Tag Archives: Evil

Vietnam VIII: End of Indo-China

Vietnam VIII: End of Indo-China
Safe For Democracy

 
 
00:00 / 3:51:42
 
1X

Here it is, the end of the last real battle of the French war: Dien Bien Phu. After this it’s just Geneva and the transition from French ignobility to American monstrosity.

That all comes next time though. For now, maps. And you can, as always, click these for a larger view.

The overview:

The view from Tonkin:

And the specifics:

Then, since all the characters are the same as last episode (ie you can check those notes if you want them), here’s the audio credits, in video form:

 

Bayart, Jean-Francois. “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion.” African Affairs, 2000, 217-267.

Duncan, David Douglass. “The Year of the Snake: A time of fear and worry comes over warring Indochina.” LIFE, August, 1953.

Editorial. “Indochina, France and the U.S.” LIFE, August, 1953.

Ellsberg, Daniel. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York; Viking Press, 2002.

Fall, Bernard. Hell in a Very Small Place. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966.

Fall, Bernard. Last Reflections on a War. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Fall, Bernard. Street without Joy: Indochina at War, 1946-54. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1961.

Fall, Bernard. The Two Viet Nams: A Political and Military Analysis. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1963.

Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

Fitzgerald, Frances. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1972.

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.

Halberstam, David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. New York: Hyperion, 2007.

Herr, Michael. Dispatches. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Hickey, Gerald Cannon. A Village in Vietnam. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964.

Huntington, Samuel. “The Bases of Accommodation.” Foreign Affairs, 1968.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Lacouture, Jean. Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography. New York: Random House, 1968.

Lacouture, Jean. Vietnam: Between Two Truces. New York: Random House, 1966.

Logevall, Frederick. Embers of WarThe Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. New York: Random House, 2012.

Maclear, Michael. The Ten Thousand Day War: Vietnam, 1945-1975. New York: Avon Books, 1982.

Mus, Paul and McAlister, John T. The Vietnamese and Their Revolution. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Moore, Harold G., and Galloway, Joseph L. We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. New York: Random House, 1992.

Niehbuhr, Rienhold. The Irony of American History. Chicago: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.

Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Vintage, 1988.

Vietnam VI: Learning Curve

Vietnam VI: Learning Curve
Safe For Democracy

 
 
00:00 / 2:38:49
 
1X

And here we are, finally, finally making it to the end of the French War.

We still have Dien Bien Phu and the denouement to wrap up, which we’ll do in the next episode, maybe in the fastest-ever-produced next episodes, so fingers crossed there.

Like last time, I’m covering pretty much all the material that I’m trying to cover in these shows, so I don’t have any big ancillary stories to tell here in the notes. What we do have are maps and then later, like last time, all the videos that would normally have gone after the bibliography in the audio credits.

First, maps:

And the one that’s on my wall:

Then, videos. Like last time, if there’s audio, it’s (almost certainly) in the show. If there isn’t, it’s not, but I mention a couple of these specifically during the episode:

 

 

 

Bayart, Jean-Francois. “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion.” African Affairs, 2000, 217-267.

Duncan, David Douglass. “The Year of the Snake: A time of fear and worry comes over warring Indochina.” LIFE, August, 1953.

Editorial. “Indochina, France and the U.S.” LIFE, August, 1953.

Ellsberg, Daniel. Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. New York; Viking Press, 2002.

Fall, Bernard. Hell in a Very Small Place. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966.

Fall, Bernard. Last Reflections on a War. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

Fall, Bernard. Street without Joy: Indochina at War, 1946-54. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1961.

Fall, Bernard. The Two Viet Nams: A Political and Military Analysis. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1963.

Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

Fitzgerald, Frances. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1972.

Gaddis, John Lewis. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.

Halberstam, David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. New York: Hyperion, 2007.

Herr, Michael. Dispatches. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Hickey, Gerald Cannon. A Village in Vietnam. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964.

Huntington, Samuel. “The Bases of Accommodation.” Foreign Affairs, 1968.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Lacouture, Jean. Ho Chi Minh: A Political Biography. New York: Random House, 1968.

