Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 2017

The Immigration Ban is a Headfake, and We’re Falling For It

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Jake Fuentes writes at Medium:

When I read about the incredibly active first week of the Trump administration, I struggle with two competing narratives about what’s really going on. The first story is simple: the administration is just doing what it said it would do, literally keeping its campaign promises. Lots of people won’t agree, but it’s playing to its base. They’re also not really good at this whole government thing yet, so implementation is shaky. The second is more sinister: the administration is deliberately testing the limits of governmental checks and balances to set up a self-serving, dangerous consolidation of power.

A legitimate argument can be made for the former: a relatively extreme and inexperienced administration was just put in place, and they haven’t yet figured out the nuances of government. But a few of the events in the past 72 hours —the intentional inclusion of green card holders in the immigration order, the DHS defiance of a federal judge, and the timing of Trump’s shakeup of the National Security Council — have pointed to a larger story. Even worse, if that larger story is true, if the source of this week’s actions is a play to consolidate power, it’s going really well so far. And that’s because mostly everyone — including those in protests shutting down airports over the weekend— are playing right into the administration’s hand.

I obviously can’t pretend to know the intentions of the new President, but let’s pretend the power consolidation move is what’s actually happening. In fact, let’s pretend we’re the Trump administration (not necessarily Trump himself, more likely his inner circle) for a second. Here’s our playbook:

  1. We launch a series of Executive Orders in the first week. Beforehand, we identify one that our opponents will complain loudly about and will dominate the news cycle. Immigration ban. Perfect.
  2. We craft the ban to be about 20% more extreme than we actually want it to be — say, let’s make the explicit decision to block green card holders from defined countries from entering the US, rather than just visa holders. We create some confusion so that we can walk back from that part later, but let’s make sure that it’s enforced to begin with.
  3. We watch our opposition pour out into the streets protesting the extremes of our public measure, exactly as we intended. The protests dominate the news, but our base doesn’t watch CNN anyway. The ACLU will file motions to oppose the most extreme parts of our measure, that’s actually going to be useful too. We don’t actually care if we win, that’s why we made it more extreme than it needed to be. But in doing so, the lawsuit process will test the loyalty of those enforcing what we say.
  4. While the nation’s attention is on our extreme EO, slip a few more nuanced moves through. For example, reconfigure the National Security Council so that it’s led by our inner circle. Or gut the State Department’sability to resist more extreme moves. That will have massive benefits down the road — the NSC are the folks that authorize secret assassinations against enemies of the state, including American citizens. Almost nobody has time to analyze that move closely, and those that do can’t get coverage.
  5. When the lawsuits filed by the ACLU inevitably succeed, stay silent. Don’t tell the DHS to abide by the what the federal judge says, see what they do on their own. If they capitulate to the courts, we know our power with the DHS is limited and we need to staff it with more loyal people. But if they continue enforcing our EO until we tell them not to, we know that we can completely ignore the judicial branch later on and the DHS will have our back.
  6. Once the DHS has made their move, walk back from the 20% we didn’t want in the first place. Let the green card holders in, and pretend that’s what we meant all along. The protestors and the ACLU, both clamoring to display their efficacy, jump on the moment to declare a huge victory. The crowds dissipate, they have to go back to work.
  7. When the dust settles, we have 100% of the Executive Order we originally wanted, we’ve tested the loyalty of a department we’ll need later on, we’ve proven we can ignore an entire branch of government, and we’ve slipped in some subtle moves that will make the next test even easier.

We’ve just tested the country’s willingness to capitulate to a fascist regime.


Assuming this narrative is true (again, I have no idea what the administration intends), the “resistance” is playing right into Trump’s playbook. . .

Continue reading.

Later:

First, stop believing that protests alone do much good. Protests galvanize groups and display strong opposition, but they’re not sufficient. Not only are they relatively ineffective at changing policy, they’re also falsely cathartic to those protesting. Protestors get all kinds of feel-good that they’re among fellow believers and standing up for what’s right, and they go home feeling like they’ve done their part. Even if protestors gain mild, symbolic concessions, the fact that their anger has an outlet is useful to the other side. Do protest, but be very wary of going home feeling like you’ve done your job. You haven’t.

Second, . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 8:56 pm

Hannah Arendt on “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship:” Better to Suffer Than Collaborate

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This post by Josh Jones seems particularly apposite given President Trump’s recent firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. And of course there are the enthusiastic collaborators quite happy to ignore the law, conflicts of interest, and it seems pretty much anything—Paul Ryan is an excellent example. And later he’ll say he had no choice.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 5:02 pm

Breast cancer odds of recovery differ for left breast v. right breast

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Very interesting article in Quanta by Tim Vernimmen:

In 2009, after she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, Ann Ramsdellbegan to search the scientific literature to see if someone with her diagnosis could make a full recovery. Ramsdell, a developmental biologist at the University of South Carolina, soon found something strange: The odds of recovery differed for women who had cancer in the left breast versus the right. Even more surprisingly, she found research suggesting that women with asymmetric breast tissue are more likely to develop cancer.

