Sunday, June 10, 2018
Big news this coming week will be the Singapore summit between
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. No one I've read has any idea what the
Koreans (either North or South) are thinking going into the summit,
nor do they seem to have any grasp on the Trump administration --
not just because Trump has been even cagier than usual (by which I
mean his peculiar habit of masking ignorance with uncertainty and
whimsy and passing it all off as unpredictability). Still, one piece
I tried to read was
Alex Ward: Trump just made 3 shocking statements about North Korea.
I've cited Ward's pieces on Korea before, and expect something more
or less sensible from him, but this isn't that. First problem here is
that I can't find any statements, much less "shocking" ones, by Trump
here. Actually, the most ignorant statements appear to be coming from
Ward, such as: "Presidents don't habitually welcome murderous dictators
to the White House"; and "Experts I spoke to said that's [a "normal"
relationship with the US] something North has wanted for years because
it would legitimize the Kim regime in the eyes of the world." Isn't it
a little late to think that meeting with Donald Trump will legitimize
anyone? Having been shunned by the Philadelphia Eagles and the Golden
State Warriors, isn't Trump the one left with a desperate craving for
The most shocking statement in the article is a subhed: "Kim has
given little away. Trump has offered a lot." What exactly has Trump
offered, other than his passive-aggressive willingness to meet, most
recently couched in a vow to walk out of the meeting within ten minutes
if he doesn't like the vibe? Ward cites an Ankit Panda tweet as "on
table for June 12 should things go well, as of Trump's recent remarks":
- declaration on end of Korean War
- move toward normalization
- agreement on moving toward a peace treaty
- invitation for Kim Jong Un to the US
- no sanctions relief until denuclearization (per Abe)
The first point is really a no-brainer. The War effectively ended 65
years ago, and nobody wants to restart it. Normalization should also be,
and should move directly into some degree of sanctions relief -- certainly
for trade of non-military goods. The US had diplomatic relations with the
Soviet Union long before it broke up, and with China long before they
adopted any market reforms, and it's certain that even the constrained
degree of normalization there helped bring about reform. The US hasn't
been willing to engage with North Korea because Americans bear grudges
over the 1950-53 war they couldn't win, because North Korea is a useful
enemy to bolster defense spending, and because (unlike China, to pick
an obvious example) businesses don't forsee a lot of profit opportunity
there. In short, it has, thus far, cost the US very little to perpetuate
a state of hostility, and until North Korea developed ICBMs with nuclear
warheads, there never seemed to be any risk.
There really isn't much risk even now: Kim certainly understands that
any offensive use of his new weapons will only result in the obliteration
of his country. It's become abundantly clear that the only value anyone
has ever gained with nuclear weapons is deterrence against foreign attack.
Still, no one likes being tested, let alone intimidated, and dread makes
a fragile foundation for peace. Closed, hostile relations are lose-lose.
Open, equitable relations can be win-win: most obviously by opening up
free trade. What's happened over the past two years is that North Korea
first put on a show of force to get US attention, then followed that up
with a series of conciliatory gestures opening up the prospect of normal
relations and mutual economic growth. If the US had sensible people in
charge of foreign policy, this whole process would be straightforward.
Unfortunately, we have Trump, and Trump has Bolton, but even people who
should know better (like Ward) keep falling back into unhelpful habits.
The big question this summit faces is whether Trump and Kim can figure
out a way to sequence steps they ultimately seem to be willing to agree
to: ending the official state of hostilities, normalizing relations (which
both includes ending sanctions and deescalating military threats). The
Bolton position insists on North Korea giving up everything before the
US gives in on anything, and Bolton is ideally positioned to whisper in
Trump's gullible ear.
I could write something about what I think should happen, but it won't.
As Trump says, "we'll see."
Still not doing full website updates, although I've been making
plodding progress fixing the massive breakage from the crash. One
thing of particular note is that I lost various passwords for my
wife's media accounts. I've restored a couple, but not all of them,
and I'm getting annoying complaints for lack of the rest. Thus far
a more conspicuous problem is that I'm running Firefox without an
ad blocker, so for the first time in years I'm experiencing the
entire torrent of hideousness that supposedly keeps the internet
free. I guess I'll chalk it up to experience, but the irritation
factor is immense, and I'm not sure how long before I break down
and try to defend myself. Still, I can imagine some sort of add-on
short of a blocker that would make it more tolerable: some way to
point at an object and either delete or cover it up.
