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Frank Rich, Jim Wright, and I (and some millions of others, presumably) had a similar reaction to the not-surprising news that the on-again/off-again summit is off again. The NY Times headline writer didn't resist the "pulls out" trope, but the rest of us were all like "there goes the Nobel prize, eh."
Apparently there were recent comments concerning our Vice President's recent comments. (Said comments were said to be "ignorant and stupid" per the Times, which is more measured that calling Mike Pence ignorant and stupid, but finer points of bluster can be lost in the shouting. Newsweek reported further that our Veep was called a "political dummy." Some fiery rhetoric there.)
The Norks are keeping an eye on Fox News too, it seems, and the suggestion that "North Korea's government could end up like that of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi" would not be a new idea in Pyongyang. Didn't John Bolton just bring that up? Why yes, yes he did.
"Bolton had spooked North Koreans recently by suggesting Pyongyang follow the path taken by Libya more than a decade ago, when that country abandoned its effort to build nuclear weapons in exchange for economic benefits and warmer relations. Within a few years, Libya’s leader, Moammar Kadafi, lost his job and his life at the hands of Western-backed rebels."
North Korea's first threat to back out (or "pull out" if you like) named Bolton personally, prompting Art Negotiator to walk back that "The Libyan model isn’t a model that we have at all. We decimated that country.” At least. Anything else?
By contrast, Trump promised that if the United States reaches a deal with North Korea, Kim would “be running his country. His country would be very rich.”
Now, alas. Our President sent a letter in his inimitable style, the seismograph signature obscuring the "Sincerely yours" of his closing, but to His Excellency (rather than "Supreme Leader" as the coin had it), with great appreciation for the "wonderful dialogue [that] was building up between you and me." That was right after he mentioned that his big sticks were "so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used."
"If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write. The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history."
Or, as Philippe Reines put it, "Goodbye Nobel. Hello Pulitzer."
More seriously, Matthew Yglesias wonders why did anyone ever take Trump's North Korea diplomacy seriously? (I certainly didn't, but it was easy enough to sit back and wait and see what would happen next. It was cool to see the two Korean leaders do-si-do over the line across the DMZ.)
"The factors that led to the collapse of the summit were there from the beginning. The only thing that ever seemed remotely promising about it was Trump’s say-so, but Trump’s say-so is meaningless. Not only is he a person who makes factual misstatements and lies, but he’s a person who has gotten ahead in life through extensive use of bullshit, leaving in his wake a trail of broken promises."
Ah, those were the days, when Idaho's junior senator was adamant about inappropriate behavior in the executive branch. Talking to Wolf Blitzer in April, 2016.
"Look, there's an investigation going on by the Justice Department. The Justice Department is headed by the Attorney General, who is answerable to the President of the United States. If he gets up there and says 'look, this is a foregone conclusion, he didn't do anything wrong she didn't do anything wrong...' I mean, where is the fairness, where's the objectivity, that, that, what he should have said is 'look, there's an ongoing investigation, I'm not going to wade into this, it's up to the Justice department, but he gave them a clear clue and a clear direction as to where they should take this. It was totally inappropriate."
As for Twitler using unsecured cellphones? NBD. Along with Ron Johnson assuring us we don't need to concern our pretty little heads about this, here's our member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, quoted in HuffPo:
“I suspect the president of the United States is sophisticated enough to know what he should or shouldn’t be talking about on an unsecured line. We all have unsecured and secured lines, and in the business we’re in, it’s just common knowledge what you talk about and don’t talk about.”
For my money, I wouldn't take advice on "sophistication" and "common knowledge" from a hypocritical country bumpkin. For good measure, here's Risch supposing that he and his BFF in the Oval Office ("This president is very different than the former president") are working to allow his family, friends, and constituents to "get up in the morning and go to work and be left alone to pursue the life that they want to pursue" rather than worrying about missiles flying over Idaho.
Give Risch credit for a vivid imagination. He sees "sophistication" where many of us see what Rebecca Solnit sees:
"The Trump family aspires to mafia status, a thuggocracy, but they are manipulable and bumbling where Putin and company are disciplined and Machiavellian. They hire fools and egomaniacs and compromised figures—Scaramucci, Giuliani, Bannon, Flynn, Nunberg, the wifebeating Rob Porter—and then fire them, with a soap opera’s worth of drama; the competent ones quit, as have many lawyers hired to help Trump navigate his scandals. The Trumps don’t hide things well or keep their mouths shut or manage the plunder they grab successfully, and they keep committing crimes in public...."
She goes on, in morbid detail, about the swamp we have slid into. You should read the whole thing.
"Sabotage of national institutions, laws, standards, and the greater good has been accepted as part of the new normal, which is staggeringly far from normal....
"The current situation of the United States is obscene, insane, and incredible. If someone had pitched it for a thriller novel or film a few years ago, they would’ve been laughed out of whatever office their proposal made it to because fiction ought to be plausible. It isn’t plausible that a solipsistic buffoon and his retinue of petty crooks made it to the White House, but they did and there they are, wreaking more havoc than anyone would have imagined possible, from environmental laws to Iran nuclear deals. It is not plausible that the party in control of the federal government is for the most part a kleptomaniac criminal syndicate.
"It’s an incompetent criminal syndicate full of leaks and stumbles, easily played by the professionals across the sea. ..."
The "White House," as we used to say, but really, this is the unchained id of our current president, assisted by what I assume are the vocal stylings of the head creep writer, Stephen Miller, purports to tell us all what you need to know about the violent animals [sic] of MS-13.
Based on... what "police believe," and some accusations, and charges, and more of what "police believe." And just in case you didn't pick up on the WE ARE CALLING THESE PERSONS ANIMALS in the headline and the subhead, that word is repeated eight more times in the body of the "3 minute read," concluding with the supposed reassurance that "President Trump's entire Administration is working tirelessly to bring these violent animals to justice."
Justice would include a trial (or a pleading), and conviction, followed by a sentence. Given the lack of any mention of those things, I have to wonder if there have been any.
It brings to mind the case of the so-called Central Park Five in 1989, when Donald Trump bought advertising advocating bringing back the death penalty to finish them off. Their convictions were vacated as the result of new evidence in 2002, and a dozen years after that, after the five won a civil rights case for the wrongful conviction, Trump refused to admit he had been wrong, let alone apologize.
Trump is nothing if not a man with an exceptional sense of his own privilege, a sociopathic lack of empathy, and a willful disregard for the truth. He's an animal, the same as all humans are animals. (You could look that up.) Having him and his current ghost-writer propounding upon "justice" by declaring who they imagine is sub-human, we've reached a new low, even if this is only rabble-rousing red meat for campaign rallies.
Miller and Trump must think it terribly clever to bait the opposition into defending people accused of heinous crimes, reciting conveniently gruesome detail when it suits their purposes. It is theater, to be sure, but dangerous, authoritarian theater with a real fascist flair.
Yesterday's realization of the tweeted "hereby demand" of the Department of Justice is in a similar vein, but more to the point of Trump's continuing attempt to free himself of the meddlesome special counsel and his investigation. It's been a year of trying, and the plot just gets thicker and thicker. To say that the president's obsession is not the behavior of an innocent man beggars understatement.
He's going to need a lot more "animals" to distract us.
The name sounded vaguely familiar, sort of Pavlovian, or being John Malkovich, but after checking his blog's "About," I'm pretty sure the link offered by a friend on Facebook is the first time I've crossed paths with the fellow. I can see why he'd like the IndyWeek profile by Amanda Abrams, How Raleigh’s John Pavlovitz Went from Fired Megachurch Pastor to Rising Star of the Religious Left. "This year alone, twenty-three million people have viewed his blog, and he has over sixty thousand Twitter followers. His words have been featured in Slate, Cosmopolitan, and Quartz," so oh my.
I wanted to know why he got fired, of course, and it's a wade in before you find out that he was a youth pastor at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, which, I did not know Methodists did mega. (They don't say which GSUMC, but maybe Charlotte's, which says it "currently averages over 2000 people in its six Sunday worship services.") Then he worked at another "megachurch," in Raleigh, North Carolina, which INDY discreetly declined to name. So, ah, how many megachurches are there in Raleigh, and how can you hide one? "Becoming increasingly corporate," was one of the church's faults from his point of view, but wouldn't a megachurch have to be corporate?
At any rate, it's good to read that there's a big audience for liberal Christianity. Whatever Jesus was, he would not have been comfortable in today's Republican Party, or the NRA, or CPAC, or at a Trump rally. If he'd showed up at the latter, he would be that guy who was mocked for having a "very dirty undershirt" that said "Love is the answer."
“See, in the good old days this didn’t use to happen, because they used to treat them very rough,” Trump said, thrilling his audience. “We’ve become very weak.”
Crucifixion, for example. Those were the good old days.
The Jesus of our mythology (or inerrantly recorded and at times contradictory Biblical history written decades after the fact and assembled over the centuries, if you like) was not really what you could call a "liberal." He was way out on a radical limb, which is how he got himself hoisted on a cross. He would have probably got himself into trouble at a Democratic party function, too. INDY's feature on Pavlovitz winds up damning a bit with faint praise, it seems to me.
"Pavlovitz isn't a radical. The topics he emphasizes, like gay rights and women's rights, were resolved by liberal Christians years ago. And unlike [Rev. William] Barber and [Jonathan ] Wilson-Hartgrove, he doesn't frequently talk about the tougher, more structural issues of poverty and racism that could require a radical reordering of society to remedy.
"But that's probably part of why Pavlovitz is so popular. His is a manageable liberalism, one that makes logical sense but isn't too taxing. And yet, at a time when America seems to have taken a giant step backward in how it views minorities and other vulnerable populations, he might be exactly what the country—and the church—needs."
A manageable liberalism that isn't too taxing, ouch.
That's all a long wind-up for a link to his "Stuff That Needs to Be Said" blog, and a post I see now is 15 months old, but timely enough: Christian, Stop Telling Me God is in Control. You may recall February, 2017, for its "growing dumpster fire in DC," before it had reached a full-on conflagration fueled by swamp gas. The "God is in control" meme he's tackling fits in a bumper-sticker with room to spare, too. Let go. Let God. That's not the way anything will get done, is his point.
