The irredeemable Sean Spicer?

Commenting on Sean Spicer’s cameo appearance at the Emmy’s on Sunday night at Stephen Colbert’s invitation, Brian Stelter writes: Journalists, activists and celebrities said they didn’t think it was funny to treat Spicer’s mendacious behavior like a throwaway laugh line.

The actor Zach Braff tweeted: “I’m not ready to laugh ‘with’ Sean Spicer. I think he is an evil, opportunistic liar that hurt our country.”

The MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell commented that the Emmys “helped Spicer pump up his ‘lecture’ fees, which is all that matters to him now.”

While many of the objections came from liberals, some conservatives also made arguments against the skit.

“I know people who were offered opportunities to lie for Donald Trump and quietly declined. Harvard & The Emmys calling the wrong folks,” former Jeb Bush spokesman Tim Miller tweeted.

Among the counter-arguments: It was just a joke. And besides, wasn’t Spicer actually admitting to his and Trump’s dishonesty through comedy?

Colbert is an outspoken opponent of President Trump, and he doesn’t fret about the perception that he’s “normalizing” Spicer. “Donald Trump normalized Spicer,” a source involved in the production said. [Continue reading…]

Some will argue that anyone who has been a committed and vocal member of Team Trump must first humbly atone for their sins before they can hope for redemption, but frankly it would be hard to believe anyone who claimed they didn’t fully grasp the nature of the enterprise in which they had freely participated.

For that reason, I don’t think there should be any kind of litmus test to determine whether such individuals show signs of a newly awakened conscience. What is more important is that a signal be sent to those who remain in Trump’s grasp that there is the possibility of life after Trump.

The alternative — one that Trump himself would dearly like those around him to believe — is that if/when he goes down, they will all inevitably go down with him.

The message Sean Spicer is sending, either by his intention or that of those who are now “normalizing” him, is that association with Donald Trump does not have to result in eternal damnation.

As for anyone in the mainstream media who wants to get sanctimonious about Spicer cashing in on his White House tenure, let’s not forget that a ratings-driven media loves Trump just as much as it professes to hate him.

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Are conservatives more worried about the streetlights going out in Peoria than the destruction of Los Angeles?

Following the latest threats from Pyongyang, Jeffrey Lewis wrote:

The North Koreans also went out of their way to taunt us about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects, I suppose because they think we’re worried about them. I think its laughable to imagine that North Korea would waste a nuclear weapon hoping to knock down parts of the power grid. For my part, I would much prefer the North Koreans waste nuclear weapons trying to achieve an uncertain EMP effect than incinerating cities with real people pushing strollers with real babies. KCNA is really stepping up its trolling game.

This trolling game is, however, clearly working: “Millions of American lives could be at stake as North Korea threatens to attack power grid,” warns Fox News.

The Sun reports: “Homeleand security expert Peter Pry has warned Pyongyang could put a nuclear weapon on a satellite that could be detonated on command over the States.”

What’s strange about these warnings about the dangers of an EMP attack is that they are coming just as North Korea has tested a weapon almost ten times as powerful as the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima — in other words, a weapon whose devastating effects should hardly be a matter of conjecture.

Frank Gafney may provide the answer as to why the EMP fears are getting amplified to such a degree:

The imperative of protecting the nation’s bulk-power distribution system, better known as “the grid,” must now take precedence over other improvements. The U.S. military has known for decades how to “harden” electrical and electronic gear from EMP. These techniques must now be applied on an emergency basis to ensure that the civilian grid – upon which both our armed forces and our population and economy critically depend – is made as invulnerable as possible to enemy action.

Translation for Trumpsters: Not only do we need a border wall; we now also need a space wall — and thus a massive increase in defense spending.

All warnings about EMP refer back to a 1962 nuclear test that involved a bomb ten times as powerful as the one just tested:

When the U.S. tested a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific in 1962, it resulted in lights burning out in Honolulu, nearly 1,000 miles from the test site. Naturally occurring electromagnetic events on the sun can also disrupt power systems. A 1989 blackout in Quebec came days after powerful explosions on the sun expelled a cloud of charged particles that struck earth’s magnetic field.

Skeptics generally acknowledge that an EMP attack would be possible in theory, but they say the danger is exaggerated because it would be difficult for an enemy such as North Korea to calibrate the attack to deliver maximum damage to the U.S. electrical grid. If a North Korean bomb exploded away from its target location, it might knock out only a few devices or parts of the grid.