Keyboard still giving me aggravation, but I have a replacement
ready to plug in: a mechanical (brown) switch gaming thing with
red LED backlighting. Certainly the most expensive keyboard I've
bought since my typesetting days, or maybe my old IBM Selectric.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias didn't flag any important stories last week, but he
did post some:
Scott Pruitt's Ritz-Carlton moisturizing lotion scandal, explained.
In one sense I feel sorry for Pruitt. After all, Trump's cabinet is
starkly divided between the haves and have-nots, and there must be an
awful lot of social pressure on the latter to join the former. Since
the most obvious dividing line is between those who have private jets
and those who don't, it's not surprising that Tom Price became the
first scandal casualty over his department's hiring of private jets.
Pruitt is one of the have-nots, and many of his too-numerous-to-count
scandals involve excessive spending (no private jets yet, but lots of
first-class air tickets). Another is using his oversized security
detail for personal errands -- I doubt we'd be hearing about this if
it were regular staff, but Pruitt's politics seems to go hand-in-glove
with his craving for luxury and his imperious management style. After
all, few people in the Trump administration have done more special
favors for their rich benefactors? Not surprising that Pruitt should
feel like he deserves a taste. In days past, most people in Pruitt's
shoes have had the discretion to wait until they leave government to
cash in. But in the Trump era, greed is shameless, but only the haves
(like Trump himself) who really get to flaunt it.
For more on Pruitt's more serious scandals, see:
Umair Irfan: 2 key environmental policies Scott Pruitt was dismantling
this week amid his scandals. If you need to catch up, see:
Oliver Milman: A scandal for all seasons: those Scott Pruitt ethics
violations in full.
The Trump-Trudeau argument about steel tariffs and the War of 1812,
The outlook for a blue wave, explained.
Yglesias/Andrew Prokop: 3 winners and 2 losers from California's 2018
California's primary results suggest Democrats are on track for a House
Missouri special election results: Lauren Arthur wins.
America's allies should respond to steel tariffs with targeted sanctions
on the Trump Organization. Clever idea, especially given that the
US feels entitled to impose sanctions not only on governments that it
doesn't like but on individuals who appear to be influential on those
governments. On the other hand, it bothers me when critics like Yglesias
attack Trump's trade policies for weakening America's system of Cold War
alliances. The US has long subsidized those alliances, especially in
East Asia, by giving in to unfavorable trade relations, and that's
ultimately undermined American jobs and skills. On the other hand, the
blame doesn't rest primarily with trade (look especially at finance
and global capital flows). Nor are tariffs a particularly good fix:
their economic purpose is to protect developing industry, but without
investment they offer nothing more than excess rents.
Democrats' ongoing reevaluation of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky,
Zeeshan Aleem: The G7 summit looked like it was going okay. Then Trump
got mad on Twitter. Note photo of Trump sitting meekly with his
arms crossed and hands tucked away, while Angela Merkel gets in his
face, with Shinzo Abe and John Bolton looking shifty in the background.
[PS: Saw a tweet with this picture, captioned: 'The Persuasion of the
Imbecile' by Caravaggio.]
As everyone knows, Trump is a world class asshole, but he's not the
sort who'll pick a fight in person. One recalls that back during the
campaign he made a publicity trip to Mexico to confront the president
there over his wall idea but was so polite he didn't dare ruffle any
feathers, only to return to a rally in Phoenix that night where he
delivered one of his most racist and xenophobic speeches. So I guess
it's no surprise that he waited until he was back in his comfort zone --
tweeting from the plane as he flew away -- to trash the G7 conference
and his fellow leaders' lukewarm efforts to make nice. Or maybe it
just took some private time with Bolton to buck the president up. For
what happened next, see:
Matt Shuham: G7 Nations Respond to Trump's Rejection of Joint Statement:
'Let's Be Serious'. Given that the former G8 kicked Russia out to
show their disapproval of Russia's annexation of Crimea, maybe they'll
soon become the G6. Actually, I think Trump is right here:
Trump wants Russia invited back into the G7. This notion that nations
are entitled to shun and shame other countries because it plays well in
domestic polling is hacking the world up into hostile camps, at a time
when cooperation is more important than ever. And right now the biggest
divider is none other than Donald Trump, although he actually gets way
too much help from many Democrats. For instance here's a tweet that got
forwarded to my feed:
Popular vote winner Hillary Clinton warned everyone that Russia was
interfering in the election and that, if elected, Trump would serve
as Putin's Puppet.