Asymmetry is not readily apparent. Yet below the skin, asymmetric structures are common. Consider how our gut winds its way through the abdominal cavity, sprouting unpaired organs as it goes. Or how our heart, born from two identical structures fused together, twists itself into an asymmetrical pump that can simultaneously push oxygen-rich blood around the body and draw in a new swig from the lungs, all in a heartbeat. The body’s natural asymmetry is crucially important to our well-being. But, as Ramsdell knew, it was all too often ignored.

In her early years as a scientist, Ramsdell never gave asymmetry much thought. But on the day of her dissertation defense, she put a borrowed slide into a projector (this in the days before PowerPoint). The slide was of a chick embryo at the stage where its heart begins to loop to one side. Afterward a colleague asked why she put the slide in backward. “It’s an embarrassing story,” she said, “but I had never even thought about the directionality of heart looping.” The chick’s developing heart could distinguish between left and right, same as ours. She went on to do her postdoctoral research on why the heart loops to one side.

Years later, after her recovery, Ramsdell decided to leave the heart behind and to start looking for asymmetry in the mammary glands of mammals. In marsupials like wallabies and kangaroos, she read, the left and the right glands produce a different kind of milk, geared toward offspring of different ages. But her initial studies of mice proved disappointing — their left and right mammary glands didn’t seem to differ at all.

Then she zoomed in on the genes and proteins that are active in different cells of the breast. There she found strong differences. The left breast, which appears to be more prone to cancer, also tends to have a higher number of unspecialized cells, according to unpublished work that’s undergoing peer review. Those allow the breast to repair damaged tissue, but since they have a higher capacity to divide, they can also be involved in tumor formation. Why the cells are more common on the left, Ramsdell has not yet figured out. “But we think it has to do with the embryonic environment the cells grow up in, which is quite different on both sides.”

Ramsdell and a cadre of other developmental biologists are trying to unravel why the organisms can tell their right from left. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Science

Survival Plans: Impractical v. Practical

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Daily life

Mene mene tekel upharsin

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Calming interlude didn’t work. What is happening in the White House seems quite ominous. I hope somebody’s on it. Congress seems unlikely to act quickly. The intelligence agencies seem to be on it, though.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 1:53 pm

A calming interlude

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Despite all the bad things humanity has done, it also has its moments:

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Music, Technology, Video

The Trump Administration as a sorting device for politicians

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It strikes me that the ongoing events are acting as a filter for politicians, clearly separating those committed to the Constitution and the nation, who are stepping forward, while others vacillate, quivering against the wall, trying not to be noticed. And, of course, there’s a third category: those who happily and enthusiastically embrace whatever Bannon/Trump proposes, regardless of its legality, constitutionality, humanity, morality—those like Paul Ryan.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 1:02 pm

Steve Bannon Is Making Sure There’s No White House Paper Trail

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A familiar tactic—cf. the (excellent) 2001 movie Conspiracythis time reported by Kate Brannen in Foreign Policy. This is beyond ominous. What is Bannon thinking of doing for which it is so important that there be no paper trail? And that is a serious question, because the answer will almost certainly be serious. No legitimate government business is ever done without a paper trail. This is frightening and urgent. The article begins:

If there was any question about who is largely in charge of national security behind the scenes at the White House, the answer is becoming increasingly clear: Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet, and now White House advisor.

Even before he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principals committee” this weekend by President Donald Trump, Bannon was calling the shots and doing so with little to no input from the National Security Council staff, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution.

“He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC,” the official said. He described a work environment where there is little appetite for dissenting opinions, shockingly no paper trail of what’s being discussed and agreed upon at meetings, and no guidance or encouragement so far from above about how the National Security Council staff should be organized.

The intelligence official, who said he was willing to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt when it took office, is now deeply troubled by how things are being run.

“They ran all of these executive orders outside of the normal construct,” he said, referring to last week’s flurry of draft executive orders on everything from immigration to the return of CIA “black sites.”

After the controversial draft orders were written, the Trump team was very selective in how they routed them through the internal White House review process, the official said.

Under previous administrations, if someone thought another person or directorate had a stake in the issue at hand or expertise in a subject area, he or she was free to share the papers as long as the recipient had proper clearance.

With that standard in mind, when some officials saw Trump’s draft executive orders, they felt they had broad impact and shared them more widely for staffing and comments.

That did not sit well with Bannon or his staff, according to the official. More stringent guidelines for handling and routing were then instituted, and the National Security Council staff was largely cut out of the process.

By the end of the week, they weren’t the only ones left in the dark. Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, was being briefed on the executive order, which called for immediately shutting the borders to nationals from seven largely Muslim countries and all refugees, while Trump was in the midst of signing the measure, the New York Times reported.

The White House did not respond in time to a request for comment.

The lack of a paper trail documenting the decision-making process is also troubling, the intelligence official said. For example, under previous administrations, after a principals or deputies meeting of the National Security Council, the discussion, the final agreement, and the recommendations would be written up in what’s called a “summary of conclusions” — or SOC in government-speak. . .

Continue reading.

