One of the most specific accusations in Christopher Steele’s dossier on the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia was that Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen had made a trip to Prague in August or September 2016 to meet several high-level Russians connected to the Kremlin. They discussed Russian assistance to the Trump campaign.
Cohen flatly denied this in a tweet:
No matter how many times or ways they write it, I have never been to Prague.
Now McClatchy reporters say that the Mueller inquiry has evidence Cohen was lying and did in fact travel to Prague at that time. They don’t say they have evidence he met any Russians. But why should Cohen have lied about the trip if he didn’t? Points to Steele. Cohen may be engaging in literal truth-telling, if the meeting was held at a country hotel like this one. That won’t help him.
If Mueller has information about the meeting, it is probably reliable. It doesn’t seem likely that the Czech intelligence services would fail to keep tabs on visiting Russian spooks and politicians. It would be characteristic of the Trumpistas to underrate the competence of mere Slavs. Reinhard Heydrich did too, and in May 1942 the Czech government in exile in London ordered him killed – knowing very well that savage reprisals were likely. But the Germanisation programme stalled under Heydrich’s successor Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a man just as evil, but without Heydrich’s charisma and drive, and distracted by his main job as head of the secret police.
The claim also helps to make more sense of the apparent overkill of the search warrants on Cohen’s office, home and hotel room, which had to be approved by officials at a very high level in the DOJ. He may well have committed crimes against US election law in the botched payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, but that’s a garden-variety story. Conspiring with the Kremlin to rig an American election is on a different level, and justifies the risk of going after the personal lawyer of the US President. The point holds even if the Prague meeting was outside the scope of the warrants and the offloaded investigation.
Prague is very nice place to visit, even if you only have a day or so. It was undamaged in WWII, and gives an idea what other central European cities – Dresden, Lübeck, Nuremberg, Vienna, Budapest – must have looked like before they came under the loving attentions of RAF Bomber Command, the USAAF, or the artillery of the Red Army. All I know about sub rosa tradecraft is from John le Carré, but if it had been me, I’d have combined business with pleasure, and “accidentally” bumped into the Russians in a beer cellar.
Even in a day trip just walking around the centre, you come across a startling statue outside the opera house, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiered in October 1787. Side view of the Commendatore:
The front view is pure Tolkien:
Harold Pollack predicted here that Trump’s political career will end in disgrace. We were both wrong about the election, but I still think he was right about the destination. I can’t guess either what form disgrace will take. However, the Commendatore reminds us that the height of Trump’s fall is not bounded by that of Richard Nixon. Nixon was forced to resign in shame, but after Ford’s pardon was left alone in a dignified retirement. There are circles of disgrace much lower than this. The bottom is represented by the deaths of Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci near Milan in May 1945. They were shot by partisans without trial, and their bodies hung upside-down in a square in Milan for the crowd to spit and jeer at. Trump won’t face this. But his possible futures do include death in prison, followed by a semi-secret funeral that hardly anyone outside his immediate family will attend.
I doubt there will be a Trump presidential library.
An Easter message from a head of state:
Religious holidays are special days, during which the society enjoys intense feelings of unity, solidarity and brotherhood.
Easter is one of the most important feasts, celebrated by our Christian citizens of various churches and groups.
We, with the strength and the understanding of justice we draw from our civilization which considers differences to be a source of richness, attach great importance to all our citizens’ ability to freely practice their religions, cultures and traditions in our country regardless of their belief, religion, sect or ethnicity.
I congratulate all Christians, our Christian citizens in particular, on the occasion of Easter. Peace be upon you!
The author is Recep Erdoğan, President of Turkey. He’s a conservative Muslim in a country where Muslims make up 82% of the population according to Ipsos and 99.8% according to the government. He is also an authoritarian populist, and has fought to bring the media and the judiciary under his control. However, there’s nothing wrong with the message. That is, it’s inoffensive and positive boilerplate.
There is no obligation on heads of state to issue Easter messages. Very few do. I can’t find any statement from the monarchs of Spain, Denmark, and Norway, or the President of Italy, countries where Christianity has a privileged status by constitution or custom. Queen Elizabeth of the UK didn’t say anything, but Prince Charles recorded a video, focussing on persecuted Christians round the world. The King and Queen of Sweden put a photo on Instagram of the couple sitting by a fire with their dog, Brandie, in the snow. Their message said, “The royal couple wishes a happy Easter from Storlien.” Tip: kings are not limited to 140 characters.
In the USA, the 45th President put out a bland combined Easter and Pesach message as is customary, on video. His real message was a furious anti-immigrant tweetstorm on Sunday morning, attacking Mexico, Dreamers -“NO MORE DACA DEAL!” -, NAFTA, Democrats, and Senate Republicans.
How much longer will Americans put up with so contemptible a man occupying – you can’t say filling – the office held by Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama?
Oscar Brown, Jr. is a jazz legend; Sin and Soul will live forever (I’m humming “Signifyin’ Monkey”, from an anonymous African fabulist, as I write). Not just an influential musician but a social critic and engaged citizen; Nat Hentoff described him as “authentically hip”.
His song, “The Snake” covers an Aesop legend, the farmer who takes a near-frozen snake indoors and is rewarded by being bitten; reproached, the viper says “you knew I was a snake before you took me in”. The only possible interpretion of this allegory today is that Donald Trump revealed his true nature in the campaign and before, and yet we “took him in”. But he read the words aloud today himself, smirking as usual, at a rally! It’s not only despicable that Trump would dare to besmirch Brown’s memory by associating himself with it, but completely mystifying that he would present himself as that snake so transparently at a large public event.