Trump just ruined the G7 summit and pissed off our allies . . . She
was right about everything.
Actually, she's not even right about this: the G7/8 isn't necessarily
a meeting of "our allies" -- the members are supposedly the world's major
economies -- and more inclusive would be better than less. On the other
hand, she wouldn't have withdrawn from Paris, or from the Iran agreement,
nor would she have levied steel and aluminum tariffs, which Trump turned
into points of contention, not just with "allies" but with everyone. For
more on this, see:
Susan B Glasser: Under Trump, "America First" Really Is Turning Out to
Be America Alone. You might also note
this data point: a poll of Germans reveals that only 14% "consider
the US a reliable partner"; the figure for Russia is 36%, China 43%.
Katie Annand: I work with children separated from caregivers at the border.
What happens is unforgivable.
In addition to the nearly incomprehensible suffering the United States
is imposing on these children, the administration's new policy, which
separates children from parents, makes it much harder for the child to
make a claim for US protection. As of last month, all parents are being
referred for prosecution because they crossed into the United States
without documentation. The parents are placed into US Marshals custody
in an adult detention facility, while the child is rendered "unaccompanied"
and deportation proceedings are initiated against the child alone. Their
case is completely separated from their parents and little to no
communication is facilitated between the parent and child.
Parents don't know what's happening to their children, and vice versa.
This has significant implications for the child's ability to make their
case for US protection. Often, adult family members have information and
documents that are vital to making their case. We see children who may
not know why they came to the United States -- parents and caregivers
often do not tell their children the full story, lest they be scared or
Ryan Devereaux: 1,358 Children and Counting -- Trump's "Zero Tolerance"
aBorder Policy Is Separating Families at Staggering Rates.
Nicholas Bagley: Trump's legal attack on the ACA isn't about health care.
It's a war on the rule of law. Also:
Dylan Scott: The Trump Administration believes Obamacare's preexisting
conditions protections are now unconstitutional.
Fiona Harvey: 'Carbon bubble' could spark global financial crisis, study
warns: A "bubble," here as elsewhere, is an excessively high valuation
of an asset, making it likely to rapidly deflate in the future, probably
damaging the global financial system. There is good reason to think that
oil and gas reserves are overvalued, mostly because demand is likely to
decline in favor of non-carbon energy sources (especially solar). Harvey
What is the carbon bubble and what will happen if it bursts?
Emily Heiler: The New Yorker's Jane Mayer recommends 3 books about money
and American politics: Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All
Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on
the Middle Class; F Scott Fitzgerald: The Diamond as Big as the
Ritz; and Kim Phillips-Fein: Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's
Crusade Against the New Deal. I've read two of those -- not hard to
guess which -- and they're pretty good, but better still is Mayer's own
Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise
of the Radical Right, and I should also mention Max Blumenthal:
Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party,
and Thomas Frank: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. And
while it's a bit dated -- as Michael Lewis later noted on his book on
1980s financial scandals, Liar's Poker: "how quaint" -- you can
still learn things from Kevin Phillips: American Dynasty: Aristocracy,
Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush (2004). For
my part, I've been aware of the pervasive influence of money in politics
at least since c. 1970, when I read G. William Domhoff's Who Rules
America? (1967) and the Ferdinand Lundberg's The Rich and the
Super-Rich: A Study in the Power of Money Today (1968, revising his
1936 America's 60 Families) -- and that was back in the golden
age of American equality (Paul Krugman dubbed it "the great compression").