The 1962 U.S. nuclear test, which involved a bomb with a force of 1.4 megatons, didn’t disrupt telephone or radio service in Hawaii, although those who stress the threat say today’s electronic devices are much more vulnerable. North Korea said its hydrogen bomb had explosive power of tens of kilotons to hundreds of kilotons.

Others say that even if North Korea had the technical capability to deliver a damaging electromagnetic pulse, it wouldn’t make strategic sense to use it because Pyongyang could wreak more destruction with a traditional nuclear attack directed at a large city.

A rogue state would prefer a “spectacular and direct ground burst in preference to a unreliable and uncertain EMP strike. A weapon of mass destruction is preferable to a weapon of mass disruption,” wrote physicist Yousaf M. Butt in a 2010 analysis.

Just to be clear again: those experts who downplay the EMP threat are in no sense understating the nuclear threat.

“It is beyond me why we think an enemy would waste a perfectly good nuclear weapon to experiment with a hypothetical EMP when they could destroy an actual city,” arms control expert Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, told The National Interest.

“EMP is a loony idea. Once an enemy uses a nuclear weapon—for any reason—it crosses the nuclear threshold and invites a nuclear response. U.S. military commanders would not say ‘Well, it was only an airburst. We should just respond in kind.’ They would answer with an overwhelming, devastating nuclear counter attack. And our nuclear weapons and command and control are designed to operate in a nuclear war environment, not just some puny EMP blast.”

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On the road

Due to unforeseen circumstances, I will be on the road for the next few days — driving up the East Coast to Boston and then straight back to North Carolina. During this period I won’t be able to update the site. Back soon. PW

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How much responsibility does the media have for creating Trump?

Matt Taibbi writes: Trump’s monstrousness is ironic, since the image of Trump as the media’s very own Frankenstein’s monster has been used and re-used in the last years. Many in the business are of the opinion that, having created Trump and let him loose in the village, we in the press now have a responsibility to hunt him down with aggressive investigative reporting, to make the world safe again.

That might indeed be a good idea. But that take also implies that slaying the monster will fix the problem. Are we sure that’s true?

Reporters seem to think so, and keep trying to find the magic formula. Just this week, staffers at the Wall Street Journal rebelled against editor-in-chief Gerard Baker. Baker, who has long been accused of being too soft on Trump, blasted his people for going too negative on the president in their coverage of the Arizona speech. He sent around a letter asking staff to “stick to reporting what [Trump] said,” rather than “packaging it in exegesis and selective criticism.”

Reporters fought back by (apparently) leaking the memo to the rival New York Times. This followed an incident in which a transcript of Baker’s recent interview with Trump was leaked to Politico earlier this month. In it, Baker mentions being glad to have seen Ivanka Trump in Southampton, and small-talks with Trump about travel and golf. The implication here is that it’s improper or unseemly for a newspaper editor to have a chummy relationship with this kind of a president.

And it is, sometimes. Reporters who should be challenging presidents and candidates are pretty much always cheating the public when they turn interviews into mutual back rub sessions.

But these intramural ethical wars within our business may just be deflections that keep us from facing bigger problems – like, for instance, the fact that we have been systematically making the entire country more stupid for decades.

We learned long ago in this business that dumber and more alarmist always beats complex and nuanced. Big headlines, cartoonish morality, scary criminals at home and foreign menaces abroad, they all sell. We decimated attention spans, rewarded hot-takers over thinkers, and created in audiences powerful addictions to conflict, vitriol, fear, self-righteousness, and race and gender resentment. [Continue reading…]

While there is a measure of truth in Taibbi’s observations, an irony that he must be acutely aware of is that his own commentary comes with a click-bait headline and lots of hyperbolic overstatement. In other words, while assuming the posture of a mainstream media critic, he nevertheless makes use of the same tools that the rest of the media employs as intellectual honesty gets trampled on in the pursuit of profit.

“The Media Is the Villain – for Creating a World Dumb Enough for Trump.” With the pretext that it’s legitimate to echo Trump’s claim that the media is the enemy of the people when the writer’s intent is to engage in a cogent critique of media complicity in Trump’s rise, Taibbi is nevertheless trying to hook readers in the competitive sport of grabbing attention. No doubt, like countless others, he feels like the end justifies the means.

More importantly, the villainization of the media treats journalists as America’s preeminent educators, yet there are many other lead characters in the cast that keeps Americans dumb: teachers, preachers, politicians, celebrities, and others.

At the same time, a current of anti-intellectualism has long infected American culture, privileging sensationalism above thoughtfulness, and twisting ignorance and small-mindedness into folksy virtues in a country built by the toil of humble settlers.

