Not exactly what I had in mind

I’ve made political posts here that are quite critical of the current administration, but today I’d like to point out something positive.  While I’ve long been concerned with the administration’s apparent inability to staff its diplomatic corps (e.g., Trump didn’t even mention an American ambassador to South Korea until mid-December.  We’ve literally been threatening a nuclear war that could cost the lives of millions of that close ally’s citizens and no one saw any point in prioritizing a nominee for that ambassadorship), progress is being made.  Peter Hoekstra became our new ambassador to the Netherlands, and he quickly dove right in with a press conference touching on his remarkable level of familiarity with Dutch politics and society.  And sure, maybe he’s gotten some of the finer details wrong over the years, but what’s important is that we now actually have an ambassador to that country, and that his presence goes a long way to demonstrating to the Dutch people just how highly our president values them.

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(Not Even) 20 Questions

There’s been a lot of talk about Trump’s mental fitness and whatnot.  I’m not going to toss around opinions because I’m using social media for positivity in 2018.  People who are concerned about Trump’s mental health are generally able to cite specific examples, and I think everyone would agree that these millions of people deserve to have their concerns allayed.  People who aren’t concerned about Trump’s mental health deserve an opportunity to have the nation’s chief executive prove to everyone what they already know – the president is, like, a genius.  Building on something Jennifer Rubin wrote in WaPo, since both Trump’s strongest advocates and doubters presumably share an interest in having the man put his money where his mouth is, why can’t Trump do a long-form interview with competent, impartial journalists?  Look to CBS, with its target demographic of old white people.  60 Minutes is absolutely the PERFECT vehicle for this.

No editing – the whole interview would be shown from a single camera angle so no one can claim there were any editing shenanigans.  Cover only the obvious policy issues that would really give Trump a chance to sink his teeth into the subject matter.  What’s the administration’s policy in Syria?  What’s the administration’s position on a sovereign Kurdistan?  What does Trump know about climate change that apparently the world and his own government’s executive agencies don’t know (and which enables him to dismiss the entire concept as a hoax)?  Under what conditions – if any – would the US agree to bilateral talks with the DPRK?  How does Trump feel now that the nations that were once going to join us in the TPP have fallen in with China in planning the RCEP, and how does the RCEP impact the US going forward?  What current actions are being taken to thwart Russia’s ambitions in Ukraine?  What does Trump plan to do to ensure the Social Security Trust Fund’s solvency past 2034?  What’s the reasoning behind opening up ALL of the country’s coastlines to drilling?  What might a reasonable compromise on immigration look like?

Right now, it looks like the only person who’s going to interview Trump is Robert Mueller.  And I seriously doubt that will televised.

Those who don’t know history…

MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization.  Or, in the common parlance, a gang.  A really, really big and scary gang.  Barrio 18 (a/k/a 18th Street, The 18, M-18, Mara 18, etc.) is another big, scary gang.  These two gangs are largely responsible for tearing apart the Northern Triangle countries of Central America – Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  Both gangs – but especially MS-13 – have been played up as the boogeyman that justifies shutting down immigration from Central America, even as they keep driving out the countries’ residents in a pattern that seems more like a flow of refugees than illegal entrants looking to make money working illegally in the US.

To be sure, some gang members from both gangs have come into the US.  However, to pretend that violent gang members are pouring across an unsecured southern border is to entertain politically-motivated fantasy.

Today, the Trump administration announced that it’s going to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran nationals.  On the surface, there’s a certain logic to this; after all, the conditions that caused the TPS designation in the first place have largely subsided.  That’s not to say El Salvador could easily manage to reabsorb approximately 200,000 Salvadorans from the United States (plus perhaps another 200,000 United States citizen children who’ve been born here over the past 15 years), though.