Lacouture, Jean. Vietnam: Between Two Truces. New York: Random House, 1966.

Logevall, Frederick. Embers of WarThe Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. New York: Random House, 2012.

Maclear, Michael. The Ten Thousand Day War: Vietnam, 1945-1975. New York: Avon Books, 1982.

Mus, Paul and McAlister, John T. The Vietnamese and Their Revolution. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Moore, Harold G., and Galloway, Joseph L. We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. New York: Random House, 1992.

Niehbuhr, Rienhold. The Irony of American History. Chicago: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.

Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Vintage, 1988.

 

 

 

SFD Short—Monopolies

SFD Short—Monopolies
Safe For Democracy

 
 
00:00 / 34:02
 
1X

It’s the last of all news shows, folks, and it’s barely newsy at all. We’re talking about monopolies in the American economy, which was, incidentally, the subject of Robert Reich’s last book, Saving Capitalism.

The show explains itself, and as it promises, here’s some graphs for you:

This is an Econ 101 graph of perfect competition. S is supply, D is demand, MC is marginal cost, and P is price. Then we’ve got something more complicated, monopoly:

MR is marginal revenue, MC is marginal cost again, ATC is average total cost. Without getting into the technical stuff, which you can find right here, a monopoly produces quantity where marginal costs are equal to marginal revenue for units produced, that’s line Q1, but they charge price P, much higher than what would be determined in perfect competition, and they take home the difference as profit.

Likewise, since for monopolies, the marginal cost curve acts as the supply curve, everything in that triangle that says deadweight loss is product that the firm would have produced in perfect competition but now does not.

I’m not even going to try to type this one out, but here’s a video.

SFD Short—Trickledown

SFD Short—Trickledown
News

 
 
00:00 / 27:01
 
1X

I have a whole new show all written up but between family stuff and, well, more family stuff, I haven’t been able to find a time to actually record and edit it here in Tennessee. Tomorrow, though, I’m on a plane, and I’ll be into Guadalajara and back to my desk by 5am EST on Friday.

This is my last news show (until Rob and I go up as December’s), and my last get-out-of-jail-free card, so expect real new content to be coming at you every week (and, after this Monday, when I’ve got a wedding, every Monday) for the foreseeable future.

It’s going to be so good to be back, folks. I hope you’re pumped for it too.

In the meantime, this is the best news piece I’ve put together, I’m pretty sure, and well worth hearing.

As per the show, here’s the chart from the Economic Policy Institute that really clinches the issue:

Iran IX: The End

Iran IX: The End
Iran

 
 
00:00 / 2:21:14
 
1X

We’re covering a pretty long period in this one, from half or most of the way through the war with Iraq all the way up to the present, although it’s a pretty quick hustle from Khomeini’s death in 1989 to today.

The two major players during this period, if not in Hashemi’s case always from an official position of power, were these guys:

That’s Hashemi Rafsanjani on the left, speaker of Parliament through the war, spokesman of the Supreme Defense Council over the same period, and President from 1989 to 1997. On the right is Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Supreme Leader after Khomeini despite a marked lack of religious or clerical qualifications (and they had to change the Constitution to make way for him). Rafsanjani and Khamenei were the most loyal and in Rafsanjani’s case the most capable men that Khomeini brought with him through the Revolution, and they were the ones he wanted to leave in his stead.

After Rafsanjani left office, this man came from nowhere to take the Presidency of the Republic away from the picked dude of the Establishment.

His name is Mohammad Khatami, and he was the figurehead of the first liberal (and reformist, as against the forces of conservatism and the status quo, embodied in the clique of Khamenei appointees in the veto-power-holding councils of government) resurgence. Khatami focused on political reforms. They were what Iran needed, but even a friendly Majlis couldn’t do anything to override the Council of Guardians, and spending all his time on stillborn (if necessary) policies left economics by the wayside and the great mass of poor Iranians underserved and feeling neglected.

