Whistling Past the Korean Graveyard

What astounds me is how much the Establishment media are downplaying the grave and imminent danger of war between two nuclear-armed states both led by irresponsible madmen.

I was going to post something on this, then decided to shelve such plans when the news that Tillerson was secretly talking with the North Koreans came out. Which brings me to these points that Jennifer Rubin recently raised.

What’s wrong, I think, is that Tillerson is cracking under the stress of his job. That also explains why he’s trying to stay on: he has first-hand experience that the US president is in fact a madman, and fears what will happen if his influence attempting to moderate same is gone.

Of course, Rubin’s points are still valid, which means that Tillerson is probably on his way out. But keep in mind that Tillerson’s apparent worries are also valid.

What it all means is that Trump’s handlers are not able to rein in his worst attributes.

Make no mistake, the danger we are facing is now extreme.

What a Madman

Probably doesn’t even see the irony in making a speech that contains both this:

Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.

and this:

The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

Russia Reset, Kompromat, Etc.

First, Trump’s Russia Reset is Dead

Trump’s possibly treasonous Russia collusion backfired, bigly. It was too galling even for most members of today’s Republican Party. With its sanctions bill, Congress has hobbled Trump with respect to Russia.

It’s somewhat surprising that Trump didn’t decide to force the issue with a (doomed) veto. He’s certainly immature and short-tempered enough to do just such a thing. His handlers probably had to argue with him quite a bit to get him to acknowledge the inevitable, and accept today’s humiliation of having to sign a hated bill into law rather than tomorrow’s humiliation of an overwhelming veto override.

Onward to a New Cold War?

In the short term, definitely. Even through the medium term, quite likely. That really sucks, but with the successful (and unrepentant) Russian interference in the US (and other nations’) political systems, non-sucky immediate-term outcomes simply don’t seem possible.

Of the sucky outcomes possible, a new Cold War seems to me the least sucky. It exerts consequences on the Putin regime, whose domestic economy is quite weak already and which was counting on a Russia reset in the West to end sanctions, create domestic economic growth, and boost the regime’s popularity.

Now all Putin gets is a short-term opportunity to rally Russians around the flag while he copes with a long-term set of economic constraints that will act to undermine his regime’s popularity.

Karma Has Bitten the West, Too

Don’t think Russia is the only nation hoisted by its own petard for interfering with other nations’ politics. The West interfered with Russian politics in a huge way by backing Yeltsin’s 1993 coup against Russia’s constitutional government. That coup created the imperial presidency that Yeltsin’s successor Putin used to create the dictatorship that ended up destabilizing the USA and other Western nations.

Kompromat? Probably None of That

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the alleged (and it was always alleged; there never was any hard evidence of it) extreme dirt Putin had on Trump probably doesn’t exist. US/Russia relations are now totally in the doghouse, so Russia has every possible reason imaginable to retaliate against Trump with every diplomatic weapon in its arsenal. If it doesn’t come out in the next week or two, it’s safe to conclude the kompromat simply doesn’t exist at all.

Two Incompetent Plumbers

So, I’m in this basement where a washing machine has just been installed. Two plumbers are there, having just added the supply and drain lines for the machine. There is also a washtub sink in the basement.

The basement lies below the level of the sewers, so both washtub and washing machine drain to a small tank which has a lift pump in it. Note I said small: the tank was intended to serve the washtub sink only and has not been upgraded to reflect the new washing machine. I point out to the plumbers that it’s almost certain to overflow and flood, and they both dismiss my claim, pointing out my lack of professional experience as a plumber.

The first load of clothes is loaded and the machine started. When it reaches the end of the wash cycle and drains, sure enough, the tank overflows. The plumbers express surprise about this mystifying and unexpected (to them) outcome, and propose solutions that fall short of expanding either the tank and or pump capacity sufficient to prevent further such incidents.

I point out that at minimum, the tank needs to be able to accommodate the maximum volume expected to be drained from the sink at any one time plus the volume of water from the machine, or the pump must be able to accompany the sum of the two corresponding flow rates. My objections are dismissed; there is insufficient space for a large tank and it is considered too costly to replace the line from the pump with a larger one.

At this point I wake up.

Analyzing the Right-Wing Narrative

The excerpts below are from this article by the New York Times.

Enemies from within have launched a “deep-state” smear campaign, news organizations are acting with ulterior motives, and the worst attacks are yet to come.

The term “deep state” is not a neologism; it’s been around for a long time and applied to many political situations. And there does appear to be such a thing at work in the USA presently. That’s a good thing, in this context, since it’s acting for the preservation of an Establishment that while deeply flawed, is greatly preferable to the sort of fascist state Trump desires to create.

The worst attacks are indeed probably yet to come, but it must be pointed out that the most effective attack strategy so far has been to simply tell the truth about how awful Trump is. If Trump stopped violating the norms of a free, open society, he’d be brutally effective in disarming his adversaries (who in turn would dwindle in number and diminish in militance as motives to oppose Trump vanished).

