mr. Trump’s space dreams still have to go through a divided Congress to come true, but initially reluctant Pentagon officials have lined up behind the proposal and now say that they will do what they can to bring it to fruition.

“The time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation,” Mr. Pence told an audience at the Pentagon. He called for Congress to allocate an additional $8 billion for space security systems over the next five years.

Mr. Trump, for his part, posted on Twitter on Thursday: “Space Force all the way!”

And capping it off with a GOP fund-raising appeal by voting on the logo just makes it even sillier.

Aside from the fact that Congress would have to vote on it and that weaponizing outer space would violate a number of treaties that the U.S. has signed (not that that would stop Trump), it would be a lot easier and more efficient if they just let NASA and the United States Air Force do their job rather than start up a whole new branch of the military-industrial complex.

I’m pretty sure that this is just another “Oh, look at the kitty!” moment for Trump and his team.  The Mueller investigation is getting intense for them, Paul Manafort is in the dock, Democrats are building up for a blue wave in November, and congressmen and cabinet members are finding out that grifting has its downsides.  No wonder launching ourselves into outer space to take on the Romulans is sounding like a nice diversion.

But I don’t think this is what Sir Patrick Stewart had in mind when he signed up for a reboot of his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

“Please don’t make it so.”

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Best People

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president, is under arrest for insider trading.

Here’s what’s laid out in complaints from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Collins has pleaded not guilty):

Collins sits on the board of Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biopharmaceutical company in which he is also the largest shareholder.

On June 22, 2017, Collins learned that Innate’s main drug had failed clinical trials, a grave outcome for Innate’s financial condition.

Literally seconds after learning this news, Collins contacted his son, Cameron, who at the time owned 2% of Innate.

Over the following four days, Cameron Collins and several other associates of the Collinses proceeded to liquidate their positions in Innate before the public announcement of the drug failure on June 26, after which the stock fell 92%. They saved approximately $750,000 by selling before the announcement.

Innate is not an especially large company. As a result, per the SEC: “The sales by Cameron Collins, his girlfriend, and her parents, including Stephen Zarsky, made up more than 53% of the stock’s trading volume [on June 23] and exceeded Innate’s 15-day average trading volume by more than 1,454%.”

Erik Loomis at LGM wonders why Collins wasn’t appointed to Trump’s cabinet.

Maybe because his grifting was small potatoes compared to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

It is difficult to imagine the possibility that a man like Ross, who Forbes estimates is worth some $700 million, might steal a few million from one of his business partners. Unless you have heard enough stories about Ross. Two former WL Ross colleagues remember the commerce secretary taking handfuls of Sweet’N Low packets from a nearby restaurant, so he didn’t have to go out and buy some for himself. One says workers at his house in the Hamptons used to call the office, claiming Ross had not paid them for their work. Another two people said Ross once pledged $1 million to a charity, then never paid. A commerce official called the tales “petty nonsense,” and added that Ross does not put sweetener in his coffee.

There are bigger allegations. Over several months, in speaking with 21 people who know Ross, Forbes uncovered a pattern: Many of those who worked directly with him claim that Ross wrongly siphoned or outright stole a few million here and a few million there, huge amounts for most but not necessarily for the commerce secretary. At least if you consider them individually. But all told, these allegations—which sparked lawsuits, reimbursements and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 million. If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.

That’s how you get to be in the Cabinet.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Deal Or No Deal

Booman is feeling magnanimous.

Would you approve a deal that immunized all members of the Trump family from prosecution in return for President Trump’s voluntary resignation?

I definitely would if it did not include the president himself. I’d let him save his children though.

Not unless the entire cabinet, including the vice president, went as well.  Mike Pence is Torquemada without the charm and the rest of them are grifters and toadies.  Wait until after the mid-terms and there’s a Democratic House and we’ll talk.

I’d also include a provision that the immediate Trump family go into exile and sign a gag order.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

$12 Billion Solution

Trump is telling the agricultural community that he’s authorizing the Department of Agriculture to release $12 billion in emergency funds to make up for the losses caused by the tariffs he’s imposed on countries that import our agricultural products.

In other words, the arsonist is showing up in time to help the firefighters put out the blaze that he started.