Eight years of political impasse and economic stagnation under Khatami gave way in 2005 to the one Iranian besides Khomeini and Khamenei that we recognize in the United States:

Mahmud Ahmadinejad spent his Presidential career posturing and preening and spitting at the West, revelling in the polemics over Iran’s nuclear program and aiming at some sort of vaguely defined greater regional role while utterly failing to address any of the actual internal problems that brought him to power. I lay this in the show, but if you want any short and simple way to understand Ahmadinejad as an American, it’s this: he and Donald Trump are one and the same, although I think Ahmadinejad is probably smarter, or is now that Trump’s clearly in some sort of cognitive decline. They ran on similar populist platforms, they similarly failed to implement that populism in office, they filled the halls of government with total incompetents and they enjoyed the infamy they could create much more than the actual job of the Presidency.

Ahmadinejad’s total unfitness for the job didn’t prevent him from winning a second term with the help of some election rigging from Khamenei, which gave rise to the Green Movement in 2009 and the second Iranian liberal resurgence that led to the election of our last Iranian character, Hassan Rouhani, elevated to the Presidency in 2013 and re-elected just this past spring.

Rouhani’s popular, moderate, and reformist, and he’s doing what he can to bring women’s and minority rights, along with press freedoms and the justice system all into positions that we’d see as acceptable in the West. To do so he’s got to fight the entrenched interests of those on the Right, ranged around Khamenei and dug into every institution and structure of power in the country. Progress has been slow and it will be slow, but it’s only working by their own lights that the Iranians are going to be able to turn the Revolution around to the point where it’s fulfilling the dreams of all its original adherents and not just the most conservative ones.

The greatest threats to that progress are these two men right here, along, maybe, with Mad Dog Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly. All of them bear the typical American grudge against Iran, the one that necessarily understands our joint history to have begun in 1979 and not in 1953 and one which ignores our prominent role in the Iran Iraq War to focus on Iran’s rather less important place in the Lebanese conflicts from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Tillerson so far has slowed Trump’s attempts to unilaterally torpedo the nuclear deal, but otherwise he’s treated Iran like most US politicians: an unintelligible bad actor, always in need of a scolding from that paragon of good international behavior, the United States.

That attitude alone, expressed across the Administration, is bad enough for reformers like Rouhani in Iran who have stressed for decades the need to reach a detente with the West, but combined with Trump’s hamfisted attempts to bully Iran on the world stage, POTUS and all his merry men are doing what Americans have always done: cut the feet out from under every politician in Tehran who shares our values and interests while giving ammunition to the clerics and parochial conservatives who’d love to shut out the West and modernity forever.

And last but never least, references.

Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations. New Press, 2013.

Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran: Between Two Revolutions.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 January 1975: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/001/1975/en/

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 June 1976: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/001/1975/en/

Axworthy, Michael. Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Baraheni, Reza. “Terror in Iran.” The New York Review of Books, 28 October 1976.

Byrne, Malcolm. “The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup.” The National Security Archive, last modified 29 November 2000, http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/.

The Cambridge History of Iran: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic. Edited by Peter Avery, Gavin Hambly and Charles Melville. Vol. VII. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Weidenfeld1963.

Fatemi, N. S. 1985. “The Anglo Persian Agreement of 1919.” Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol II: 59.

Filkins, Dexter. “Rex Tillerson at the Breaking Point.” The New Yorker, 6 October, 2017.

Katouzian, Homa. The Political Economy of Modern Iran: Despotism and Pseudo-Modernism, 1926-1979. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1981.

Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Wiley, 2003.

Roosevelt, Kermit. Countercoup: The Struggle for Control of Iran. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

Rothschild, Emily. “Carter and Arms: No Sale.” The New York Review of Books, 15 September 1977.

Steel, Ronald. “Impossible Dreams.”  The New York Review of Books, 12 September 1968.

 

Audio Acknowledgements

“1998 Khatami Interview.” CNN. YouTube.

“Ahmadinejad: Bin Laden is in DC.” ABC News. YouTube.

“Axis of Evil Speech.” George W. Bush. YouTube.

“Ayatollah Khomeini Funeral.” hijazna. YouTube.

