Later On

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

Archive for May 31st, 2019

Trump-Drunk Republicans Are Choosing Russia Over the Constitution

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Stuart Stevens writes in the Daily Beast:

How did this happen? How did the Republican Party descend from the moral heights of Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” to this apologist sewer filled with the weak trying to reassure the weaker that weakness is a virtue?

For the first time in American history we have meticulously detailed evidence that a hostile foreign power attempted to influence the choice of an American commander in chief, and the collective Republican response is apparently, “Our side won, move on.”

The beating heart of America is courage. This is the nation born of the courage of a few who made the impossible appear inevitable. The 75th anniversary of D-Day is upon us, and yet Republicans don’t seem capable of summoning some mix of courage and decency to put country over their next primary. Courage is not standing up to Donald Trump. Courage is getting out of the boat when the man in front of you was just shot. That’s the legacy these Republicans are squandering and it should be called out for what it is: shameful.

The congressmen and senators of the party whose unofficial slogan is now “Lock her/him up” have a constitutional duty to defend our country and they are failing. It’s not an elective they are auditing for no credit at night school, it’s a sworn oath:

“I, ______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

It baffles me that any member of Congress or senator can read the Mueller Report, describing how the Russians referred to their campaign to help elect Donald Trump as “information warfare,” and not respond as if America was under attack. The modern Republican Party that has pushed the Pentagon budget to over $700 billion a year, that supports American military personnel in over 150 countries, those same Republicans have suddenly decided that Lenin’s “useful idiots” are their new role models.

Why? These are not stupid men and women, though more than a few do a fair imitation. Each will have their own justifications that amount to a personal Faustian bargain predicated on the self-delusion that some particular issue or cause is more important than their oath of office. But equally powerful will be the reinforcing group mentality that Rep. Justin Amash describes:

“My colleagues tell me all the time—in fact, you wouldn’t believe how many phone conversations I’ve had, or conversations in person with colleagues… A lot of them think I’m right about the Mueller Report. And they just won’t say it. A lot of Republicans. What they’ll say to me is, Justin, you know, going out publicly with that, you know the Democrats will never support you. You know that they’re hypocrites on this stuff. And I say, you know, some of them are and some of them aren’t. It doesn’t matter to me. Because you have to look at what you’re doing first. You have to care about what you’re doing. If you have a society where all we care about is that the other side is bad, and therefore we don’t have to do the right thing, that society will break down, and you will have no liberty. I refuse to be a part of that.

At the heart of the Trump presidency is a lie: almost every Republican elected official in Washington knows Donald Trump is unfit to be president. They knew it on Nov. 9, 2016, at 7 p.m., when they were planning on how to rebuild the party from the disaster of a nominating a know-nothing racist for president; and they knew it at midnight, when they were all frantically calling the oddballs and kooks Trump had assembled into a campaign to lavishly praise their brilliance.

The Republican Party stood by a candidate who ran on a religious test to enter the United States. They knew it was unconstitutional and indecent, but they were silent. All through 2016 I had conversations with what passes for leadership in the Republican Party on the need to stand up to Trump. Most of their responses went like this: “Trump is a disaster and a disgrace. But we have to let him lose on his own. If we, the Establishment, put our thumbs on the scale, when he loses it will be our fault and not the fault of his racism, the alt-right, those idiots at Breitbart. We will have elected Hillary Clinton. We have to let him lose and rebuild.”

To which I always responded, “But what if he wins?” Truth was, though, I didn’t think he would win, and I wasn’t great at making the case for something I didn’t believe. What these Republican leaders were saying wasn’t crazy. It just proved to be wrong. And in that miscalculation began the surrender of any sense of self to Donald Trump. So now the nation is in full possession of the reality that Russians—Russians, for cryin’ out loud—worked on the same side as every Republican volunteer, donor, elected official and Trump voter. When you learn that the bank you borrowed money from was actually owned by a drug cartel, should your first reaction be, “Well, we got a good interest rate”? The simple reality is that the Republican Party was in business with Russian intelligence efforts, what used to be known as the KGB, and precious few leading the Republican Party seem to give a damn.