"God works through the hands and words of the people who aspire to this love and goodness, and choose to exercise the individual power they have been entrusted with right where they’re standing. Jesus is not beamed down from Heaven, he is incarnated in the flesh and blood of those who believe that other people are worth sacrificing for, that mercy is the greatest gift, that love is revolutionary."
Cover feature of the June issue of The Atlantic, Matthew Stewart's remarkable The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy. "The class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable. You’re probably part of the problem."
It's a good, long read, even if he doesn't provide a recipe for fixing the problems he describes. You can't do everything in a magazine article. A broad, cogent, detailed identification of the problem is no small thing.
"No one is born resentful. As mass phenomena, racism, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, narcissism, irrationalism, and all other variants of resentment are as expensive to produce as they are deadly to democratic politics. Only long hours of television programming, intelligently manipulated socialmedia feeds, and expensively sustained information bubbles can actualize the unhappy dispositions of humanity to the point where they may be fruitfully manipulated for political gain. Racism in particular is not just a legacy of the past, as many Americans would like to believe; it also must be constantly reinvented for the present. Mass incarceration, fearmongering, and segregation are not just the results of prejudice, but also the means of reproducing it. ...
"The defining challenge of our time is to renew the promise of American democracy by reversing the calcifying effects of accelerating inequality. As long as inequality rules, reason will be absent from our politics; without reason, none of our other issues can be solved."
Just a handful of the latest headlines are enough to make your head spin. Trump Admits He Reimbursed Michael Cohen for 2016 "Expenses" in Financial Form.
The Daily Mail has long headlines. Take a deep breath for Michael Cohen 'asked Qatari investor for millions of dollars' which he said he would 'pass to Trump family members' at Trump Tower meeting - and Qatar's foreign minister was there too. Jonathan Chait figures that means The Michael Cohen Bribery Scandal Is Now a Trump Bribery Scandal.
"It was bad enough that Trump’s lawyer was enriching himself by cashing in on access. Now the story suggests he was enriching them, transforming the Cohen bribery story into a Trump bribery story."
NYT: Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation. Jumpin' Jack Jehoshaphat.
Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the start of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. And here's the topper for today, from Ronan Farrow and the New Yorker: Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records. The lede:
"Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department’s inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents."
The missing reports concerned three million dollars in transactions. Not to put too fine a point on it. And oh, "a substantial portion of this money seems to have ended up in Cohen’s personal accounts." The source is risking a fine of $250,000 and/or 5 years in jail for divulging contents of a confidential Suspicious Activity Report.
After The Great Negotiator killed the Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer you never heard of (in spite of them being the fourth largest smartphone supplier to the US market) with a single blow, less than a week ago, let's rethink this. Starting with a tweet about Dear Leader instructing the Commerce Department to "give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast." Uh, what?
Have you heard the one about the Indonesian theme park planned to include "Trump-branded hotels, residences and a golf course", and Chinese loans to back it to the tune of $half a billion? Tell the tale with slack-jawed incredulity.
"At Monday’s White House news conference, reporters asked how, precisely, the involvement of China in the Indonesia resort project didn’t violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution, and how it squares with the president’s assurances that the Trump Organization wouldn’t get involved in “foreign deals” as long as he remained in the White House. Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah recommended contacting the Trump Organization for comment."
As Helaine Olen says, "you can't make this stuff up."
Paul Waldman's Plum Line opinion: Why Democrats can’t win the 'respect' of Trump voters.
"[I]t's an industry, plus a political movement. The right has a gigantic media apparatus that is devoted to convincing people that liberals disrespect them, plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity."
Any serious talk, of any substance, of any length, can be boiled down to a 10 second sound bite taken out of context and made to sound horrible. Waldman gives two examples, but you can find two a day without breaking a sweat.
"This is a game [Democrats] cannot win, so they have to stop playing. Know at the outset that no matter what you say or do, Republicans will cry that you’re disrespecting good heartland voters. There is no bit of PR razzle-dazzle that will stop them. ... Advocate for what you believe in, and explain why it actually helps people.
"Finally—and this is critical—never stop telling voters how Republicans are screwing them over. The two successful Democratic presidents of recent years were both called liberal elitists, and they countered by relentlessly hammering the GOP over its advocacy for the wealthy. And it worked."
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France, China, Germany, the European Union, and Iran, is no small thing. It held the promise of enlarging the community of trading commerce, and by doing so, reducing the motivations for conflict. Beats the heck out of nuclear conflagration, or the threat thereof.
Our country's current leader used it—continues to use it—as a campaign prop, calling it "the worst," and "horrible." He leveraged the fact that it (like our lukewarm commitment to the Paris climate accord) was a "nonbinding political agreement," wrangled during Obama's terms in spite of noncooperation (at best) from Congress. They didn't approve it. But they couldn't muster enough disapproval to actually veto action by the executive.
The 8-party agreement is nothing if not complicated. Even the Wikipedia page is a tough slog, well over the capacity of our current president, I would imagine. Easier to take John Bolton's word for it and boil it down to "worst ever" before a crowd of partisans, imagine some one-on-one deal, or gee, isn't it time to shoot off some more ordnance?