“CNN Report: ‘Green Movement Is Alive and Well” CNN. YouTube.

Doctor Turtle, “Lullaby for Democracy.”

“Iran: The ‘Pariah State’ |Iran & the West Part 2.” BBC. YouTube.

“Iran’s Rebel Ayatollah—Ayatollah Montazeri—Documentary.” IranDocumentary1. YouTube.

Krakatoa“See My Blue.”

“Modern Warfare: Iran-Iraq War.” International Television News. YouTube.

Persian Folk Music.” Traditional Music Channel. YouTube.

Sky News: Stuxnet—Technical Details.” Sky News. YouTube.

USS Vincennes Shoots Down Iranian Airliner.” TVO News. YouTube.

Sick of Sin

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
 
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
 
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
 
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
 
—Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est

 Giving It Up (Kind Of)

A couple of announcements here at the top. The blog’s going to be on hiatus for a few weeks, because I’m traveling around Mexico for Semana Santa and a little reporting. After I get back, though, I’m going to put a pin in the regular Monday roundups. They’re draining, especially in terms of the unremunerated time that I’d otherwise be putting towards the podcast, and I’m not really seeing the numbers that would support keeping them up. So I’m going to keep this one brief, and I’ll only get back into it if something really strikes me as both important and not being covered elsewhere.

And in the unlikely event that you were relying on SFD for a roundup, then Doug Muder at the Weekly Sift and the guys at Crooked Media are your best options. Pod Save America will give you as much as you can handle twice a week, and I think Lovett or Leave It might be the best audio anything anywhere.

Aside from these Monday things, I’m going to really drill down on the next Iran shows, and that usually results in a blog or two. And I’m going to be trying some other, shorter-format podcast things, so the site’ll be active going forward.

Continue reading Sick of Sin

If You’re Gonna Care About Anything

I have a good friend named Maya Gebeily who works for Agence France Press out of Beirut and who’s been working out there for almost four years now. She’s been to bombings, she’s reported from Mosul, and now she and her colleagues and doing what they can to cover the most recent set of attacks in Syria. She’s got a newsletter, and it’s worth reading and every link in it’s worth clicking.

If you’re gonna care about anything, care about this:

It might also behoove you to know this:

 

War on Islam

Wittingly, or, as seems increasingly likely, unwittingly, Trump is gearing up to start a war that his advisor Steve Bannon hopes will decide the fate of the world in a conflagration between Christian Capitalism and Islam.

Some of the preparation has been big in the news. They’re cutting the budget of the State Department, whose operations have already been crippled by the so-far incompetent Rex Tillerson and the refusal to fill key positions. Likewise, Trump’s proposed budget looks for an almost ten percent increase in the Defense Department’s year-over-year spending, giving it a larger proportion of the government’s discretionary cash than it had even during the Reagan administration.

Some preparations have been a little less-well publicized, like the way that almost a thousand American marines moved into Syria and may be coordinating with Russian forces there. And while Trump’s now saying that he might not torpedo the nuclear deal with Iran, he’s been pretty good so far about coming through on campaign promises, and that was one of them.

Now it might seem absurd, imagining that Trump, Bannon, and Co could conjure a war out of nowhere, but our last two major wars were made exactly that way, sui generis. We experienced a terror attack on 9/11, yes, but we didn’t invade Saudi Arabia, where the attackers were from and from where they received much of their funding. Instead, we attacked first Afghanistan and then Iraq, neither of which had launched 9/11. The Taliban had hosted al-Qaeda, sure, but so had, to a greater extent, Pakistan, and a goodly number of other countries. Iraq, meanwhile, had no connection, and we’ve still got troops there 14 years later. I don’t want to re-litigate the Bush wars, but just to point out that even on September 12th, 2001, a foreign war, let alone two, and against those particular countries, would have sounded just as nuts as it does now.

Continue reading War on Islam

Goethe’s Oak

I’m running a day late this week, mostly due to hangover, but I’ve got an excuse. This was a three day weekend in Mexico, commemorating the birthday of what wasn’t their first president, or even their first republican president, but what was, because of a messy political century from 1820 to 1920 or so, their first real republican, democratic president, and the first indigenous president elected anywhere in Latin America.