But once you start noticing the role money plays in politics, you find it
German Lopez: Trump wants to execute drug dealers. But he granteed
commutation to one because Kim Kardashian asked.
Jay Rosen: Why Trump Is Winning and the Press Is Losing: Sure,
Trump's pre-emptive war on "Fake News" is mostly a prophylactic
between Trump's supporters and the possibility that honest media
might expose some of his lies and distortions, and more importantly
the real effects of Republican policies on people's lives. "Nixon
seethed about the press in private. Trump seethes in public." And
it's not just Trump: "At the bottom of the pyramid is an army of
online trolls and alt-right activists who shout down stories critical
of the president and project hatred at the journalists who report
them. Between the president at thetop and the baseat the bottom are
the mediating institutions: Breitbart, Drudge Report,
The Daily Caller, Rush Limbaugh, and, especially, Fox News."
Of course, you know all that. But what about this:
There is a risk that journalists could do their job brilliantly, and
it won't really matter, because Trump supporters categorically reject
it, Trump opponents already believed it, and the neither-nors aren't
paying close enough attention. In a different way, there is a risk
that journalists could succeed at the production of great journalism
and fail at its distribution, because the platforms created by the
tech industry have so overtaken the task of organizing public attention.
Actually, there isn't much chance of brilliant journalism, for lots
of reasons -- institutional biases, of coruse, but also issue complexity,
received frameworks, the neverending struggle between superficiality and
depth, and the simple question of who cares about what. For example,
"There is a risk that Republican elites will fail to push back against
Trump's attacks on democratic institutions, including the press" --
but why assume they should push back when they're leading the charge?
It's always been the case that one's interests colored one's views.
What is relatively new is the insistence that only views matter, that
there are no objective facts worth considering. In the old days, one
tried to spin the news. Now you just run roughshod over your opposition.
And it's really not Trump who started this. The first real articulation
of the idea came during the Bush years, when someone (Karl Rove?) made
fun of "the reality-based community." From there, it was only a short
step before Republicans started wondering why we should encourage people
to get a higher education. Trump simply bought into the prevailing party
line. As I said during the campaign, Republicans have been adept at "dog
whistling" racism for many years, but Trump doesn't do that. He's just
On the other hand, maybe you can make a case for brilliant journalism:
Jon Schwarz: Seymour Hersh's New Memoir Is a Fascinating, Flabbergasting
Masterpiece. Matt Taibbi also wrote:
Seymour Hersh's Memoir Is Full of Useful Reporting Secrets.
Jeremy Scahill: More Than Just Russia -- There's a Strong Case for the
Trump Team Colluding With Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE: Even
before you get to the question of who got the most bang for their
Emily Stewart: Why there's so much speculation about Starbucks chair
Howard Schultz's 2020 ambitions: Well, he's a rich Democrat, and
as far back as the Kennedys the party has been jonesing for candidates
rich enough to fund their own campaigns. Stewart mentions other rich
and often famous rumored candidates like Mark Cuban, Bob Iger, Mark
Zuckerberg, and Oprah Winfrey. Clearly, the media is smitten with the
idea, especially those who saw Trump's election as a popular rebuke
to the Washington establishment. But hasn't Trump utterly discredited
the notion that America would be better off run like a corporation?
I suppose you could counter that Trump wasn't actually much good at
running his business, whereas other entrepreneurs are more competent,
at least to the point of recognizing when they need to hire skilled
help. But frankly the record for successful businessmen moving into
the presidency isn't encouraging. Stewart offers some examples:
To be sure, Trump isn't the only US president to have experience in
business. George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Herbert
Hoover also had significant private sector experience on their résumés,
and none, arguably, performed spectacularly well.