After the 2016 election, the Senate chipped in a 10-year renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act. Within half a year, Trump's administration was violating the agreement more or less directly:
"The Trump administration boasted that Trump personally lobbied dozens of European officials against doing business with Iran during the May 2017 Brussels summit; this likely violated the terms of the JCPOA, which expressly states that the U.S. may not pursue "any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran". The Trump administration certified in July 2017 that Iran had upheld its end of the agreement. In October 2017, however, the Trump administration refused to recertify Iran's compliance with the deal, saying that "Iran has violated the agreement multiple times."
Violating the "spirit" of the deal, it was said. The other parties to the deal, including the leaders of the U.K., France, Germany, the E.U. and Russia disagreed, and said Iran was upholding its end of the bargain.
Now we've "officially" backed out of our end of the bargain, and Trump is blustering as if he alone can nix it. Facts on the ground are harder to ignore. By blowing up Iraq and its government—quite literally—we increased Iran's regional power immeasurably, now playing out in the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Saudi Arabia seems to have its hands full destroying Yemen.
It seems that the best thing that could happen would be for the other 7 parties to continue the agreement without us, accurately reflecting the diminution of our country's leadership and credibility under the rule of our fatuous populist. Our military-industrial complex will take a hit in trade, but the other countries can pick up the slack.
Perhaps a morbid joke in really bad taste should have been left to die a quiet death in secret, but word got out, and what previously litte-known staffer Kelly Sadler said about Sen. John McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel for head of the CIA spoiled a lot of people's day. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for one, was not happy.
She also will not be happy that five sources in the room for a follow-up meeting leaked details, too. (Huckabee Sanders said she was sure that would happend.)
It might be best to keep some of your thoughts to yourself. As if, what would it be like to see those comments on the front page of the New York Times or something? If you're not sure, clam up.
At one point, per a source in the room, White House strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp interjected with a word of support for Sadler:
“You can put this on the record... I stand with Kelly Sadler.”
So noted, Mercedes. It helps put that indignation you felt over Michelle Wolf's job at the White House Correspondents Dinner into perspective, too.
The verbal stylings or our current White House resident:
"Virtually everything said has been said incorrectly, and it's been said wrong, or it's been covered wrong by the press. ... There has been a lot of misinformation, really."
Is he talking about his new lawyer? The Rudy Giuliani roll-out had some glitches. In an appearance before the Judge (Jeanine), Giuliani was asked:
"Did you misspeak, or did people... not interpret what you were saying? [sic] Were you talking about the facts or were you talking about the law?"
Rudy said he was talking about "the law, and the conclusion."
"The facts, the facts, I, I, I, I'm still learning. This is, you know 1.2 million documents, I've been in the case for two weeks, virtually one day in comparison to other people."
Ah, sure, ok, 2 weeks, that's virtually one day, why not? Don't stop there. 2 weeks is virtually the blink of an eye when compared to geologic time. Let me plug in my reality distortion field generator before we continue. By Sunday, that jaw-dropping performance with George Stephanopoulos on ABC This Week, "Those are the facts that we're still, uh, work, working on."
That's it. We're still working on the facts. Comedy curveballs are hanging for Seth Myers, among others. Myers also took A Closer Look at the murmurings about the question of whether Trump deserves a Nobel Prize.
"Everyone thinks so," Trump allowed, before modestly adding that he would certainly not say so. But then... "Everything can be scuttled."
Gina Haspel's confirmation hearing to head the CIA, for example? Whether torture is flat-out "immoral," that's a really hard thing for her to say. Even with hindsight.
Would you follow a direct order from the president to waterboard someone? I.e. torture someone. Incredibly, she said,
"I do not believe the president would ask me to do that."
Why not? Can we not take him at his word when he says something devoid of decency and morality, and wholly in keeping with his public life, such as this gem from the 2016 campaign?
"I would bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding."
But on a more serious note, this nice mash-up of the parallels in the comedic stylings of Richard Nixon and Mike Pence; it's been a year already, people, isn't it time we wrap up this whole Mueller investigation thing? I mean, what do we have to show for it anyway?
It's not like we need a big spreadsheet to keep track of the people have been charged, pleaded guilty, and so on. Oh wait. Yes we do. (And as of the moment, Wikipedia's only up through the end of April. No Michael Cohen yet! Not in the table; he's sprinkled through the article though, how could he not be?)
This just in, add to Rudy Giuliani's reading list, as he tries to work on the facts: A Qatari spy just got caught bragging about a payoff to Trump campaign member, reported in the Washington Press I never heard of before, but with a link to a stack of court filings, which I did not read. Grant Stern says they say it's claimed "agents of the nation of Qatar gave a payoff to convicted former Trump NSA, Gen. Michael Flynn, and also that he had accepted those payments." Former Attorney General John Ashcroft makes an appearance in the story too. Didn't see that coming. Good for him, he did take care of Foreign Agents Registration Act paperwork for representing the Qatar Investment Authority.