I’ve spent decades waking up every morning eager to fight Democrats, trying to gain every bit of advantage for every battle. God knows we made mistakes and played too often on the Dark Side. But I never woke up knowing that somewhere out there a Russian agent was waking up with the same job I had. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2019 at 8:53 pm

A Stain on the Honor of the Navy

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Eliot A. Cohen, Professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, writes in the Atlantic:

One prays to the “Eternal Father, strong to save / Whose arm hath bound the restless wave” that The Wall Street Journal has got it horribly wrong. The newspaper reports that the United States Navy, under orders from the White House and with the approval of the acting secretary of defense and the compliance of a chain of naval officers in the Seventh Fleet, did its efficient best to conceal the name John McCain from President Donald Trump’s sight when he recently visited Yokosuka Naval Base.

The ship is under repair, so it could not be moved. But sailors hung a tarp over the ship’s name, and other measures (a strategically positioned barge) helped obscure the offending words. Sailors were told to remove all coverings that might indicate that the ship is the USS John S. McCain. They were, according to the article, given the day off, lest the name John McCain, embroidered on their caps, give offense. On the day of the presidential visit, some of the sailors present wore “Make Aircrew Great Again” patches, with something that resembled Trump’s profile on them. Subsequent stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post amended the Journal’s story somewhat, to include the assertion that naval leadership intervened at the last minute to have the tarp removed. But the basic account remained intact.

Dishonor. Not to to the late senator, nor to his father and grandfather of the same name, who rendered the same distinguished service in war and peace. Their deeds and reputations are far beyond such mean contrivances. But dishonor indeed to the civilians and officers who hold the lives of young Americans in their hands and went along with this. That the president might wish such behavior is not surprising—he is mean, petty, and vindictive, and even if he did not order this (and he quickly tweeted a denial that he had), he signaled that he wished it. It is what is known in strongman governments as “working toward the Leader.” It is the effect of a personality that contaminates and corrodes every valuable thing he touches.

Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis would never have agreed to this. But his successor may well have gone along with it. He is, after all, only an acting secretary, and desires the real title from a boss who likes to string ambitious men and women along.

Naval officers of the past—a Preble or a Farragut or a Nimitz—would have disdained such requests. If called on the carpet, they would have spoken up and spoken back, with the firmness expected of officers from a service known for its ornery independence. But perhaps we have fewer of those these days. Petty officers in days gone by would have growled at their enlisted men and women to keep political statements off their shoulders, and enforced the political neutrality of the armed forces. But maybe they no longer understand that public displays of partisan attachment are anathema to good order and discipline. Maybe they wanted to wear MAGA hats, too.

That this could happen to the mightiest armed forces on Earth should worry Americans far more than reports of Chinese hypersonic missiles or ace Russian-military hacking teams. When large elements of the chain of command yield to illegitimate and morally corrupt demands of this kind, there is reason to fear veins of rottenness in the whole structure. When naval officers can agree to dishonor the memory of a real hero, who suffered five years of torment and refused early release, a statesman who in his first career was blood of their blood and flesh of their flesh, and who is buried on the grounds of the Naval Academy itself, the service is in a bad way.

Those who went along with these requests disgraced themselves and disgraced the oaths they took when they joined the service or became public officials. In a just world, they would lose their commissions or resign their posts, but they will not. They will burrow more deeply in. They will do so because it is the nature of the moral compromise of someone sworn to a demanding code that weakness begets weakness, yielding begets yielding, and cowardice begets still more cowardice.

Leadership teams at companies that act this way for a while eventually blow themselves up in scandal or bankruptcy. A financial reckoning comes sooner or later, and then the shareholders or the courts or scavenging capitalists slice up the remains. But there is nothing more perilous than an armed force without honor. Democratic peoples trust the armed forces with immense, almost inconceivable reservoirs of physical force and influence. That trust, once squandered, takes a long, long time to regain.

More dangerous, a service that tolerates sycophancy will get America’s sons and daughters killed, and lead them to defeat in America’s wars. War is not . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2019 at 8:47 pm

The Liberal Sciences and the Lost Arts of Learning

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Full disclosure: I am an alumnus of St. John’s College (Annapolis MD) and a decade later served as director of admissions at that campus for three years. The initial freshman assignment described in the article, drawing a dogwood tree, is since my time, but I think it’s ingenious. The essay notes:

The other question on the lips of students engaged in tree drawing, a not unreasonable one, is “Why are we doing this?” In what possible way would drawing a tree relate to the study of great books?