Before getting too indignant about the idea that Trump is essentially a mainstream media creation, it’s also worth reflecting on the role played by those who have for years been demonizing the mainstream media and fueling hostility and fear of government, and recognizing that these trends in shaping public opinion have also played a huge role in facilitating the rise of Trump.

So, when it comes to attributing blame for Trump’s ascent to power, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

That said, ultimate responsibility for this mess still falls into the hands of a single man: Donald Trump.

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Trump in Phoenix fuels divisions and incites violence

These days America’s Thug-in-Chief can’t even fill an auditorium:


The fake, soon-to-be failed, president is, needless to say, in denial about the level of support he retains:


But there is little doubt that Trump, as an unleashed demagogue, is now inciting violence:

The Washington Post reports: Just before President Trump strolled onto the rally stage on Tuesday evening, four speakers took turns carefully denouncing hate, calling for unity and ever so subtly assuring the audience that the president is not racist.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proclaimed that “our lives are too short to let our differences divide us.” Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., led everyone in singing a few lines of “How Great Thou Art.” Evangelist Franklin Graham prayed for the politically and racially divided nation and asked the Lord to shut the mouths of “those in this country who want to divide, who want to preach hate.” And Vice President Pence declared that “President Trump believes with all his heart … that love for America requires love for all its people.” Meanwhile, a supporter seated directly behind stage even wore a T-shirt that stated: “Trump & Republicans are not racist.”

Then Trump took the stage.

He didn’t attempt to continue the carefully choreographed messaging of the night or to narrow the ever-deepening divide between the thousands of supporters gathered in the convention center hall before him and the thousands of protesters waiting outside.

Instead, Trump spent the first three minutes of his speech — which would drag on for 75 minutes — marveling at his crowd size, claiming that “there aren’t too many people outside protesting,” predicting that the media would not broadcast shots of his “rather incredible” crowd and reminiscing about how he was “center stage, almost from day one, in the debates.”

“We love those debates — but we went to center stage, and we never left, right?” the president said, reliving his glory days. “All of us. We did it together.”

Over the next 72 minutes, the president launched into one angry rant after another, repeatedly attacking the media and providing a lengthy defense of his response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, between white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the counterprotesters who challenged them. He threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t receive funding for a wall along the southern border, announced that he will “probably” get rid of the North American Free Trade Agreement, attacked the state’s two Republican senators, repeatedly referred to protesters as “thugs” and coyly hinted that he will pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted in July of criminal contempt in Arizona for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. [Continue reading…]

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Persona non grata: Trump, first lady to skip Kennedy Center Honors over concerns of ‘political distraction’

The Washington Post reports: President Trump and first lady Melania Trump have elected not to attend the annual Kennedy Center Honors in December amid a political backlash among those who will be feted at the event.

The first family will not participate “to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Saturday morning.

The announcement comes as three of the five honorees — television producer Norman Lear, singer Lionel Richie and dancer Carmen de Lavallade — said they would boycott the traditional White House reception related to the celebration. As for the other two, rapper LL Cool J has not said whether he would attend, and Cuban American singer Gloria Estefan said she would go to try to influence the president on immigration issues. [Continue reading…]

Whether by accident or intention, it’s extraordinary that a White House press secretary would deploy the phrase political distraction in reference to the presence of the president — a phrase that most commonly appears in mealy-mouthed resignation letters when public figures are attempting to gloss over the embarrassing circumstances in which they had no choice but to quit or get fired.

While impeachment provides Congress with the legal mechanism for removing a president, there is also a social and political mechanism that may have never been tried before but would surely be just as effective yet much more swift: the ostracization of the president — it has already begun and is gathering momentum.

As more and more influential organizations and individuals publicly make it clear that they do not want to be associated with Trump and he is increasingly recognized as an irredeemably toxic figure in American society, the pressure increases on the loyal officeholders who currently keep him in power.

Resignations of cabinet members, if and when they come, may start with just one — Nikki Haley perhaps — and then there will be a collective reckoning: Either ranks close or there will be a rush to the exits.

The Trump presidency may end, not after protracted investigations and Congressional hearings, but in a single day when Donald Trump finds himself with no one to turn to except his dutiful family members.

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‘Terror’ struck Barcelona, according to Trump. Charlottesville? ‘Call it whatever you want.’

Callum Borchers writes: Within hours of a vehicular attack in Barcelona that killed at least 13 and injured dozens of others on Thursday, President Trump called it “terror.”


Yet at a news conference three days after a similar episode in Charlottesville, where an alleged Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring 19, the president would not definitely assign the same label.

“Was this terrorism?” a journalist asked on Tuesday.

“Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country,” Trump replied, “and that is — you can call it terrorism, you can call it murder, you can call it whatever you want.” [Continue reading…]

However each attack gets labelled, the more important question is how they are related since it’s hard to dismiss the temporal sequence as purely coincidental.

The reality is that an attack of this kind requires very little planning and thus the first attack could indeed have triggered the second. Moreover, the attacker in Barcelona would surely have been fully aware of the attack in Charlottesville and thus seen global media attention as ripe for the picking through an escalation of violence.

Was the latest attack conceived as a way of mocking (and goading) American Islamophobic terrorists — as if to say, your brutality is no match of ours?

Was it intended to highlight Trump’s hypocrisy in his responses to violent attacks?

What seems least likely is the possibility that Charlottesville was nowhere within the considerations of the perpetrator(s) of today’s deadly attack in Barcelona.

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Donald Trump is a racist — there is no mystery

Yesterday, CNN reported:

A coalition of major civil rights and faith groups on Sunday called on President Donald Trump to “directly disavow the white supremacists” who participated in violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend — a reference to Trump’s remarks condemning the deadly clashes on Saturday.

“It represents a failure of leadership from the nation’s chief executive,” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group, said in a statement. “It is long past time for Trump to personally and unequivocally denounce white supremacy, violent extremism, and hate in all its forms.”

The group also called for the ouster of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, who have drawn criticism from civil rights organizations for their associations with the alt-right, a hodgepodge of far-right, white nationalist groups that drafted off the President’s 2016 campaign to rise to national prominence.

For Trump to disavow white supremacists — to claim he has no connection with their current rise even while selecting the likes of Bannon, Gorka, and Stephen Miller as close advisers — would be dishonest. For him to denounce them after having persistently courted their support would be disingenuous.

What civil rights leaders are calling on Trump to do is something he cannot with credibility claim: that he is not a racist.

The unpalatable truth is that when Donald Trump was elected president, he won the support of voters who either welcomed his racism or at the very least were willing to turn a blind eye to it.

Just over a year ago, during the presidential campaign when Donald Trump repeatedly attacked Gonzalo Curiel (the Indiana-born judge presiding over a case against Trump University) who Trump believed couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican ancestry, House Speaker Paul Ryan had no difficulty in describing Trump’s remarks as the “textbook definition” of racism.

Long before then and up to the present day, Trump’s racism has been no harder to detect than the odor of a man with insufferable foul breath.

And yet, in spite of this and in spite of a mountain of evidence that no one can dispute, Trump’s racism is still treated by many politicians, journalists and pundits like one of those ultimately unanswerable questions — like whether a dog has a soul.

This issue is sustained as a question on the basis that we lack enough knowledge about Trump’s interior life, which is to say that in order to know whether he is a racist we would supposedly have to be able to gain insight into what animates his very being. Only God knows whether Trump is a racist, so the implicit argument seems to turn.

This is nonsense.

Why?

To determine whether someone is a racist is a determination, first and foremost, about behavior.

To doubt, for instance, whether the birther campaign that Trump led was anything less in substance, appearance, and intent, than a racist attack on Barack Obama is a form of denialism — a refusal to accept the implications of evidence that very few people ever had any difficulty in interpreting.

Even though racism is defined in terms of beliefs, it is clear that in practice we only attach significance to such beliefs if they result in some kind of tangible expression.

If somewhere there are racists who racism leaves no discernible trace in the world, such a subtle form of racism would hardly be worthy of the name.

Since Trump on countless occasions has acted like a racist, we don’t actually have to know anything about what he thinks in order to say unequivocally that he is indeed a racist.

Under pressure or political guidance, any statements that he might make now to distance himself from the hatred he has with such determination fomented, will be utterly hollow words.

The real question is for the Republican party itself: whether it chooses to remain America’s white party, or whether it’s ready break away from the many currents of bigotry it has harbored for so long.

If it chooses the latter, it’s time for the Republicans to dump Trump.

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Trump reveals the most when he says the least

The New York Times reports: President Trump is rarely reluctant to express his opinion, but he is often seized by caution when addressing the violence and vitriol of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and alt-right activists, some of whom are his supporters.

After days of genially bombastic interactions with the news media on North Korea and the shortcomings of congressional Republicans, Mr. Trump on Saturday condemned the bloody protests in Charlottesville, Va., in what critics in both parties saw as muted, equivocal terms.

During a brief and uncomfortable address to reporters at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., he called for an end to the violence. But he was the only national political figure to spread blame for the “hatred, bigotry and violence” that resulted in the death of one person to “many sides.”