It occurs to me that there may be good reason why Bannon would want the CIA Director and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs out of the room. And making sure the Secretary of Energy is out of the room suggests it might be nukes: those are under control of the Secretary of Energy. This looks worse by the minute

This seems not unlike a national Constitutional emergency, particularly given Bannon’s well known very strong Alt-Right (i.e., neo-Nazi) views.

And Bannon knows he has very little time—especially now that the Senate can question him in his confirmation—so he’s going to move fast. And he seems to have a surprisingly large number of people on whom he can count.

Any Trump supporters in the military? in police forces? Border Patrol (certainly: the Womens March participants turned back at the border, illegally)? FBI (James Comey, for one)?

So he wants to destroy the government (which he’s said), and he has a lot of power but probably for only a little time. So he will move quickly. Where is Jack Bauer when you need him?

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 12:51 pm

What would Thoreau think of Trump?

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This 5-minute video, via Colin Marshall at Open Culture, seems strikingly relevant. (I immediately though of this Jennifer Rubin post from today.)

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 12:36 pm

Fascinating story: The guy making money off Trump supporters

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What a sleazy weasel! And note he was a Ted Cruz supporter, which figures: like calls to like. David Levinthal writes at the Center for Public Integrity:

Twitter is abuzz over a pro-President Donald Trump television advertisement that urges viewers to call a toll-free number and “pledge your support to defend Donald Trump.”

“We need every Trump supporter to pick up the phone now!” the ad’s fast-talking narrator says as he also slams “liberals in the Democratic Party” and the “crooked media” for attacking the newly inaugurated president.

The narrator continues: “They think they are going to destroy Trump’s presidency, but they are wrong! … Make your voice heard and help drain the swamp!”

The ad became too much for “@Jess4_RK,” an unverified Twitter user, then with a few hundred followers.

On Saturday, she tweeted a video of herself watching the ad on CNN and included this all-caps commentary: “WHAT IN THE HELL DID I JUST WATCH???????????????????????????WHEN HAS A PRESIDENT EVER DONE THIS???! IM SCREAMING!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Legions of people — including celebrities — began retweeting @Jess4_RK and commenting on her post, which garnered more than 30,000 retweets before she blocked public access to her account.

“WTF?!?!?” tweeted actress Debra Messing.

“This is just pathetic. Sounds like a commercial for aluminum siding you see on AMC in the middle of a Gunsmoke marathon,” snarked musician Mikel Jollett.

Many outraged commenters believe that Trump himself — or those within Trump’s inner circle — were responsible for the ad.

They are mistaken. Not only is there no connection to Trump, the ad is made possible by a group that employs a one-time Trump hater who is making a pretty penny.

Who’s behind it?

As noted in the fine print displayed in the ad’s final few seconds, the ad is sponsored by the “Committee to Defend the President.”

As it described itself in its own fine print, the Committee to Defend the President is a “project of Stop Hillary PAC” and “not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.” (On Saturday, Stop Hillary PAC officially changed its name to “The Committee to Defend the President,” according to federal records.)

Stop Hillary PAC, for its part, is a hybrid super PAC that formed on May 16, 2013 — more than two years before Trump announced his presidential run.

Guy Short, vice president of fundraising for political consulting firm Campaign Solutions, is a Stop Hillary PAC consultant and, according to an advertising disclosure document filed on January 16 with the Federal Communications Commission, “founder.” Campaign Solutions, it so happens, is also Stop Hillary PAC’s top vendor, according to federal records.

Short, who made headlines earlier this decade for his political work with ex-Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is never mentioned in Stop Hillary PAC’s public communications to supporters and potential donors. And he’s no unabashed supporter of Trump.

For example, Short last year served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention — and pledged to back Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican U.S. senator who ran against Trump. Short last year also called Trump a “liar,” telling Reuters in April that he “spent thousands of dollars of my own money campaigning to become a delegate because it’s that important to make sure Donald Trump is NOT our nominee.”

In an opinion piece published last year in the Colorado Statesman, Short further accused Trump of “spewing his usual fiction” and trafficking in “insults, lies, distortion and vulgarity.” He also lamented: “It’s very worrisome to wonder how a man like Trump would exercise the powers of the presidency.”

In an email Monday, Short noted that he and many other Republicans, including Trump’s general election campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, didn’t support Trump during the party’s primary. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

What a scam.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 12:28 pm

The new rhetoric of television politics

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Tim Carmody writes at Kottke.org:

Politics happens in (at least) three places:

  • political institutions, like legislatures, courthouses, and executive offices, places governed by elaborate rules and traditions;
  • public spaces, like debates, protests, and media appearances, which are ruled by law and economics but driven by rhetoric;
  • bodies and matter, where people, often but not always government and other political agents, use power, violence (direct or indirect), and the threat of violence (same) to hurt people and take their stuff. And sometimes (for most of us, probably more rarely/indirectly), to help people and give them more stuff.

These categories all bleed into each other and still leave a whole lot out, but for a quick and dirty chop-job of the universe, well, I’ve seen worse. (And done worse.)

It helps to focus on one but not forget about the others. Keep your head on a swivel, like my football coach used to say. And each sphere has its own grammar, its invisible rules.

Some of the best writing about the Trump regime has been on the second, imaginary sphere, by TV critics on the politics of media. You might think this is the easiest of the three to tell stories about, but the degree of difficulty is absurdly high if you aim to do more than just summarize or react to the thing we’ve all just seen. Help me see. Change my vocabulary. Show me how it works. Show me why it works.

Lili Loofbourow’s glossary of Kellyanne Conway’s rhetorical moves helps you see.

Concept scrabble“Most Americans are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like.”

Conway frequently takes the words from the question — tax returns, Trump, Americans — and recombines them. It gives the impression of straightforwardness. The question, you’ll recall, was how Trump will respond to a petition signed by 200,000 Americans demanding that he release his tax returns. Conway takes those concepts — “the people,” “tax return” — and reshuffles them in a way that a) denies the premise (the 200,000 Americans who signed that petition fall out of her framing — let me tell you what the people care about, she says), and b) removes Trump from the sentence as an agent called upon to respond.

Besides “concept scrabble,” there’s “faux frankness,” “impatience signaling,” “Cool girling,” “Agenda Mad Libs,” and more, all illustrated with examples.

Emily Nussbaum’s “How Jokes Won the Election” helps you see — in this case, how many of Trump’s outrageous statements during the campaign had the structure of jokes. A lot of people have made a lot hay out of the “seriously”/”literally” dichotomy breaking down, but Nussbaum focuses instead on how it limits your ability to react, especially when you’re the subject of the “joke”:

The political journalist Rebecca Traister described this phenomenon to me as “the finger trap.” You are placed loosely within the joke, which is so playful, so light—why protest? It’s only when you pull back—show that you’re hurt, or get angry, or try to argue that the joke is a lie, or, worse, deny that the joke is funny—that the joke tightens. If you object, you’re a censor. If you show pain, you’re a weakling. It’s a dynamic that goes back to the rude, rule-breaking Groucho Marx—destroyer of élites!—and Margaret Dumont, pop culture’s primal pearl-clutcher.

When Hillary described half of Trump’s followers as “deplorables,” she wasn’t wrong. But she’d walked right into the finger trap. Trump was the hot comic; Obama the cool one. Hillary had the skill to be hard-funny, too, when it was called for: she killed at the Al Smith charity dinner, in New York, while Trump bombed. It didn’t matter, though, because that was not the role she fit in the popular imagination. Trump might be thin-skinned and easily offended, a grifter C.E.O. on a literal golden throne. But Hillary matched the look and the feel of Margaret Dumont: the rich bitch, Nurse Ratched, the buzzkill, the no-fun mom, the one who shut the joke down.

Conway can float in and out of different modes than Clinton can, partly because she has different political talents, but partly because she’s under different rhetorical constraints. These things are all imaginary, yes — but they work.

Still, Conway can be wrongfooted, too — here’s Loofbourow again: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 12:04 pm

The angel of history

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paul-klee-angelus-novus

Tim Carmody has an interesting post at Kottke.org:

This is from Walter Benjamin’s essay “On the Concept of History,” but I’m going to use the old translation back when it was called “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” and mess with the line breaks a little. If you’ve read this a million times, forgive me; it’s always worth reading again.

A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread.

This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.

The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.

But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.

This storm is what we call progress.

Benjamin wrote this in 1940, in Paris; he’d left Germany shortly before the Nazis seized power. After the Nazis invaded France, he fled to Spain, with a precious travel visa to the United States. Spain’s government then cancelled all transit papers. The police told Benjamin and all the other Jewish refugees in his group would be returned to France. He killed himself.

His friend Hannah Arendt later made it across the border safely; she had the manuscript of this essay. Which is why it exists.

Why is this useful?

These are chaotic times. But to the angel of history, it’s not a sudden eruption of chaos, but a manifestation of an ongoing vortex of chaos that stretches back indefinitely, without any unique origin. When we’re thrust into danger, in a flash we get a more truthful glimpse of history than the simple narratives that suffice in moments of safety. As Benjamin puts it, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”

Global refugees, the stubborn pervasiveness of white supremacy, the arbitrary power of the state, the fragility of national and international institutions — we’ve been here for some time now, haven’t we? One day, you stir, and there you are — right where you’ve always been. With nothing under your feet, and ghosts pausing for breath next to your cheek.

This is not normal — and yet it’s the same as it’s always been. Because there is no normal. Not really. Just a series of accidents, a trick of the light, a collective hallucination we’ve all worked to diligently maintain.

Even now, most of us are working to impose an order on the world, to see a plan at work, to sort the chaos into “distractions” and “reality,” whether it’s “real news,” uncovering the secret aims of an unseen puppet master, or articulating the one true politics that can Fix Everything. We can’t help it; it’s what we do.

Remembering the angel helps ameliorate that impulse. Yes, there are opportunists everywhere, and real losses and victories, but the perfect theory that links events into beautiful chains of causality is elusive enough to be a dream for a fallen people. “Only a redeemed mankind receives the fullness of its past — which is to say, only for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments.” For now, it’s all part of the storm; we’re all going to have to improvise.

For all his pessimism, rooted in a contempt and longing for a safety he couldn’t enjoy, Benjamin (I think) really did believe in the possibility of a Messiah, who would appear at a moment of great danger. It was a Jewish and a Marxist belief for someone who had great difficulty believing in either Judaism or Marxism in any of their existing forms.

There are a lot of people, on the left and the right, who share a version of this idea as a matter of dogma, without anything like the Kierkegaardian leap of faith Benjamin took in order to suspend his disbelief in it. Better to knock everything down, to build something new to replace it; heighten the stakes, so we have no choice but to take drastic steps to build paradise. I’m a lot less sure. I know what it took to build those things, and the emergencies that forced us to build them. It’s not an algebra problem to me, a clever lecture, a witty conjecture. I like those. Those are fun. This is not fun. This is blood and bones and broken things that do not come back. It would be nice to have a political or religious framework in which all those things can be mended or redeemed. It’s not available to me, except in its absence.

But for all that, I think I do believe in something smaller, more limited:

  • I believe that moments of emergency are shot through with new possibilities;
  • I believe there are more of us and there is more to us than we know;
  • I think that we are always becoming something new;
  • and this is because we don’t have a choice in the matter.

I think James Baldwin is right (Baldwin, like Benjamin, is somehow always right) when he writes in “Stranger in the Village” that while so many “American white men still nourish the illusion that there is some means of recovering the European innocence, of returning to a state in which black [and brown] men [and women] do not exist,” that

This is one of the greatest errors Americans can make. The identity they fought so hard to protect has, by virtue of that battle, undergone a change: Americans are as unlike any other white people in the world as it is possible to be. I do not think, for example, that it is too much to suggest that the American vision of the world — which allows so little reality, generally speaking, for any of the darker forces in human life, which tends until today to paint moral issues in glaring black and white — owes a great deal to the battle waged by Americans to maintain between themselves and black men a human separation which could not be bridged. It is only now beginning to be borne in on us — very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will— that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.

The time has come to realize that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Remember the ‘Thucydides Trap’? The Chinese Do; Trump Clearly Does Not

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This James Fallows article is from December, but it is more relevant now as we see how Trump will handle the presidency.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-9-36-14-am

In my cover story in the December issue of the magazine, on how the United States should prepare for the possibility of a more truculent and repressive China, I mention the concept of the “Thucydides Trap.” The article describes the implications:

This concept was popularized by the Harvard political scientist [and my one-time professor as an undergraduate] Graham Allison. Its premise is that through the 2,500 years since the Peloponnesian warfare that Thucydides chronicled, rising powers (like Athens then, or China now) and incumbent powers (like Sparta, or the United States) have usually ended up in a fight to the death, mainly because each cannot help playing on the worst fears of the other. “When a rising power is threatening to displace a ruling power, standard crises that would otherwise be contained, like the assassination of an archduke in 1914, can initiate a cascade of reactions that, in turn, produce outcomes none of the parties would otherwise have chosen,” Allison wrote in an essay for TheAtlantic.com last year.

The idea Allison was getting across—that managing relations between the United States and China is enormously important, and also very complex, and not guaranteed to turn out well—is built into the themes Henry Kissinger expressed to Jeffrey Goldberg in the interview in that same issue, and that I was explaining in my article, and that every U.S. president from Nixon through Obama has reflected upon and, with some variations, built into his policy toward China, the Koreas, Japan, Asia, and the world as a whole.

Reduced to three elements, this outlook would be:

  • Relations with China really matter, for each country’s interests and for the world’s;
  • They’re very complex and less obvious than they seem, in part because the Chinese government sees the world differently from the U.S. government in some important ways; and
  • If poorly managed, they can lead to great danger, even the unlikely-but-conceivable disaster of military showdown. This is another way of stating the first point, with emphasis on the downside.

In his press conference yesterday, President Obama lightly touched on several of these points, while talking about the entities we usually refer to as “Taiwan” (the Republic of China, HQ in Taipei) and “China” (the People’s Republic of China, HQ in Beijing). Here is what he said, with emphasis added:

There has been a longstanding agreement essentially between China and the United States, and to some degree the Taiwanese, which is to not change the status quo. Taiwan operates differently than mainland China does. China views Taiwan as part of China, but recognizes that it has to approach Taiwan as an entity that has its own ways of doing things.

The Taiwanese have agreed that as long as they’re able to continue to function with some degree of autonomy, that they won’t charge forward and declare independence. And that status quo, although not completely satisfactory to any of the parties involved, has kept the peace and allowed the Taiwanese to be a pretty successful economy and—of people who have a high degree of self-determination.

What I understand for China, the issue of Taiwan is as important as anything on their docket. The idea of One China is at the heart of their conception as a nation. And so if you are going to upend this understanding, you have to have thought through the consequences because the Chinese will not treat that the way they’ll treat some other issues.

They won’t even treat it the way they issues around the South China Sea, where we’ve had a lot of tensions. This goes to the core of how they see themselves.

And their reaction on this issue could end up being very significant. That doesn’t mean that you have to adhere to everything that’s been done in the past, but you have to think it through and have planned for potential reactions that they may engage in.

And now we have Donald Trump, five weeks away from being president but determined to put himself in the middle of U.S.-China relations as he has everything else. (Please see update after the jump)

As a general principle of life, I’m skeptical of claims that begin, “Oh, this is too complex, leave it to the experts.” Usually there is a simple way to convey the essence of an issue. But the simple way to state the reality of U.S.-China-Taiwan relations is that they are very complex and the product of decades’ worth of trade-offs and understandings, and that they are much easier to destroy than they were to create and sustain.

The joke about Homer Simpson, as the lovably incompetent operator at the Springfield Nuclear Plant, is that he had no idea of the complexity of what he was dealing with—or the potential consequences of his blunders. It’s not that everything in the world is more complex than it seems; it’s that nuclear plants are more complex, and dangerous. So too in dealings with China.

I can tell you that virtually everyone on the Chinese, North America, Asian and ASEAN, etc. front of U.S.-Chinese relations has a similar dread about Trump’s tweet-based “policy” toward China. Of course any aspect of U.S. policy should be up for re-examination, including this one. But Trump appears to have no idea what he is dealing with, what it has taken to make the relationship as stable as it has been, or what it could mean for it to go awry.

In the sequence leading to this latest tweet, we see an example of the latter point: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 11:20 am

Trump’s Immigration Order Is Just the Opening Salvo in Steve Bannon’s War Against Islam

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Kevin Drum seems to suggest we can expect a Reichstag-fire event, perhaps engineered by Bannon. Drum writes:

I mentioned this in the previous post, but it probably deserves a post all its own. Here are Brian Bennett and Noah Bierman of the LA Times, reporting on how Trump’s top advisors believe his immigration order is just the beginning of a much larger crackdown:

Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.

….The chief architects of Trump’s order, Bannon, Miller and National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn, forged strong bonds during the presidential campaign. The trio, who make up part of Trump’s inner circle, have a dark view of refugee and immigration flows from majority-Muslim countries.

….“We don’t want a situation where, 20 to 30 years from now, it’s just like a given thing that on a fairly regular basis there is domestic terror strikes, stores are shut up or that airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature,” the official said.

Steve Bannon, of course, has made it very clear on previous occasions what he thinks of Islam. In a presentation to a Vatican conference a couple of years ago, he attributed the growing power of the populist right to two things. First, there was the Great Recession, which showed ordinary people that capitalism was rigged against them. And second, there is Islam:

I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis.

….We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it….It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.

….If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept [Islam] out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places….And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do what I call a gut check, to really think about what our role is in this battle that’s before us.

Bannon acknowledges that the populist right includes “some aspects that may be anti-Semitic or racial,” but that doesn’t bother him much. They provide useful shock troops, and eventually “it all gets kind of washed out” anyway.

So: do you think Bannon’s intent when he orchestrated Trump’s immigration order was anti-Muslim? Hell, he’s all but admitted it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 10:43 am

Senators should ask Jeff Sessions his views on the firing of Sally Yates, with video

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 10:05 am

How will Trump deal with China other than with insults?

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James Fallows has two interesting articles in the Atlantic, both worth reading.

The first, “China’s Great Leap Backward,” begins:

What if china is going bad? Since early last year I have been asking people inside and outside China versions of this question. By “bad” I don’t mean morally. Moral and ethical factors obviously matter in foreign policy, but I’m talking about something different.

Nor is the question mainly about economics, although for China the short-term stability and long-term improvement of jobs, wages, and living standards are fundamental to the government’s survival. Under China’s single-party Communist arrangement, sustained economic failure would naturally raise questions about the system as a whole, as it did in the Soviet Union. True, modern China’s economic performance even during its slowdowns is like the Soviet Union’s during its booms. But the absence of a political outlet for dissatisfaction is similar.

Instead the question is whether something basic has changed in the direction of China’s evolution, and whether the United States needs to reconsider its China policy. For the more than 40 years since the historic Nixon-Mao meetings of the early 1970s, that policy has been surprisingly stable. From one administration to the next, it has been built on these same elements: ever greater engagement with China; steady encouragement of its modernization and growth; forthright disagreement where the two countries’ economic interests or political values clash; and a calculation that Cold War–style hostility would be far more damaging than the difficult, imperfect partnership the two countries have maintained.

That policy survived its greatest strain, the brutal Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989. It survived China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 and the enormous increase in China’s trade surpluses with the United States and everywhere else thereafter. It survived the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999 (an act assumed to be intentional by every Chinese person I’ve ever discussed it with), periodic presidential decisions to sell arms to Taiwan or meet with the Dalai Lama, and clashes over censorship and human rights.

The eight presidents who have managed U.S. dealings with modern China, Nixon through Obama, have essentially drawn from the same playbook. The situation could be different for the ninth. The China of 2016 is much more controlled and repressive than the China of five years ago, or even 10. I was living there at both of those earlier times—in Shanghai in 2006 and in Beijing five years later—and have seen the change firsthand. Given the chaotic contradictions of modern China, what any one person sees can be an exception. What strikes me is the consistency of evidence showing a country that is cracking down, closing up, and lashing out in ways different from its course in the previous 30-plus years.

The next president, then, will face that great cliché, a challenge that is also an opportunity. The challenge is several years of discouraging developments out of China: internal repression, external truculence, a seeming indifference to the partnership part of the U.S.-China relationship. The opportunity is to set out the terms of a new relationship at the very moment when it is most likely to command China’s attention: at the start of a new administration.You can tell which issues a new administration takes seriously and considers crucial to its political and substantive success. The president gives a major policy speech; big thinkers write essays; Cabinet departments roll out implementation plans; budget decisions follow. That’s the kind of effort I hope to see early next year. I can report that across the world of China scholars and policy veterans, people are already thinking hard about what should be in such a speech.Dealing with China is inescapable. It is becoming more difficult, and might get harder still.

hy does china need to be high on the new president’s priority list? Because an important assumption has changed.

In both word and deed, U.S. presidents from Nixon onward have emphasized support for China’s continued economic emergence, on the theory that a getting-richer China is better for all concerned than a staying-poor one, even if this means that the center of the world economy will move toward China. In one of his conversations with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Barack Obama said, “I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China.”

Underlying this strategic assessment was an assumption about the likely direction of China’s development. This was not the simplistic faith that if China became richer, it would turn into a liberal democracy. No one knows whether or when that might occur—or whether China will in fact keep prospering. Instead the assumption was that year by year, the distance between practices in China and those in other developed countries would shrink, and China would become easier rather than harder to deal with. More of its travelers and students and investors and families would have direct connections with the rest of the world. More of its people would have vacationed in France, studied in California, or used the internet outside China, and would come to expect similar latitude of choice at home. Time would be on the world’s side in deepening ties with Chinese institutions.

For a long period, the assumption held. Despite the ups and downs, the China of 2010 was undeniably richer and freer than the China of 2005, which was richer and freer than the China of 2000, and so on.

But that’s no longer true. Here are the areas that together indicate a turn: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 9:32 am

Bannon’s “Shock Event”

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From DemocraticUnderground.com:

From Heather Richardson, professor of History at Boston College:

“I don’t like to talk about politics on Facebook– political history is my job, after all, and you are my friends– but there is an important non-partisan point to make today.

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries– is creating what is known as a “shock event.”

Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order.

When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.

Last night’s Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.

Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like.
I don’t know what Bannon is up to– although I have some guesses– but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle– and my friends range pretty widely– who will benefit from whatever it is.

If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.

A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union.

If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power.

Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.”

https://www.facebook.com/heather.richardson.986/posts/654265404770041

A related image:

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-5-37-00-am

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 9:30 am

U.S. military botches online fight against Islamic State

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Given the amount the U.S. spends on the military, you’d think it could do a better job. Desmond Butler and Richard Lardner of the Associated Press report in Salon:

On any given day at MacDill Air Force Base, web crawlers scour social media for potential recruits to the Islamic State group. Then, in a high-stakes operation to counter the extremists’ propaganda, language specialists employ fictitious identities and try to sway the targets from joining ISIS ranks.

At least that’s how the multimillion-dollar initiative is being sold to the Defense Department.

A critical national security program known as “WebOps” is part of a vast psychological operation that the Pentagon says is effectively countering an enemy that has used the internet as a devastating tool of propaganda. But an Associated Press investigation found the management behind WebOps is so beset with incompetence, cronyism and flawed data that multiple people with direct knowledge of the program say it’s having little impact.

Several current and former WebOps employees cited multiple examples of civilian Arabic specialists who have little experience in counter-propaganda, cannot speak Arabic fluently and have so little understanding of Islam they are no match for the Islamic State online recruiters.

It’s hard to establish rapport with a potential terror recruit when — as one former worker told the AP — translators repeatedly mix up the Arabic words for “salad” and “authority.” That’s led to open ridicule on social media about references to the “Palestinian salad.”

Four current or former workers told the AP that they had personally witnessed WebOps data being manipulated to create the appearance of success and that they had discussed the problem with many other employees who had seen the same. Yet the companies carrying out the program for the military’s Central Command in Tampa have dodged attempts to implement independent oversight and assessment of the data.

Central Command spokesman Andy Stephens declined repeated requests for information about WebOps and other counter-propaganda programs, which were launched under the Obama Administration. And he did not respond to detailed questions the AP sent on Jan. 10.

The AP investigation is based on Defense Department and contractor documents, emails, photographs and interviews with more than a dozen people closely involved with WebOps as well as interviews with nearly two dozen contractors. The WebOps workers requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the work and because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The information operations division that runs WebOps is the command’s epicenter for firing back at the Islamic State’s online propaganda machine, using the internet to sway public opinion in a swath of the globe that stretches from Central Asia to the Horn of Africa.

Early last year, the government opened the bidding on a new counter-propaganda contract — separate from WebOps— that is worth as much as $500 million. Months after the AP started reporting about the bidding process, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service told the AP that it had launched an investigation. NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said the service is investigating a whistleblower’s “allegations of corruption” stemming from how the contract was awarded.