So… little known fact – both MS-13 and Barrio 18, despite the deep roots they enjoy in Central America, were both actually created in the United States.  In Los Angeles during the 1980s, gang violence was one of the city’s defining characteristics.  MS-13 began as a means for Salvadoran immigrants to protect themselves and each other from the street gangs (Bloods, Crips, 18th Street, etc.) around them in their neighborhoods, while 18th Street served much the same purpose for Mexican immigrants.  Both gangs began recruiting other Spanish-speakers and expanded into other areas.

By the late 1990s, the federal government had had enough and cracked down hard.  In addition to arrests and incarcerations, there were deportations.  Lots and lots of deportations.  And all of these gang members went “home” (note that many of them had lived in the US for much of their lives and didn’t really have any familiarity with their nations of citizenship) to fairly poor countries that offered no gainful employment or social support structures.  So like Vinnie in My Blue Heaven, they all returned to their previous vocations.  Except where Vinnie was a charming rogue who ended up as Fryburg’s Man of the Year when he built a new baseball field, MS-13 and Barrio 18 members preferred to kill people with machetes.  Their home nations were woefully unprepared for these new residents with fairly narrow skill sets.  They responded with the so-called “mano dura” (iron fist) policies, which put all these gang members in prison together where they could engage in recruitment and vocational training.

The Trump administration’s current plan seems to be to deport all of the Salvadorans who are here on TPS now.  The vast majority are not associated with either of these two gangs (though certainly both gangs have more of a presence than they used to); however, we apparently expect that they’ll go back to El Salvador despite the pathetic state of the economy and widespread gang violence that makes the country one of the most dangerous in the world (it has the second-highest murder rate in the world, behind only Honduras, which will undoubtedly lose its TPS designation next time it’s up for review).  We don’t deport US citizens, of course, but we all know that deported parents are likely to bring their children; those children, all born within the past 15 years, are prime recruitment age for both gangs.  Many will be murdered, but many others will be kidnapped and held for ransom, and thousands will likely end up joining the gangs.  And once they’re trained up, they’ll be able to come and go from the US because they’re natural-born citizens.

To say this is short-sighted is an understatement.  But then again, everything the CEO does is short-sighted.  It’s like everyone else is playing checkers, and Trump is coloring a checkerboard pattern in a coloring book.  With one (white) crayon.

Of course he has to brag that his is bigger

On New Year’s Day, Kim Jong Un made a speech in which he said, “[The US] should properly know that the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office, and this is just a reality, not a threat.”  So big surprise – the CEO found himself unable to just let that go and was predictably compelled to respond in the most juvenile manner possible.

In a tweet (God, I am so fucking tired of writing those three words), Trump replied:

“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

If you feel the CEO’s preoccupation with the size and power of his… nuclear button…  is reminiscent of his pathetic defense of the size of his… hands… rest assured that you’re not alone.  We’ve now reached the part of the Trump administration where we wish the aging billionaire had simply bought himself a Porsche, some Viagra, and a new yacht in order to compensate for his apparent shortcomings.  But no.  Instead, the voters of this country decided to give him a nuclear arsenal, instead.  I’m so sick of this shit.

 

OMFG (have I used that title already?)

So Trump did an interview with the New York Times back on December 28, 2017.  This is notable for two reasons.  First, it demonstrates once again that no matter how many times Trump may refer to “the failing New York Times” or blame it for reporting “fake news,” he knows full well that it’s considered by many to be the most prestigious newspaper in the country and is therefore the outlet he goes to on those rare occasions he doesn’t limit himself to Fox News.  Never forget – Trump loves the New York Times.  It’s why he keeps doing exclusive interviews with them.  If you’re a Trump supporter who believes him when he attacks the New York Times’ veracity or reputation, you’re an idiot.  Second… holy shit!  Don’t be one of those people who just pay attention to reports about specific things he said (like how he believed Mueller is going to be fair… though that’s belied by the fact that he’s conspicuously silent in the face of all the Fox News reporting taking Mueller to task and accusing him of improprieties) or that break down the interview piece by piece.  To really appreciate how unwell the man is, you have to read the whole interview.