And I’m sure that all the hard-core conservatives in Congress who believe that government hand-outs are the worst thing in the world and a slippery slope to socialism and state-run collectivism will rise up as one and proclaim that the free market is the American way and if the farmers can’t cut it, well, that’s a tough row to hoe.  Yeah, right.  It’ll be interesting to see how many of them who support this bail-out were totally against President Obama’s help to the automobile industry.

This is a $12 billion solution to a political problem.  The tariffs are hitting the people who who voted for Trump in the first place and he’s out to protect not them but himself.  After all, as we’ve seen — and heard on tape — Trump is always willing to pay someone off to get himself out of a mess that he caused.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Monday, July 23, 2018

…And We’re Back To The “Big Hoax” Again

From the Washington Post:

After a week of tortuous statements, walk-backs and clarifications on whether he believes the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump appeared to have come full circle on Sunday night, dismissing the issue as “all a big hoax.”

In an evening tweet shortly after taking off for Washington following a weekend spent at his golf club in New Jersey, Trump questioned why President Barack Obama did not inform his campaign or the public about alleged Russian interference before Election Day.

“So President Obama knew about Russia before the Election,” Trump said. “Why didn’t he do something about it? Why didn’t he tell our campaign?”

Trump then went on to answer his own questions: “Because it is all a big hoax, that’s why, and he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win!!!”

I’ll say this much for him, he’s consistent in his flip-flopping.

What’s going to be fun to watch — and at this stage that’s about all this is worth now: entertainment value — will be how the White House staff, especially Sara Huckabee Sanders and her team, manage to get through this latest twitterpation with a straight face.  People are going to tune in just to watch.

I was going to say that if they had an ounce of integrity or self-respect they would quit their jobs and go back to doing whatever it was they were before, but the good ships of Integrity and Self-Respect sailed long, long ago.  In fact, they had to prove they had none before they took the job.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tragic Flaw

From the New York Times:

Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.

Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.

That’s why the whole Helsinki news conference and the aftermath of what he said or didn’t say and later doubled down on his double-negativity is so ridiculous.  He’s known all along the Russians were involved and yet he’s still going around acting like nothing happened.

What he’s been telling himself and anyone who would listen is that THERE WAS NO COLUSION [sic] and that it’s all made up just to get back at him for beating Hillary Clinton and, by the way, gaming the system to get himself some huge tax cuts so his businesses would make money and prevent yet another bankruptcy.

But now the shit is really hitting the fan.  What started out as a lark, a diversion, something to attract more attention to feed his ego and boost his revenues has turned into a disaster of epic proportions with lives at stake and centuries-old alliances around the world being strained because he thought, hey, what could possibly go wrong?

In classic tragedies, the main tragic figure realizes — always too late — what has brought them to ruin, and the whole point of the drama is to see them come to terms with it and try to either end it or make amends.  But that relies on them having some sort of moral core of humanity and awareness of their flaw and the damage they have caused.  The problem with Trump is that it’s highly unlikely that such noble introspection is forthcoming, so we’re probably never going to see it happen.  It may not matter if justice prevails, but that’s a thin reed on which to hang our hopes.  But it may be the only hope we have.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Double Negative

Washington Post:

At the Helsinki news conference, during a disjointed soliloquy about a Democratic National Committee computer server, Trump referred to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and the findings of Russian interference in the election: “With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Then at the White House on Tuesday, Trump asserted that he had misspoken by saying “would” instead of “wouldn’t.”

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative,” Trump told reporters.

I wouldn’t not say that the man is a treasonous liar.

If you watch the video of him giving this explanation, he has all the body language of a kid being forced to apologize for doing something rotten that he clearly intended to do.  And clearly his handlers or somebody tried to get him to walk the whole thing back but the best that they could get out of him was that he bungled his syntax and used a double negative.  And he clearly has no idea what a double negative is.  As one commentator noted, he speaks English like it’s his second language taught to him by someone who learned English last week.

Trump’s biggest regret from the whole thing will turn out to be that he had to make this statement.  He meant what he originally said, and even with this new non-apology explanation he’s couching it with winks and nudges.  In his mind, the press conference didn’t make him look weak, but this forced statement does, and he’s only doing it so it’s on the record when he’s on trial in the Senate.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Been Here Before

Forty-four years ago today — July 17, 1974 — I emerged from the wilderness of the Uintah Mountains of Utah after completing a six-week wilderness course through the National Outdoor Leadership School.  I had not heard a news broadcast or read a paper since June 10, and the first thing I read was that the Watergate scandal was reaching its peak with the House Judiciary Committee about to release its evidence against President Nixon.