As an alumnus and one-time teacher, I can say with some certainty that a student who asks such a question will be requested to give an answer, and other students encouraged to join in the discussion. It would be interesting to see what the students come up with.

Brent Orrell writes in Law & Liberty:

When freshmen arrive at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, one of their first assignments is to draw a picture of the dogwood tree that stands near the center of campus. With no training, preparation, even or much in the way of explanation, the students are told to study the tree closely and to render some aspect of it with paper and pencil.

Students say this drawing assignment is surprisingly challenging. Bearing the normal worries of a college freshman, to which are added the prospect of four years of intensive “great books” study covering the canon of Western thought from Aristotle to Einstein, they are directed to observe a tree. The sheer open-endedness of the assignment catches new students flat-footed. Anxious to impress, they are flooded with performance-related fears (“How will I know if I’ve done it right?”), the product of 12 years of graded assignments, tests, and an adolescence spent climbing the greasy pole of secondary school stardom. For St. John’s to work, performative habits, many years in the making, must be undone. Observing the tree and attempting to draw what one sees is the first, halting step in that process.

A Culture of Observation

The other question on the lips of students engaged in tree drawing, a not unreasonable one, is “Why are we doing this?” In what possible way would drawing a tree relate to the study of great books? The St. John’s College seal (above) offers the beginning of an answer to that question. The motto reads, “I make free adults from children by books and a balance.” Those words and symbols are worth pondering. The balance symbolizes the enterprise of modern science which so dominates our intellectual, economic, and social lives that we barely notice it. For most Westerners, there is only one pathway to “real” knowledge and it is embodied in the scientific method. Under the weight of empiricism, other forms of knowledge crumble into opinion. The balance embodies the post-Cartesian counting and measuring that is the means by which we have converted the rest of nature into an instrument of human well-being. The books that surround the balance are the great works of pre-Cartesian learning that propose a different approach to knowledge, scientific and otherwise, based on Aristotelian observation. The question the observational approach poses is not “What can I do with this?” but “What kind of thing is this, and what is it in itself?”

In mid-March, I had the opportunity to spend two days on the St. John’s campus attending science labs and mathematics tutorials to get a better understanding of how the New Program (the name given to St. John’s great books program in the mid-1930s) seeks to achieve integration of the observational and instrumental approaches to the science. The labs and tutorials bear a strong resemblance to the seminars that make up the rest of the St. John’s program. As with the seminars that deal with seminal works of philosophy, history, and literature, the mathematics and science classes are founded on the reading of original texts. Math courses focus on the works of Euclid, Ptolemy, Nichomachus, and Leibniz in which students “re-prove” the original proofs of geometry and calculus. Science labs rely on papers written by scientists who first made or articulated key discoveries in physics, chemistry, genetics, and other fields of investigation using the modern scientific method. Frequently, these readings are accompanied by experiments that seek to replicate the results detailed in the papers.

For labs, students assemble in a laboratory room around a square table accommodating 20 to 25 students. The sessions are led by a tutor and the emphasis is on a non-hierarchical instruction and learning. The use of the title of “tutor” de-emphasizes the role of the instructor who is understood to be simply the most advanced student in the room. While almost all tutors have Ph.D.’s, none are addressed as “professor” and their academic training may or may not be in field covered by the lab. (All St. John’s tutors eventually teach every aspect of the program creating a broad, democratized base of knowledge within the faculty.)

The expectation for all classes is that students will have read the text for the class session but tutors do not have a formal lesson plan or learning objective. Typically, a tutor will raise a question for consideration but most of the conversation occurs between the students rather than between the students and the tutor. This points to an important aspect of St. John’s pedagogy: we learn not just by listening but by speaking because it is through spoken articulation that students are forced to assemble disparate thoughts into coherent statement and to have their beliefs and conclusions tested and amended by others in real time. All relevant questions are deemed valid but all assertions and interpretations must be backed by evidence and argument.

Consistent with an observational approach, questions rather than answers form the basis of St. John’s pedagogy generally, including science instruction. One St. John’s graduate described to me how the school approached that staple of biology instruction, frog dissection. In a normal science class, students are prepped to look for certain things (“Find the heart; find the spinal cord; find the lungs”). St. John’s inverts this approach and asks students, “What do you want to know about the frog?” The formulation of the questions precedes the first incision because the incision disrupts the subject. Looking for one thing may obscure other things. The most important issue the student confronts is deciding what is important to know rather than getting answers to instrumental questions of how a particular organ or system works.