For the most part, Republican leaders and other allies have kept quiet over several months about Mr. Trump’s outbursts and angry Twitter posts. But recently they have stopped averting their gazes and on Saturday a handful criticized his reaction to Charlottesville as insufficient.

“Mr. President — we must call evil by its name,” tweeted Senator Cory Gardner, Republican from Colorado, who oversees the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of the Senate Republicans.

“These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” he added, a description several of his colleagues used.

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and the father of the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did not dispute Mr. Trump’s comments directly, but he called the behavior of white nationalists in Charlottesville “evil.”

Democrats have suggested that Mr. Trump is simply unwilling to alienate the segment of his white electoral base that embraces bigotry. [Continue reading…]

Cheri Jacobus writes: President Trump is not known for holding back his rage and venom when he’s angered or feels threatened, or for struggling to “counter punch.” Typically, the easily triggered leader of the free world, his finger seemingly perpetually poised in hover position over the nuclear button, uses a cannon when a BB gun will do. But, curiously, he seems to lose his voice and his nerve when it comes to taking on Russian President Vladmir Putin for intervening in U.S. elections, or the white nationalists and Nazis — domestic terrorists — who marched with torches in Charlottesville, Va.

Notice whom Trump tiptoes around to understand to whom he feels beholden.

It’s becoming increasingly harder to deny that Trump’s actions and words make it appear as if he’s reluctant to cross a benefactor or those who comprise a disturbingly influential portion of what we must, if we are to be intellectually honest, accept and admit is his base.

His tepid, tardy response to the shameful group of Americans (and it hurts to call them Americans) was stunning, coming on the heels of his knee-jerk “fire and fury” threat to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un after yet another missile test — and his equally reckless, violent follow-up threats about military action.

The gentler, vaguer “diplomatic” language used by Trump on alt-right white nationalists proudly using the Nazi salute and sporting swastikas is chilling. He didn’t name them or even blame them, in fact said “hatred, bigotry and violence” had been going on “for a long, long time” and came from “many sides.”

It was reminiscent of candidate Trump in Feburary 2016 finding it difficult to denounce former KKK leader David Duke for telling his followers it would be “treason to your heritage” to vote for anyone but Trump. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper he simply didn’t know enough about Duke and the KKK to condemn them.

In Charlottesville, Duke said on camera that the white supremacists were marching on behalf of President Trump, and that they viewed this as fulfilling the promises of Trump’s candidacy.

Trump gave him legitimacy by placing the KKK, Nazis and other white supremacists on par with, well, everyone else.

He’s “normalizing” them. [Continue reading…]


Trump’s unwillingness to single out white supremacists for explicit condemnation does nothing less than signal to them that he remains a fascist-friendly president — and have no doubt, these are self-declared fascists.

This is how Vanguard America articulates its vision of “American Fascism” in its “Vanguard Manifesto”:

A Nation For Our People – An America based on the immutable truths of Blood and Soil. A multicultural nation is no nation at all, but a collection of smaller ethnic nations ruled over by an overbearing tyrannical state. Our America is to be a nation exclusively for the White American peoples who out of the barren hills, empty plains, and vast mountains forged the most powerful nation to ever have existed. Vanguard America stands indomitably opposed to the tyranny of globalism and capitalism, a system under which nations are stripped of their heritage and their people are turned into nothing more than units of cheap, expendable labor. Vanguard America, and our nationalist allies across the Western world, see a world of nations ruled by their own people, for their own people.

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Twitter users want Trump’s account suspended for ‘threatening violence’ against North Korea

The Washington Post reports: Can a president be suspended from Twitter for threatening to attack another country?

That’s what some Twitter users, including actor and former Barack Obama aide Kal Penn, are demanding, after President Trump tweeted Friday morning that U.S. “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely.”


Critics of the president’s tweet say the rhetoric reflects a threat of violence against North Korea that violates Twitter’s rules and terms of service. [Continue reading…]

Twitter isn’t going to ban Trump primarily because Trump is good for business and Twitter remains “a company with no evident path to profitability.” Moreover, the company would inevitably be accused of playing politics and face a backlash from Trump supporters and defenders of free speech.

Nevertheless, Trump should be banned from Twitter either by court order or by Congress for multiple reasons.

The presence of a small blue check icon next to @realDonaldTrump hardly suffices as verification that these are indeed statements issued by the President of the United States.

Suppose North Korean hackers hijack Trump’s Twitter account. It’s not difficult to imagine the pandemonium they might unleash as, let’s say, they announced that the U.S. was now under nuclear attack. A genuine national security crisis might ensue before it was established that the triggering tweets were faked.