My timing was exquisite.  Things had been pretty much on hold while I was in the wilderness, but within two weeks the committee would vote out the articles of impeachment, and within three weeks the smoking gun tapes would be released and Nixon would resign.  It was like they waited for me to get back to watch this moment of history.

Back then all we had were three national TV networks and dead-tree press, but events moved along swiftly, frantically, and it all coalesced into the end of one era and the wistful start of another where we all believed The System Worked and American democracy and our Constitution could withstand the assault of criminal activity on the part of the president.

Since yesterday I’ve had this sense that we’re approaching the same kind of peak in the arch of this drama.  Evidence is piling up, the outrage meter is pegged, and while there are the defenders of Trump who, by the way, are fully confident that they won’t be held accountable for defending him, the drip of the eroding facts against the wall of ignorance and denial is becoming a stream, and the stream will become a flow, and soon it will begin to take things down and wash them away, leaving little behind but exposed truths.

It’s not going to happen suddenly like it did in July and August of 1974.  For one thing, Richard Nixon had a sense of history and awareness of what his actions could do to the nation.  Not that he really cared, but at least he knew.  Trump has no such awareness.  He couldn’t name his predecessors beyond the black guy he’s trying to erase from history, and he doesn’t give a shit about what he’s done or is doing to the office he holds.  (Nixon, too, had revenge in his heart.  He was obsessed with showing up the Kennedys, who were everything he was not and fed his jealousy to Iago-like levels.  But at least he didn’t sell out to a foreign adversary to win.)  Trump’s supporters and defenders are in it purely for their own benefit and his coattails; if going on Fox and saying nice things about him improves their standing with the base, they’d do it if they are standing next to Satan himself.  (The same was true of the Republicans who finally marched to the White House in 1974 to tell Nixon to quit.  They didn’t care about him; they were staring down the barrel of the mid-terms and saw their future in peril.)  Trump is in this purely for his own gain, his own ego, his own sense of avenging for having been mocked and scorned by people he desperately wants to like him and who never will.  What we saw yesterday in Helsinki was nothing surprising.  It was the outward exposure of the inside of what really drives him.  It was raw, it was ugly, but it was real.  Finally.

What happens now is up to us.  That will be the real test.  Will we allow this to continue, letting what happened yesterday become a part of the news cycle, a remember-when moment like mass shootings that give us a momentary pause and then get back to whatever it was we were paying attention to before?  Or is this like July 1974 when, at long last, it began to come apart so we could put it back together again?

We got it right the last time.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Time To Wake Up

David Corn in Mother Jones on how Trump and Putin basically stole America while we slept through it.

In 1938, Winston Churchill published a collection of his speeches warning that his homeland was not adequately contending with the threat posed by Nazi Germany. The title: “While England Slept.” Eighty years later, a similar observation can be rendered concerning the United States. Much of the political and media elite and the citizenry seem to be sleepwalking past a horrific and fundamental fact: The current president of the United States has helped to cover up a serious attack on the nation. This profound act of betrayal has gone unpunished and, in many quarters, unnoticed, even as it continues. With Donald Trump about to meet Vladimir Putin on Monday—rewarding the thuggish authoritarian Russian leader with a grand summit in Helsinki—this is an appropriate moment to remember that their dark bromance involves a mutual stonewalling of wrongdoing.

Apparently if it doesn’t involve a missing white woman or a kitten down a well, the attention of America cannot be drawn. It’s no surprise that the Russians figured this out; they’ve had that number for a very long time.  Far longer than Trump’s been on the scene; even far longer than the time of the Red Scare, which I think they must have come up with on their own just to see how easy it was to provoke us into doing truly horrific things to ourselves.