If you're still printing in your home or office, you must have you've got some spent cartridges kicking around. Toner, or ink, they're expensive coming in, and are still worth something when empty (or when—ahem—rejected by your printer). Office supply stores buy wholesale and sell retail, whether the product is new or old, so what they offer you for "returns" or recycling is less than a cartridge is worth. That's fine. How much less? Well, I don't need to care very much.
In Staples' case, a handy recycling bag advertises a simple proposition in big red ink: Recycle any ink cartridge Get $3 adding (in green, blends in with the surroundings) to spend on ink at Staples. So, ah, $3 credit, yeah? That's the bait. The other side of the bag has instructions. (1) put the cartridge in the bag; (2) bring it to the store; (3) "Get a $3 OFF coupon for every empty you give us. (Think of it as $3 off you next cartridge.)"
There's a lot to unpack there for a $3 deal. Step 3, I'm "giving" them cartridges? "Think of it as," in other words, it's really something else? I had 5 cartridges to recycle/sell/give away, and asked about the quantity, versus the single cartridge I was there to buy today. The checker assured me that they'd take that quantity as long as I hadn't hit my 10/month quota. I assured I had not. (She checked my record to see if I was telling the truth.) They were happy to take all 5. And in return... the 37½" long receipt starts with my "Rewards" number, and this:
5 INK RECYCLING LIMI *
725137 0.010ea 0.00
Instant Savings <-0.05>
The asterisk on the truncated LIMIT says "Item is currently on promotion. Some coupons are only valid on regular priced items. Please see coupon terms and conditions for details." Referring to a coupon I have not yet seen.
The spent cartridges are on "promotion"? They're assigned a nominal 1 cent value, and rung up as if I were BUYING rather than SELLING, but they're kind enough to give me an "instant savings" of the 5 cents.
The rest of the receipt has a sweepstakes entry tease, and three long coupons, for $20 off an order of $60 or more, $10 off an order of $30 or more (both with a long enough list of what's excluded that I have to wonder if there's anything that is included), and 15% off UPS shipping services. All with expiration dates. Can't leave something that valuable hanging around.
My coupons will come... later. And no doubt be excluded from anything less than full retail, and from being using more than one at a time, and with an expiration date. I'm not getting $15 off my next cartridge, you can be sure. The chance of me ever saving an actual $15 is smaller than my chance of being one of the 10 lucky winners of $1,000 in Print and Marketing Services. (Would I really want Marketing Services from this company?)
The receipt tells of "$2 back in Rewards per recycled ink cartridges. Up to 20 per month. Minimum purchase required. Exclusions Apply. See an associate for full program details or to enroll."
Let me boil it down for you: thanks for donating your spent cartridges. We'll be in touch with exciting offers for you to make future purchases. Play your cards right, we'll take a little something off your bill. Good luck.
Update: Took a look at the Staples daily email advertising I usually just delete, and wandered around to find some elaboration under the supposed frequently asked "question," I want to learn more about ink recycling rewards. Here we go:
"Staples Rewards members receive $2 back in Staples Rewards for every eligible cartridge recycled in person at a Staples store or online at staples.com/rewards. Base members can earn $2 back on up to 10 recycled cartridges per calendar month and up to 20 for Premier members, if the member has spent at least $30 in ink and/or toner purchases at Staples over the previous 180 days. Minimum purchase requirement is net of coupons, taxes, rewards redemptions, and shipping charges. Ink Recycling rewards are issued monthly, separately from the standard Staples Rewards statement. Ink resellers and remanufactures are strictly prohibited from earning Ink Recycling Rewards."
That dependent clause, "if the member has spent at least $30..." So, I've got 179 days to buy at least one more cartridge to unlock my $10 (not $15) savings. (My last purchase was in... July, sorry, time's expired on that.) Let's just say I won't use a pen to include that in the budget.
That's the online title of the New York Times piece that ran on Sunday's front page under the headline A Health Crisis That Costs $1.50 to Correct. As in, "factories in Thailand, China and the Philippines can manufacture so-called readers for less than 50 cents a pair; prescription glasses that correct nearsightedness can be produced for $1.50."
We're privileged to pay more than that in our country. Readers are cheap enough, but a couple diopeters worth of correction for myopia, a twist of astigmatism, and eventually some bifocals, it's not hard to spend more than a hundred times a buck fifty where I live.
Think of it, though - a billion times $1.50 is about the rounding error for a lot of federal agencies' annual budgets.
I've been wearing glasses for almost my whole life. There was a pleasant interlude of a dozen years after I started using contact lenses, and before presbyopia set in when I felt like I could just see the world directly. Before that, glasses. After that (and from time to time), more glasses, with more lenses. Forget about "four eyes," I'm "six eyes" most days. And rather than complaining, I appreciate the convenience of having good (or well-corrected) vision for close work, for reading, and for distance. You get used to it.
I got my start with glasses in 2nd grade, under extreme duress. For the 6th kid in line, mom had some experience in diagnosis, and thought what the heck, she could do what the optometrist did and ask me "is this better, or worse?" when I tried on a hand-me-down pair of glasses. It was better! It was nice to be able to see things clearly. So, I was off to school one day, wearing my sister's old cat-eye style glasses, and oh. my. god.