A complementary aspect of the St. John’s pedagogy is its emphasis on civil exchange. In the context of higher ed systems that are riven by intersectional conflict, the St. John’s approach is remarkable. Pano Kanelos, the president of the Annapolis campus (St. John’s is collectively made up of two campuses, the other in Santa Fe, New Mexico), noted that while other colleges and universities across the country had experienced a variety of disruptions, protests, and “silencing” of controversial voices, the spirit of open inquiry and civility at St. John has had the effect of channeling those social currents into constructive dialogue. But the Socratic system at St. John’s goes much deeper than just amelioration of strong and strongly held differences between students. The underlying purpose is to develop habits of “good disagreement”: reasoned exchange in which both parties’ primary value is the pursuit of truth rather than intellectual or political victory.

Inside the classroom, tutors and students adopt a formal style, addressing one another as “Mister” or “Ms.”. This is not an affectation but critical to de-personalizing disagreement. Another place you can see this relational strategy is the floor of the U.S. Senate where the rules require members who are often at daggers drawn to address one another through the Senate president and in the third person: “my friend” (often he or she isn’t) or “my esteemed colleague” (often used to veil feelings of contempt). These rhetorical gambits help redirect passions away from the person and toward the subject at hand. In the broader American culture of anger and confrontation these social lubricants are dismissed as hypocrisy. In reality, it is a form of civility that puts guardrails around conflict and helps hold democratic systems together.

Entering the Time-Warp

A St. John’s laboratory session is something of a time-warp. Nominal time proceeds at its usual pace, but class time slows and intensifies. In the sessions I attended, the tutor provided a very brief introduction to the topic and then asked a question directed to an aspect of the paper under discussion. What ensues is what I call, “the Johnnie pause.” Silence in the classroom can be disconcerting, and St. John’s tutors are experts in allowing silence to do its work. It is possible to interpret the pause, as I initially did, as a lack of readiness or a failure to have “done the reading.” In reality, what the pause usually represents is concentrated thought, an effort to come to grips with the concept at hand and the tutor’s question. After a minute or two, a student hazards sharing a thought or question for further deliberation. This thread is picked up by another student to be affirmed, elaborated upon, or challenged. Gradually, the conversations develop momentum with the tutors intervening only if the discussion drifts too far into error or from the subject at hand. Depending on the class, this type of engagement goes on for two hours or more.

As the conversation of the physical phenomenon under discussion grows more complex, language is revealed to be inadequate to the task of describing abstract thought. At this point, students resort to drawing on the chalkboard to more clearly demonstrate their questions and hypotheses and the process of emendation continues in pictures. What this reveals is that scientific investigation is primarily a matter of imagination since the realities being investigated are frequently invisible and incompletely understood. Physical phenomena are described through analogy. During a discussion of complexities of electromagnetic lines of force, a student resorted to saying, “It’s like magic”, which has an unsatisfying feel but reflects the sense of wonder and discovery that drives the scientific process.

In the St. John’s pedagogy, scientific knowledge is not grasped but approached gradually from a distance and with the understanding that the observer will never quite arrive. In one lab, I saw students wrestle with the question of whether light is a wave or a particle with the class coming reluctantly to the same conclusion as Louis de Broglie, whose 1929 Nobel Prize-winning paper on the topic was the day’s reading: we don’t know for certain and probably can’t.

There is a tension in that statement. We crave certainty, and in the provisional nature of truth one detects the risk of relativism: there is no truth. Yet the thrust of the St. John’s program is that final knowledge, while it is held to exist and must be pursued, cannot be possessed. The more we move toward the possessive understanding of knowledge, the more mystery is discarded and knowledge takes on the instrumental character of post-Cartesian thought. In his 2010 Dean’s Statement, St. John’s tutor and former dean, Michael Dink, wrote about the school’s approach to the relationship between science and the humanities. He said . . .

Continue reading.