The goal isn’t, as we were warned in the 1950’s by McCarthy and his commie-hunters, to take over America.  This isn’t some kind of “Red Dawn” invasion plan.  That’s way too expensive and besides, once they’ve conquered us, they’d have to run the place and that’s just too much trouble.  What they want — what any adversary would want — is to get us to be compliant, or at least uninterested, in what they want.  I’m pretty sure they don’t want global domination; again, too much responsibility.  They just want to be able to do whatever they want without interference from the U.S. or NATO or any other collection of busybodies.  And they know they have to be subtle about it, using methods that appear harmless but actually get their mark to play along until they have them locked up.  It’s like e-mail scams; it all seems perfectly innocent: click on this link to update your banking information; click here to see free porn; “I’m a widow of a Nigerian general; help me hide my millions$.”  Those things work; if they didn’t we still wouldn’t be getting them.

So Trump is probably right when he claims there was NO COLLUSION between the Russians and his campaign.  At least none that he was aware of.  The Russians, just like the guy betting you $20 for a friendly game of three-card monte, aren’t going to walk up and say, “Hey, I’ll get you elected president.”  They already know how to work this pigeon: make him look elsewhere.

Trump with the rest of NATO leaders, 7/11/18

Corn concludes:

So as Trump prepares (yeah, right) for his sit-down with Putin—which is expected to include a private one-on-one with no aides present—much of the nation has lost sight of the big story. With Trump’s repeated cries of “witch hunt” and his lapdog Republicans slavishly concocting false narratives to cover for the boss, they have managed to convince Trump’s tribalized Fox-fed followers there is nothing to see here. And for many others, the scandal is not presented or viewed as the original sin and paramount controversy of the scandal-ridden Trump presidency.

It may be ineffective or counterproductive to shout out each day, “Where’s the outrage?” Yet the public record remains: Trump and Putin have jointly worked to disappear perhaps the greatest crime ever committed against American democracy and their respective complicity in this villainy. And it is crucial for the Republic that they not succeed.

We can’t hit the snooze button on this.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Job Evaluation And Review Time

Trump is going to have a summit with Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Finland.  I’m sure he’ll do the requisite sucking up to the boss that all good and loyal employees do.

In the past few weeks alone, Mr. Trump has called for Russia to be readmitted to the Group of 7 industrial powers, suggested it has a legitimate claim to Crimea because a lot of Russian speakers live there and continued sowing doubts about whether Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election — or if it did, whether the sabotage actually benefited Hillary Clinton.

In Singapore, Mr. Trump emerged from a lunch of sweet and sour crispy pork with Mr. Kim to declare he had solved the nuclear crisis with North Korea, even though the North conceded nothing on its weapons and missile programs. Mr. Trump also canceled joint military exercises with South Korea, a concession long sought by Pyongyang.

It has become a recurring motif for Mr. Trump as a statesman: In November, he lavished praise on President Xi Jinping of China after a one-on-one meeting in Beijing, during which Mr. Xi offered no concrete concession on trade — an issue that matters more to Mr. Trump than almost any other.

What these three leaders have in common is that they are autocrats, whom Mr. Trump admires and believes he can win over with a brand of personal diplomacy that dispenses with briefing papers or talking points and relies instead on a combination of flattery, cajolery and improvisation.

“Trump sees a good meeting as a positive diplomatic achievement,” said Michael McFaul, a former American ambassador to Moscow. “That’s wrong. Good meetings are a means to an end.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up with a box of candy and a stripper.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday Reading

We Can See Clearly Now — Charles P. Pierce on the waking up of America to what it did to itself.

Optimism may be illusory, but it’s all we have at this point, so, when it stirs, anywhere, it’s worthy of nurture and support. Over the past week, ever since the administration*’s crimes against humanity along the southern border were revealed, there became an edge to the political opposition that has not been there through all the marches and the rhetoric that have attended this government since the president* was inaugurated. Up until now, all of the #Resistance has contained a barely acknowledged undercurrent of futility. It was not that the opposition was empty. It was that it generally broke like a wave on a seawall when it collided with the immutable fact that the president*’s party controlled every lever of political power at the federal level, as well as a great number of them out in the states, too.

The week just passed has changed the calculations. The images from the border, and the White House’s fatheaded trolling of the situation, seems to have shaken up everyone in Washington to the point at which alliances are more fluid than they have been since January of 2017. There seems little doubt that the Republicans in the House of Representatives are riven with ideological chaos, struck numb by the basic conundrum of modern conservatism: When your whole political identity is defined by the proposition that government is not the solution, but, rather, the problem, you don’t know how to operate it when fortune and gerrymandering hand you the wheel.

