The sleep of reason brings nightmares

Nothing combines Trump’s ignorance, cruelty, fecklessness and desperation like [what I suppose is] Stephen Miller’s idea of sending refugees into sanctuary cities.  It’s nature imitating art, Brers Fox and Bear throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch.

The way this scheme is supposed to work is that we (I live in one of those places) will be terrified at the prospect and crime will soar when it happens, so we will vote against all our Democratic officials and, I guess, form vigilante gangs and go after the refugees violently. Boy, that’ll show those luftmensch liberals and the refugees both, right?

But every assumption behind this is completely wrong. These are people who don’t want to be raped and killed, and have the courage to trek two thousand miles to protect their kids, and who trust US decency and law, and being immigrants will have lower crime rates than the native population. The idea that they are going to scare the pants off us is completely and obviously nuts. Sanctuary cities declared themselves such having lots of experience with immigrants; we know exactly what to expect, and it’s OK with us.

Aside from its viciousness and illegality, it’s hard to think of a Trump initiative that is so completely disconnected from facts and reality; not just slightly off, but totally mad.  The White House continues to plumb new depths of sick and stupid; are there any more wheels that can come off this thing?

Why you can skip the SOTU

The word considerable does not mean what most people think it does. It means “needing or deserving of consideration” , not “big”  or “a lot” .  It means what everything Donald Trump says is not, and tonight’s speech (and the post-speech tweets and flailing about by flacks and shills that will follow) will be more proof: Trump’s discourse is not considerable and should just be ignored as such. 

One significance of the Jewish ceremony of Bar Mitzvah is that the principal is now responsible for what he says: when an adult says he will do something, the odds that he will should go up, and in general people can depend on that and make corresponding commitments. What Trump says he will do has no such significance: his statements of intent are vacuous and ephemeral, as Mitch McConnell and the dozens people he has stiffed in business can attest.

When grownups assert facts about the world, the assertion has some bearing on what you should believe, though of course some are better informed than others or smarter.  When Trump says practically anything, his relentless, terrier-like, purposeful ignorance means it has no informative value whatever, whether he’s noodling about climate, Iran, the border, or trade data.

A third kind of discourse enlightens us about the speaker’s values: “I’m a Christian” is shorthand for a bunch of actions in the world one can expect the speaker to try to perform or not.  Trump’s value statements are as vacuous, and as labile—whether odious or decent–as his fact discourse. 

It’s not just a matter of mendacity, though his endless, insouciant lying about big things and small have a lot to do with this. He doesn’t misrepresent his values; he just doesn’t have any (except his own ego). If there were money to made from it, and he had permission from Laura Ingraham and Putin, he would as readily get on a climate alarm jag as he does about immigrants.

All of which has been a paralyzing problem for all of us and especially for the press.  Deference to his office, and long journalistic tradition, seems to require that when the president says “A is B”, the fact that he said it requires reporting, perhaps with a quote from another source who says “no, it’s not!” But when this president says absolutely anything, the event is not like any other president, or any other important public official saying something.  It has no bearing on anyone’s belief, on what he will do in the future, or on our views of him: it’s not considerable. It’s like a horserace prediction based on a dice roll. We’ve had two years of our press trying to treat Trump’s discourse as the utterances of a responsible, more-or-less-informed, responsible adult: it’s time to stop. The word lie is, thankfully, starting to be used to characterize his mendacities, but why tell us about something that will be inoperative or a passing fancy by the next news cycle?  We need a completely new convention, recognizing that the presidential utterance process has been replaced with an inconsequential–not considerable—model, and treating it like the “speech” of a parrot or random artificial speech generator.

Not considerable: how to listen to tonight’s speech, or why you can just ignore it.

Donald Trump’s War on Coal

Trump will oversee a much steeper fall in coal than Obama did.


“They want to be miners, but their jobs have been taken away. And we’re going to bring them back, folks.” – candidate Donald Trump on August 10, 2016, with similar statements on many other occasions.

In contrast, the Trump Administration action on this promise has been negligible. One regulation on water pollution from mines was reversed (idem). A proposal to subsidise coal on grounds of “grid resilience” was shot down in flames by a unanimous FERC, the majority of whose members are Trump appointees.

Derelict coal mine in Hashima, Japan

There’s been talk of a new plan using emergency powers and an entirely different and equally specious claim of national security, but the Deep State (i.e. Trump officials who still have two working neurones) have sidelined it.
Trump has appointed a key author of Plan A, Bernard McNamee, to FERC – but there is already a serious legal challenge to force him to recuse himself from taking part in decisions on his own proposals.

Meanwhile, the industry has continued to operate under Obama’s rules. Production actually increased a little in 2017, but this was entirely due to a temporary spike in Chinese imports. It fell slightly in 2018, tracking the slow decline in domestic demand. Jobs are holding up pretty well. At first sight, Trump can plausibly claim at least to have stopped the rot.