Viva Juarez.


Another EO

We only got one real new executive order last week. The new travel ban was actually written two weeks ago, and since it was stopped by a federal court as soon as it was supposed to go into effect, until the next wrinkle on that shakes out, the one worth paying attention to is EO 13781, the “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch.”

The EO, on its face, appears to be pretty tame, and definitely to appeal to the folks who got POTUS elected. It directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, who puts together the budget for the executive branch, to:

…submit to the President a proposed plan to reorganize the executive branch in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of agencies. The proposed plan shall include, as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions. The proposed plan shall include recommendations for any legislation or administrative measures necessary to achieve the proposed reorganization.

 

Continue reading Goethe’s Oak

What A Mess

This administration is generating news faster than anybody can get a handle on it, and whether intentional or not, the blizzard of bullshit serves as a kind of shield, splitting our attention. So let’s see what happened last week and what’s worth keeping an eye on.


Jeff Sessions

I want to be clear that there were a lot of reasons to want Jeff Sessions far away from any position of power long before last week. To remind you, Jeff Sessions is a racist who has, for his entire political life, used his position to disenfranchise non-white voters. From the text of a letter submitted by widow of Martin Luther and activist hero in her own right Coretta Scott King submitted to the congress opposing Sessions’ nomination as a federal court judge in the 1980s:

Civil rights leaders, including my husband and Albert Turner, have fought long and hard to achieve free and unfettered access to the ballot box. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge…Mr. Sessions’ conduct as a U.S. Attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference towards criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that the lacks the temperament, fairness, and judgement to be a federal judge.

The conduct as a U.S. Attorney Mrs. King’s referring to? The Guardian just did a long piece on it. Apparently Sessions saw his federal prosecutor job as the best way to use the FBI to destroy the Democratic opposition in Alabama.  Mr. Sessions was the second guy to fail to be appointed as a federal judge in fifty years because the Congress thought he wasn’t up to the job.

A few years ago, the Supreme Court got rid of a provision of the Voting Rights Act that submitted all changes to election law in several southern states for review, since they were all almost unerringly racist. Now the responsibility for looking at that stuff falls to Jeff Sessions. Where do you think he’s going to land?

Added to all his baggage this week is that Sessions is apparently the latest member of the Trump administration to be embroiled in the ongoing Russia coverup.

Quick recap:

Jeff Sessions testified before Congress that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”

It has, unsurprisingly, come out that Sessions, of course, did have contact with the Russians. Specifically, he met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak twice, in Kislyak’s office and at the GOP convention in Cleveland, as the Trump team was softening the GOP’s platform on Russia for the first time ever. Sessions has claimed that he just didn’t remember having met with the ambassador.

First, lying under oath in front of Congress, just like Mike Flynn lying to the FBI, is a crime. Second, as has been pointed out everywhere, when the administration you’re about to be a part of is part of an ongoing scandal with Russia and when you’re before Congress testifying in order to be let into that administration, what are the chances you’re just going to happen to forget about having met with the chief Russian representative in the US? Low, I think.

Now, Sessions has said he’ll recuse himself from any investigations into the 2016 presidential campaign. Great, sure. But he pointedly did not say he’d recuse himself from any other investigation into what’s going on. Given that Flynn’s and Jared Kushner’s also-illegal contact with Kislyak took place post-election and that the White House seems pretty interested in covering up whatever else is going on, that recusal would not be enough from Sessions. Which is par for the course with this guy. Empty Wheel’s got a more complete analysis.


Russia, Generally

Let’s run this down.

Trump has had decades’ worth of business connections to Russian plutocrats and mobsters. After his several bankruptcies, they were the only kind of people who would lend to him.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s first campaign manager, stepped down last August when it came out that he’d received over $12 million for working with and lobbying for Ukraine’s pro-Russian ex-President. Manafort’s also got longstanding ties to Russia.

