Saturday, August 22, 2020

Fighting the last war


The Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and his delegation packed into a meeting with Donald Trump and his delegation at the White House on Thursday. No masks, and just two women at the table. 

Photo via Iraqi PM's website -- transparency!

Thursday, August 20, 2020

If it ain't broke

Wall Street Journal,  reporting on the perfect segue from Paul Ryan's vacuous "deficit hawk" political career:

Paul Ryan, the consummate Washington negotiator, is trying his hand at another kind of deal making, jumping into the rush on Wall Street toward blank-check acquisition companies.

The former House speaker will serve as chairman of a vehicle known as Executive Network Partnering Corp., which will seek to raise roughly $300 million in an initial public offering, people familiar with the deal said. That figure is subject to change based on demand. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Claude Rains in Dublin

 The Google photo album from Berlin D2, the Dublin "restaurant" that was discovered to be a raucous drinking establishment, is hilarious. Check out the "Soup of the Day."

Friday, August 14, 2020

Pilgrimage Diplomacy

 Donald Trump, explaining his breakthrough agreement with the UAE and Israel yesterday --

This deal will allow much greater access to Muslims from throughout the world to visit the many historic sites in Israel — which the Muslims want to see very badly and have wanted to see for many, many decades — and to peacefully pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is a very special place for them.

There is lots for Palestinians to worry about in this deal, but this particular point is up there. If Israel is able to present the deal as broadening access of Muslims to Al-Aqsa, that could be a useful distraction from the restricted access of Palestinians to Al-Aqsa. Ultimately, it could be a front for isolating the Palestinian capital behind the security barrier: after all, Muslims will have more access to the Old City, right?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The sociology of News


Niklas Luhmann, The Reality of the Mass Media (1996) --

Apart from reports about norm violations, there is also a preference for the extraordinary (the 'alligator in local gravel pit' sort), which take normally expected circumstances as their point of reference and are perhaps better assigned to the entertainment sector.

[previous Luhmann post]

Sunday, August 09, 2020

It's not about language

Andrew Roberts in the Wall Street Journal, reviving the Anglosphere idea, in this case, Canada, Australia,  New Zealand,  UK:

They are, moreover, racially diverse, multicultural countries with a long history of working together, including the period when their military collaboration was, in 1940-41, the sole force on the planet that resisted Nazi totalitarianism. 

Leaving aside the bigger problems, even purely technically, this is wrong.  Greece never stopped resisting, and was never fully conquered. 

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Fox offers to rebuild henhouse

 Lebanon National News Agency --

the Iranian ambassador said that "the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Lebanon will continue, not only through the provision of humanitarian aid in terms of medicine, medicine and foodstuffs, but also will include the restoration of Reconstruction in the port, the damaged buildings, and everything that can be provided to support the people and the government in Lebanon. "

Friday, August 07, 2020

The Beirut unknowns


One of the many aspects of the Beirut port disaster. This is the list of deceased issued by the Ministry of Health. There are still at least 13 unidentified bodies, and that doesn't include the victims not yet found. 

Breaking the law

Simon Kuper in the Financial Times from 3 weeks ago, and now only more relevant --

Trump has helpfully uncovered bits of the American system that need fixing fast. What were unwritten norms before him could now become laws. All future presidential candidates should be obliged to divest their assets, release their tax returns and report foreign attempts to meddle in an election. Presidents should lose their power over federal prosecutors, and over inspectors-general who act as watchdogs of cabinet departments. Presidents shouldn’t be allowed to pardon criminal associates like Roger Stone.

This is a critical point: norms need to become laws. Much of American political reporting is driven by adherence to, and supposed breaches, of norms. Maybe in some past time, this had a real enforcement quality to it, as the norms had a critical mass of acceptance. 

But two things happened. 

First, the appeal to norms became more absurd as conservative media learned how to play the game. Norms as ridiculous as: presidents shouldn't wear tan suits, shouldn't drink orange juice in diners, and shouldn't have their own e-mail servers became scandal cycles -- the last one potentially altering an election. 

Second, Trump showed that you could blow through any conceivable definition of norms and still win elections. The icing on this particular cake: he's now planning to make what would have been his Republican convention speech on the grounds of the White House, an obvious violation of the "norm" about co-mingling campaign and official roles ... and that's it. Pundits will huff and puff, but it will be consequence free.

Make norms into laws. Then Trump would be Breaking the Law. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Quote of the Day

Ben Smith, New York Times --

But the American media plays a bizarrely outsize role in American elections, occupying the place of most countries’ national election commissions. Here, the media actually assembles the results from 50 states, tabulates them and declares a victor. And — we can’t really help ourselves — the media establishes the narrative to explain what happened.

This fact is poorly understood outside the USA, and sometimes even within it. 

Also poorly understood, and interacting with the above, is that the USA does not have a directly elected President. but that's for another day. 


The ship of state may be sinking, but the New Yorker will always use the diaeresis --

Is the Postal Service Being Manipulated to Help Trump Get Reëlected?

The Marxist Club dilemma (Groucho version)

Gerard Baker, today's Wall Street Journal --

As our cultural, media and corporate chiefs deliver their social and political wisdom from their redoubts in New York’s Hamptons, Palm Beach, Fla., and the greener pastures of the San Francisco Bay Area, America’s cities have been ravaged by successive predations of lockdown, disorder and violence.

Gerard Baker, from his July 2017 interview, in the White House, with the Trumps:

TRUMP: Well, then you have to go and decide on what [healthcare] plan you want, which way you’re going to go. You want to decide on is it repeal or repeal and replace. If it’s repeal and replace, which one do you want to go? Which form of existing conditions? I mean, there’s many things. But once you’re in there, then you can really negotiate. This is actually the heart, though. Once you’re there, you can, you know, Gerard — oh, say hello. 

IVANKA TRUMP: Hi, Gerard. How are you? 

BAKER: Oh, hey. How nice to see you. How are you doing? 

IVANKA TRUMP: I heard you were here. I wanted to come by and say hi. (Cross talk.) How is your Arabella?

BAKER: Oh, very — (inaudible). She just got back from Costa Rica. She was there for two weeks. And how’s — and how’s yours? 

IVANKA TRUMP: Oh, very good. (Inaudible.) 

BAKER: It was nice to see you out in Southampton a couple weeks ago.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

If only the Tsar knew

New York Times --

Far from a strongman, Mr. Trump has lately become a heckler in his own government, promoting medical conspiracy theories on social media, playing no constructive role in either the management of the coronavirus pandemic or the negotiation of an economic rescue plan in Congress — and complaining endlessly about the unfairness of it all.

This is an increasingly popular pundit / political reporter narrative about Trump: that somehow, the head of state and government is isolated from governing. It allows everyone else -- the Cabinet, the appointed officials, the Congressional leadership, governors who depend on the federal government playing its role, and media who report on it -- to absolve themselves from blocking, speaking up, or walking out as the country stumbles through a disaster. 

The USA is experiencing a systemic, structural failure, and the fantasy that it's just one malevolent detached leader, an inverse of the benign Tsar who just didn't know what was going on in Russia -- is part of the problem. 

People were slow to realize the narrative that was being set up in 2016 -- yes, Trump is horrible, but so horrible that Hillary will win, therefore we can concentrate on her flaws. We know where that got us. Don't fall for another version of it in 2020.