You need to start off with him bragging about how – a few seconds after being advised, and consenting to, the interview being recorded – he repeats his fantastical claim that “[v]irtually every Democrat has said there’s no collusion.”  You have to slog through and experience just how many times he keeps repeating that there’s “no collusion,” creating the impression that he’s trying to convince himself as much as anyone else.  Take the time to marvel at his insistence that it was the Democrats colluding with the Russians, as if he’d never given a press conference in which he publicly encouraged the Russians to hack into Hillary’s email.  Try not to let your eyes pop out of your head as he completely rewrites (three week-old) history in the Alabama special election, claiming that he only supported Roy Moore because, as the president, he was expected to… which of course is bullshit because the RNC had already cut ties with Moore and only went back when Trump endorsed him against the rest of the party’s wishes.  (Because, you know, the GOP didn’t want to be associated with a batshit crazy child molester.)  And finally, bask in the mind-numbing extent of his self-adulation.  I’ve seriously never seen anything like this, and I’ve worked in a field that’s absolutely rife with over-inflated egos.  (e.g., “I have unbelievably great relationships with 97 percent of the Republican congressmen and senators. I love them and they love me.”  “I know more about the big bills. … [Inaudible.] … Than any president that’s ever been in office.”  “I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most.”  “I like very much President Xi. He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China. You know that. The presentations. … One of the great two days of anybody’s life and memory having to do with China. He’s a friend of mine, he likes me, I like him, we have a great chemistry together.”)

Note that I didn’t even touch on the CEO’s contention that he has absolute power over the DOJ, implying that he’ll do whatever the fuck he wants to do if he perceives the DOJ (specifically, via Mueller) to be treating him unfairly… whatever the hell that means in his mind.  I also didn’t dwell on his comments at the end, suggesting that even without his powerful, unbeatable political base, he’s guaranteed of reelection because the media is so addicted to the ratings-grabbing Trump teat that all media will be loath to see him go.

The voters of this country stupidly bestowed upon this man extraordinary power.  I know I’ve said this before, but this is not normal.  And this will not end well.

No one ever likes to lose, but…

On Facebook yesterday, I read a Dan Rather post that compared Trump to a caged animal, the world slowly closing in around him.  Rather has always been a solid writer, and the mental image he painted stuck with me (for at least 24 hours… which I suppose is an eternity in today’s culture).  That was written before the Alabama special election results were in and a bad day got so much worse (from Trump’s point of view).

Before getting into the special election, let’s look at the way in which the CEO predictably got himself far more trouble than he ever would have had if he’d just kept his mouth shut.  (Or, more accurately, if he just put his phone down.)  On Monday, several women who’ve previously accused Trump of sexual harassment and/or assault renewed their claims.  The official White House response was:

“These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory. The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes, and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them.”

I see no point in unpacking that inane statement when, as is often the case, the Washington Post has already done the heavy lifting for me.  WaPo also subsequently posted a running list of the eyewitnesses who prove Trump’s innocence on sexual misconduct.

Citing the accusations, NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called for Trump’s resignation.  Trump being Trump, he looked at the way Democrats in general, and a senator from his own home state in particular, had doused him with napalm, and predictably decided to start a fire.  As he always does, Trump used Twitter as his preferred source of combustion, tweeting:

“Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”

The sexual innuendo is crystal clear – putting ‘begging’ in quotation marks to set the image of the senator on her knees, and then indicating she would do anything for campaign contributions.  The White House, of course, claimed it was shocked – SHOCKED!!! – that anyone could suggest anything untoward in the tweet, with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders commenting, “Only if your mind is in the gutter would you read it that way.”  As always, Trump’s language was effective at providing deniability.  That’s the whole point of innuendo, double entendres, and dog whistles – you can always claim you’re completely innocent and blame the accuser for reading too much into a statement.  But with Trump, there’s seemingly always the second meaning.  Look, George W. Bush was famously inarticulate, but even he had sufficient command of English that he was able to consistently make his points without using phrases that caused a huge portion of the populace to question his decency and integrity.  And if you want to believe that maybe Trump is so well-spoken that he’s speaking above most people’s heads (because he has “the best words,”), let’s at least take a moment to remember Obama, who was famously eloquent and, like W, was perfectly capable of speaking on a regular basis without suggesting a sitting senator routinely turns tricks for campaign contributions.