I don't remember a single detail of what happened, just the stinging cloud of ridicule and shame heaped upon me for showing up with girl's glasses. (We didn't talk about gender fluidity back then.) I swore off any possibility of wearing glasses... for most of three years. By 5th grade, even sitting in the front row for every class wasn't good enough, and with firm encouragement from teacher to parents, I had my own eye exam, and my own (new) pair of glasses, with my own prescription.
When I reached the part of the story where 12% of the students at a high school in Panipat, two hours north of New Delhi were sent to the next room for "more tests," and...
Shivam, the boy who dreamed of being a pilot, walked away with a pair of purple-framed spectacles donated by Warby Parker, the American eyewear company, which also paid for the screenings.
“Everything is so clear,” Shivam exclaimed as he looked with wonder around the classroom.
That made me gasp, with a powerful wave of remembering such a moment, the world around me brought to sharp focus, and the old, out-of-focus world sloughed off like dirty clothes.
It would take so comparatively little to spread that basic joy to others who need it in our world.
We've certainly had our share of domestic scandals over the years. Wikipedia contributors have compiled a list organized by administration, but with so many to choose from, we need some sort of classification scheme. Set aside run-of-the-mill sexual misconduct (as we did to accept Clarence Thomas for his sinecure on the Supreme Court, for example), even as it's finally getting its due in many quarters. Set aside the petty potentate with the $50/night crash pad in DC who thinks he's Maxwell Smart running the EPA with a license to tour the world in peddling influence. Focus in on the stinking rot at the very top of the executive branch, where the Trump family businesses have been elevated above issues of national security.
As Jill Abramson wrote two months ago, "our senses have been dulled." It seems quaint to remember that Donald Trump never released his tax returns, waving a red flag of corruption with a pretense of an excuse, then repeating it steadfastly enough that the news cycled on to fresher scandals.
"The fact that Donald Trump is personally profiting off his presidency is an open secret in Washington as a stroll through the lobby of the new Trump Hotel in the grand Old Post Office proves. Just about anyone who wants a White House favor or a meeting is there, dropping at least $500 per night. Ka-ching for the Trump Organization."
That's pocket change in the nation's capital these days. Half a million here, $30 million there, $184 million and $325 million over there.
"We’ve seen this same playbook before – in places like Uganda, the Philippines and other countries where rulers and their families loot the public. We didn’t think we would see it come to the United States. But we are living in the era of reality television government. And the name of our show is American Greed."
Speaking of temporary lodging and scandalous context, this just popped up in my Twitter feed to make the point:
In a half-normal presidency, the main scandal right now would be about how a guy died in a fire at a cheaply built, run down, improperly sprinklered building that the president’s blind trust hadn’t been able to find a buyer for.— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) May 8, 2018
But all that is ancient news by now. This week, we're trying to figure out whether Rudy Giuliani's absurd dog and pony show on Fox News is as unhinged and incompetent as the face of it, or if the "mind-bending" conversation with Sean Hannity is a calculation, not a mistake. Since last Wednesday, Margaret Sullivan writes,
"Rudy Giuliani has blithely skipped from one media appearance to another without apparent regard for consistent adherence to the facts.
"And then he proclaimed victory."
Jay Rosen's PressThink take, When the President’s own lawyer pictures him a grifter says we should resist "strategy," "but there may be a new fact pattern."
It's all about "exploding the news cycle."
Rosen refers to Jonathan Karl's analysis for ABC News, Trump's coming war on Mueller, which leads with a video from This Week, and this Q/A in the White House press briefing:
"When the president so often says things which turn out not to be true, when the president and the White House show what appears to be a blatant disregard for the truth, how are the American people to trust or believe what is said here or by the president?"
The press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders answers with a blatant disregard for the truth.
"We give the very best information that we have at the time, uh, I do that every single day and will continue to do that, uh, every day I'm in this position."
Karl was on the show, advancing his theory:
"Mueller and the investigation are now central to the Trump midterm election strategy and his re-election strategy. They want to vilify, they want to delay this investigation, they want to draw it out, you'll see more interviews like this. They actually want this issue to be front and center because George, they believe that the biggest motivator for the Trump base in the midterm elections will be fear of impeachment."
It's the Witch Hunt, don't you know. Not the stem-to-stern corruption of Trump family businesses, not the stunning day after day, week after week, month after month reversals of "fact patterns" that would make George Orwell's head spin. It's the whole Republican Party going along with the gag that integrity does not matter anymore. Not even a pretense of integrity.
Had my first experience of the east coast chain of gas & grocs, I guess it is, although no gas at the DC Wawa I patronized. It was convenient, mostly. My hotelier suggested it in response to my inquiry about where I might find dinner, and the further type-qualification as to what I was after as "food."
They have a touch screen ordering interface at the sandwich bar that was new to me, which seemed a bit odd at first, but proved capable of delivering a rather tasty, toasted sandwich, complete with the assembly components and process instructions ("close hinge") on the checkout tally. I was happy enough with the result to give them repeat business, and the 2nd time through the menu, I noticed the up-front warning that toasted sandwiches did not qualify for EBT purchases.