I was the admissions director who admitted Michael Dink, who was an impressive student.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2019 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Education

Over 200 Allegations of Abuse of Migrant Children; 1 Case of Homeland Security Disciplining Someone

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I recognize the US less and less. It is moving rather quickly in a bad direction. (Another mass shooting today, BTW. And the US says, “Nothing can be done. You just have to put up with it.”) A.C. Thompson reports in ProPublica:

From 2009 to 2014, at least 214 complaints were filed against federal agents for abusing or mistreating migrant children. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s records, only one employee was disciplined as a result of a complaint.

The department’s records, which have alarmed advocates for migrants given the more aggressive approach to the treatment of minors at the border under the current administration, emerged as part of a federal lawsuit seeking the release of the names of the accused agents.

Last month, attorneys for DHS argued before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that disclosing the names of the federal agents would infringe on their right to privacy. A district judge had earlier ordered the department to make the names public.

The fact that only a single case of discipline apparently resulted from more than 200 complaints of child abuse clearly worried the district judge, John Tuchi, of Arizona, who ruled on the matter in the spring of 2018. In his order demanding the release of the names, Tuchi faulted DHS for failing to vigorously investigate claims of misconduct, stating that “completed investigations were almost nonexistent.”

DHS declined to comment for this story. [Of course they did. They don’t have to answer to anyone. – LG]

The ongoing legal battle stretches back to 2014, when American Civil Liberties Union chapters in Arizona and Southern California began seeking details about the alleged mistreatment of minors apprehended and detained by Customs and Border Protection, an agency within Homeland Security. Using the Freedom of Information Act, attorneys with the ACLU approached DHS with a request for copies of all records regarding the verbal, physical and sexual abuse of minors by Customs or Border Patrol personnel.

The ACLU’s fact-finding initiative came as the federal government struggled to deal with a massive spike in the number of children — many from violence-plagued Central American countries, many unaccompanied by parents — crossing the southern border into the U.S.

Hoping to speed the release of the documents, the ACLU later filed suit. While the federal government eventually turned over some 30,000 pages of heavily redacted records, including 214 allegations of child abuse by agents, it has balked at disclosing the names of the Border Patrol and Customs personnel alleged to have harmed minors.

ACLU attorney Mitra Ebadolahi said that without the names of Customs and Border Protection employees — or some other way to identify them, such as tracking numbers — it’s impossible to divine basic facts about the agency’s handling of children. “We don’t know the total number of complaints submitted by a child or on behalf of a child,” Ebadolahi said in an interview, noting that there are likely far more than 214 complaints. “We don’t know the number of agents implicated. Is it a handful of agents? Are they clustered in a certain sector? Were any of those agents disciplined?”

The single disciplinary record released by DHS involved an employee with Immigration and Customs Enforcement who verbally abused a minor.

DHS maintains that the records it has already shared offer a detailed picture of the abuse allegations — including date, location and the substance of the complaint — as well as the government’s efforts to investigate them. For the public, there’s little value in “knowing the names of specific individual agents who have been subject to allegations of misconduct,” said DHS attorney Laura Myron during oral arguments before the 9th Circuit on May 16. Myron stressed that the privacy rights of Border Patrol and Customs employees would be violated by the release of their names in connection with the abuse complaints.

Myron disputed Tuchi’s view that DHS had failed to thoroughly investigate the allegations, saying his statement was not supported by the evidence presented in the case, or the documents turned over to the ACLU.

In court, Judge Sandra Ikuta expressed concern that the ACLU would “harass” the employees and endanger their lives by publishing their names.

“We would accept some alternative [to the release of the names] that would allow the public to look at the records that we’ve obtained and make sense of them, Ebadolahi responded. “There are cases where agencies have done that.”

The complaints unearthed by Ebadolahi and her colleagues, though redacted, offer glimpses of troubling patterns of behavior within the ranks. One boy told investigators “that during his apprehension by Border Patrol agents he was hit on the head with a flashlight. … He sustained a laceration to his scalp that required three (3) staples.” The boy’s story was buttressed by the fact that he had three clearly visible staples closing a fresh wound on his head. Other children reported being punched, shocked with Tasers, and denied food and medicine. Many described being bludgeoned with flashlights.

In one memo, from June 2014, a DHS investigator suggested shutting down an investigation into a minor offense because the department was deluged with a “huge amount of more serious complaints.”

This is disgusting, but this is the US today: the US government abusing children without any accountability or penalties.

Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978) served as U.S. Vice President from 1965 to 1969. At the Hubert Humphrey Building dedication in Washington, D.C. on November 1, 1977, Humphrey spoke about the treatment of the weakest members of society as a reflection of its government: “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

The measure of the US is pretty low.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2019 at 4:46 pm

In Terrifying Interview, William Barr Goes Full MAGA

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

After the legal Establishment had granted him the benefit of the doubt, Attorney General William Barr has shocked his erstwhile supporters with his aggressive and frequently dishonest interventions on behalf of President Trump. The spectacle of an esteemed lawyer abetting his would-be strongman boss’s every authoritarian instinct has left Barr’s critics grasping for explanations. Some have seized on the darker threads of his history in the Reagan and Bush administrations, when he misled the public about a secret Department of Justice memo and helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal.

But Barr’s long, detailed interview with Jan Crawford suggests the rot goes much deeper than a simple mania for untrammeled Executive power. Barr has drunk deep from the Fox News worldview of Trumpian paranoia.

It is hard to convey how far over the edge Barr has gone without reading the entire interview, which lasted an hour. But a few key comments illustrate the depth of his investment in Trump’s perspective.

Barr, as he has done repeatedly, provides a deeply misleading account of what Robert Mueller found. “He did not reach a conclusion,” he says. “He provided both sides of the issue, and … his conclusion was he wasn’t exonerating the president, but he wasn’t finding a crime either.”

As Mueller stated in the report and again at his press conference, he felt bound by a policy preventing him from charging the president with a crime, or even saying the president had committed a crime. Mueller’s view is that his job vis-à-vis presidential misconduct is to describe the behavior and leave it up to Congress to decide if it’s a crime. Several hundred former federal prosecutors have stated, and Mueller clearly signaled, the actions he described in the Mueller report are crimes, or would be if the president could be charged with a crime.

Later in the interview, Barr grossly contradicts Mueller’s findings with regard to Trump’s ties to Russia. “Mueller has spent two and half years, and the fact is, there is no evidence of a conspiracy,” he says. “So it was bogus, this whole idea that the Trump was in cahoots with the Russians is bogus.”

This is just a wild lie. Mueller was unable to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia. He was unable to establish this, in part, because “some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right,” or “provided information that was false or incomplete,” or “deleted relevant communications.” Indeed, the two Trump campaign officials most closely linked to Russian cutouts, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, refused to cooperate with prosecutors. A failure to establish a criminal conspiracy is not the same thing as finding “no evidence of a conspiracy.” Nowhere does the Mueller report say there’s no evidence of a conspiracy. Some of the potential conspiracy elements were unprovable — Mueller never figured out why Manafort gave 75 pages of polling data to a Russian agent.

Barr, amazingly, goes even farther to say the report proved “this whole idea that the Trump was in cahoots with the Russians is bogus.” In fact, the Mueller report notes that it did not even try to establish whether the campaign was “in cahoots” with Russia. The report states that it “applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion.’”

The report in fact finds extensive evidence that Trump was in cahoots with Russia. His top campaign officials took a meeting with a Russian agent promising them help from the Russian government. Trump asked Russia on camera to hack his opponent’s emails, and they carried out a hacking attempt that day. Trump was pursuing a lucrative, no-risk business deal requiring Russian government approval during the campaign and lying about it, making him vulnerable to blackmail by Russia. Sharing an explosive secret that could destroy your campaign in order to potentially collect a massive payoff from a party that you know is doing illegal things to help you is the definition of being in cahoots.

Barr goes on to repeat Trump’s obsession with texts capturing the political chatter of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two romantically-involved FBI agents. “It’s hard to read some of the texts with and not feel that there was gross bias at work, and they’re appalling,” he tells Crawford.

There is, in fact, nothing unusual about FBI agents expressing political opinions. An investigation by the FBI’s Inspector General “did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions that we reviewed.” And no serious person doubts the overall weight of political opinion at the FBI leans rightward. The bureau has never had a Democratic director, and James Comey testifiedthat, during the campaign, agents appeared to be leaking heavily to Rudy Giuliani. (Comey violated policy by scolding Clinton, and then publicly reopening the investigation, in part due to the pressure of the leaks from the FBI’s pro-Trump cabal.) Barr’s depiction of the FBI as a bastion of anti-Trump sentiment is grossly at odds with the evidence.