So now, today, the list of people openly opposed to Trump has grown.  Now it’s USA Today, usually so unimpressive and unassuming, always seeking to report the news without offending anyone, which is forced to wonder if Trump’s lows will ever hit rock bottom and conclude, “A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.”  Now keep in mind the circumstances surrounding this tweet – this is what Trump writes when a female senator calls on him to resign because of his serial sexual harassment of women.  I’ve previously expressed my opinion that Trump is unwell, but seriously…  Like, who in his right mind would do this?!

And with all of that already going on, Alabama went to the polls to vote in its special election for the senator who will serve out the term in Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat.  Trump famously endorsed Roy Moore, the accused child molester who was previously tossed out of his position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court (before chucklehead Alabamians voted him right back in) because he wanted to keep the seat with the GOP and because he presumed Moore would win.  (Trump loves to be a winner.)  Of course, now that Moore has lost, Trump is already looking for ways to distance himself from the overwhelming stench of failure, Tweeting:

“The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”

So, as usual, Trump is peddling a completely different reality than the one we just watched with our own eyes.  I suppose that means he didn’t endorse Moore wholeheartedly on Twitter, didn’t spend a good portion of his time singing Moore’s praises at a rally in Pensacola (part of the Mobile media market) just days ago, and didn’t tape a robocall used in support of Moore’s campaign.

Trump’s delusional behavior doesn’t even anger me anymore – the fact that he so clearly feels emotionally compelled to misrepresent reality so as to avoid acknowledging that he supported a losing candidate is absolutely pathetic.  The man should be pitied.  What angers me now is the fact that scores of people are close enough to Trump on a regular basis to recognize his lack of fitness for what it is, and yet refuse to take any action to address the situation.  The man is the putative leader of the most powerful nation in the world, and he can’t face the fact that he supported a losing candidate.  That should concern everyone, especially when it seems as if the political winds are not only changing, but may be whipping up into a storm.

Democrats Pick Up Torches and Pitchforks for March on White House. Film at 11:00.

Oftentimes, it doesn’t really matter what news channel you watch.  If you like hearing a conservative slant, you go to Fox.  If you want a liberal slant, you go to MSNBC.  If you want to watch a network contort itself in painful ways to avoid the appearance of any bias, you watch CNN.  As long as you keep the bias in mind (which most people don’t seem to, but that’s on them), it’s no big deal.  But now is NOT one of the times when the choice of news source doesn’t matter.

In terms of the Mueller investigation, Fox News is moving toward outright propaganda.  That is not hyperbole.  This started a few days after Flynn’s guilty plea and the report about Strzok, and it’s only getting worse.  Much, much worse.

The facts here are important.