Then we’ve got Roger Stone, a GOP operative and Trump advisor during the campaign. Trump made his now-famous appeal to Russia to hack the Clinton emails. Stone says in August that he’s in touch with Wikileaks. On 1 October, he sends this tweet:

And on 7 October, Wikileaks lets loose the first set of emails hacked from John Podesta, meaning Stone had prior knowledge.

According to Vox:

After the campaign was over, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov publicly admitted that members of Trump’s “entourage” were in touch with Russia. “I cannot say that all of them, but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives,” he told the Russian news service Interfax.

In December, new National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, along with Trump’s son-in-law and now senior advisor and ‘shadow secretary of state’ make contact with Russian ambassador Kislyak, apparently to do a little pre-emptive—and illegal—diplomacy. They lie about it to the press and to VP Mike Pence and Flynn has to step down when his position becomes untenable.

From the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza:

There is nothing inherently wrong with the fact that Flynn, Sessions, and other Trump advisers talked to the Russian Ambassador. With the Kislyak affair, in which multiple conversations between Trump officials and the Ambassador have been concealed, so far, we have a coverup without a crime.

It’s become a kind of weird truism that “it’s the coverup, not the crime.” But, from Watergate through Iran Contra, it’s absolutely the crime that’s the worse thing. And what we have now is a widespread coverup operation. Maybe this is nothing, but you don’t lie in front of Congress to hide from nothing. And once the full story breaks, the lies in front of Congress are always just the tip of the iceberg.


The Joint Address

In case anybody’s not in the know, the joint address to Congress is the State of the Union. New presidents don’t call it that because they haven’t been POTUS long enough.

Trump made a speech.

It was a bad speech.

Pundits far and wide called it “presidential,” which is was by default, since he’s president, and some right-wingers fell all over themselves calling it a Reagan moment. I’m not linking to anything because they’ve got enough clicks and that’s garbage.

Trump’s big moment was when he called on a dead soldier’s widow. Trump got that soldier killed. He blamed the death on his generals. What’s more important is the raid that Trump ordered got many innocent civilians also killed, but nobody’s mourning for them or calling their families into the Capitol.

Celebrating that raid, “successful” in terms of intelligence or not, is poison. Putting somebody’s widow in front of the world so you can brag about her dead husband is poison.

That’s all you need to know.


What is great, though, is that the FUBAR situation with Jeff Sessions apparently has Trump hopping mad that attention got stolen away from what Sean Spicer described as a speech that “will go down in history as one of the best.”

Before we move on, think about that Spicer quote. In the same way that Trump’s assertion that he’s “the least antisemitic person” in the world puts him ahead of, say, every rabbi in the world, babies, and the yarmukle wearing reporter who asked him the question, Spicer is saying that Trump’s address ranks with Gettysburg, with Eisenhower or Washington’s farewell speeches, with Lincoln’s second inaugural, with Kennedy’s inaugural, with, literally speaking, Cicero and Pericles.

It’s dumb in the way a “my dad could beat up your dad” assertion is dumb.


The Taps

Maybe trying to steal the limelight back again, Trump sent this tweet late in the week:

Trump apparently “found out” about the wiretaps from a Breitbart article summarizing a paranoiac rant from a talk-radio host. The White House has provided no evidence to back the tweets up because, of course, there is no evidence. If there was, Trump would be all over the news with it.

Despite that there’s nothing to back this up, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes of California, has said that he’ll be investigating. From CNN:

“One of the focus points of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation is the U.S. government’s response to actions taken by Russian intelligence agents during the presidential campaign,” Nunes said in a statement Sunday. “As such, the Committee will make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates, and we will continue to investigate this issue if the evidence warrants it.”

This is the same Rep. Nunes who refused to investigate the Michael Flynn thing, a case in which there was actual evidence of wrongdoing.

Democrats have, thankfully, taken a stand. Again from CNN:

“You make up something and then you have the press write about it, and then you say, ‘everybody’s writing about this charge,'” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It’s a tool of an authoritarian, to just have you always be talking about what you want to be talking about.”