He has not. The first bad sign is an acceleration in closures of coal generating plants, an equal record 15 GW in 2018. Chart from IEEFA:

It doesn’t look too bad for the years ahead, does it? But in fact the firmly announced closures are the tip of a Titanic iceberg. There is much, much worse to come.

Continue reading “Donald Trump’s War on Coal”

Dayspring Mishandled?

A conspiracy theory on the Prague meeting.

(Explanation for the obscure title at the end)

I should not be telling you this, but I think readers have a right to know before the weekend.

The Steele dossier on Trump’s numerous shady ties to Russia includes the notorious alleged visit by Cohen to Prague in August 2016.

1. Speaking to a compatriot and friend on 19 October 2016, a Kremlin insider provided further details of reported clandestine meeting/s between Republican presidential candidate, Donald TRUMP’S lawyer Michael COHEN and Kremlin representatives in August 2016. Although the communication between them had to be cryptic for security reasons, the Kremlin insider clearly indicated to his/her friend that the reported contact/s took place in Prague, Czech Republic.

2. Continuing on this theme, the Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of the Russian parastatal organisation, Rossotrudnichestvo, in this contact between TRUMP campaign representative/s and Kremlin officials. Rossotrudnichestvo was being used as cover for this relationship and its office in Prague may well have been used to host the COHEN / Russian Presidential Administration (PA) meeting/s. It was considered a “plausibly deniable” vehicle for this, whilst remaining entirely under Kremlin control.

3. The Kremlin insider went on to identify leading pro-PUTIN Duma figure, Konstantin KOSACHEV (Head of the Foreign Relations Committee) as an important figure in the TRUMP campaign-Kremlin liaison operation. KOSACHEV, also “plausibly deniable” being part of the Russian legislature rather than executive, had facilitated the contact in Prague and by implication, may have attended the meeting/s with COHEN there in August.

Cohen – even after his plea deal – continues to maintain he has never been to Prague and was in Rome or maybe Capri at the time. However, McClatchy reporters have found circumstantial evidence (cellphone location records) that he was there after all. What will the Mueller report reveal? If the Steele dossier’s allegation is confirmed, it could be the smoking gun that ends the Trump presidency.

My own high-level source (whose identity I am sworn not to reveal) makes the following observation, couched as a speculation. Suppose you are the head of the Czech security service BIS, Michal Koudelka. He will see Putin’s machinations to weaken or destroy the NATO alliance and reestablish Russian hegemony over the former Soviet empire as a critical threat to the security of his country. Such threats justify extreme measures. The BIS will have put a major effort into checking the Steele claims of collusion with Donald Trump, the Trump organization, or the Trump campaign. They know what really happened in Prague.

Let’s suppose that these efforts have turned up a blank on the visit: Cohen did not meet Kremlin representatives in Prague, though the conspiracy was real. A professional counterespionage officer would inevitably think about an operation to “frame the guilty”. Continue reading “Dayspring Mishandled?”

Staffing for success

Every management book says choosing the right lieutenants and partners is critical to success for any enterprise: always surround yourself with the best people. Even Donald Trump at least paid lip service to the idea when he promised to do that coming into office (that was before the best, the pretty good, the OK-I-guess, and strata right down to unqualified figured out it was time to run away from him, so he had to hire out of dumpsters). So his judgment of Michael Cohen as “weak” and “not very smart” seemed odd given their two-decade relationship…was that a new insight?

Readers will surely be as puzzled as I was, but Alexandra Petri brilliantly resolves this mystery today.

Historians of our current malaise will have to credit Trump, against all his evils, for inspiring Petri to new personal bests.

Read it here before it happens (Khashoggi)

Mohammed Bin Salman: We are shocked—shocked! that a rogue band of operatives misunderstood my idle reflection (“will no one rid me of this turbulent journalist?”) and committed this terrible crime.  We are not surprised that the group included Qataris and Persians.  All will be beheaded publicly tomorrow afternoon at 3 and their bodies put through a brush chipper and into my shark pond.

[Twelve schlimazel expat laborers are rounded up off the street and executed]

Trump: As I expected, the vengeful Democrat fake news press mob—the greatest, most mendacious, most treasonous mob any president has ever faced–was wrong again, and if some patriots should exercise my rally advice on them it’s really their own fault.  I talked to my good friend Mohammed Bin Salman this morning; he bought three condos right there on the phone, and he firmly denies he had anything to do with this unfortunate event, just like Putin, Brett, and, um me, and that should be enough once and for all.

I might add that the people who expect some of my strongest supporters (and funders) to give up $10 billion in arms business, while there are still working hospitals in Yemen patching up Houthi children to grow up into radical Islamic terrorists,  over one foreign brown fake news scribbler for the failing Washington Post, are the kind of people who don’t want America to be great, and that’s why we need to save the Republican congress next month.

Another liar

Another liar surfaces, a nominee for FERC

President Trump has nominated a fossil fuel advocate, Bernard McNamee, for a vacancy on FERC. McNamee is a professional energy lawyer, and has worked for a big utility and a Koch-funded think tank. He is currently executive director of the Office of Policy at the Department of Energy.

He wrote an op-ed for The Hill on Earth Day, a ridiculous paean to fossil fuels. It includes this sentence (my italics):

Some suggest that we can replace fossil fuels with renewable resources to meet our needs, but they never explain how.

This is a lie. McNamee is not a fool and the carelessness explanation does not wash for the head of the DoE’s policy shop. Continue reading “Another liar”

Judge Incitatus

Caligula did not make his horse a consul, but the story fits Trump and Kavanaugh.

You all know that the crazy Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula (ruled 37-41 CE) made his horse a consul. Right? Wrong. There is no evidence whatever he did.

The main source of the story – Google tells me the only one [update correction, see comments] – is the Roman historian Dio Cassius. Roman History, Book LIX, 14.7:

One of the [chariot-racing] horses, which he named Incitatus, he used to invite to dinner, where he would offer him golden barley and drink his health in wine from golden goblets; he swore by the animal’s life and fortune and even promised to appoint him consul, a promise that he would certainly have carried out if he had lived longer.

So the source of the story claims that Caligula talked about making Incitatus a consul, the way Trump talked about assassinating Bashir al-Assad, but did not go through with it.

Even the watered-down version is fishy. Dio Cassius comes across as quite sober and was certainly very industrious, but he was writing 180 years later. The earlier historian Suetonius, whose gossipy Lives of the Caesars consists largely of lurid anecdotes, does not mention the incident mentions the consulship as a mere rumour. [Correction update, see comments]. Nor do the contemporary sources Seneca, Josephus, and Philo, writers of an altogether different calibre and reliability, and hostile to Caligula. So at most, Incitatus’ equine magistracy is something a mentally unfit four-year Roman Emperor may have joked about at drunken parties.

As a legend, it can still serve as an illuminating model. Fictional Caligula made his horse a consul. President Donald Trump is also clearly a work of dystopian fiction in progress, and the episode entitled “The Nomination of Brett Kavanaugh” is curiously parallel to Incitatus. Continue reading “Judge Incitatus”

Kavanaugh’s reputation destroyed in real time

Brett Kavanaugh is, as far as we can tell, a respectable and competent lawyer and jurist. He could have had a distinguished, or at least successful, career as a federal judge.  Now he’s the latest victim of Trump’s systematic, relentless, demolition of the honor and reputation of everyone within his reach.

He may well be confirmed, in which case he will find the appointment a thoroughly poisoned chalice.  Most important, he wears around his neck the stain, on both his character and his competence, that he was the first choice of a deliberately–obsessively–ignorant, hateful, narcissist. The guy who found him suitable for the job is a historically mendacious and malevolent fool, whose staff (what remains of the “best people”) spend half their time protecting the nation from his childish impulses and recklessness and the other half patching a bubble inside which he might float to the end of his term.  Trump’s understanding of the law and the constitution is well summarized by today’s whine that the criminal indictment of two Republican congressmen should have been put off until they were reelected this fall (or, I guess, forever).

He will also be the justice confirmed by the McConnell senate that cheated to substitute Gorsuch for Garland, and that was denied the documentation (i) necessary to evaluate his qualifications and competence (ii) that, when it comes to light during his lifetime appointment, is quite likely to throw serious shade on him (or why were those documents secreted?).  All we really know about him is that the reactionaries and troglodytes of the Federalist Society believe he’s just the guy to protect the rights of the richest to get richer and buy elections and policy, of industry to poison their neighbors and workers, and of Republican politicians to choose their voters. Not to mention, the guy to send women back to the coathanger era.

Poor Brett: if this comes out as it seems headed, he will forever be “the guy Trump nominated to fend off his impeachment”; one of his senate interlocutors wisely said “you will always have an asterisk next to your name”, which is right except that the asterisk will be an indelible and devastating blot. No respectable judge or lawyer will be comfortable citing his decisions; his influence will be restricted to hacks and stooges, and he’s smart enough that he will eventually realize this, but alas, too late.

 

Donald Trump, MS13 operative

Donald Trump talks about MS-13 more than any other NGO (no, I haven’t got actual numbers to support this), and it’s not surprising. He loves American exports, and MS13 was made in USA prisons and delivered to El Salvador; its cruelty and misogyny is surely a level of aspiration for him. So it’s not surprising that he and his catspaw Sessions have signed on as actual MS13 operatives, now delivering escaping victims back to them (and all the other Central American gangs)  for rape, enslavement, and murder. Even when they’re in court trying to get asylum.

I wonder if he has a deal for docile immigrant employees in his hotels…