Even more astonishingly, Barr proceeds from that false premise to liken the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump to right-wing birther conspiracies:

I think if the shoe was on the other foot we could be hearing a lot about it. If those kinds of discussions were held, you know, when Obama first ran for office, people talking about Obama in those tones and suggesting that “Oh that he might be a Manchurian candidate for Islam or something like that.” You know some wild accusations like that and you had that kind of discussion back and forth, you don’t think we would be hearing a lot more about it?

By likening the Russia scandal to birther conspiracies, Barr is tracking the arguments made by the most fanatical members of the pro-Trump commentariat, who treat it as a complete hoax. In fact, the Trump campaign had dozens and dozens of contacts with Russians, cultivating and relying on their hidden and sometimes illegal support. For Barr to liken these connections to a completely fabricated theory about Obama as a secret Muslim agent boggles the mind.

Barr portrays the Russia investigation as an effort to overturn Trump’s election:

I mean, republics have fallen because of Praetorian Guard mentality where government officials get very arrogant, they identify the national interest with their own political preferences and they feel that anyone who has a different opinion, you know, is somehow an enemy of the state. And you know, there is that tendency that they know better and that, you know, they’re there to protect as guardians of the people. That can easily translate into essentially supervening the will of the majority and getting your own way as a government official.

This is Trump’s own favorite conspiracy theory, dressed up in more elevated language than Trump himself can muster — “Praetorian Guard mentality” — but making the same ugly charge that the FBI plotted an illegal coup to stop Trump’s election.

Barr hints repeatedly throughout the interview that he has seen secret evidence he cannot share that supports his sinister conclusion. “I have not gotten answers that are well satisfactory, and in fact probably have more questions, and that some of the facts that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened,” he says. “That’s all I really will say. Things are just not jiving.”

It is impossible to disprove Barr’s claim to have uncovered a secret cabal to defeat Trump. But one might wonder why this cabal chose to infiltrate Trump’s campaign in an effort to smear him as a Russian stooge, and then fail to use the dirt before the election. Indeed, even as reporters were probing Trump’s growing swath of shady Russia ties, the FBI was aggressively spinning the opposite story to the media. The New York Times reported this spin in a now-infamous story asserting “No clear link to Russia,” and “even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”

Barr’s theory is that a partisan cabal of rabid Trump-haters decided to undermine his campaign by ginning up a phony scandal that they kept secret, even lying to the media, is like the Dr. Strangelove Soviet Doomsday machine. (The device deterred a nuclear first strike by automatically launching a response, but the Soviets neglected to tell the United States because “the Premier loves surprises.”)

The most frighteningly clarifying comment comes at the end, when Barr lays out his belief that President Trump poses no threat whatsoever to democratic norms. The threat is the “resistance”:

I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it’s President Trump that’s shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that, it is hard, and I really haven’t seen … particulars as to how that’s being done. From my perspective the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and, you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that is where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.

In fact, the opposition to Trump has been marked, on the whole, by its fastidious restraint. At times Barr has used their restraint against them. Because Mueller believed his role prevents him from labeling Trump’s actions crimes, Barr says Mueller couldn’t decide if they were criminal or not. He says the relatively mild steps taken to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia during the campaign prove the concerns couldn’t have been serious. (“I’m wondering what exactly was the response to it if they were alarmed,” he sneers to Crawford. “Surely the response should have been more than just, you know, dangling a confidential informant in front of a peripheral player in the Trump campaign.”) If the FBI was investigating Trump, it proves they were out to get him, but if they tread lightly, it proves Trump was innocent. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2019 at 2:10 pm

Improving on the Mediterranean Diet & Do Flexitarians Live Longer?

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Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2019 at 8:26 am

2, 89, 400, 1411, …

with 2 comments

I do like my Fendrihan 400 brush, a synthetic with a nice feel and interesting handle (which comes in other colors). It made an excellent lather from the vintage Floris No. 89 (still available but the current formulation is different).

Three passes with the excellent Fendrihand Mk II razor left my face totally smooth. This razor is among my favorites. It’s a stainless steel razor, and this model is coated in bronze.

A good splash of 4711 finished the job and ushered me into the end of the week.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2019 at 7:47 am

Posted in Shaving

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