As president, Trump has the power to make live addresses to the nation that will be broadcast on all major television networks. The notion that the inability to tweet would inhibit his powers of free expression is absurd.

Trump tweets mostly as a troll, which is to say, someone who refuses to be held fully accountable for their own words.

As a man who struggles to accept accountability for his own words even when he’s standing in front of cameras and throngs of journalists, Trump should not be able to indulge in exercising even less accountability by speaking through Twitter.

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Gaming out the North Korea crisis: How the conflict might escalate

The Washington Post reports: A military confrontation with North Korea may now be “inevitable,” says Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) The United States is “done talking” about North Korea, tweets U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. President Trump threatens “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” then says maybe his language “wasn’t tough enough.”

The North Koreans return verbal fire, talking of using “absolute force” to hit the U.S. territory of Guam and even “turn the U.S. mainland into the theater of a nuclear war.”

In this moment of heated, belligerent rhetoric, planners in and out of government are diving into decades of plans and projections, playing out war games, engaging in the macabre semi-science of estimating death tolls and predicting how an adversary might behave. Inside Washington’s “what if?” industry, people at think tanks, universities, consultancies and defense businesses have spent four decades playing out scenarios that the Trump administration now faces anew.

The pathways that have been examined fall into four main categories: doing nothing, hitting Kim Jong Un’s regime with tougher sanctions, pushing for talks, and military confrontation. An armed conflict could take place in disparate spots thousands of miles apart, involving any number of nations and a wide variety of weapons, conventional or nuclear.

In hundreds of books, policy papers and roundtable discussions, experts have couched various shades of armageddon in the dry, emotion-stripped language of throw-weights and missile ranges. But the nightmare scenarios are simple enough: In a launch from North Korea, a nuclear-tipped missile could reach San Francisco in half an hour. A nuclear attack on Seoul, South Korea’s capital of 10 million people, could start and finish in three minutes. [Continue reading…]

It seems to me that the greatest danger of miscalculation by North Korea derives from Kim Jong Un’s assessment of Donald Trump’s capacity to trigger military action.

While North Koreans are acutely aware of the mismatch between the Hermit kingdom and the U.S. in terms of military strength, on a personal level Kim probably views Trump as a contemptible figure who is weak and lacking authority.

On one side is a leader who has zero tolerance for even a hint of dissent and who is presented to his people as a god-like figure whose ruling power is absolute, and on the other side is a man viewed by much of his own population as an unstable dunce — a man whose every utterance requires qualification from close aides whose most frequent message is that Trump should not be taken at his word.

Trump’s lack of credibility now poses a real threat to global security, because it risks triggering a sequence of actions resulting in nuclear war.

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Trump thinks Russia’s intelligence capabilities are far superior to those of the U.S.

ThinkProgress reports: Anthony Scaramucci has been on the job for less than 72 hours, and on Sunday he made his first appearance on the news talk shows as White House communications director. It did not go well.

On CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper pressed Scaramucci about Donald Trump’s continued insistence that the ever-growing Russia scandal was “fake news.” After questioning whether Trump was planning to sign a bipartisan bill imposing fresh sanctions against Russia for meddling in the November presidential election, Scaramucci instead sought to again cast doubt on the legitimacy of the U.S. intelligence community, and initially used an anonymous source to do it.

“There’s a lot of disinformation out there,” said Scaramucci. “Somebody said to me yesterday—I won’t tell you who—that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it, you would have never had any evidence of them.”

An incredulous Tapper cut him off, pointing out that this anonymous source was breaking from every single intelligence agency in asserting that Russia’s involvement was in dispute. That’s all it took for Scaramucci to throw his boss under the bus.

“How ‘bout it was the president, Jake,” said Scaramucci of his anonymous source. “I talked to him yesterday, he called me from Air Force One, and he basically said to me ‘hey you know, maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it.’” [Continue reading…]

So this is Trump’s reasoning:

The Russians have so much mastery in their intelligence operations that if they hacked the U.S. election, they would have done so without leaving a trace of evidence. It follows, therefore, that whatever evidence the U.S. intelligence community claims it has of Russian interference has either been misinterpreted or is false and is purposefully being used to mislead the American public.

Trump (like many Americans, post-Iraq) apparently has little confidence in U.S. surveillance and analytical capabilities. Russia’s intelligence services are, however (Trump apparently believes) of a caliber that surpasses all others.