You can fake it pretty convincingly, doing the bidding of your donor class and knuckling the powerless and making a nice living for yourself, as long as events pursue a fairly predictable course for which there are familiar precedents in your experience. You can even see the setbacks coming from around the corner. Even your defeats are predictable and, thus, explainable—or, at least, spinnable. Can’t repeal Obamacare? RINOs like John McCain!

The problem arises when something unpredictable happens, and the government you control has to be fast on its feet, and you don’t know how that really works. A hurricane and a flood drowns New Orleans, and the luxury horse-show official you put in charge of the country’s emergency management system—because who cares, right?—finds that he’s really not up to the job. Or, suddenly, you find that, no matter how hot the emotions run at your rallies or how brightly your favorite TV network polishes your apple, or how hard you pitch the snake oil that got you elected, the country will not stand for being complicit in the kidnapping and caging of children. The pictures begin to pile up. The mirror in which the country prefers to see itself cracks into a million sharp shards that begin to cut your political life away.

You can feel the difference in the air. The members of the governing party, uneasy about the prospects for this year’s midterms anyway, are fairly trembling at the moment, seeing in their mind’s eyes a hundred 30-second spots of weeping toddlers behind chain-link walls. The president* has gone completely incoherent, standing firm until he doesn’t, looking for help in the Congress that he’ll never get, and reversing himself so swiftly on his one signature issue that he’s probably screwed himself up to the ankles in the floor of the Oval Office. By Friday afternoon, he was back on the electric Twitter machine, yapping about the Democrats and “their phony stories of sadness and grief.” And a hundred Republican candidates dive back behind the couch.

The country’s head is clearing. The country’s vision is coming back into focus and it can see for the first time the length and breadth of the damage it has done to itself. The country is hearing the voices that the cacophony of fear and anger had drowned out for almost three years. The spell, such as it was, and in most places, may be wearing off at last. The hallucinatory effect of a reality-show presidency* is dispersing like a foul, smoky mist over a muddy battlefield.

The migrant crisis is going to go down through history as one of the most destructive series of own-goals in the history of American politics. The establishment of the “zero-tolerance” policy made the child-nabbing inevitable. The president*’s own rhetoric—indeed, the raison d’etre of his entire campaign—trapped him into at first defending the indefensible and then abandoning what was perhaps the only consistent policy idea he ever had—outside of enriching himself and his family, that is. Then the cameras began to roll, and the nation’s gorge began to rise, and the president* couldn’t stand the pressure that was mounting around him. Of course, because he knows nothing about anything, including how to actually be president*, he bungled even his own abject surrender. He’s spent the days since signing his executive order railing against what he felt compelled to do and arguing against himself and losing anyway.

That’s the optimism, and it may, in fact, be illusory, but the power balance in our politics seemed to shift this week. Terrible policies are still coming from the various agencies. Scott Pruitt remains a grifter of nearly inhuman proportions, and a vandal besides. Neil Gorsuch continues to prove himself to be the reliable conservative hack for whom the Republicans stole a Supreme Court seat. But the crisis at the border is a leg-hold trap for all of them. There’s no way for them to keep faith with themselves and get out from under the humanitarian disaster they concocted. One day, maybe, brave Guatemalan mothers and their very brave children may be said to have saved the American Republic from slow-motion and giddy suicide. Some even may be our fellow citizens by then, and we should remember to thank them.

Vamos Á Comer — Helen Rosner in The New Yorker on the absurdity of Kristjen Nielsen dining in a Mexican restaurant.

In September of 2016, in the run-up to the Presidential election, Marco Gutierrez, a founder of the online activist group Latinos for Trump, appeared on MSNBC to discuss what he saw as a looming immigration threat at America’s southern border. “My culture is a very dominant culture,” Gutierrez, who was born in Mexico, said. “And it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” Gutierrez meant this as a warning, a dire vision of what the future would look like were Donald Trump to fail in his Presidential bid. But Hillary Clinton’s supporters quickly reclaimed the idea as a welcome, and appetizing, possibility. At a campaign stop, Clinton said, “I personally think a taco truck on every corner sounds absolutely delicious.”