The whistleblower’s complaint alleges multiple conflicts of interest that include division officers being treated to lavish dinners paid for by a contractor. The complaint also alleges routine drinking at the office where classified work is conducted. The drinking was confirmed by multiple contractors, who spoke to AP and described a frat house atmosphere where happy hour started at 3 p.m.

One of the most damning accusations leveled by the whistleblower is against . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 9:10 am

Donald Trump Has a Goldman Sachs Problem: Derivatives

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

In the midst of being skewered across media outlets yesterday for his chaotic rollout of an Executive Order that appeared to target Muslims, including those legally living in the U.S. as businessmen, doctors, university faculty and students — who were initially denied reentry after travel abroad — President Donald Trump tried desperately to change the subject. Following a plunge of over 200 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average yesterday, Trump pivoted to something he thought would please his financial backers on Wall Street. He called the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation passed in 2010 by the Obama administration a “disaster” and promised to “do a big number” on it soon. The Dow closed down 122 points — now wary of Trump’s fire-ready-aim leadership on complex matters.

The legitimate fear across Wall Street right now is that Trump’s zero-vetting approach to rule-by-Executive-Order could leave Wall Street in the same chaotic state as the airports experienced from his ham-fisted approach to immigration.

But it’s not just Trump that Wall Street needs to fear: it’s Goldman Sachs as well. Trump has stuffed his administration with so many Goldman Sachs progeny that his administration is now regularly referred to as Government Sachs.

Goldman Sachs has a unique vested interest in repealing chunks of Dodd-Frank while making sure that the Glass-Steagall Act is not reinstated. That’s because when it comes to derivatives, Goldman Sachs is keeping a lot of secrets.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is the regulator of national banks. Each quarter it publishes a report on the derivative holdings of the biggest Wall Street banks and their holding companies. Its most recent report shows that as of September 30, 2016 Goldman Sachs Bank USA (a taxpayer-backstopped, FDIC insured bank where it holds its derivatives) had “credit exposure to risk-based capital” of 433 percent. That figure was more than double that of JPMorgan Chase (216 percent) and six times that of Bank of America (68 percent).

There’s another big problem with Goldman Sachs: it has a miniscule asset base compared to the big guns on Wall Street but it’s attempting to play in the big leagues in terms of derivatives. As the chart above shows, Goldman Sachs is the third largest holder of derivatives on Wall Street with $45.48 trillion in notionals (face amount). (As of 2015, the entire GDP of the United States was only $18 trillion.) But Goldman only has $880 billion in assets. That ratio compares to JPMorgan Chase with $2.5 trillion in assets and $50.6 trillion in derivatives and Citigroup with $1.8 trillion in assets and $51.78 trillion in derivatives.

The amount of these derivatives is insane on all levels but, clearly, Goldman stands out starkly in its ratios.

There’s another highly disturbing aspect of Goldman’s derivatives. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 9:09 am

Speaking of “betrayal,” this is the big story

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The White House called Sally Yates’s stand on principle—a stand that Sen. Jeff Sessions had more or less demanded in his questioning during her confirmation hearing in 2015 (see video below)—a “betrayal,” which it was not: she was doing her job.

But here is a betrayal described at TPM by Josh Marshall:

For all the pyrotechnics at the Justice Department today, this may be the bigger story. There’s been confusion over the last three days over whether Republicans on Capitol Hill were briefed, consulted or involved in writing President Trump’s now infamous immigration executive order. The White House has said they were. Republicans on the Hill said the first they heard of it was in news reports.

Now we have an explanation.

According to this story in Politico, the White House worked with senior staffers on the House Judiciary Committee to draft the order. But those staffers, who work ultimately for Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), didn’t tell their bosses. In other words, they secretly collaborated with White House staff without informing the members of Congress they work for. Indeed, the administration went so far as to have them sign non-disclosure agreements swearing them to secrecy!

This is quite simply unheard of.

To be clear, the executive works with Congress all the time to craft legislation. That’s the President working with members of Congress, though much of the actual work is delegated to staff. All normal. It’s congressional staff working for the executive without telling the members of Congress they work for which is the big deal.

There are two levels on which to understand this. One is simple workplace common sense. If your employee or subordinate does something behind your back that ends up embarrassing you or catching you off guard, that is a major breach. If you agree to do work for someone else and promise that someone else not to tell your boss, your boss is not going to be happy. Now, you may say there are plenty of more important things going on right now than a members of Congress getting insulted or having his feelings hurt. And you’d be right. But if there’s one thing members of Congress excel at it’s guarding their institutional and official privileges. How does Goodlatte trust these staffers again knowing they went behind his back?

I guarantee you: career staffers who are hearing about this are gobsmacked. It’s unheard of.

The second level is more complicated. I’m not sure this rises to the level of a formal separation of powers issue. But the idea of the White House coopting congressional staff behind the backs of members of Congress certainly runs roughshod over the overarching concept of two coequal and separate branches of government.

To be clear on one point, Goodlatte isn’t some moderate or softy. He’s an immigration hardliner. It’s unlikely he would have disagreed with at least the broad outlines of the executive order, though perhaps he might have disagreed with some of the particulars. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2017 at 9:07 am

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