Maybe this is for the best: Brown’s reputation will survive, along with his music, and now we have a new, perfectly tailored moniker for the Donald provided by Donald Jeenius Trump, the only man alive stupid enough to walk into such a trap.
“Snake Trump”: I like it!
[update 23/II: A colleague let me know that Ezra Klein was on this months ago]
The founding fathers set down a very specific definition of treason, partly because of a history of British monarchs beheading people with whom they were personally displeased for one reason or another on treason charges. Especially back when state, nation, and government were not well distinguished, nettling the king was easily treated as a capital crime.
Since adoption of the constitution, the legal, technical, operational definition ofÂ treason in the USÂ has involved a (i) foreign (ii) enemy, and anÂ enemyÂ is a party with which we are at war.Â Not just competing for arms sales or disliking for human rights violations or even mutually rattling nuclear weapons: at war.
OK, it’s technically wrong to accuse Trump of treason, at least in the sense that he might face a sentence from a court for his behavior; James Risen has a deep dive into this question here.Â But we really need another word for what Trump is doing. I find it incontrovertibly evident, more than a year into the administration’s term, that Putin has a collar and leash on him and his calling a lot of shots. Trump’s inability to say a bad word, or even throw a teeny bit of shade at him, satisfy me as evidence of a financial chokehold, blackmail evidence of personal or financial behavior, or something else (or all of the above), and that he is basically a Putin stooge (whatever other revolting qualities he presents) fits comfortably with the news of Russian assistance to his election coming out today.
Is Russia an enemy? OK, maybe we need another word, but Putin doesn’t just want to sell more natural gas than we do, or even prevent Russians from listening to hip-hop: he wishes us ill, and the primary expression of this wish is that he has done everything he can to saddle us with a deliberately ignorant, racist, kleptocratic, mendacious, incompetent whose principal pleasures are being adulated and hurting the weak and unfortunate, and who has salted the government with liars, cheats, deliberate saboteurs like Pruitt and Devos, and completely incompetent bozos.
Some words have simultaneously a common, conversational but well-understood and serviceable, meaning and a specific, narrower, technical one in particular contexts. A vehicle is anything that rolls and carries people or stuff, including a riding lawnmower, but also a machine operating on the public ways and subject to traffic rules. My students can conspire to organize a surprise party for me, and conspiracyÂ is also a sharply defined criminal offense.Â I’m ready to (i) recognize treason as acting affirmatively against the welfare of one’s country in cooperation with, or in the service of, foreign interests, and at the same time the particular crime delineated in the constitution, and (ii) to characterize the governance of the Trump administration as treasonous in the first sense. If anyone has another word for that, the comment section is open.
President Trump, first SOTU:
We have ended the war on American energy â€” and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.
The past tense is a nice touch. Like Napoleon returning to Paris from Egypt, he just declares that defeat is victory.
Candidate Donald Trump promised not only to stop the decline in coal mining jobs but to bring lost ones back. This wasnâ€™t a casual campaign lie, like support for LGBTQ rights, abandoned from the inauguration. Trump, Pence and Cabinet members repeated the promise after the election, for instance in May. The promise was critical to securing votes in rural counties in Pennsylvania. It was part of the wider narrative of support for the white American working class, which won him crucial defections from the Obama coalition in Michigan and Wisconsin. This was a central Trump commitment. How is it working out?
Not well. True, US coal production and jobs have ticked up in 2017:
(Data to January 5. The chart being from FRED, you can update it from here whenever you like.)
The increase came entirely from exports. French nuclear power stations had unexpected maintenance issues. Chinese planners miscalculated and shut down dozens of small coal mines ahead of the trend fall in consumption, which surprisingly ticked up too. These are just blips. The world trend in coal is steadily down, and imports are vulnerable everywhere.Â Continued export growth is most unlikely. US consumption, the only solid basis for American coal mining, fell by 2.6%.
The domestic prospects are even worse. In 2017, US utilities closed 8 GW of coal capacity and announced the retirement of 27Â coal plants over time.Â It takes roughly 6 GW of operating coal capacity to support a thousand mining jobs, so the annual rate of job loss should be around 2,000 at current rates, allowing for the fact that the high-cost, labour-intensive mines will go first.Â This will accelerate. The coal generating fleet (290 GW nameplate in 2016) is old. The mean weighted age is 40 years, a typical design life. Just carrying on is often not an option: it’s an expensive refit or closure. According to Lazards,
As LCOE values for alternative energy technologies continue to decline, in some scenarios the full-lifecycle costs of building and operating renewables-based projects have dropped below the operating costs alone of conventional generation technologies such as coal or nuclear.
This is already happening in Texas and Colorado. It doesn’t look as if coal closures will stay as low as 10 GW a year, or the industry survive 30 years. No US coal plant is safe for long, ergo no coal mine or mining job. This has nothing to do with the suspended CPP, a paper tiger, which basically put a diplomatic gloss on current economic trends.
So how is President Canuteâ€™s plan to stop the tide (endnote) going? Letâ€™s look at this through the lens of the recent FERC decision throwing out Perryâ€™s proposal for a coal and nuclear subsidy. Continue Reading…
I have never before heard an adult call him- or herself a genius. Never, and especially including the people I’ve been lucky enough to know who arguably really are.
Except ironically, say after driving through a closed garage door.
We have surely entered a new and very strange world.
Come for the race relations were great until President Obama, and the all-the-women-are-lying. Stay for the bonus Soros quotes.
There is one consolation: The average age of the voters expressing unfortunate views.Younger people will create a better America.