Last year, C.H.D. Expert, a hospitality-industry analysis firm, identified Mexican restaurants as the second most popular kind of dining establishment in the nation, and estimated that they make up about nine per cent of the half million or so restaurants in the United States—more than the total number of pizzerias. Countless additional restaurants bear signs of Mexico’s culinary influence: you can find fajitas at Chili’s, guacamole and chips at the Cheesecake Factory, churros at Disney World, quesadillas repurposed into burger buns at Applebee’s, margaritas at LongHorn Steakhouse, Baja-style fish tacos at hipster brunch spots, and nachos at every sports arena in America. Even the ubiquitous Caesar salad is Mexican—it was invented at a restaurant in Tijuana. In many respects, you might say, Mexican food is American food.

So it may have been pure statistical inevitability that caused Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, to eat at a Mexican restaurant this week, in the midst of the nightmarish crisis at the border caused by the Trump Administration’s family-separation policy. On Wednesday evening, Nielsen arrived at MXDC Cocina Mexicana, a restaurant in Washington, D.C., that promises “classic Mexican cuisine with a modern touch.” It seemed almost unbelievable, on the day we heard a wrenching audio recording of migrant children crying out for their parents, that Nielsen, the chief enforcer of the Administration’s immigration policy, could be out in the world having dinner in a neighborhood restaurant like a normal person, let alone enjoying food from the very region the policy targets. As Nielsen and a dining companion sat in the restaurant for what a D.H.S. spokesperson later described as a “work dinner,” she was recognized by a patron at a nearby table, who covertly snapped a photograph, and sent it to friends in the hopes of inspiring a protest.

In short order, a cadre of demonstrators from the D.C. branch of the Democratic Socialists of America filed into the restaurant and stood between the tables adjacent to Nielsen’s. “How can you enjoy a Mexican dinner as you’re deporting and imprisoning tens of thousands of people who come here seeking asylum?” one shouted, before leading the crowd in a rumbling chant of “Shame! Shame!” “In a Mexican restaurant, of all places,” another cried. “The fucking gall!” In the blurry darkness of a video from inside the restaurant, posted to Facebook Live, Nielsen and her dining companion appear to be sharing an order of guacamole. The protest went on for more than twenty minutes, while Nielsen—shielded by two Secret Service agents—kept her head ducked low.

Some observers suggested that Nielsen’s decision to dine at a Mexican restaurant seemed like an intentional provocation, a trollish act consistent with the ethos of spite and petulance that guides much of what happens inside the Trump Administration. (See, too: Melania Trump’s Zara jacket, or Ivanka Trump’s smiling Instagram of her son.) This suspicion was compounded when, the day after Nielsen’s meal, it was revealed that Stephen Miller—the senior White House adviser responsible for the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy—had dined on Sunday night at Espita Mezcaleria, a buzzy Mexican spot in Washington’s hip Shaw neighborhood that, according to The Washingtonian, serves the best chips and salsa in town. (The New York Post reported that a customer at the restaurant, spotting Miller, cried out, “Whoever thought we’d be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?”) In the midst of the Presidential campaign, which he kicked off by asserting that Mexican immigrants are rapists, Donald Trump celebrated Cinco de Mayo by tweeting a photo that showed him grinning and giving the thumbs-up in front of a tortilla bowl, with the caption “I love Hispanics!” Perhaps Miller, known for his smug embrace of xenophobic politics, was making a similarly sneering gesture.

MXDC is a slick, anodyne restaurant, one of a half-dozen or so East Coast establishments affiliated with the celebrity chef Todd English, who rose to fame in the nineties making Italian food in Boston. Neither English nor the restaurant’s owner, nor the bulk of its clientele, is Latino, but—as in so many restaurants in America—most of the staff is. Indeed, Nielsen and Miller would have been hard-pressed to find any restaurant, serving any kind of food, that didn’t rely on the labor of the same individuals their immigration policies seek to expel at all costs. Latino workers are the backbone of the restaurant world, at bistros, pizzerias, sushi counters, and rotisseries across the country—many of them are Central American, like the majority of the migrant families being torn apart in recent weeks. (And, it’s worth noting, many of those workers are undocumented: the hospitality sector is one of the largest employers of undocumented labor in the country.)