The bit about the media I will cover after the following excerpt:

Pushing back against the biggest threat so far to Donald Trump’s young presidency, his most fervent supporters are building alternative narratives to run alongside the “establishment” media account — from relatively benign diversions to more bizarre conspiracies.

Sources such as the New York Times are definitely the Establishment media. There is no inaccuracy on the part of anyone (including the far right) describing them as such. And they are out to get Trump. For good reason; Trump violates numerous basic norms of a free and open society.

With varying degrees of credibility and credulity, conservatives have fed stories that Mr. Trump is the victim of sabotage by an adversarial intelligence community full of Trojan horse holdovers from the Obama administration.

“There is someone burrowed into the intelligence community who wants to hurt Trump,” the conservative author and radio host Laura Ingraham warned.

There are individuals in the Intelligence Community who want to damage Trump. For good reason: Trump violates basic norms. These acts on the part of the Intelligence Community are not a violation of duty. These agencies do serve under the command of the president, but the oath they pledge to upheld is not one of loyalty to president; it is one of loyalty to the US Constitution. Intelligence agents have not merely the right but the duty to disobey orders, regulations, and even laws if doing so is, in their sober judgement, the best practical way to uphold the Constitution they pledged loyalty to.

This goes for more than just the Intelligence Community, by the way. All civil servants (as well as all members of the armed forces) take similar oaths. The wording of the oaths was deliberately chosen long ago, for the express reason of helping to incite precisely the sort of resistance from within which we are now seeing, should an enemy of a democratic republic ever take possession of the White House.

The “deep state” is very real, but far from being an unforeseen aberration on the body politic, it is a deliberately created check against the sort of situation we find ourselves in.

The part about the Obama administration is mostly baseless smoke-blowing. While it is true that there are many in the civil service who were hired during those years, the civil service has long been operated at arm’s length from the presidency. Moreover, the civil service is full of individuals who have been in it for many decades; there’s plenty of civil servants who were hired under Republican administrations.

For many Trump loyalists, the issue is not whether his presidency is messy and chaotic and dysfunctional. Many of them seemed resigned long ago to the fact that it would be. The more relevant question is whether they see anyone else who is equipped to change Washington in the way Mr. Trump promised he would.

None of the above should be construed to deny that many of the motives for voters to choose Trump are in fact valid. The Establishment has ignored the desires of many working-class people, for many decades. This is true for both political parties.

That anger will not vanish when Trump vanishes from the White House. Nor should it. It needs to be given a more fact-based and less hateful outlet by creating a left-wing populist movement. This may prove easier than many assume (witness how the Occupy movement emerged seemingly out of nowhere).

Trump supporters will feel plenty bitter and let down when their führer falls, but the vast majority of people have shockingly short political memories. After the anger dies down, many will become potentially receptive to alternate messages.

Any alliance the Left makes with the Establishment should therefore be a temporary one aimed at addressing the current crises the Trump presidency represents. If not, the anger will remain, searching for an outlet, and there will always be demagogues on the Right willing to exploit it.

Ultimately, the Establishment is untenable and cannot stand in its present state for long. If one desires to preserve basic freedoms, it is going to be necessary to move society leftwards.

The End of the Beginning? We Shall See

But it is encouraging to see how much the Trump regime has unraveled in the past week or so. Trump is a supreme threat, both to this country and the planet as a whole, and the sooner he goes, the better.

At this stage, it bears observing that everything publicly observable about Trump is consistent with the thesis that he is a Putin puppet. This includes the bombing of that Syrian air base (remember, he warned Russia first so they could move their planes out). When it’s topped off by first firing the FBI director for refusing to stop a Russia-related investigation, then the leaking of classified information to the Russians, things really smell fishy.

No this doesn’t prove anything, of course, but the Putin puppet thesis is the simplest explanation going, and even if ultimately proven false, the willing obstruction of justice is itself an impeachable offense.

Now we wait. Investigations take time, and while that happens it’s likely the “downward spiral” will continue. I do not necessarily think it will continue to happen at the rate it has this week, based on Trump’s campaign (he had his epically bad weeks, but then he’d have better ones, and even occasional times when he appeared mostly normal).

But, who knows, it just might. Trump is extremely thin-skinned and emotionally immature (on the latter point, he himself has admitted he’s basically the same person he was in the first grade), and leaks from the White House indicate he is taking recent events very poorly. Things may well have passed a tipping point wherein bad news has created an emotional breakdown which ensures further erratic behavior (and thus further bad news).

It also bears pointing out that the Trump regime may end sooner than most people think, if Trump chooses to resign in frustration. If the latter happens, expect no small amount of purile outbursts about how the evil system and ungrateful public have deprived a now unworthy country of its greatest president ever. According to Trump, everyone is potentially responsible for Trump’s problems save for Trump himself.

Who knows, it may even end in Trump’s suicide, particularly if damning enough news comes out during the investigations. The motivating factor would be an existential crisis caused by being forced to acknowledge that far from being the greatest ever, he’s a miserable failure the likes of which the presidency has never seen before.

Is Mélenchon another Chávez? Another Trump?

Probably not. He’s never tried to stage a coup d’etat in the name of the people (Chávez), and unlike Trump he does actually have some prior political experience.

But, really, “better than Chávez” or “better than Trump” are very low standards to set, and the guy just has a tawdry air around him. He’s certainly not shying away from using ethnic bigotry (against Germans) for his own personal gain. His promise to tax all income above above €400K is unrealistic (no such massive income redistribution can be successfully imposed by government fiat; it would take sustained social pressure from civil society over many years). His apparent admiration of both Castro and Chávez is both foolish and sickening (though not terribly surprising for an ex-Trotskyite).

On the latter fact, it’s important to consider that self-professed communist candidates that are freely elected have never turned out to be totalitarians, despite their delusions about those who share their political label in less free societies. Cyprus had an elected communist as head of government for a few years. On the local and regional level, parts of Italy and India have long had communist governments.

To sum up: no, he’s probably not another Hugo Chávez. He’s definitely not equivalently awful to Marie LePen. But he’s hardly the dawn of a great new era, either. Mostly, he sounds like a garden-variety faux-populist gasbag out to capitalize on popular discontent.

So, What Happened?

I think this:

  • Trump wants to be chummy with Russia. He (or others on his campaign) may well even have colluded with Russia.
  • Fascists admire Putin and want to be chummy with Putin, too.
  • Trump wants to pander to fascists.
  • But Trump’s ideology is mostly about promoting Trump. He has no firm commitment to fascism. He just pandered to fascism because he needed their votes in the election.
  • Fascists (and even fascist sympathizers) with significant policy experience are rare, meaning Trump has been compelled by circumstances to hire many conservatives.
  • Conservatives are not fascists. Trump was never very popular with conservatives. They just learned to eventually accept Trump because at least he’d probably appoint judges they’d like.
  • Moreover, Trump may be losing patience with the fascists. Bannon’s advice hasn’t exactly served him well. This doubtless explains Bannon’s recent demotion.

End result? An administration packed with conservatives who went into orbit when Assad launched that gas attack and automatically started denouncing it. Yes, I believe at least some of them started denouncing Assad before even consulting their boss on the matter. Reason: they wanted to strongarm their boss into seeing things (or at least professing to see them) their way.

But Trump still wanted to be chummy with Russia, so he told Russia first and launched a deliberately ineffectual attack. But it’s looking increasingly like that didn’t work. Putin paid for his lapdog, and he’s apparently quite upset that he hasn’t gotten what he paid for.

This is where things might start really getting interesting. For openers, if Putin does really have kompromat on Trump, he will almost certainly use it, given how upset he seems to be. Don’t expect that shoe to drop until after Tillerson leaves Moscow. If it doesn’t, the kompromat probably doesn’t exist.

On the subject of Putin and his wished-for lapdogs, expect Putin to be particularly livid at Assad for launching the attack and setting off the whole mess in the first place. The Russians are doubtless already searching for someone better to back in Syria, and as soon as they find him, Assad will be dumped.

The lesson here is that ruling elites are not the master manipulators that conspiracy theorists believe them to be. They hold great power, but they also work with limitations and imperfect circumstances in an unpredictable world.

A Strange Missile Attack

First, yes, Trump indeed told Russia about it first. I mention that not because there’s been any shortage of such mentions, but that they have, so far as I have been able to tell, mostly been one liberal blog citing another. My link is to a Time magazine article that quotes a Russian official by name confirming the notice.

Second, the runways were left alone. Add that to the point above, and it’s no surprise that that planes (which Russia and Russia’s ally Syria were able to move to a safe place thanks to the deliberate warning) used the (still intact) runways to launch sorties from.

Before closing I’ll point out that there is a bit of truth that came out from the White House, namely, that attacking the runways with missiles wouldn’t have accomplished much. No, it wouldn’t have. But that’s sort of beside the point I’m making, which was that a deliberately symbolic attack, with only limited military significance, was made. In other words, it was for show.

A Gem of a Quote

As I am wont to do at times, I’m delving into a subject deeply for no apparent reason other than a friend mentioned it and it sparked my interest to read further on it. The subject in this case is the Chilean Revolution of 1970-1973 that was brutally cut short by a US-supported coup d’etat against the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende.

I’m not quite old enough to qualify as “old” yet, but this still resonates with me:

“[T]here is no generation gap–there are young old people and old young people, and I place myself in the latter category.” — Salvador Allende

This comes from a little-known (in the US) speech that Allende gave at a university in Mexico: