Thursday, January 4, 2018


I've been somewhat busy of late with contract work and other distractions, not to mention my New Year's resolution to not allow myself to get overly upset by things over which I have zero power to affect any change. Nevertheless, I've been trying to keep up with the latest news, and after reading a spate of excellent overviews describing the current American realpolitik, I figured I might as well update the old Daily Dirt Diaspora blog and share the wealth of excellent journalism. So why not bookmark the following four articles to read later... or heck, read them now if you've got an hour to burn! You won't regret it.

First up, Michael Wolff's incredible chronicle of the first year of Trump's purloined presidency, entitled "Donald Trump Didn't Want to be President", which (after a brief introduction) begins:
From the start, the leitmotif for Trump about his own campaign was how crappy it was, and how everybody involved in it was a loser. In August, when he was trailing Hillary Clinton by more than 12 points, he couldn’t conjure even a far-fetched scenario for achieving an electoral victory. He was baffled when the right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, a Ted Cruz backer whom Trump barely knew, offered him an infusion of $5 million. When Mercer and his daughter Rebekah presented their plan to take over the campaign and install their lieutenants, Steve Bannon and Conway, Trump didn’t resist. He only expressed vast incomprehension about why anyone would want to do that. “This thing,” he told the Mercers, “is so fucked up.” 
Bannon, who became chief executive of Trump’s team in mid-August, called it “the broke-dick campaign.” Almost immediately, he saw that it was hampered by an even deeper structural flaw: The candidate who billed himself as a billionaire — ten times over — refused to invest his own money in it. Bannon told Kushner that, after the first debate in September, they would need another $50 million to cover them until Election Day. 
“No way we’ll get 50 million unless we can guarantee him victory,” said a clear-eyed Kushner.
“Twenty-five million?” prodded Bannon.
“If we can say victory is more than likely.” 
In the end, the best Trump would do is to loan the campaign $10 million, provided he got it back as soon as they could raise other money. Steve Mnuchin, the campaign’s finance chairman, came to collect the loan with the wire instructions ready to go so Trump couldn’t conveniently forget to send the money. 
Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” ­Flynn assured them. 
Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning. 
Shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Night, when the unexpected trend — Trump might actually win — seemed confirmed, Don Jr. told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears — and not of joy.
There was, in the space of little more than an hour, in Steve Bannon’s not unamused observation, a befuddled Trump morphing into a disbelieving Trump and then into a horrified Trump. But still to come was the final transformation: Suddenly, Donald Trump became a man who believed that he deserved to be, and was wholly capable of being, the president of the United States.
Taken from Wolff's upcoming book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, (Amazon link takes you to the book) this article paints a shocking portrait of incompetence and hubris at the highest levels of earthly power, and should serve as a bracing wake up call to the Establishment that the time is more than ripe for taking desperate steps to correct the course of the Ship of State. Every American (and everyone else) needs to read it.


Next up, at the New Yorker, we have Evan Osnos' chilling explanation as to how, despite all the bellicose rhetoric to the contrary, the Trump regime is Making China Great Again. After an intriguing introduction about the rise in nationalist themes in Chinese popular cinema, it reads in part:
China has never seen such a moment, when its pursuit of a larger role in the world coincides with America’s pursuit of a smaller one. Ever since the Second World War, the United States has advocated an international order based on a free press and judiciary, human rights, free trade, and protection of the environment. It planted those ideas in the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, and spread them with alliances around the world. In March, 1959, President Eisenhower argued that America’s authority could not rest on military power alone. “We could be the wealthiest and the most mighty nation and still lose the battle of the world if we do not help our world neighbors protect their freedom and advance their social and economic progress,” he said. “It is not the goal of the American people that the United States should be the richest nation in the graveyard of history.”

Under the banner of “America First,” President Trump is reducing U.S. commitments abroad. On his third day in office, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation trade deal designed by the United States as a counterweight to a rising China. To allies in Asia, the withdrawal damaged America’s credibility. “You won’t be able to see that overnight,” Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, told me, at an event in Washington. “It’s like when you draw a red line and then you don’t take it seriously. Was there pain? You didn’t see it, but I’m quite sure there’s an impact.”
In a speech to Communist Party officials last January 20th, Major General Jin Yinan, a strategist at China’s National Defense University, celebrated America’s pullout from the trade deal. “We are quiet about it,” he said. “We repeatedly state that Trump ‘harms China.’ We want to keep it that way. In fact, he has given China a huge gift. That is the American withdrawal from T.P.P.” Jin, whose remarks later circulated, told his audience, “As the U.S. retreats globally, China shows up.” 
For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected.
At the link, the New Yorker thoughtfully offers an audio link so you can listen, instead of read.


And, finally on the Trump front, Politico's Susan Glasser reports on how the rest of the world is reacting to Trump's Year of Living Dangerously. Scoop? They're none too pleased.
When President Donald Trump sat down for dinner on September 18 in New York with leaders of four Latin American countries on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly, anxieties were already running high. 
There was the matter of Mexico and his promise to build that “big, beautiful wall,” presumably to keep not just Mexicans but all of their citizens out of the United States too. And the threat to blow up the North American Free Trade Agreement. And then, a month earlier, seemingly out of nowhere, Trump had volunteered that he was considering a “military option” in Venezuela as that country’s last vestiges of democracy disappeared. Amid the international furor over his vow to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea in the same golf-course press conference, the news that the president of the United States was apparently considering going to war with its third-largest oil supplier had gotten relatively little attention. But the leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Panama invited to the dinner remembered it well. 
So, it turned out, did Trump. After the photo op was over and the cameras had left the room, Trump dominated the long table. His vice president, Mike Pence, was to his right; Pence had just spent nearly a week on a conciliatory, well-received tour of the region, the first by a high-ranking administration official since Trump’s inauguration. To Trump’s left was his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. “Rex tells me you don’t want me to use the military option in Venezuela,” the president told the gathered Latin American leaders, according to an account offered by an attendee soon after the dinner. “Is that right? Are you sure?” Everyone said they were sure. But they were rattled. War with Venezuela, as absurd as that seemed, was clearly still on Trump’s mind. 
By the time the dinner was over, the leaders were in shock, and not just over the idle talk of armed conflict. No matter how prepared they were, eight months into an American presidency like no other, this was somehow not what they expected. A former senior U.S. official with whom I spoke was briefed by ministers from three of the four countries that attended the dinner. “Without fail, they just had wide eyes about the entire engagement,” the former official told me. Even if few took his martial bluster about Venezuela seriously, Trump struck them as uninformed about their issues and dangerously unpredictable, asking them to expend political capital on behalf of a U.S. that no longer seemed a reliable partner. “The word they all used was: ‘This guy is insane.’”

And so, in the words of this article's author: “I’ve come to believe that when it comes to Trump and the world, it’s not better than you think. It’s worse.”


And finally, if you didn't already think the Democrats fucked up big time by forcing Al Franken to give up his Senatorial seat over FUCKING GODDAMN NOTHING, then this Daily Beast article by Michael Tomasky should set you straight. It begins:
Sometime today, Al Franken will resign his Senate seat. The Democrats are hoping for a banner year, and from all indicators it looks like they’ll have one, and I hope they do—if they take back one house, this horrid Trump/GOP agenda is done for. 
But the Democrats’ 2018 is sure getting off to a dubious start. Franken should not be going. When he announced his resignation on December 7, I wrote a column saying that Democrats would come to regret what they’d done to him. Nevertheless, I wrote, his resignation was probably the right and necessary thing under the circumstances. 
The Twitter response to the piece was huge—about four or five times the normal response I get. And it was, as near as I can remember, literally unanimously in defense of Franken. This made me start rethinking things. Yes, I still think the Democrats will regret this. But was his resignation really the right and necessary thing? 
For three weeks, I've been sitting around wondering why no pollster was asking Minnesota's voters. It was astonishing to me that no one bothered. That was apparently that, and we’d so easily moved on. But now, someone has polled it, and the PPP survey of 671 Minnesotans taken the two days after Christmas says precisely what I and a lot of other people expected it to say.
And that's all for today. More soon, if I can get to it.

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