To many people—the protesters and hecklers, the demonstrators gathered in front of ICE and D.H.S. offices across the country during the past week, the horrified parents watching the news and holding their children close—it seems impossible that Nielsen and Miller could miss the through line that connects this Administration’s cruel, dehumanizing policies toward Latino migrants and the real lives of Latino people who already live and work in this country. It seems as if it would require high-wire moral acrobatics, Jedi-level compartmentalization, to enjoy the fruits of Latin American culture, and labor, at this time. But for many other Americans, including those leading our government, there is a simple, reflexive disconnect between cultural product and cultural producer, between policy and people. “Everyone hates Mexicans, but everyone at the same time loves Mexican food,” the Mexican-American writer Gustavo Arellano told the Huffington Post, in 2016. “When they’re eating it, they’re able to disassociate it from the people who made it, or who picked it or slaughtered those cows.” Shortly after Marco Gutierrez issued his taco-truck warning, a Bay Area online magazine asked him what sort of food establishment he would be happy to see on every American corner. “Uhh . . . Probably taco trucks,” he said. “What?!” the interviewer responded. “Yeah,” he said. “Taco trucks are fine with me.”

Doonesbury — Cruel Shot.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Of Course They Did

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is out with a book that answers the question about Russian influence in the 2016 election.

“Of course the Russian efforts affected the outcome. Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense, and credulity to the breaking point. Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election. I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians.”

Was there active collusion between the Trump campaign — or the candidate himself — and Russian proxies or agents? Clapper does not go that far because he doesn’t have proof. But what he calls Trump’s “aggressive indifference” to the intelligence community’s detailed presentation of Russian activities is, in his view, damning enough. “Allegations of collusion and the results of the election were secondary to the profound threat Russia posed — and poses — to our system,” Clapper writes, and he does a fair job explaining why.

It’s understandable why Trump would display “aggressive indifference” to the Russian activities: it was his magnificent gloriousness and broad appeal to the masses that won the election, see.  Anything else calls into question his legitimacy, and worse, it would be an admission that he was just a pawn in Putin’s attempt to get back at the U.S. for all their meddling in Russia and their proxies during the Cold War.  Putin didn’t want Trump to necessarily win; he just wanted us to lose.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

No Show

The North Korea summit is off.

“I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” President Trump wrote to Kim in a letter released by the White House.

The summit had been planned for June 12 in Singapore.

Gee, what a shock.  Trump and the gang have done everything to provoke a nasty response from Kim Jong-un, and now he — Trump — is blaming it all on him for reacting.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

But His iPhone

One of the reasons Hillary Clinton lost the election was because Trump and his orcosphere were able to raise a stink about her private e-mail server.  It could have been hacked, they cried, and foreign governments could have learned State Department secrets.  Augh!

So it comes as no surprise whatsoever that Trump himself is playing with cyber-fire because he’s not following White House protocol with his own cell phone.  Oh, yes, he uses one, don’tchaknow.

Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.

Rest assured, some foreign entity has already hacked his phone; probably turned on the camera and microphone, maybe even played a few games of Candy Crush.  So the security of the nation is on the line, so to speak, because this flaming hypocrite finds it “too inconvenient” to follow the rules.

By the way, there’s a story in the Boston Globe that Trump’s aides rough up his Twitter feeds with typos and grammatical errors so that he sounds like one of the commenters on a long blog thread at Fox News.

Presidential speechwriters have always sought to channel their bosses’ style and cadence, but Trump’s team is blazing new ground with its approach to his favorite means of instant communication. Some staff members even relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, believing that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within his base that he has the common touch.

Or, as John Aravosis notes, people get paid to make Trump look stupid.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

There’s Only One Scandal

Adam Serwer in The Atlantic posits that all the garbage we’re being treated to by Trump amounts to just one truth:

There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.

When you put it that way, it’s not that hard to understand, and all of the links are there, from the Russians to the hush money for affairs to the pressure on the Justice Department to Middle East billionaires buying into his properties to curry favor and so on and so forth.  The details are important, but they can also be confusing and lead to a network of rabbit holes that would make the New York subway system look simple.  All you have to understand is that Trump’s goal in becoming president was to tap into the biggest license to print money for himself and his minions.  That’s it.