It caught my eye, even though I'm not in the program, and a client was paying for my dinner. The whole store was my oyster, but all I wanted was a healthy sandwich. Would I like it toasted? Yes, I like toasted.
For those who do need to care, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are intended to be spent on food; not alcohol, not tobacco, e-cigs, pet food, household supplies, and so on. The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 defines what is, and is not "food" for its purposes.
The USDA wants us to know that they're just doing what Congress told them to do, and "several times in the history of SNAP, Congress considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits" but "concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome." There's even an 11-page report on the subject.
A bag of potato chips and a bottle of pop are fine. Have some ice cream. Cold is cool, hot is not.
"Hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption" are n.g. If you plan on too much food preparation at home, that's also n.g.: live animals and birds are generally not eligible. Pumpkins are cool. Inedible gourds, not cool.
In the context of our nation's capital, oozing money out most every edifice and orifice, where legislators and staffs and hangers-on of every stripe find ways to get someone else (whether the government, a personable corporation, or a wealthy donor with an agenda) to pay for gross excess, the legal boundary seemed especially ironic. If you're struggling to make ends meet, no soup for you. Unless perhaps you'd like some cold soup, to go.
Wall-to-wall Giuliani coverage continues, from news in print to the comedy show bonanza. Friday's WaPo led with two front page stories under his name, although pictures and the left-hand lead were about Charlie Rose's 4 decades as a, how shall we say, ladies' man? (However we say it, let's hope it suffices to quash that sexual predators' comeback tour.) Almost pushed below the fold, Dan Balz' "The Take": Again, Trump is caught in a lie. Will it change anything? Lucky for them, Scott Pruitt's travel follies, and the Republican dream of arming school teachers were pushed down to the bottom.
The "Take" and the jumps took up most of the page 6-7 spread. Repayment disclosure sets off another crisis for the White House. Experts see problems with Giuliani's account of Trump's payment. Giuliani's story comes with legal peril, it's in that sort of vein.
There's a term of art in the business world for bonuses that come with a bonus: a little something extra to cover your taxes is called "grossing up"; the gross bonus is enlarged to provide the jolly round net bonus that you can tell your friends about. A $100 bonus might get grossed up to $150, so that after the taxes were settled you still get your whole Benjamin.
Rudy's little kicker, quoted in the "Experts see problems" story, talking about how Michael Cohen's $35,000 a month "retainer" covered whatever friendly "personal" damage control might be needed (it works out to 3.2 porn stars a year), this:
"He trusted Michael and Michael trusted him. Michael knew that when he laid out the $135,000, he'd get it back and the president was always going to make sure he got it back – and enough money to pay the taxes."
It's just all real professional. Or as Jason Miller, former Trump campaign official, quoted in the "Surprise legal strategy stuns White House officials" story, put it, à la Junior, "I loved it."
"They got this news out there on their terms, and they didn't wait for enterprising journalists to break it. This is PR 101... The president deserves his own team defending him, and now finally he has it."
Is that the good news, or the bad news? It's a bit hard to follow.
Today's news is that Giuliani tries to clarify comments, or as the president put it, "He'll get his facts straight." One of these days, maybe we'll all get our facts straight, but I don't think anyone expects that to come funneling out of the White House, or Rudy Giuliani, or Donald Trump. Michael Cohen's lawyer said he planned to take the 5th, but that big search warrant haul, res ipsa loquitur, once the special master sorts it out.
That last Washington Post url has the chyron that was hanging on the TV much of the day yesterday, "Trump says he'd love to testify in Russia probe if treated fairly."
Oh, we all want you to be treated fairly, Mr. Trump. That's how justice serves desserts.
The new guy on the legal team, Emmet Flood, got a pleasant introduction by Rosalin S. Helderman for the WaPo. "A very steady hand," the headline says, with deep experience. Clerked for Scalia, helped get Bill Clinton and "Dick" Cheney out of their jams. Covered for W. in 2007 after the firing of 7 U.S. Attorneys. He "advises clients to curb public comments about ongoing investigations that prosecutors could exploit," so he and Rudy might not get on. Then-governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell didn't take his counsel's advice, and Flood quit over that, see how that turned out. (After McDonnell was convicted, Chief Justice John Roberts took the opportunity to use it as a vehicle to further define corruption out of existence. Bribery is such an ugly word; we now prefer "common political pleasantries," thankyouverymuch.)
But here's the fascinating part, after he's been fishing around for this job for almost a year:
Flood "interviewed [in the weeks after Mueller was appointed] for the job he has now accepted, a position on the White House staff in which his primary responsibility will be to defend the institution of the presidency, rather than Trump personally."
I'm all for that. Let's get this swamp drained, shall we?
The new strategy seems to be to just do it all out in the open and dare anyone to say boo. Is this really happening?
Ty Cobb taking retirement not's too shocking; if there was a job with no upside, trying to keep Donald Trump from doing stupid things is it. And adding impeachment specialist Emmet T. Flood only makes sense.