The pretty-much definitive analysis comes from Jon Favreau, an Obama speechwriter and current head of Crooked Media, which produces Pod Save America, which is a podcast you should listen to right after you click on mine five extra times.


Spying

For all Trump’s posturing on how unfair it was to [not in reality] wiretap him [in a Watergate-like fashion, for campaign purposes], this White House is pushing ahead with spying on you.[1]

We’ve got a thing called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. It’s the thing that lets the government spy on you, and the thing that authorized the programs that Snowden leaked about. FISA has come under much criticism, and keeping it going was one of the huge failures (‘failures’ is the generous term; ‘totally intentional actions’ would be the more realistic one) that liberals can point to under the Obama administration.

Rather than using the wiretap “revelations” as an opportunity to revise our thinking on dragnetting the communications of millions of Americans, Trump’s pushing to get FISA re-authorized with zero changes.

Like I said last week, authoritarian government is a question of will (in the persons of Trump and Bannon) and a question of opportunity. FISA and other laws which expand the ability of the security state to spy on, detain, intern, or murder American citizens, are the opportunity.


The States

GOP lawmakers continue to prove…

Jesus, guys, I can’t even be glib. It’s one thing for us to sort-of-unwittingly elect a wannabe strongman. It’s another to realize that the GOP across the fifty states literally wants to do away with democracy as we know it.

In Georgia, the GOP’s stranglehold has been slipping despite it being one of the most heavily gerrymandered states in the Union. The GOP’s response has been to build a bigger tent, soften its policies, and really make an appeal across the aisle.

Oh wait no it was to further gerrymander the seats that were looking shaky.

GOP lawmakers in North Carolina, which is, remember, no longer a democracy, are trying to label protestors “economic terrorists,” with jailtime and fines commensurate with the name.


What Is War Good For?

Trump’s already been floating balloons about further foreign wars, namely with Iran.

Now, it’s becoming clear that with the help of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he’s trying to dismantle the State Department and run our foreign policy out of the White House with his son-in-law Jared Kushner. 

Immediately after taking office, Donald Trump forced resignations by a number of top level State Department management officials. When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came on board, he engaged in an abrupt reorganization of remaining management without explanation. And as of yet, the Trump team has put forth nominees for only 7 of the 118 positions within the State Department that require Senate confirmation. The majority of leadership positions remain unfilled, including almost every Ambassadorship.

From a Department officer quoted in the Atlantic:

They really want to blow this place up. I don’t think this administration thinks the State Department needs to exist. They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.

Trump said on the campaign trail that as far as foreign policy, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

The administration’s representatives don’t seem eager to explain how further cuts to State’s budget will improve our foreign policy.

There are, to understate, a lot of countries in the world. The US maintains contact with almost all of them. That means an ambassador for each, along with embassy staff and the consular, political, economic, public diplomacy, and management-track foreign service officers who work our embassies and consulates abroad. In DC at the State Department in Foggy Bottom, we’ve got country desks, analysts, clerks, on and on up to the deputy secretaries of state and the SOS himself. That infrastructure processes a huge amount of information and maintains an unfathomable number of personal and professional contacts with diplomats, businessmen, journalists, politicians, and activists in every country in the world.

The State Department has been underfunded since WWII, but its breadth and depth of knowledge and relationships gives us a huge number of options to use when dealing with any given foreign state.

Eliminating that apparatus leaves us with with many fewer options and makes the military, which is the only federal department getting an expansion under Trump, a much more attractive tool. Nails and hammers.


Obama Cares

The GOP is pushing ahead with its repeal-and-replace plan with regard to the Affordable Care Act.

Except that the draft of the replacement bill has been repeatedly hidden, in third-grade antics, from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Until the text comes out, we don’t have much to go on, but any bill that has to be hidden from the public and even from the Congress is, count on it, not a good bill.


The EPA

The Trump White House wants to cut 25% of the EPA’s budget. EPA facts:

For those who have forgotten the value of EPA’s mission, here are ten facts to remember and share:

230,000: Lives saved each year by EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act in 2020.