  • The Mueller investigation is NOT a witch hunt or a partisan attack.  It’s a special counsel investigation that’s already resulted in two guilty pleas and the indictment of two individuals.  If there was nothing to this, people wouldn’t be getting indicted and pleading guilty in order to turn state’s witness against the administration officials who remain under investigation.
  • Peter Strzok was an FBI agent on the Mueller team who was found to have sent a personal text that could be interpreted as pro-Hillary Clinton.  As soon as this was discovered, he was booted, demoted, and sent to his new digs in FBI HR.  It’s impossible to find people who have no political beliefs and opinions, especially in today’s hyper-political climate.  Any call for purely unbiased investigators is a wish for IBM’s Watson to take over (and I, for one, am not yet willing to turn over to our future robot overlords the keys to our justice system); the response to the text messages, by all accounts, was immediate and appropriate.  Any suggestion otherwise is politically-motivated bullshit.  It also ignores the fact that Strzok apparently also had some choice words about Hillary.
  • Bob Mueller was a registered Republican who was originally appointed head of the FBI by George W. Bush.  So claims that this is a partisan witch hunt don’t even pass the laugh test.
  • When Mueller was appointed special counsel, pretty much everyone on both sides of the aisle hailed the choice and referred to him as impartial and professional.  He’s a well-respected figure throughout Republican and Democratic circles, and has been for years.  The only thing that’s changed is the increasingly palpable fear that this administration is in serious trouble.  So you have an esteemed career professional on one side, and a bunch of politicians on the other.  Seriously, who do we really think is lying here?
  • By pretty much all accounts, the FBI, like virtually every law enforcement agency I’ve come in contact with, is predominantly staffed by Republicans.  And that’s fine; just as fine, even, as it would be if it the majority of agents were Democrats.  As I already noted, you aren’t going to find completely apolitical investigators.  Especially tens of thousands of them with advanced degrees and a commitment to service.  Like the vast majority of law enforcement officers I’ve known, the FBI has a reputation for professionalism and excellence.  The men and women who work there take their jobs seriously and view things through the lens of professionals, and not political operatives.  Suggesting otherwise is stupid.
  • And why are people under investigation?  Let’s see… Remember how the intelligence community unanimously concluded that Russia meddled in our presidential election last year?  And how the evidence was so clear that when the president refused to do anything, the legislature passed its own sanctions against Russia (with the Senate voting 98-1, which NEVER happens nowadays) because of it?  And how only one person in DC seems to insist that this never happened, and he’s the one person who could be identified as having benefited most?  Yeah… claiming that this doesn’t even merit an investigation is tantamount to idiocy.
  • And while we’re at it, remember how we heard time, after time, after time, after time, after time, from everyone you could find in the administration, that there were absolutely no ties to Russia?  And how we keep finding out that that isn’t true, but that we apparently shouldn’t hold anyone responsible because everybody who emailed Russians, or did business with Russians, or held meetings with Russians, or (allegedly) laundered money for Russians honestly forgot all about it (while curiously remembering everything else that’s happened to them in the past two years) until someone presented evidence that they were wrong?  Yeah… not fishy at all.

If you believe the Mueller investigation is a tool of partisan politics, then you’re an idiot being played for a fool.  There’s no other way to put it.  Please wake up and pay attention to what’s going on.  Listen to the language that’s being used on Fox News.  “Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt,” Newt Gingrich said, failing to cite anything even remotely resembling evidence beyond a single text message sent by a guy who was dismissed from the investigation.  Does Sean Hannity talk about the Mueller investigation?  No, he talks about “Robert Mueller’s partisan, extremely biased, hyper-partisan attack team.”  Greg Jarrett, a supposed “legal analyst,” opined, “I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt.  And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America’s secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It’s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door.”  That is NOT the way a legal analyst talks.  It IS the way a propagandist talks.  And it’s the way far too many people all across Fox News’s programming are talking on a routine basis.

There is no significant evidence of the Mueller investigation being a politically-motivated fishing expedition.  Indeed, the fact that a retired three-star general and former National Security Advisor felt compelled to plead guilty rather than assert his innocence in court is pretty solid evidence that Mueller’s investigation is not only meritorious, but bearing fruit.  (The most relevant detail is they flipped the National Security Advisor!!  Seriously, how far up the line are you aiming when you give the National Security Advisor a cherry plea deal in return for turning state’s evidence?!)  It is the accused, and not the investigators, who have every reason to lie, obfuscate, and propagandize.  If the day comes that Trump fires Mueller and/or pre-emptively starts issuing pardons, where will you stand?  Will it be with the investigators who labor in service to the Constitution, or with the complicit hacks who, in a previous life, would have just as happily peddled lies for Nixon?