And yet, rather than own the logical conclusion of what he is saying (that this president doubts the competence and/or integrity of the intelligence services who report to him), he then backtracks and portrays the issue as an unresolved mystery — a mystery whose actual resolution he has never expressed an interest in seeing.

Of course, even the “maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it” narrative isn’t one that Trump pushes with any force. This afternoon it was back to his favorite story as the victim of a witch hunt:


Note the phrase: taking hold.

The charade of phenomenal success is falling away as Trump concedes he’s losing ground.

 

As for whether Trump will sign the new Russian sanctions bill, it depends on who you ask.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says: “The original piece of legislation was poorly written, but we were able to work with the House and Senate, and the administration is happy with the ability to do that and make those changes that were necessary, and we support where the legislation is now.”

In his interview on CNN, Scaramucci said of Trump: “He hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.”

The only point of consistency here is that now, as always, the White House is struggling to get its message straight.

Garbage in, garbage out.

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Read Anthony Scaramucci’s old tweets. You’ll understand why he deleted them

The Washington Post reports: New White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci hasn’t always shared the political views of the administration he now serves.

In previous tweets, the Wall Street financier called Hillary Clinton “incredibly competent” and appeared to be at odds with his new boss on issues such as gun control, climate change, Islam and illegal immigration.

But on Saturday, the day after he became Trump’s communications director, he announced on Twitter that he’s deleting his old tweets, which he said are only a distraction. [Continue reading…]

As predictable as it is that social media now revels in Scaramucci’s old tweets, it’s worth asking this: Which is preferable? That the only people close at Trump’s side are true believers, or that he should also include those whose support appears disingenuous? I’d say that the more there are of dubious loyalties, the better.

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Trump in Paris — biggest celebration ever?

1944 liberation from Nazi occupation saw the biggest celebrations in Paris — prior to Donald Trump’s arrival


On MSNBC this morning, the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt described Trump as often being “hard to follow” during their White House interview on Wednesday.

As a reporter, Schmidt might feel obliged to maintain a facade of neutrality — as though he has no opinion about the state of this president’s mental health.

And yet, an insistent unwillingness to make judgments can mask a fear of making meaningful observations. In everyday life, as we read other people — through their words, demeanor, body language, and other indications — we use our powers of discernment to discriminate between delusion and deception.

A journalist doesn’t have to claim the capacity to read Trump’s mind in order to convey his or her sense of whether Trump actually believes the ridiculous things he so often says.

Trump is hard to follow because he’s hard to swallow.

The occasional probing interjection might provide some clarity during his otherwise meandering stream of consciousness. For instance, pointing out that the history of the Eiffel Tower stretches back to the Nineteenth Century would suggest that it had been the location of bigger celebrations than the one Trump claims he recently witnessed — leaving aside the fact that the throngs in question may have simply been the swell of tourists typically found in central Paris on a midsummer evening.

Does Trump generally assume that any crowd in his vicinity is most likely a crowd of admirers?

TRUMP: We had dinner at the Eiffel Tower, and the bottom of the Eiffel Tower looked like they could have never had a bigger celebration ever in the history of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, there were thousands and thousands of people, ’cause they heard we were having dinner.

[crosstalk/garbled]

HABERMAN: You must have been so tired at, by that point.

TRUMP: Yeah. It was beautiful. We toured the museum, we went to Napoleon’s tomb …

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: “No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.” [garbled] The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather? [garbled]

[crosstalk/unintelligible]

TRUMP: Same thing happened to Hitler. Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army.

[crosstalk]

But the Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. [crosstalk] It’s pretty amazing.

So, we’re having a good time. The economy is doing great.

And this snippet of Wednesday’s interview leads to another question about Trump’s second conversation with Putin at the G-20 — the one that Trump recounted as having amounted to little more than an exchange of pleasantries.

If the New York Times reporters found Trump hard to follow, how clear was he to the Russian president and his translator?

The fact that Trump initiated the contact — evident in hand gestures and a nod that were videoed — appear to show he knew what he wanted to say. An indication, perhaps, that Trump’s appearance of confusion may have less to do with his garbled thinking than with his desire to sow confusion.

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Trump sees truthfulness as his enemy

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal says: Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating the Russia story. Everything that is potentially damaging to the Trumps will come out, one way or another. Everything. Denouncing leaks as “fake news” won’t wash as a counter-strategy beyond the President’s base, as Mr. Trump’s latest 36% approval rating shows.

Mr. Trump seems to realize he has a problem because the White House has announced the hiring of white-collar Washington lawyer Ty Cobb to manage its Russia defense. He’ll presumably supersede the White House counsel, whom Mr. Trump ignores, and New York outside counsel Marc Kasowitz, who is out of his political depth.

Mr. Cobb has an opening to change the Trump strategy to one with the best chance of saving his Presidency: radical transparency. Release everything to the public ahead of the inevitable leaks. Mr. Cobb and his team should tell every Trump family member, campaign operative and White House aide to disclose every detail that might be relevant to the Russian investigations.

That means every meeting with any Russian or any American with Russian business ties. Every phone call or email. And every Trump business relationship with Russians going back years. This should include every relevant part of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which the President will resist but Mr. Mueller is sure to seek anyway.

Then release it all to the public. Whatever short-term political damage this might cause couldn’t be worse than the death by a thousand cuts of selective leaks, often out of context, from political opponents in Congress or the special counsel’s office. If there really is nothing to the Russia collusion allegations, transparency will prove it. Americans will give Mr. Trump credit for trusting their ability to make a fair judgment. Pre-emptive disclosure is the only chance to contain the political harm from future revelations. [Continue reading…]

It’s nice to believe that the truth will always prevail, but just like every other small-time and big-time crook, Donald Trump has an inflated estimation of his capacity to beat the system.

Apart from the fact that he would regard complete transparency as demeaning, there’s little reason to doubt that Trump’s choice is rational: that the information he continues to conceal, will, if revealed, have a more damaging effect on his presidency than does his unremitting effort to deflect, distract, and obstruct the ongoing investigation.

And as Trump could say: “I didn’t get to where I am today by being honest.”

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Trump schmoozes with the press on Air Force One

The New York Times reports on Trump’s off-the-record turned on-the-record remarks to the press as they flew to Paris together this week: For reporters who covered Mr. Trump before he became president, there was a familiar discursive rhythm to his remarks.

They ranged from quirky boasts — “I’m a tremendous fracker” — to frustrated outbursts. “What do you do?” he asked after recounting that President Vladimir V. Putin twice denied to him that Russia had meddled in the presidential election. “End up in a fistfight with somebody?”

They revealed a man getting a crash course in the world — “They have an 8,000-year culture,” he said of the Chinese — but one who still sees things through a real estate prism. The White House was built largely in 1799, he noted, so China views it “like a super modern building.”

And they showed someone who recognizes that his observations occasionally edge into the surreal. “As crazy as that sounds,” Mr. Trump said, after explaining why the border wall with Mexico needed to be transparent: to prevent drug dealers from throwing 60-pound sacks of drugs over it and hitting unsuspecting Americans on their heads.

Ever the negotiator, Mr. Trump shared his tradecraft for trying to pin down Mr. Putin on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

“I said to him, ‘Were you involved in the meddling with the election?’” he recalled. “He said, ‘Absolutely not. I was not involved.’ He was very strong on it. I then said to him, in a totally different way, ‘Were you involved with the meddling?’ He said, ‘I was not — absolutely not.’” [Continue reading…]

The same words “in a totally different way”? Are we to imagine that Trump adopted his rarely used falsetto in a cunning effort to throw Putin off balance?

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The Trump White House is a confederacy of dingbats

Paul Waldman writes: The Trump White House is facing its greatest test yet, as the Russia scandal deepens and the president’s own son has provided direct and incontrovertible evidence that at the very least the Trump campaign attempted to collude with the Russian government in order to destroy Hillary Clinton. Handling this scandal would be an extraordinary challenge for even the smartest and most competent collection of government professionals and political operatives.

But this White House is a confederacy of dingbats. That’s what got them into this pickle in the first place and that’s what will keep them from getting out of it. [Continue reading…]

Hardened skeptics on the issue of Russian interference might argue that no foreign government could hope to see its interests served by installing the Trump family in power and yet six months in office has surely provided the Russians with as much and plenty more of exactly what they hoped for: chaos in Washington.

It’s hard enough for Republicans or Democrats to successfully push a legislative agenda, so the Russians surely understand American politics well enough that they couldn’t pin their hopes on any carefully defined outcome.

Washington never operates like a well-oiled machine; the predictable value of having the Trumps in power is that this would be like pouring water in the gas tank.

If the plan was to cripple the U.S. government, then everything seems to be proceeding according to plan.

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Angela Merkel uses eyes and hands to try and convince Putin that North Korea fired an ICBM

The determination that North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) this week is based on the extrapolation of its range if aimed on a standard trajectory rather than the very steep trajectory of its actual launch, as illustrated below:


In conversation with Vladamir Putin today, Angela Merkel appears to have had difficulty in pressing home the argument as her eyes tracked the steep trajectory of the missile:


Then she resorted to hand motions:

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