2.4 million: Asthma attacks prevented each year by EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act in 2020.

22.4 million: Avoided lost school or work days each year due to EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act in 2020.

30-1: Ratio of benefits to costs– the Clean Air Act provides $30 in health benefits for every $1 invested in compliance.

1,308: Number of enforcement actions concluded in fiscal year 2016 under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.

62 billion: Pounds of hazardous waste EPA enforcement actions required companies to commit to treat, minimize, or properly dispose of in fiscal year 2016.

190 million: Cubic yards of contaminated soil and groundwater cleanup commitments secured in fiscal year 2016 alone (enough to fill the Empire State Building over 138 times).

40,000: Pounds of toxic mercury cut from coal plants by the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule.

67: Percent of Americans across the country who think EPA should stay the same or be strengthened.

1: EPA Administrator who laughed about dismantling the EPA: 1 in over 40 years.


Just, Honestly, Horrible Shit

A man in Kent, Washington, walked up to a Sikh in his driveway, told him to “Go back to your own country,” and then shot him.

Four mosques have burned down as the result of arson since Trump’s inauguration.

Dozens of bomb threats at Jewish community centers continue to come in.

As we saw last week, the immigration plan under Trump is to deport the people who least need to be deported:

UNDOCUMENTED DAD TAKEN BY ICE WHILE DROPPING KIDS OFF AT SCHOOL—Los Angeles

ICE DEPORTS SALVADORAN FATHER WITH NO CRIMINAL HISTORY—Houston

DEPORTATION OF GRANDMOTHER LEAVES A MILITARY FAMILY REELING—San Diego


But At Least There’s This

Not everything is terrible. If you don’t know Chuck Tingle, the enigmatic, prolific, incredible-title creating erotica author, now’s the time:

Domald Tromp hasn’t been listening to his Timeline Briefings, and now he’s in trouble. To the frustration of his staff, Domald’s incompetence has allowed several unethical timelines to get dangerously close to this one, and facts regarding his administration’s deep connections to the Russian government are leaking left and right.

Domald decides to solve this problem old-fashioned way, with a tweet brazenly declaring that the previous President was wiretapping him. Domald hopes his bizarre fabrication will now dominate the news cycle while he heads out to golf with his Russian T-Rex buddies. Unfortunately, he has simply opened an even bigger can of worms.


Facebook’s about a year late on this, but they’ve finally rolled out their answer to fake news:


Der Spiegel‘s new cover is something we can start hanging on dorm walls:


And Marco Rubio, who has been too afraid of being “heckled” and “screamed at” to show up to his town halls, has now been kicked out of his Florida office, since the protestors he ignored turned out in force at the building. From Politico:

Citing protesting tips published by the new Indivisible movement, Rubio told the station that activists are instructed to go to town halls early and “take up all the front seats. They spread themselves out. They ask questions. They all cheer when the questions are asked. They are instructed to boo no matter what answer I give. They are instructed to interrupt me if I go too long and start chanting things. Then, at the end, they are also told not to give up their microphone when they ask questions. It’s all in writing in this Indivisible document.”

The only boo when you’re worth booing, Marco, which is all the time.

Also quoted in Politico, Gabby Giffords had some words:

“I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning my offices were open to the public,” Giffords said on Twitter. “To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls.”

Everything looks bad, but at least Gabby’s still around.


[1] To be 100% fair, it’s possible that some part of the intelligence community, probably the NSA, picked up some of the communications coming out of Trump Tower, given that the NSA tracks potential threats to the US, many of whom are in Russia, and some of whom Trump and associates might have been in contact with. Now, since a President can’t actually order anybody to wiretap anybody, if Trump’s wires were specifically tapped, it means one of two things: a FISA court found that there was sufficient evidence that Trump was colluding with a foreign power to damage the interests of the US to justify a wiretap; or a judge, on behalf of a law-enforcement agency, like the FBI, decided there was sufficient evidence that Trump and associates were breaking the law (with, for example, the Russian mobsters that Trump used to hang out with) to warrant a wiretap.