But her e-mails.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Reading

Clean Up Job — Charles P. Pierce on how to pick up after Trump.

On Monday, at the Center For American Progress’s annual Ideas hootenanny, Sally Yates made a point that has stayed with me all week as the deep, underground web of corruption in this administration* expanded to almost every point of the political compass. It is almost impossible to keep track these days. It’s almost impossible to keep from tangling the various strands of it: Michael Cohen’s alleged dealings with the Qataris, Jared Kushner’s alleged dealings with the Qataris, Michael Cohen’s alleged dealings with Stormy Daniels, Paul Manafort’s alleged dealings with various Volga Bagmen, and who knows what all else is under there.

Anyway, Yates asked the assembled: What is going to happen when this administration is finally, blessedly over? It is a very good question and there is no very good answer to it. Nobody knows how many people, if any, are going to be convicted when all this shakes out, let alone how many of them actually might go to jail. Can we recover from the common high-end venality while simultaneously putting the political norms back in place? Can we reform the global damage done to American credibility while simultaneously getting back to sensible financial and environmental regulations? Is it possible to get the country back to normal on 10 levels at once?

I am not as optimistic as I once was.

First, a lot of the damage has been done through the enactment of policies that conservative Republicans have been slavering for over the past 50 years. They are one aging heartbeat away from finally having a solid majority on the Supreme Court, and the president* has been salting young Federalist Society bots throughout the federal judicial system. Further, before there ever was a President* Trump, Mitch McConnell demonstrated that Democratic presidents were not entitled to fill Supreme Court vacancies that occur on their watch. Under the glare of all the nonsense, conservative Republicans have achieved a lot of what they’ve been trying to do since Ronald Reagan stepped onto the Capitol rostrum in 1981.

Second, and as important, if this president* leaves office at any point prior to the end of his second term, I fear that the reaction among his supporters is liable to be loud and violent. They’re already primed, by the president* and by his pet media, to believe almost anything as long as it demonstrated that They, The Deep State are conducting a slow-motion coup. (The latest fever dream is that the Obama administration planted an FBI mole in the Trump campaign so as to throw the election to Hillary Rodham Clinton. That’s only been flying around for a couple weeks and I guarantee you that it’s already set in concrete out there.) The president* is not likely to sprout a conscience any time soon. There is no way that this can end well.

This is serious business, and the time to start thinking about it is now. It’s possible that this administration* will collapse all at once. It is also possible that we’ll be reading early morning tweets well into 2024. The elevation of Donald Trump caught the institutions of government by surprise. That’s bad enough. It’s important that the end of him does not do the same thing.

Fake Nobel — Andy Borowitz.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Donald J. Trump has ordered a replica of the Nobel Peace Prize and is displaying it prominently on his desk in the Oval Office, the White House confirmed on Wednesday.

The replica of the Nobel medallion is mounted on what the White House described as a “tasteful black-velvet background” with an engraved plaque reading, “Donald J. Trump, 2018 Winner.”

At the daily White House briefing, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that Trump “took the initiative” to award himself the Peace Prize rather than “waiting around” for the Nobel committee, in Oslo, to bestow it on him.

“What with his successes in Syria, Iran, North Korea, and whatnot, the President already knows he’s a lock for the Nobel,” she said. “It’s just a formality at this point.”

The fake Nobel was first spotted by Henry Klugian, a student who was on a White House tour with his seventh-grade class from Bethesda, Maryland.

“I thought it was kind of weird that he’d have something like that made up for himself, but whatever,” he said.

Doonesbury — Every dollar helps.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Footnote To History

Oh, THAT $130,000.

In new financial-disclosure documents, President Trump reported reimbursing his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, more than $100,000 last year — an apparent reference to the $130,000 that Cohen paid just before the 2016 election, to ensure the silence of an adult-film actress who claimed she’d had an affair with Trump.

The information was included as a footnote in the 92-page form filed with the Office of Government Ethics. The ethics agency said it had concluded Trump should list a debt to Cohen in the “liabilities” section of his financial statement. It also notified the Justice Department, which enforces a law against willfully omitting information from these forms.

Hey, when you’re a multi-gazillionaire with ex-wives and one-nighters to pay off, things slip through the cracks.