With the Special Counsel's investigation closing the seine, fewer and fewer genuine lawyers willing to sign up for teh crazy, Trump is now recycling burned-out pals. Rudy Giuliani on the team? And huh, a "leak" of supposed questions from Mueller's team, which has been leakless to date.
And for the capper, the new guy is off on a publicity tour, seriously? The on-again, off-again $130,000 worth of hush money, it's back on: Giuliani said on Wednesday that yeah, the president repaid his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen.
Talk about an incredible story, eh?
But wait, he's not done!
He's gone straight to the Mother Lode, Sean Hannity's show on Fox "News" to call for Comey to be prosecuted, end to Mueller probe "in the interest of justice."
"I wanna report to the American people... the truth," Hannity said. "Have I been wrong, at all?"
Giuliani still has "that big chart" from 2015 on his cell phone.
"Russian collusion is a total... fake news," Giuliani offered.
"Meanwhile, the man is trying to deal with North Korea. I mean, c'mon."
Speaking of Russian spies and hackers... this:
"Some of the technologists at the meeting of the International Standards Organization were surprised when they learned that the head of the Russian delegation, Grigory Marshalko, worked for the F.S.B., the intelligence agency that is the successor to the K.G.B.
"They were even more surprised when they asked the F.S.B. agent why the Russians were devoting such resources to the blockchain standards.
“Look, the internet belongs to the Americans — but blockchain will belong to us,” he said, according to one delegate who was there. The Russian added that two other members of his country’s four-person delegation to the conference also worked for the F.S.B."
ICYMI, it was August, 2015 that North Korea turned back time by half an hour. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in WW II, and the liberation of the Korean peninsula. Throwing off the imperialist running dog time zone.
And now, in an opening salvo of a surprise campaign of diplomacy, Mr. Kim has "vowed to readjust his country’s clock to match the time zone in South Korea." Think of it as a Great Leap Forward by 30 minutes. To show how willing he is to negotiate things. He'd like to negotiate all sorts of things, for as long as possible, maybe.
In related news, Kim's nuclear testing mountain has collapsed (5th time's the charm), with a swarm of earthquakes near the Chinese border, and who knows, maybe triggering a volcanic eruption of Mount Paektu? That seems like a nice time to give up conducting nuclear tests for a while, and seeing if he can parlay that into some political donations from the South, and the US. 65 years after the end of the war, and with the generation that did the fighting on their last legs, it doesn't seem too precipitous to talk about a peace treaty, anyway.
And it'll be much easier to talk calmly, and quietly, with the propaganda loudspeakers turned off and rolled back from the DMZ.
John Bolton is still wary, of course. He's familiar with bluster and deception and feints without substance. But it sure beats wondering if we're on the brink of unleashing fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen, in service to the never-ending campaign of our own autocrat.
In news from the third leg of the Axis of Evil, Bibi Netanyahu delivered a stunning PowerPoint presentation to his audience of one. Let's see if he can put it in terms that even Donald Trump can understand: "Iran lied. Big time." See if the subtle irony in Matthew Norman's opinion piece for the Independent pokes through for you:
Iran’s Project Amad, styled “secret” by the leader of a country yet to admit having nuclear weapons more than half a century after it began making them, was known to the UN atomic agency and others long ago, and terminated in 2003. The notion that Iran has retained the data with a view to reviving it if ever it feels sufficiently threatened – if a US president, for example, withdrew from a non-nuclear deal – only reinforces the importance of maintaining the deal.
On the relatively sane listener, Netanyahu’s presentation will have had the opposite effect to the one intended. So it was that Trump responded within minutes with a tweeted: “What we’ve learned has really shown that I’ve been one hundred per cent right.”
Shades of WMD in Iraq all over again.
Other people's money, and a lot of it: the deficit hawks all flew the coop! Bloomberg's headline is about how SecTreas sees "Solid Demand" for the debt we're selling, but scroll on down to the third graf to see the that country's net borrowing totaled $488 billion from January through March.
It's a record! And 10% higher than previously estimated. Half. A. Trillion. Dollars. In one quarter. While the economy is ticking along pretty decently, unemployment sort of under control, interest rates and inflation still sunny side.
Thank goodness Congress decided to stop wrangling about the debt limit?
And give up any pretense whatsoever about controlling spending?
"Tax and spending measures approved by Congress and President Donald Trump are expected to push the budget gap to $804 billion in the current fiscal year, from $665 billion in fiscal 2017, and then surpass $1 trillion by 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office."
Should we be, um, worried?
In an accompanying statement about the state of the economy, the Treasury said Monday that tax changes are “poised to underpin near-term consumption and investment” and “the stage is set for a pick-up in growth over the near term.”
Which is not to be confused with the most recent reporting on the economy, such as summarized for us by the BBC, saying that growth slowed to 2.3%, well down from the 4th quarter of last year, at 2.9%. Growth in consumer spending was the weakest part of the puzzle: 1.1% versus 4% at end of 2017 (thanks to "an intense hurricane season last year").
"Analysts expect growth will accelerate in the next quarter as US workers begin to see the impact of the Trump administration's $1.5 trillion income tax package trickle through to their pay cheques."
How's that trickle through working for you?
Tom von Alten