Well, the Bushes were always hacks, who got set up in the Texas oil
business thanks to political connections, and still didn't get much
out of it. (G.W. Bush made most of his money as the front man "owner"
of the Texas Rangers baseball franchise, where the money came from
real oil men.) Unlike the Bushes (Jack Germond liked to refer to them
as "empty suits"), Hoover and Carter were very smart, knowledgeable,
dilligent, and earnest, and terrible presidents. I've been toying with
the idea that American political history breaks down to four eras each
with a dominant party, demarcated by elections in 1800, 1860, 1932,
and 1980 (Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and [ugh!] Reagan). Hoover
and Carter lost reëlection bids in two of those (James Buchanan ended
the 1800-60 era, although he bears no other resemblance to Hoover or
Carter). Trump will probably wind up sinking the Reagan era, but had
it not been for the haplessness of the Democrats under Clinton and
Obama, either Bush could have been the endpost. (The former lost to
Clinton after a single term, and while the latter scratched out a
second term, his final approval ratings were in the 20% range -- the
worst since polling began.)
I find it interesting that the richest US president before Trump,
relative to his time of course, was George Washington -- a president
Trump bears no other similarity to whatsoever. In particular, while
Washington's "I cannot tell a lie" legend is apocryphal, he did go
to great lengths to make certain that he was viewed as honest and
"disinterested" -- that his statements and actions as president were
virtuous and free of any hint of corruption. Trump is his polar
opposite, a reflexive liar who scarcely ever bothers to conceal his
financial interests in his power. Moreover, although several factors
have conspired lately to thrust the wealthy into public office --
Mitt Romney, for instance, has a net worth close to Washington's
(relatively speaking), and John McCain and John Kerry married rich
heiresses. That atmosphere lends credibility to the moguls listed
in the article. On the other hand, while almost anyone else on the
Forbes 400 list could mount a campaign as "a better billionaire,"
one doubts the American people will feel like buying another. But
given the DNC's crush on the rich and/or famous, they'd most likely
welcome the idea.
Alexia Underwood: 5 Anthony Bourdain quotes that show why he was
beloved around the world: Very much saddened at news of Bourdain's
death. I read three of his books -- Kitchen Confidential: Adventures
in the Cullinary Underbelly, A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in
Extreme Cuisine, and Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World
of Food and the People Who Cook. I recognized a kindred spirit not
just in taste but more importantly in appreciating the work that goes
into preparing good food. That isn't unusual among food writers, but
time and again he surprised me with his take on people and history. I
recall the Kissinger quote here from the book, or something very like
it -- he wrote a lot about Vietnam and Cambodia in that book. The only
one of the five quotes here that seems off is the one about North Korea,
but that's because he didn't go there, didn't meet people and cook and
eat with them, so all he's got is the newsreel. Maybe what he's been
told is right, but elsewhere he took the bother to find out for himself.
And as he's discovered repeatedly, people pretty much everywhere come
up with ingenious ways of coping even with terrible hardships. No reason
North Koreans should be that different. I doubt I've seen his shows more
than five times, but liked them well enough to imagine watching more --
just never found the time. But the one thing I've repeatedly observed is
that he's shown it's possible to appreciate good food without taking on
snobbish airs. That's mostly because he respects everyone and everything
that goes into a meal.
I went back to the notebook to see what I had written about Bourdain
over the years. Not as much as I thought I remembered, but there is his
The Post-Election Interview. I also found a quote I had copied down,
from Medium Raw, which has suddenly taken on a new chill:
I was forty-four years old when Kitchen Confidential hit -- and
if there was ever a lucky break or better timing, I don't know about
it. At forty-four, I was, as all cooks too long on the line must be,
already in decline. You're not getting any faster -- or smarter -- as
a cook after age thirty-seven. The knees and back go first, of
course. That you'd expect. But the hand-eye coordination starts to
break up a little as well. And the vision thing. But it's the brain
that sends you the most worrying indications of decay. After all those
years of intense focus, multitasking, high stress, late nights, and
alcohol, the brain stops responding the way you like. You miss
things. You aren't as quick reading the board, prioritizing the dupes,
grasping at a glance what food goes where, adding up totals of steaks
on hold and steaks on the fire -- and cumulative donenesses. Your
hangovers are more crippling and last longer. Your temper becomes
shorter -- and you become more easily frustrated with yourself for
fucking up little things (though less so with others). Despair --
always a sometime thing in the bipolar world of the kitchen -- becomes
more frequent and longer-lasting as one grows more philosophical with
age and has more to despair about.
Some more scattered Bourdain links: